Scholarly Open Access
own admission, Jeffrey Beall came late to the OA
party. His interest began in 2009—22 years after the first known U.S.
gold OA scholarly journal appeared (New Horizons in Adult Education), 19
years after the first U.S. gold OA scholarly journal in the library field that
I know of appeared, a journal I was involved in for most of its life (The
Public-Access Computer Systems Review), eight years after I
started writing about the field and seven years after the meetings and
proclamations that gave it its name. Coming late is fine. OA needs to have
more people involved all the time. Beall’s involvement was always a
little different, however.
He first encountered OA when reviewing a publisher, Bentham Open, for The Charleston Advisor. It’s a very negative
review for what seem to be good reasons, and at the time Beall seemed to
be at least potentially positive about OA itself, based on the first
sentence of this extract: "The
Open Access model is a good one, for it makes research freely available to
everyone. However, Bentham Open is exploiting the good will of those who
established the Open Access model by twisting it and exploiting it for
profit. Just because a journal is Open Access doesn’t make it legitimate
or high quality."
I can’t imagine there are many knowledgeable folks who would
argue with that last sentence, which would be equally correct if
you substituted “subscription- based” or “very expensive” or
“published by one of the big journal publishers” for “Open
Access.” It should boil down to this: Just because a journal exists or
has a given business model or is from a given publisher doesn’t
automatically make it legitimate or high quality.
But there’s an oddity in the review, which is presumably of one
OA publisher. Beall finds it necessary to quote an Elsevier executive
and praise Elsevier: Speaking against the “author pays” model, Crispin
Davis, the CEO of Reed Elsevier said, “if you are receiving potential
payment for every article submitted, there is an inherent conflict of
interest that could threaten the quality of the peer review system.”
Indeed, McCabe and Snyder state, “Good articles provide a reader
benefit; bad articles do not. Readers cannot tell the quality of articles
prior to reading them, and reading an article requires an effort cost.”
Here again, these statements bring to mind the role of the collection
development librarian in making resource selection decisions that benefit
library users. In addition, they offer a new perspective on the high
subscription costs of journals published by companies like Reed Elsevier.
Perhaps the consistent high quality their journals bring justifies
the high subscription prices after all.
Given the increasing number of Open Access STM journals, scholars
need a reliable means of finding only the research worth reading.
Apparently Beall would disagree with my “It should boil down”
above—he’s asserting that all Elsevier journals are high
quality (or at least that’s how I read “consistent”). Setting that
aside, it’s my impression that a fair number of Elsevier journals charge
page charges and other forms of “author pays,” and there’s no
question that Elsevier and other big publishers use increasing numbers of
published articles as one basis for ever-rising prices.
Thus, the Crispin Davis quote applies equally well to many
subscription journals. I haven’t followed all of Beall’s work (you can
find quite a bit of it from the “Research” tab of his blog Scholarly
but it’s pretty clear that he’s made a specialty of identifying gold
OA journals and publishers as being predatory and unworthy— and, in the
process, started taking more and more swipes at OA itself. There was
apparently an earlier Posterous blog that has disappeared along with
Posterous itself; the current incarnation began in January 2012.
Just looking at the January 2012 archive begins to suggest real
issues in what might otherwise be an admirable pursuit. Consider, for
example, “Scholarly Open-Access Publishing and the ‘Imprimatur of
January 25, 2012. He discusses a chapter of The
AIDS conspiracy: Science fights back and says it “indirectly relates
to scholarly openaccess publishing.” How?
The author tells the story of an Elsevier journal called Medical
hypotheses that some AIDS denialists used to legitimize their arguments
that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. Summarizing, Nattrass wrote, “The episode
highlights the importance of peer review as a core scientific value” (p.
She defines and discusses boundary work, which is work by
scientists that essentially draws a line between what counts as science
and what doesn’t. Medical hypotheses allowed denialists’ work to be
published without peer review, while still conveying scientific status.
Defending peer review, Nattrass states that “For all its faults, peer
review remains an essential mechanism for the allocation of trust in the
results of others” (p. 139).
Wow! That’s pretty shocking! Medical hypotheses must be
some predatory gold OA journal from…wait, Elsevier? That
publisher with “consistent high quality”? Well, at least it
must be a gold OA…hmm. Nope. As with many Elsevier journals these
days, the journal (which
still exists) offers a pricey OA option, but
it’s a subscription journal. It was an Elsevier
journal without traditional peer
review (unlike nearly all gold OA
journals), but it was nonetheless an Elsevier
when Beall looks at apparent failure in peer review by a
subscription-based journal published by the world’s largest
STM journal publisher, he sees this: Many questionable open-access
publishers are making a mockery of peer review. Unfortunately, it’s hard
for us to observe and validate their peer review practices, for they are
like seeing JP Morgan Chase pay a multi billion dollar fine for
questionable business practices and concluding that credit unions must be
sketchy! In the same month, and I’d guess many times since, Beall
explicitly equated gold OA with “author- pays model,” either ignorant
of or deliberately ignoring the fact that most gold OA journals don’t
have article-processing charges and that a higher percentage of
subscription-based journals than gold OA journals do have
author-side charges (or page and other charges).
started with a list of a few “predatory” publishers. The list grew by
leaps and bounds, sometimes including long-established publishing houses
with the misfortune of being headquartered in India (specifically, Hindawi),
with Beall acting as prosecutor, judge and jury on who’s predatory and
who’s not. He’s still doing it—in just one year, his list nearly
doubled in size. Recent posts have made it clear that Beall’s own
criteria are all that matter: He’s the one man authority on
predatory—but only predatory OA—publishing. Remarkably, hundreds if
not thousands of librarians and others seem to take Beall’s word as
looked at Beall’s list of questionable practices. It’s an interesting
list, including this item:
publisher requires transfer of copyright and retains copyright on journal
means nearly all subscription-based journal publishers engage in
didn’t read all of Beall’s blog posts. I honestly don’t know whether
the misleading items noted above are typical or special cases. As with
most library folk, I was appalled when a publisher attempted to sue Beall
for libel—but being sued for unfortunate reasons doesn’t automatically
make the defendant a saint. As with a number of other people who’ve been
involved with and writing about OA for years, I was growing increasingly
nervous about Beall’s growing stridency about “predatory” OA
publishers— and amazement that there never seem to be sketchy or
predatory subscription publishers, even among those charging high
page charges and other article fees.
W. (2014). Sad case of Jeffrey Beall. Cites
and insights, 14 (4).
by Friends of Open Access