By Hooman Momen
Jeffrey Beall is probably best known for his list of predatory scholarly open access publishers. The list appears to provide a useful service to the academic community in alerting scholars to questionable publications. However, there are two main problems with this list.
- The list is based on the opinions and judgements of a single person and, therefore, subject to the errors of judgement, prejudices and conflicts of interest inherent in such an approach;
- The list only includes open access journals, giving the impression that only this model of publication is subject to predatory and questionable practices.
The reasons for the increase in questionable publication practices are complex and outside the scope of this blog, but include the current hyper-competition in science, the dramatic increase in the number of research workers many often poorly trained in research and publication ethics and the use of journal articles as a “currency” in deciding promotion, tenure, hiring or the awarding of grants. These factors together with human attributes of ingenuity, vanity and greed provide the millieu in which predatory journals flourish.
It is certainly true that the problem of questionable publications occurs more often with open access journals, but this is not inherently due to the publishing model. Most publishers, including the major commercial publishers, have discovered that open access provides a superior economic model for publishing new journals. The result is that nearly all new journals use the open access model and predatory publishing practices often (but not solely) occur in new journals.
Even if the open access model was abolished the phenomenon of predatory journals would not go away. Those behind these enterprises would find new ways of serving this market. Subscription publishers have also produced questionable journals, including some of the main commercial publishers. There also exists a network of non-open access vanity publishers willing to publish any dissertation or thesis as a scholarly monograph.
But let us return to Mr Beall’s list, an article he recently published makes it clear that his targeting of open access journals is, in fact, based on his keen dislike of the open access movement in general, which he believes is a conspiracy led by European socialists aimed at destroying for- profit publishing. Mr Beall is particularly scathing of gold open access stating that “Scholars should have never allowed a system that requires monetary transactions between authors and publishers”, but appears to have no problem with subscription journals levying page charges, a clear case of double standards.
Mr Beall also appears to have a deep mistrust of academic publishing in the developing world. He regularly puts new publishers from these countries on his list until they can “prove” their credentials creating added difficulties for publishers in these countries. A case in point is MedKnow, a publisher of reputable journals in the Middle East and Asia, including the journal of a regional office of the World Health Organization. This publisher was added to his watch list, presumably because it was based in India. The publisher was then acquired by Walters-Kluwer and the journals suddenly becoming safe in Beall’s worldview as the publisher disappeared from the watch list.
This combination of dislike of open access publishing and distrust of scholarly publishing in the developing world has now resulted in his recent blog comparing the SciELO platform to a favela. Readers of this blog do not need me to describe the outstanding services provided by SciELO to academic publishing nor the absurdity of his arguments, however you can find further details in my comments and replies posted on his original blog1 which provides further evidence of his prejudices and motives.
Blacklists, particularly those created without due process, are morally perilous and it is time that Beall’s list is replaced with a list of reputable journals. Predatory journals are only one problem in an increasingly ethically challenging publishing environment particularly for inexperienced researchers. The new list should be impersonal, widely available for consultation, backed by academic organizations and with transparent exclusion and inclusion criteria but this is the subject for another post…
1. BEALL, J. Is SciELO a Publication Favela? Scholarly Open Access. 2015. Available from: http://scholarlyoa.com/2015/07/30/is-scielo-a-publication-favela/
BEALL, J. Is SciELO a Publication Favela? Scholarly Open Access. 2015. Available from: http://scholarlyoa.com/2015/07/30/is-scielo-a-publication-favela/
BEALL, J. List of publishers. Scholarly Open Access. 2015. Available from: http://scholarlyoa.com/publishers/
BEALL, J. The Open-Access Movement is Not Really about Open Access. tripleC. 2013, vol. 11, nº 2, pp. 589–597. Available from: http://triplec.at/index.php/tripleC/article/view/525/514
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