Predatory Publishers: Why I’ll Miss Jeffrey Beall

By Neuroskeptic | January 25, 2017 11:47 am

Last week, we learned that Scholarly Open Access, Jeffrey Beall’s website and blog, had gone down. Beall, an academic librarian at the University of Denver, has earned fame, and notoriety, for his list of what he calls ‘predatory’ open access publishers and journals.

RIP_scholarly

It’s still not clear what led to the demise of Beall’s blog. There were rumors of possible legal threats. The University of Denver eventually released a statement saying that Beall “has decided to no longer maintain or publish his research or blog on open access journals and ‘predatory publishers.'” Beall himself has yet to comment, beyond a gnomic remark to Nature News that “my blog is now unpublished”. This post by Emil Karlsson is the best overview of the story.

In my view the demise of Beall’s project is a sad day for science. While his work was sometimes controversial, he was just about the only person who seemed to take predatory publishing seriously and who tried to do something about it.

beall_listPredatory publishers are a big problem. They degrade the standards of science by publishing as “peer reviewed” material that is either poorly reviewed or not peer reviewed at all. They con unsuspecting researchers (often from low-income countries) into paying high fees for an abysmal service, while for unscrupulous authors they offer a way to get dubious material into ‘print’. They blight academics with inane spam. There are hundreds of these outfits, and more appear every day.

So I’m convinced that Jeffrey Beall was fighting the good fight in trying to keep a spotlight on these predators.

On the other hand, I don’t think he should have been doing this job alone. And now that Beall has, apparently, retired from the field, I don’t think any one individual should replace him. Predatory publishing is too big of a topic for one person to deal with.

The one-man nature of Beall’s operation left him open to charges of being arbitrary and opaque in how he decided where to draw the line between legitimate and predatory publishing. I think he made the right calls the vast majority of the time, but then again, he has not been transparent about why he shut down the site.

Therefore, I’d like to see a collective attempt to carry on Beall’s project. I’d love to see a public Wiki dedicated to predatory publishers. Such a Wiki would need moderators, because it would surely be the target of malicious edits by aggreived predators, but there should be a team of moderators rather than just one individual. To avoid conflicts of interest, moderators should have no links to either open access or traditional publishing companies.

Such a resource would serve the same purpose as Beall’s list, in that it would allow researchers to check whether a given publisher was considered predatory. But it would also serve as a forum for the fascinating field of ‘predatorology’ – the study of how these predators operate, and the often curious characters behind them.

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  • smut clyde

    A day before ScholarlyOA went completely blank, I went looking in the archives for previous ‘predatorology’ and found nothing earlier than January 2016 — everything from Dec 2015 and earlier had vanished. 24 hours later, everything else had gone as well.
    There is a lot of intensive forensic work in those comment threads, where Jeffrey’s readers peered into domain-ownership records and Indian company registries to determine exactly which recurring names were behind some fraudulent publisher or another. I hope all that can be saved from the Wayback Machine, and that the future cooperative allows for similar discussions.

    I miss ScholarlyOA. It provided partial compensation for the annoyance of finding some insultingly stupid “publish-with-us!” spam in my e-mail — I could forward them to Jeffrey to add to his collection.

  • Mike Taylor

    I will never, ever understand why this is an issue. A researcher who is unable to do the very basic research of determining whether a journal is legitimate clearly has no future in the field of research.

    If you don’t know a journal already — by good work having been published in it, or trusted colleagues working on the editorial board — then play safe and go to a different journal. That’s all you need to know, and it’s what every advisor should be telling their students.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      You’re right. But unfortunately not all researchers are as informed as you. My impression is that the problem mainly affects researchers in low-income countries which do not have a long tradition of scholarly publishing. Their government decrees that they must publish in peer-reviewed journals, but they are thrown in at the deep end because most of them don’t have an advisor who’s published 100 papers to guide them.

      • Mike Taylor

        I hear you — and yet as I wrote: “If you don’t know a journal already — by good work having been published in it, or trusted colleagues working on the editorial board — then play safe and go to a different journal.” That’s 34 words. How long can it take to teach that? 30 seconds? A full minute, if you repeat it for emphasis. And it doesn’t need a 100-paper advisor to teach that very simple principle.

        • Eight Balls

          I also hear you, Mike. I was lucky I published a few small-scale studies with my PI prior to grad school and easily learned the ropes of it. So when I first came across a predatory journal, it didn’t take me long to recognize it.

          Though, Neuroskeptic is right in saying that not all scholars are privy to good practices and principles of academic publishing, particularly in institutions that do not have established guidelines or explicit discussion on selecting publication outlets. These institutions are usually underfunded and are typically in low-income nations.

          Merely emphasizing and repeating those 34 words won’t make much sense to scholars who are new to the publishing game. I think they also need to taught why predatory journals exist and why they need to avoid them, so as to develop sensitivity towards the varied qualities of different journals.

      • smut clyde

        Many of the contributors to most of the junk-journals know what they are buying with their university’s money. They do not have time or training or ability to write the research reports they need in order to acquire or retain a job that might otherwise go to someone more able, so they spin something insubstantial (or plagiarise it, or buy it from a paper-mill) and rely on a no-standards write-only journal from an OA press. The journals themselves are only a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself; they are worst parasitical rather than predatory, and at best tey are filling a need.

        But then there are genuine victims. The comment threads at ScholarlyOA regularly featured requests for Jeffrey’s help from people who had innocently submitted their work to an OMICS journal and realised their mistake too late. It seems harsh to shrug off their situation and say “they should have known better”.

        And from a broader perspective, it is not healthy to have this parallel literature of “alternative science” emerging, that affects all the signifiers of real scholarship, and to a superficial observer deserves the same level of credibility. People are using junk journals to disguise their propaganda as Scientific Fact and stove-pipe it into public discourse. Seralini’s agenda-driven propaganda on the evils of GMO agriculture, for instance, published by way of a Nigerian scammer.
        http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-ORyu5e-Lmk8/VrJPy0JQCeI/AAAAAAAAS2A/9nZA9WzejkY/s1600/farm.PNG

        • Sylvester Fernandes

          Could this be reflective of some predatory and ill/misinformed reviewers in ivory journals? See wb.md/2hGYsJs

  • Денис Бурчаков

    I am thinking about making a short free course about the typical signs of the predator publisher. In Russia we have some funny local specimens and I guess someone should do something before they discredit what is left of science here.

  • Mark Nelson

    smells like a non-compete

  • daniele marinazzo

    I share your concerns when it comes to researchers from low-income countries and/or with poor tradition in publishing.
    On the other hand if someone is so ingenuus or so eager to publish to fall for predatory journals and their baits, I am not sure that they would consult a repository to check whether the journal is legit.
    Everyone can be their own Beall.

    This website http://thinkchecksubmit.org/ contains some useful indications

  • From Morocco

    — Wiki-Predatory journal is a very interesting idea; in this case the Beall’s list can be updated to include the list of journals (3776 journals) that failed to meet DOAJ’s criteria.
    Ref: Marchitelli et al. “Improvement of Editorial Quality of Journals Indexed in DOAJ: A Data Analysis”. JLIS.it 8, 1 (January 2017): 1-21. doi:10.4403/jlis.it-12052.

    Here is some added information on predatory publishers:
    — J. Beall’s lists can also be found @ PREDATOR VS ACADEMATOR https://predatorvsacademator.wordpress.com/
    [LIST OF STANDALONE JOURNALS, Predatory publishers, Criteria,
    Misleading Metrics, Hijacked Journals]
    — A black list restricted to Biomedical science from Ministry of Science & Research of Iran, where we can see some potential predators such as Omics and iMed : http://blacklist.research.ac.ir/

  • rorytheherb

    I only just discovered ScholarlyOA today, and see that the site is down. This is so sad. Somehow the world’s academic community — or the internet — ought to begin the process of forming an official watchdog group with the mission of ascertaining the legitimacy of scientific publishers. On LinkedIn I regularly see posts from publishers that by my lights could only be illegitimate.

  • PJ

    Here is an attempt at a community based approach: https://predatoryjournals.com

  • Sewray3000

    is Arktos Media a predatory publisher in the realm of political science?

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  • Dana Abbey

    Just a note that Mr. Beall is with the University of Colorado Denver, not the University of Denver (different university).

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Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.

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