Beyond Beall’s List: We need a better understanding of predatory publishing without overstating its size and danger.Although
predatory publishers predate open access, their recent explosion was
expedited by the emergence of fee-charging OA journals. Monica Berger and Jill Cirasella
argue that librarians can play an important role in helping researchers
to avoid becoming prey. But there remains ambiguity over what makes a
publisher predatory. Librarians can help to counteract the
misconceptions and alarmism that stymie the acceptance of OA.
landscape of scholarly communication, you’ve probably heard of predatory
open access (OA) journals. These are OA journals that exist for the
sole purpose of profit, not the dissemination of high-quality research
findings and furtherance of knowledge. These predators generate profits
by charging author fees, also known as article processing charges
(APCs), that far exceed the cost of running their low-quality,
publisher: many reputable OA journals use APCs to cover costs,
especially in fields where research is often funded by grants. (Many
subscription-based journals also charge authors fees, sometimes per page
or illustration.) However, predatory journals are primarily
fee-collecting operations—they exist for that purpose and only
incidentally publish articles, generally without rigorous peer review,
despite claims to the contrary.
long been opportunistic publishers (e.g., vanity presses and sellers of
public domain content) and deceptive publishing practices (e.g., yellow
journalism and advertisements formatted to look like articles). It is
also not unique to OA journals. There are many mediocre
subscription-based journals, and even respected subscription-based
journals have accepted deeply problematic submissions (e.g., Andrew
Wakefield et al.’s article linking autism to vaccines in The Lancet and Alan Sokal’s nonsense article in Social Text).
explosion was expedited by the emergence and success of fee-charging OA
journals. No matter how strong our urge to support and defend OA,
librarians cannot deny the profusion of predators in the OA arena; John Bohannon’s recent “sting”
made abundantly clear (despite methodological flaws) that there are
many bad actors. Rather, we should seek to understand their methods,
track their evolution, and communicate their characteristics to our
Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado-Denver, who
curates a blacklist of “potential, possible, or probable” predatory OA publishers and journals. Beall’s list has become a go-to tool and has even been featured in The New York Times, but
it is not the final word on predatory publishing, partially because
Beall himself has a complicated, and not entirely supportive, attitude
toward OA in general.
Image credit:Yael P (Flickr, CC BY)
and greatly increased awareness of predatory publishing. He is
recognized as a leading expert and has gone largely unchallenged,
probably both because nonexperts are eager for blacklists that seemingly
obviate the need for individual analysis of publishers and journals,
and because little empirical research has been done on the phenomenon of
predatory publishing. However, in 2014, Walt Crawford took Beall to
task in an article called “Ethics and Access 1: The Sad Case of Jeffrey Beall.“
or low-quality publishing as a phenomenon that predates OA and is not
exclusive to OA journals. He also points out that Beall favors toll-access publishers,
specifically Elsevier, praising its “consistent high quality.” However,
a simple Google search for “fake Elsevier journals” reveals Beall’s
position as tenuous. Furthermore, Beall conflates OA journals with “author pays” journals,
and reveals his skepticism, if not hostility, about OA. Politics aside,
Beall’s laser-like focus on predatory publishers may prevent him from
having a broader perspective on scholarly communication. Case in point:
Beall has blithely declared the “serials crisis” to be over, but those of us who manage resources beg to differ.
have all noted Beall’s bias against these publishers. Imperfect English
or a predominantly non-Western editorial board does not make a journal
predatory. An interesting example is Hindawi, an Egyptian publisher once
considered predatory that improved its practices and standards over
time. If we accept that there is a continuum from devious and
duplicitous to simply low-quality and amateurish, then it is likely, as Crawford believes,
that some of the publishers on Beall’s list are not actually predatory.
Although Beall’s contributions are arguably compromised by his
attitudes about OA, the criteria he uses for his list
are an excellent starting point for thinking about the hallmarks of
predatory publishers and journals. He encourages thorough analysis,
including scrutiny of editorial boards and business practices. Some of
his red flags provide a lot of “bang for your buck” in that they are
both easy to spot and likely to indicate a predatory operation. These
include editors or editorial board members with no or fake academic
affiliations, lack of clarity about fees, publisher names and journal
titles with geographic terms that have no connection to the publisher’s
physical location or journal’s geographic scope, bogus impact factor
claims and invented metrics, and false claims about where the journal is
Beall also lists common practices indicative of low-quality but not
necessarily predatory journals. He is rightfully wary of journals that
solicit manuscripts by spamming researchers, as established publishers
generally do not approach scholars, as well as publishers or editors
with email addresses from Gmail, Yahoo, etc. Also, he wisely warns
researchers away from journals with bizarrely broad or disjointed scopes
and journals that boast extremely rapid publication, which usually
suggests no or only cursory peer review.
publishers, whitelisting, or listing publishers and journals that have
been vetted and verified as satisfying certain standards, may be a
better solution than blacklisting. The central player in the
whitelisting movement is the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).
In response to the Bohannon sting, DOAJ removed 114 journals
and revamped its criteria for inclusion. Journals accepted into DOAJ
after March 2014 under the stricter rules are marked with a green tick
symbol, and DOAJ has announced that it will require the remaining 99% of
its listed journals to reapply for acceptance.
content immediately available (i.e., no embargoes); provide quality
control through an editor, editorial board, and peer review; have a
registered International Standard Serial Number (ISSN); and exercise
transparency about APCs. Journals that meet additional requirements,
such as providing external archiving and creating persistent links, are
recognized with the DOAJ Seal. DOAJ receives an assist from the ISSN
Centre, which in 2014 added language reserving the right to deny ISSNs to publishers that provide misleading information.
An organization that whitelists publishers by accepting them as
members is the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA).
Members must apply and pledge to adhere to a code of conduct
that disallows any form of predatory be-havior. OASPA has made errors
in vetting applicants, though: it admitted some publishers that it later
had to reject (e.g., Dove Medical Press).
Of course, no blacklist or whitelist can substitute for head-on
investigation of a journal. Open Access Journal Quality Indicators, a
rubric by Sarah Beaubien and Max Eckard
featuring both positive and negative journal characteristics, can help
researchers perform such evaluation. Furthermore, any tool or practice
that gives researchers more information is a boon. For example,
altmetrics provide a broad picture of an article’s impact (not
necessarily correlated to its quality), and open peer review—i.e., any
form of peer review where the reviewer’s identity is not
hidden—increases transparency and allows journals to demonstrate their standards.
The role of librarians
As librarians, we need to understand the hallmarks and methods of
predatory publishers for several reasons. Most obviously, we must help
researchers avoid becoming prey and help readers recognize low-quality
journals. In addition, we need to counteract the misconceptions and
alarmism that stymie the acceptance of OA.
For example, many researchers conflate journal quality with
publication model or business model, and librarians can help untangle
those concepts. To do so, we must arm ourselves with clear, convincing
explanations that quality and reputation are independent of openness,
that OA journals do not necessarily charge fees, and that fees do not
necessarily imply predatoriness. We should be ready with examples of
high-quality and well-respected OA journals, as well as reassuring facts
about fees (e.g., as of January 2015, 63% of journals listed in DOAJ
have no fees) and efforts to marginalize predatory publishers.
Furthermore, we need to make sure that researchers understand that OA
can be achieved not only through OA journals but also through
self-archiving in repositories. Confusion on this point is still
rampant, and too many researchers write off OA entirely because they’ve
encountered suspect OA journals.
researchers with the prospect of opening scholarly literature. Of
course, it is always strategic to explain the benefits of OA in general,
including increased readership and citations. In other words, we need
to be able to describe the beast, its implications, and its
limitations—neither understating nor overstating its size and danger. By
informing ourselves and our patrons, we not only counter confusion
about OA journal publishing but also help starve predators and therefore
contribute to the future of scholarly communication.
blacklisting, whitelisting, and other projects endeavoring to deter
predatory publishers and promote best practices. We are key stakeholders
in scholarly and professional conversations reimagining various aspects
of scholarly communication.
This originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of College and Research Libraries News: Berger, Monica, and Jill Cirasella. “Beyond Beall’s List: Better Understanding Predatory Publishers.” College & Research Libraries News 76.3 (2015): 132-5. This article is reprinted with the authors’ permission.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the
position of the Impact of Social Science blog, nor of the London School
of Economics. Please review our Comments Policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.
About the Authors
Monica Berger is Associate Professor and Electronic
Resources and Technical Services Librarian at New York City College of
Technology, CUNY. Her academic interests include scholarly
communications as well as popular music.
Jill Cirasella is the Associate Librarian for Public
Services and Scholarly Communication at the Graduate Center CUNY, where
she leads numerous scholarly communications initiatives, including the
GC’s new institutional repository, Academic Works. Jill is a vocal advocate of open access and seeks to promote understanding and adoption of open access at CUNY and beyond.
Impact of Social Sciences – Beyond Beall’s List: We need a better understanding of predatory publishing without overstating its size and danger.