Monday, 8 February 2016

An Interview with Jeffrey Beall | The Scholarly Kitchen


Authors, Business Models, Commerce, Controversial Topics, Ethics, Libraries, Open Access

An Interview with Jeffrey Beall

Jeffrey Beall
Image via Jeffrey Beall
[Note from Joe Esposito: Not long ago Jeffrey Beall took a swipe at the Scholarly Kitchen. The consternation of my fellow Chefs was evident in the discussion that followed: What’s he getting at? What motivates him? Why is he doing this? Rather
than speculate, I thought it would be a good idea to allow Beall to
speak in his own voice. The interview below was conducted via email.
Beall reviewed all final questions and responses.

Esposito:  What first drew your interest to open access (OA) publishing and caused you to study it?

Beall:  I first became interested in questionable
journals and publishers in 2008, when, as an assistant professor on
tenure track, I began to receive ungrammatical spam emails from
fishy-looking gold open access publishers, publishers I had never heard
of before. I used to print them out and keep the printouts in a blue
folder. I eventually drew up a short list of the suspicious publishers
(this was really before mega-journals had appeared) and quietly
published the list on an old blog I had.

Esposito: At what point did you come up with the term “predatory” to describe the fishy-looking publishers?

Beall: In 2010. I first used the term in this article published in a journal called The Charleston Advisor.

Esposito: In that paper you write:

“These publishers are predatory because
their mission is not to promote, preserve, and make available
scholarship; instead, their mission is to exploit the author-pays,
Open-Access model for their own profit.”
Your formulation seems to leave open the possibility of Gold open
access publication that is not exploitative. Is that indeed your point
of view?

Beall: Correct, in theory, there’s nothing really
wrong with the gold open access model, and there are numerous examples
of it working well. While the model does have a built-in conflict of
interest (more papers accepted leads to more revenue), it’s the
exploitation of the model for gratuitous profit that is of concern, and
not so much the model itself. There are many hundreds of OA journals and
publishers that are not on my lists.

Esposito: Could you provide some examples of
Gold OA journals that subscribe to good principles for publishing? That
is, what are some journals that are not predatory, in your view?

Beall: The particular niche I’ve carved out involves
identifying predatory or otherwise low-quality or deceptive scholarly
journals. Although I receive many requests to identify good or
high-quality journals, I choose to leave this identification to others,
especially those in the particular fields the journals represent.

Esposito: You have been criticized for
supporting a blacklist instead of working toward a whitelist. Do you
have any views of the relative merits of blacklists and whitelists?

Beall: I’ve had lots of conversations about the
strengths and weaknesses of journal whitelists and blacklists, and every
one has been interesting. Both approaches have their strengths and
weaknesses. There are examples where whitelists have been shown to be
monumental failures. For example, the Bohannon sting in Science two years ago found that 45% of a sample of publishers included in DOAJ accepted a bogus paper submitted for publication. I know that DOAJ has tried to make improvements, but in fact, in my opinion, it’s never really recovered from this telling, major failure.

Because you’re not an academic yourself, you may not realize or
understand the amount of spam that researchers receive today. They are
bombarded with spam emails from predatory publishers, many of whom are
easily able to defeat spam filters. For those needing to eliminate
questionable or low-quality journals or publishers from consideration, a
blacklist has great value as a time-saving device. You can quickly
check whether a journal’s publisher is on the list, and if it is, you
can immediately remove it from consideration, saving valuable time. My
lists are used by governments and universities and colleges around the
world and are found especially valuable in developing countries, where
predatory publishers especially target researchers.

Esposito: Have you codified the criteria for
evaluation of a journal before putting it onto your list? If you have,
are the criteria publicly available?

Beall:  Yes, the criteria, currently in the 3rd edition, are available here.

Esposito: The current version of that document
was posted a year ago, yet you are often criticized for not being
transparent about your practices. Have your practices changed over the
years? Have you been listening to your critics and modifying your
practices where you saw a reason to?

Beall: My work has benefited from the help,
assistance, and guidance of many valuable mentors over the years. I’ve
gotten tremendous support, much of it given quietly, and I am very
grateful for it. I receive emails almost daily thanking me for my work.

The criteria document, now in its third edition, reflects changes in
scholarly open access publishing and the evaluation and criticism of it.

In most cases, the evaluation of predatory publishers and journals is
easy and obvious, and there is no disagreement. For example, if an open
access journal promises a one-week peer review and falsely claims to
have an impact factor, few will disagree that it should be flagged.

Your repeated references to unnamed critics are fallacious. You’re
begging the question of whether they or their arguments are credible.
Predatory journals and publishers are hurting science and corrupting
scholarly communication.

Esposito: You criticized DOAJ for including publishers you termed predatory. Subsequently DOAJ
changed its guidelines for inclusion, but there was never any
acknowledgment of your role in this. What is your view of DOAJ as it is
currently constituted? Do you think
DOAJ has been listening to you and learning, but failing to make an acknowledgment?

Beall: I don’t think DOAJ made any
decisions or changed their policies based on anything I said or did. I
think they tightened up their inclusion criteria as a result of the
Bohannon sting and not because of me. For information on whether DOAJ has been listening, I would refer you to them. But in point of fact, I have not been speaking to DOAJ — we have no dialog.

DOAJ has been victimized by predatory publishers. The idea
of creating a directory of open access journals is a good one. Predatory
publishers are experts at appearing like legitimate publishers, and
many have been fooled or misled by them (victimized by them,
essentially), including the compilers of directories or other similar

Esposito: If you could change any one thing in
scholarly communications — say, by announcing a policy that everybody
would adhere to — what would that one thing be? You are welcome to offer
more than one idea.

Beall: Easy: we need to end the system of payments
from authors. Author-financed scholarly publishing is corrupting
scholarly communication.

Esposito: I want to be sure I understand you on
this point. To an earlier question you replied that although you focus
on identifying OA publishers of little or no merit, you believed that
there are useful OA venues. But your response just now seems to suggest
that all Gold OA is a bad thing. Can you clarify your position?

Beall: I stand by both statements. I know some would
love to catch me in a contradiction and declare victory, but some
things are ambiguous, and at universities we specialize in dealing with
ambiguities and uncertainties.

You brought up the concept of self-contradiction, so I am reminded
that in late 2013 you authored a mean and hurtful blog post in The Scholarly Kitchen entitled “Parting Company with Jeffrey Beall.” Why are you communicating with me now after so firmly declaring an intention to end contact with me?

Esposito: Gold OA now captures about 3 percent
of total revenues for journals. It is growing. Do you see it reaching a
plateau at some point or even declining, or will the growth continue?

Beall: I’m sorry — I am not really qualified to
answer this question. I would refer you to someone at STM or Outsell. I
am focused on helping researchers avoid being victimized by bogus and
corrupt open access publishers and journals and not on making industry

What’s the source for that statistic, anyway? Does it include all the
revenue earned by the thousands of journals on my lists, including all
those based in South Asia and West Africa? I suspect not. Most research
on OA journals excludes the journals on my lists and instead exclusively
uses DOAJ as a source of titles to study, so most studies on OA don’t
tell the whole story.

Esposito: As Gold OA does not involve the
curatorial activity of a library, what changes has the advent of OA
brought about in a library’s operations?

Beall: Actually, this is a key question. I think
I’ve read your comments about scholarly open access publishing
disintermediating academic libraries, and I agree. No longer stewards of
physical collections, academic librarians have to find new ways to add
value to information in the college and university context.

One of the ways that we’re doing this is by helping faculty,
students, and post-docs navigate the entire research process, from
initial literature review to final publication of the research results
in a journal or monograph.

As you know, there are many corrupt and low-quality businesses
appearing, firms offering services to researchers at different places
along the research cycle, with predatory publishers among the most
salient of these. The particular niche I’ve carved out is to help
researchers avoid being victimized by such publishers, and many
librarians have assisted me in this, and I am grateful for their help.
Other academic libraries provide the same service using different

As the role of consumer switches from libraries to researchers,
academic librarians have the opportunity to share valuable skills and
information with university researchers.

Esposito: What policies can be implemented on
an institutional level to identify and marginalize, and perhaps to
eliminate, predatory publishers?

Beall: Sir, I am not a specialist in higher
education policy, so I cannot provide a complete answer to this
question. All I know is that there are predatory publishers and journals
that are victimizing researchers, and I am doing all I can to get the
word out and help researchers avoid being hurt by them.

I do know that there are academic departments, colleges, and
universities — and even a few governments — that find my lists valuable
and use them for evaluation purposes, i.e., as a component of their
policies. Many individuals use them as well.

Esposito: What didn’t I ask you that you would like to comment on?

Beall: Here are two things that I think are important that I don’t think we’ve discussed:

  1. Predatory journals and the threat to the integrity of science.
South African researcher Nicoli Nattrass writes about the concept she
calls the “imprimatur of science,” namely, the process through which a
scientific journal grants science’s seal of approval to the articles it
publishes. This means that scholarly publishers are expected to enforce
demarcation and only allow vetted science to be published. An easy
example is astrology; no legitimate journal would publish articles
purporting a scientific basis to astrology, for it’s a pseudo-science.

However, the line isn’t always so clear, but it’s still the role of
journals to enforce the line and not allow pseudo-science to be
published bearing the “imprimatur of science.”

But, as you surely know, predatory and low-quality journals are
granting the imprimatur of science to basically any idea for which the
author is willing to write an article and pay the author fees. This is
polluting the scientific record with junk science, and demarcation has
essentially failed. I believe this will worsen in time and the notion of
what constitutes valid science and what isn’t will become increasingly
vague. Moreover, journalists will report on bogus science, covering it
as authentic science to their readers and viewers (cf. the recent
Johannes Bohannon chocolate study), and scholarly indexes, such as
Google Scholar, will include the junk science among the works they
index, ruining the cumulative nature of research.

2. I think that the scholarly publishing industry has failed
science and scientists by allowing the predatory publishers to
proliferate so much, but the open access movement also shares the blame
for this.

There are organizations that represent the interests of publishers,
and there are organizations that represent the interests of journal
editors, but there are none that represent the interests of scholarly
authors, those who now increasingly are the consumers of scholarly
publishing services (and this relates to the disintermediation of
academic libraries, formerly the chief consumers of scholarly content,
content that is now largely given away for free). There is no “consumers
union” for scholarly authors, yet they are, collectively, chiefly the
ones paying for scholarly publishing-related services.

I’ve tried to help with this by advising authors on which journals
and publishers they should avoid, but more work in this area is needed.
An organization may be needed.

I have been observing recently that the number of people who make
their living through scholarly open access publishing is increasing,
perhaps reaching a tipping point, so that more individuals in the
scholarly publishing industry earn their living through payments from
authors than payments from academic libraries. This means that more
individuals are more ardently demanding OA because their livelihoods
depend on it. Their salaries inform their ideology, and they’re vocal
and powerful. Thus, if subscriptions to scholarly journals collapse, we
will see increased scholarly publishing chaos, amid calls for even more
payments from authors.

In the scholarly open access segment of the scholarly publishing
industry, we are seeing that the most prosperous publishers are the
larger ones, those able to offshore their production work. Hindawi (in
Egypt) and MDPI (with most of its work done in China) are two examples. I
think the industry will continue to select for publishers like these,
meaning many production-related jobs in North America and Europe will
move to South Asia and East Asia. So the future of the scholarly
publishing industry looks very much like the textile industry, with most
production moved to low-wage countrie

An Interview with Jeffrey Beall | The Scholarly Kitchen

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