The Open-Access Movement is
Not Really about Open Access
(Potential, Possible, Probable, Predatory Blogger)
open-access (OA) movement purports to be about making scholarly content
open-access, its true motives are much different. The OA movement is
an anti-corporatist movement that wants to deny the freedom of the press
to companies it disagrees with.
It is rather amusing to hear open access described
as “anti-corporatist” seeing as the primary push for open access has
come from corporations such as PLOS and BioMed Central, a for profit
company recently purchased by one of the world’s largest publishing
The movement is
also actively imposing onerous mandates on researchers, mandates that
restrict individual freedom. To boost the open-access movement, its
leaders sacrifice the academic futures of young scholars and those from
developing countries, pressuring them to publish in lower-quality
open-access journals. The open-access movement has fostered the creation
of numerous predatory publishers and standalone journals, increasing the
amount of research misconduct in scholarly publications and the amount of
pseudo-science that is published as if it were authentic science.
If you ask most
open-access (OA) advocates about scholarly publishing, they will tell you
that we are in a crisis situation. Greedy publishers have ruined scholarly
communication, they’ll claim, placing work they obtained for free behind
expensive paywalls, locking up research that the world needs to progress.
Yes. We will say that. Because it is completely, and
The OA zealots
will explain how publishers exploit scholars, profiting from the research,
manuscripts, and peer review that they provide for free to the publishers,
who then turn around and sell this research back to academic libraries in
the form of journal subscriptions.
Again. Completely true.
They will also
tell you that Elsevier, the worst of the worst among publishers, actually
created bogus journals to help promote a large pharmaceutical company’s
products. Imagine the horror. Because of this, we can never trust a
subscription publisher again. Ever.
Elsevier did do this. But this has never been part
of the argument for open access.
advent of the Internet means that we really don’t need publishers
anymore anyway. We can self-publish our work or do it cooperatively.
Libraries can be the new publishers. All we have to do is upload our
research to the Internet and our research will be published, and the big
publishers will wither up and die freeing up academic library budgets and
creating a just and perfect system of scholarly publishing.
Yup. That’s pretty much it. Of course it’s not
that simple. Nobody thinks this new system will just happen organically. I
and many others have proposed systems to fund publishing and manage peer
review without subscription-based journals.
The story those
promoting OA tell is simple and convincing. Unfortunately, the story is
incomplete, negligent, and full of bunk. I’m an academic crime fighter
(Bohannon 2013b). I am here to set the record straight.
Phew. I’m glad someone’s on the case.
The logic behind
the open-access movement is so obvious, simple, and convincing that no one
could disagree with it, except that OA advocates don’t tell the whole
story. Open access will grant free access to research to everyone,
including research-starved people in the Global South who have never read
a scholarly article before. How could anyone oppose that? It will also
allow everyone who has ever had the frustration of hitting a paywall when
seeking a research article to access virtually everything for free, or so
What the Open-Access
Movement is Really About
movement is really about anti-corporatism. OA advocates want to make
collective everything and eliminate private business, except for small
businesses owned by the disadvantaged.
I don’t even know what to say about this. Forget
about the self-delusion that leads Beall to think he can intuit what my
and other OA advocates intentions have been. It’s just a factually
ludicrous statement. The OA movement was born, and continues to be driven,
by corporations – most of them for profit corporations – who are
seeking to build businesses that better serve their customers. Does Beall
think Google is anti-corporatist and anti-profit because they are trying
to drive small newspapers out of business?
like the idea of profit, even though many have a large portfolio of mutual
funds in their retirement accounts that invest in for-profit companies.
So not only are we anti-corporatist, we’re bad
Salaries of academics
in the United States have increased dramatically in the past two decades,
especially among top professors and university administrators. OA
advocates don’t have a problem with this, and from their high-salaried
comfortable positions they demand that for-profit, scholarly journal
publishers not be involved in scholarly publishing and devise ways (such
as green open-access) to defeat and eliminate them.
No. I and other open access proponents see a
publishing system that is expensive, slow and ineffective and that
needlessly denies access to countless people in the US and elsewhere who
would benefit directly and indirectly from access to the scholarly
literature. Yes, we oppose publishers who employ the outdated subscription
model. But not because they are corporations. It’s because what they are
doing is bad for science and bad for the public. Disagree with that
assessment if you will, but please spare me the anti-corporatist garbage.
movement is a negative movement rather than a positive one. It is more a
movement against something than it is a movement for something. Some will
respond that the movement is not against anything; it is just for open
access. But a close analysis of the discourse of the OA advocates reveals
that the real goal of the open access movement is to kill off the
for-profit publishers and make scholarly publishing a cooperative and
socialistic enterprise. It’s a negative movement.
From day 1, open access has been about a very
specific alternative to the existing subscription model. Yes, by
definition every effort to replace one business model with another will
always have a negative aspect to it. But to deny that there is a positive
aspect to OA is silly. What is PLOS? What is BMC?
This kind of
movement, a movement to replace a free market with an artificial and
highly regulated one, rarely succeeds.
The current publishing system a free market? How can
Beall, a librarian for 23 years, say this with a straight face? There is
no free market. Today scientists are all buy compelled – by both real
and imagined expectations of hiring, funding and promotion committees –
to publish their work in a small number of elite journals. These journals
then effectively have a monopoly on proving access to content which
scientists need to do their work. And they use their monopoly power to
sell back this content to universities and other research institutions and
massively inflated prices. There is little choice on the part of
researchers to not participate in the system. And little choice on the
part of institutions to opt out of subscriptions. This is not a free
market that anyone who actually understands or cares about free markets
In fact, the
gold open-access model actually incentivizes corruption, which speed the
path to failure. The traditional publishing model, where publishers lived
or died on subscriptions, encouraged quality and innovation. Publishers
always had to keep their subscribers happy or they would cancel.
Really? Quality and innovation? Twenty years since
the birth of the modern internet scholarly journals basically publish
electronic versions of their old print journals that are nearly identical
in format, layout and content to their pre-internet editions. And this
stasis actually represents progress compared to what has happened with
article submission. It used to be easy to submit a paper to a journal. You
printed it out and put it in the mail. Now it takes hours to go through
web portals that are more complicated – and less efficient – than
Indeed, scholarly publishing is one of the least
innovative industries on the planet. And why? Precisely because they have
absolutely no incentive to innovate because there is not a free market in
subscriptions. Indeed, the structure of the industry actively discourages
innovation because the people who make the important decisions about where
to publish their articles – researchers – are not the people who pay
the bills for journals. I have watched over a decade of efforts on the
part of the University of California libraries to cut costs by canceling
subscriptions, and not once has published innovation every come up in
discussions. Why? Because authors don’t give a hoot about innovation –
they care about getting their work in the most high-profile journal, and
movement that tries to force out an existing technology and replace it
with a purportedly better one also never succeeds. Take the Semantic
Web for example. It has many zealous advocates, and they have been
promoting it for many years. Some refer to the Semantic Web as Web 3.0.
However, despite intense promotion, it has never taken off. In fact, it is
moribund. The advocates who promoted it spent a lot of time and blog space
cheerleading for it, and they spent a lot of time trashing technologies
and standards it was supposed to replace. In fact, that was what they did
the most, badmouthing existing technologies and those who supported and
used them. One example was a library standard called the MARC format. This
standard was ridiculed so much it’s a wonder it still even exists, yet
is still being used successfully by libraries world- wide, and the
semantic web is dying a slow death. Open access publishing is the
“Semantic Web” of scholarly communication.
What a load of nonsense. Yes. The semantic web
failed. But if movements to replace existing technology with better ones
never succeeded I would be chiseling this blog post out on cave walls.
The open access
movement and scholarly open-access publishing itself are about increasing
managerialism (Grayson 2013). Wherever there is managerialism, there is an
increased use of onerous management tactics, including mandatory record
keeping, rationing of resources, difficult approval processes for things
that ought to be freely allowed, and endless committee meetings, practices
that generally lead to cronyism.
Had to look managerialism up, and I still
don’t understand what he’s talking about. It seems like, again, Beall
is operating under the patently false notion that scholarly research and
scholarly publishing are some kind of idea free market. In reality we
already operate under very strict controls tied to our funding (he should
see the paperwork tied to NIH grants), strict rationing of resources and
difficult approval processes for things that out to be freely allowed
(e.g. reading papers) as well as endless committee meetings. But I fail to
see what this has to do with publishing. And does Beall really think the
current journal system is free of cronyism??? Wake up man. Scholarly
journals are amongst the clubbiest institutions on the planet.
publishing model had the advantage of there being no monetary transactions
between scholarly authors and their publishers. Money, a source of
corruption, was absent from the author-publisher relationship (except in
the rare case of reasonable page charges levied on authors publishing with
non-profit learned societies) in the traditional publishing model.
If you think that systems in which one group of
people make the key decisions about what to buy and another group pays the
bills are the perfect way to structure an economic system, I suggest you
study military purchasing systems where generals decide what they want to
buy and Congress just writes a check. That works out really well. Or maybe
I should let my kids decide what kind of things we should by at the
grocery or toy stores without a budget. THIS is what the economics of
scholarly publishing are like today. The system is utterly and completely
corrupt in that authors make a transaction with a journal in which they
get something valuable – a citation – knowing that someone else if
going to pay the bills. What on Earth do you call a system in which a
small group of people receive something of great value that they make
taxpayers pay for besides corrupt?
And, the “rare case of reasonable page charges
levied on authors publishing with non-profit learned societies” is just
ignorant. Page charges for publishing in subscription based journals are
neither rare nor reasonable. Indeed the page charges levied by many
journals – especially top tier and society journals – exceed the costs
of publishing in open access journals.
the friend of those who want to restrict freedom and advancement. It is a
tool for creating malevolent bureaucracies and academic cronyism.
Managerialism is the logical and malevolent extension of office politics,
and it will hurt scholarly communication. Many universities subsidize or
pay completely for their faculty members’ article processing charges
when they submit to gold (author pays) open-access journals. The
management of the funds used to pay these charges will further corrupt
higher education. The powerful will have first priority for the money; the
weak may remain unfunded. Popular ideas will receive funding; new and
unpopular ideas, regardless of their merit, will remain unfunded. By
adding a financial component to the front end of the scholarly publishing
process, the open-access movement will ultimately corrupt scholarly
publishing and hurt the communication and sharing of novel knowledge.
Again, what world is Beall living in where unpopular
ideas are littered with funding and have journals lining up to publish
them? The system we have today in which journals compete based on their
“impact factor” all but ensures that unpopular ideas are relegated to
the most obscure corners of the publishing world. One of the long-term
advantages of reforming scholarly publishing is that it will – by
removing the monopolistic control publishers have today – make
publishing less expensive and accessible. Do we need to be careful that we
don’t create a new system where only the powerful can publish their
work? Yes. But to argue that the current system isn’t already plagued by
this problem is ludicrous.
The open-access movement was born of political correctness, the dogma that
unites and drives higher education.
I have been called many things in my life. But
“politically correct” is not one of them.
The open-access advocates have cleverly used and
exploited political correctness in the academy to work towards achieving
their goals and towards manipulating their colleagues into becoming
open-access advocates. One of the ways they’ve achieved this is through
the enactment of open-access mandates. The strategy involves making very
simple arguments to faculty senates at various universities in favour of
open- access and then asking the faculties to establish the mandates.
These mandates usually require that faculty use either the gold or green
models of open-access publishing. OA advocates use specious arguments to
lobby for mandates, focusing only on the supposed economic benefits of
open access and ignoring the value additions provided by professional
publishers. The arguments imply that publishers are not really needed; all
researchers need to do is upload their work, an action that constitutes
publishing, and that this act results in a product that is somehow similar
to the products that professional publishers produce.
This is just a complete mischaracterization of open
access mandates and the discussions around them. Indeed virtually all open
access mandates enacted to date have been explicitly structured – much
to my chagrin – so as not to threaten subscription based publishers.
Virtually all of them contain embargo periods, typically of a year, before
works are made freely available. Most contain opt out provisions for
scholars who want to publish in journals that are incompatible with the
policy. And none contain any kind of enforcement mechanism or penalties.
Nothing could be further from the truth, and the
existence of the predatory publishers, the focus of my research, is
evidence of this. It’s likely that hundreds or even thousands of honest
researchers have fallen prey to the predatory publishers, those
open-access publishers that exploit the gold open-access model just for
their own profit, pretending to be legitimate publishing operations but
actually accepting any and all submissions just for the money.
Institutional mandates feed into and help sustain predatory publishers.
These journals are terrible and need to be
eliminated. And Beall’s efforts to catalog them are an important part of
this. But, while there are many such journals, they constitute a small
fraction of published papers. And by focusing exclusively on scammy OA
publishers, Beall ignores the far bigger problem of the many subscription
journals (usually run by big for-profit publishers) that also publish more
or less anything submitted to them in the name of driving up their volumes
and justifying increased subscription fees. If you are going to blame
unscrupulous OA publishers on institutional mandates, then you have to
also blame the broader “publish or perish” culture for bottom-feeding
Thus there are conscientious scholars, trying to
follow the freedom-denying mandates imposed on them by their faculty
representatives, who get tricked into submitting their good work to bogus
OR, you have conscientious scholars who believe that
publishing in open access journals is the right thing and have been
tricked into submitting to bogus journals.
Again, I think these journals suck. I agree with
Beall that we need to expose and eliminate them. But this can very easily
be done without discarding open access publishing.
There are numerous open-access advocates who promote
scholarly open-access publishing without warning of the numerous scam
publishers that operate all around the world. I find this promotion
negligent. Anyone touting the benefits of open-access and encouraging its
adoption ought also to warn of the numerous and increasing scams that
exist in the scholarly publishing industry.
I agree with this. This is why PLOS and many other
legitimate OA publishers formed the Open
Access Scholarly Publishers Association to establish a code
of conduct for OA publishers, and to create
effective procedures to certify that publishers adhere to these standards.
I believe many OA advocates ignore the known
problems with scholarly open-access publishing because they don’t want
to frighten people away from it. This is the moral equivalent of selling
someone a used car with the knowledge the engine block is cracked, without
informing the buyer.
That’s a ridiculous metaphor. It’s not like
selling a used car with a hidden defect. It’s more like encouraging
people to invest their money without warning them about Nigerian banking
scams. But I agree that we should all make people aware that there are
problematic publishers and how people can recognize them.
Most descriptions and explanations of open-access
publishing are idealistic and unrealistic. They tout the benefits but
ignore the weaknesses. Many honest scholars have been seriously victimized
by predatory publishers, and as a community we must help others,
especially emerging researchers, avoid becoming victims. Pushing open
access without warning of the possible scams is not helpful. In fact, it
can be downright damaging to a scholar’s career. For example, once a
researcher unwittingly submits a paper to a predatory publisher, it is
usually quickly published. Sometimes this fast publishing is the
researcher’s first clue that something is amiss. But by then it’s too
late, as once a paper is published in a predatory journal, no legitimate
journal will be interested in publishing it. When this happens to early
career researchers, it can have long-term negative effects on their
Again, this is throwing the baby out with the
bathwater. Yes, this is a problem, but it’s a small, and easily fixable
one. Saying we should discard OA publishing because of these bad actors is
like saying we should abandon Obamacare because some insurers have tried
to exploit it in dishonest ways.
I have observed that the advocates promoting open
access do not want to hear any criticisms of the movement of the
open-access publishing models, and they quickly attack anyone who
questions the open-access or highlights its weaknesses. Open-access
advocates are polemics; they have an “us versus them” mentality and
see traditional publishers as the bad guys.
I have always answered questions about PLOS and OA
publishing honestly, and have spoken out repeatedly about what I see are
its weaknesses and where it has not achieved its potential. However, I am
also quick to point out the far greater weaknesses in the current system,
and the often erroneous statements made against OA publishing.
In April 2008 [sic – it was
2013], an article about predatory publishers appeared in
the New York Times (Kolata 2013). The article described predatory
publishers and predatory conferences. Immediately upon publication of the
article, OA advocates sprang into action, questioning the article and its
reporting. Numerous blog posts appeared, many attempting to cast doubt on
the article. One perhaps slightly paranoid blog post was entitled “Did
Commercial Journals Use the NYT to Smear Open Access?” (Bollier 2013).
The fact is the predatory publishers do cast a negative light on all of
scholarly open-access publishing.
I do not agree with this at all. These publishers
cast a negative light on those publishers. Most researchers know who the
legitimate OA publishers are, and I have seen no evidence that the
existence of these scam publishers has hurt PLOS’s reputation at all. In
fact, it seems like it has had the opposite effect, with researchers
gaining an appreciation for the degree of rigor PLOS puts into its review
I notice that Beall isn’t arguing that the
existence of scam conferences casts a negative light on all scholarly
conferences. Why is this? They use the same business model. It’s
sometimes hard to tell which ones are good and which are bad? Is it
perhaps because the logical connection he’s trying to draw between bad
OA journals and all OA journals is bad.
The gold open-access model in particular is flawed;
there are only a few publishers that employ the model ethically, and many
of these are cutting corners and lowering their standards because they
don’t have to fear losing subscribers.
It would be helpful if he were specific about who he
thinks is being unethical and who is cutting corners.
On October 4, 2013, Science magazine published an
article by John Bohannon (2013b) that related what the author learned from
a sting operation he conducted on open-access publishers. The sting
operation, which used my list of predatory publishers and the Directory of
Open Access Journals as sources of journals, found that many journals
accepted papers without even doing a peer review, and many did a peer
review and accepted the unscientific article Bohannon baited them with
Here again, the open-access advocates came out
swinging, breaking into their “us versus them” stance, and attacking
Bohannon, some- times personally, for not including subscription journals
in his study. Subscription journals were not part of his research
question, however, but that didn’t stop the many strident critics of
Bohannon’s work, who acted almost instinctively according to their
Manichaean view of traditional and open-access publishing. He didn’t
need to gather data about traditional publishers; that wasn’t what he
was studying. If you are counting cars, you don’t need to count
airplanes as a control. Also, OA advocates often brag about the
continually-increasing number of open-access outlets, predicting that
traditional publishers will soon be eclipsed. So if the traditional
publishers are nearly extinct, why bother to study them?
The attack on Bohannon was carried out with a near
religious fervour. OA advocates will do anything to protect the image of
open-access. They don’t care that the number of predatory publishers is
grow- ing at a near-relativistic speed; all they care about is that public
perception of scholarly open access be kept positive. Bohannon was
interviewed by The Scholarly Kitchen contributor Phil Davis on November
12, 2013. Summarizing the reaction of the open-access advocate community
to his sting, Bohannon said, “I learned that I have been too naive and
idealistic about scientists. I as- sumed that the results [of my study]
would speak for themselves. There would be disagree- ments about how best
to interpret them, and what to do about them, but it would be a civil
discussion and then a concerted, rational, community effort to address the
problems that the results reveal. But that is far from what happened.
Instead, it was 100% political and many scientists that I respected turned
out to be the most cynical political operators of all” (Bohannon 2013a).
Interpreting the reaction to Bohannon’s sting
article publisher Kent Anderson, the president of the Society for
Scholarly Publishing and former chief editor of the blog The Scholarly
Kitchen commented, “… don’t expect rational, calm, reasoned
assessments from the likes of Eisen, Solomon, or others [open access
advocates]. They’ve demonstrated they are ideologues that are quite
willing to attack anyone who they view as falling outside their particular
view of OA orthodoxy. How they are able to continue to deny what is
actually happening is beyond me” (Anderson 2013).
I won’t speak for others, but since Beall calls me
out by name, I would like to point out that on my blog and in a forum
sponsored by Science, I accepted the results of Bohannon’s story and
said repeatedly that these journals are a problem. However, Beall and
Bohannon’s efforts to paint his article as an innocent exploration of a
problem in publishing are absurd. I won’t rehash the whole debate here.
But go back and look at the press release and the things Bohannon and
others wrote after the article appeared – they were clearly spinning the
article in order to get in wider attention. And, of course, OA advocates
responded in kind.
When he served as the chief editor of The Scholarly
Kitchen blog, Anderson was a frequent target of criticism from open-access
zealots. I think this analysis from him sums up the attitude and actions
of open access advocates quite well: “The attacks we’ve received when
we’ve talked about OA have been surprisingly vitriolic and immature,
even when we’ve said some things that were intended to point out issues
the OA community might want to think about, in a helpful way. Some people
really have a hair-trigger about anything short of complete OA
cheerleading” (Anderson 2012).
Anyone who follows Anderson and The Scholarly
Kitchen know that he is on a years-long crusade to discredit open access
publishing. I don’t know anyone who takes him seriously anymore. Yes,
his posts inspire heated responses. That’s because he is a classic
internet troll whose posts – with a selective use of facts that would
make Fox News proud, and consistent questioning of the wisdom and
intentions of open access proponents – are crafted to piss people off.
And like more trolls, he succeeds in eliciting the kind of antagonistic
comments on which he seems to get off. It’s too bad, because amidst the
anti open-access rhetoric, Anderson can be coherent, sometimes makes good
points, and has an interesting perspective on publishing.
One of the arguments that OA advocates use is that a
lot of research is publically funded; therefore, the public deserves
access to the research for free. This argument is true more in Europe more
so than in the United States because collectivism is more
institutionalized there. However, there are a lot of things that are
publically funded that are not free, both in Europe and North America.
Public transportation is one example. If OA advocates stuck to their
principles, they would also be demanding that all publically owned buses
and trains are free to all users. Their argument also completely ignores
all the ways that publishers add value to information. This is done by
selecting the best research for publication, managing the peer review
process, managing ethics, maintaining servers, digital preservation, and
the like. There are plenty of government-funded things that are not free,
especially things to which the private sector adds value.
Beall is being willfully disingenuous here. His main
critique about open access publishing is that the direct exchange of money
between scientists and publishers corrupts the process. But then he
accuses open access advocates of wanting publishing to be free. What does
he think that OA publishing fees are for?
From the very beginning I and most other OA
advocates have explicitly pointed out that publishing has costs, and that
those costs need to be covered by the research community. The goal of OA
publishing is not to deny the costs, but rather to pay for them in a
different way. Science funders can pay a fee for access (as is currently
done) , they can pay a fee to publish (as PLOS and other OA publishers
do), or they could just subsidize the whole thing with no transaction cost
(as eLife does – this the model I ultimately favor).
For what it’s worth, I do think buses and trains
should be free for all users. This would clearly accomplish an important
public good – reducing the use of cars – whose economic and
non-economic benefits would far far outweigh the costs (see ).
It is particularly ironic that Beall – a Librarian
– rails so much against government subsidies, since his entire
profession is based on the idea that governments should completely
subsidize the costs of access to information. Does he think you should pay
a fee every time you check out a book? Or ask a librarian a question?
Maybe he does – but it’s awfully convenient that he ignores this
example, since Beall would almost certainly be out of a job if the state
of Colorado applied his logic to their library system.
Building on this idea, I do find that the
open-access movement is a Euro-dominant one, a neo-colonial attempt to
cast scholarly communication policy according to the aspirations of a
cliquish minority of European collectivists. Early funding for the
open-access movement, specifically the Budapest Open Access Initiative,
came from George Soros, known for his extreme left-wing views and the
financing of their enactment as laws (Poynder 2002).
Is there some corollary of Godwin’s
Law in which anyone with a progressive agenda is labeled a Communist in
order to discredit them?
It may be convenient for Beall to discredit the OA
movement by labeling it’s advocates as European pinkos. But it’s an
ahistorical argument. While pushes for OA came from Europe, in the
sciences at least the roots are clearly in the US – starting with arXiv,
then eBiomed, PubMed Central, PLOS, the NIH mandate, etc…. I in no way
want to diminish the important contributions to OA from the rest of the
world, but to label this a European movement is ridiculous. And, having
been present at the beginning, I can assure you that collectivist
arguments were never the basis for the push for OA – it was always first
and foremost about making research work better.
And while George Soros did provide some early
funding for BOAI. The biggest financial boost to OA in its early years
came from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. You will all know Gordon
Moore as the noted socialist and anti-corporatist who founded Intel.
Another inconsistency in the open-access movement is
that the zealots have been attacking scholarly journal publishers but
generally ignoring scholarly monograph publishers, even though they
operate using basically the same model, selling proprietary content to
libraries. This is evidence that the open-access movement isn’t really
about making content open- access; it’s really about shutting down
journal publishers. Were it a truly principled movement, it would apply
its principals consistently.
The reason that journals have been the main target
of OA, is that OA has – until very recently – been almost entirely
about the sciences, and there is essentially no history of publishing
monographs in the sciences. And, once again, if Beall – who lives off
the teat of public subsidy – applied his principles consistently, he
would resign his position and set up an entirely fee-for-service library.
Some tenured open-access advocates are pressuring
young scholars away from submitting their work to traditional journals,
sacrificing them to the open-access movement. They are pressured to
publish in OA journals despite their being able to publish in more
esteemed traditional journals, which would better support their tenure
cases. This pressuring helps the OA movement because it gets an increased
amount of good research published in open- access journals, but it hurts
the individuals because it weakens their tenure dossiers. In the
open-access movement, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
OA advocates are also pressuring scientists in
developing countries to publish in OA journals, and this could hurt their
careers. According to Contreras (2012, 60), “scientists in the
developing world wish to publish in prestigious venues, with the greatest
likely readership. Artificially forcing them to publish in oa journals of
lesser impact could be resented and resisted, as it would be in the
industrialized world”. So, OA advocates also want to sacrifice the
careers of developing-world scholars so that they can achieve their
Beall seems to assume that scholars are incapable of
making their own decisions. There is a huge difference between trying to
convince people to do something and pressuring them to do so. Only someone
completely disconnected from the academic community would think that OA
advocates are some kind of dominant power able to force people to do our
bidding. In fact it is exactly the opposite. The dominant pressure in the
system is for people to publish in the highest impact – usually
subscription – journals they can. There is almost no effective pressure
pushing people to OA journals.
The gold OA model is merely shifting profits from
one set of publishers to another, shifting the source of money from
library subscriptions to those funding article processing charges, such as
the provost’s office, a researcher’s grant itself, or even the
library. That is to say, the open-access movement is dealing with the
serials crisis by lowering or eliminating the subscription charges that
libraries have to pay. But the money to support scholarly publishing has
to come from somewhere. For those researchers lucky enough to have grants,
they can pay the article processing charges out of grant money, but this
means less money that they can spend on actual research. New funding
sources are needed for university researchers who don’t have grants.
Thus, universities will have to initiate new funds to pay for the article
processing charges their faculty incur when they publish in gold
open-access journals. The proper distribution of these funds will require
new committees and more university bureaucracy. Of course, journals
charging APCs will charge more depending on the journal’s status. That
is to say, journals with higher impact factors will impose higher prices.
The act of instituting financial transactions between scholarly authors
and scholarly publishers is corrupting scholarly communication. This was
one of the great benefits of the traditional scholarly publishing system
– it had no monetary component in the relationship between publishers
and their authors. Adding the monetary component has created the problem
of predatory publishers and the problem of financing author fees.
I actually mostly agree with Beall here. The APC
model has serious problems for researchers without grant funding or from
poor institutions, and it’s unreasonable to, in the long run, subsidize
the publishing costs for these authors by essentially taxing the fees paid
by other authors. It would indeed be a nightmare to have committees set up
to decide who will get institutional fees, if that’s the model we
ultimately use. I also think the APC model keeps prices artificially high
(although far lower than the per article costs paid today).
There is, of course, tons of money available to
support publishing, as the research community spends $10b dollars per year
on publishing. If we could magically redirect these costs to support OA
publishing we’d be set. But we can’t. There has to be a mechanism by
which research funders (most granting agencies and universities) pay into
the system in rough proportion to their usage of it. APCs accomplish this,
but I think direct subsidy of publishers by funding agencies makes more
sense (although this too has its problems).
But let’s remember that the current system has
massive incentive problems as well – there is no incentive for the
people who actually make the important decisions – authors deciding
where to sent their papers – to factor in the economic value provided by
the publisher, since the costs are born by libraries who are usually
completely disconnected from the publishing decision. And because of this
publishers have driven up their costs to the maximum level they can
squeeze out of institutions, who are often in the untenable decision of
having to choose between paying escalating costs and providing needed
access to the literature to their researchers.
Financing article processing charges will be most problematic in
middle-income countries. Most non-predatory OA publishers grant fee
waivers to scholars from lower-income countries (as long as they don’t
submit too many articles), but these waivers are generally not applied to
many middle-income countries. Researchers in these countries are caught in
a dilemma – they aren’t eligible for publisher-granted APC waivers,
but their funding agencies lack the funds to subsidize the publication of
their works, so they are left to fend for themselves when it comes to
paying article processing charges.
This is also true. But again, remember that these
countries are also horribly screwed by the current system – as they
neither qualify for free access to journals, nor can they afford to
subscribe to them.
In the end, the best way to address this is to lower
the costs of publishing as much as possible. It is remarkable how little
technology has driven down the costs of scholarly publishing – most of
which involve tasks that could easily be handled with good software
(formatting manuscripts, organizing peer review, etc…) but which are now
done manually. You are already seeing journals whose costs are much, much
lower (e.g. PeerJ) and I think you will see more of a trend in this
direction as publishers actually start to respond to price pressure –
something that has been completely absent from the subscription publishing
And now we are seeing the emergence of mega
gold-open-access publishers. I’ve documented that Hindawi’s profit
margin is higher than Elsevier’s and achieves this by lowering standards
(Beall 2013a). Hindawi has eliminated the position of editor-in-chief from
most of the firm’s over 550 journals. The company exploits Egypt’s
high unemployment rate by paying minimal salaries, employing
college-educated staff desperate for jobs. It’s an example of the
scholarly publishing industry moving offshore. Moreover, because the
journals lack editors, they have become desultory collections of
loosely-related articles on a broad topic. The editorless journals lack
coherence and vitality and function more like sterile repositories than
scholarly publications. Open-access is killing the community function of
scholarly journals, in which they served as fora for the exchange of both
formal and informal communication among colleagues in a particular field
or sub-field. Open access journals lack soul and are disconnected.
This is bunk. There are maybe a handful of
subscription journals that have any kind of real identity. They are mostly
a collection of papers who have found an appropriate level in the
jockeying for impact. The society journals that Beall speaks of so
nostalgically are under threat – but their enemy is not open access,
it’s the impact factor. They have also been undermined by the
transformation of many societies from actual collections of peers into
organizations that are primarily journal publishers.
I also find it curious that Beall is so concerned
about the plight of researchers in the developing world in some areas, but
seems to want to deny them the right to start their own publishers.
Hindawi is still trying to find it’s feet as a publishers, but I have
come across several extremely good articles in Hindawi journals and I
think, rather than denying them the right to exist, we should work to
encourage their development into a respected members of the publishing
Open access advocates think they know better than
everyone else and want to impose their policies on others. Thus, the open
access movement has the serious side-effect of taking away other’s
freedom from them. We observe this tendency in institutional mandates.
Harnad (2013) goes so far as to propose a table of mandate strength, with
the most restrictive pegged at level 12, with the designation “immediate
deposit + performance evaluation (no waiver option)”.
A social movement that needs mandates to work is
doomed to fail. A social movement that uses mandates is abusive and
tantamount to academic slavery. Researchers need more freedom in their
decisions not less. How can we expect and demand academic freedom from our
universities when we impose oppressive mandates upon ourselves?
Once again, Beall manifests a poor understanding of
how academia works. The current system is completely oppressive. While
there is the illusion of choice, in reality researchers are under intense
pressure to publish in a very narrow number of journals that effectively
represent the choice between Coke and Pepsi. Also, researchers at major
universities who receive funding from governments or foundations already
operate under all sorts of mandates – most notably the requirement that
they publish their work in the first place. Why is it okay to demand that
people publish, but not okay to demand that people have access to the
Gold Open Access is Failing
In 2006, James S. E. Opolot, Ph.D., a professor at
Texas Southern University in Houston, published an article entitled “The
Challenges of Environmental Crimes and Terrorism in Africa: Evidence from
Eastern, Southern, and West African Countries” (Opolot 2006). The
article was published in The International Journal of African Studies, one
of the journals in the portfolio of the open-access (and predatory)
publisher called Euro-Journals. One might assume that Euro-Journals would
be based in Europe, but predatory publishers often disguise their true
locations and use the names of Western countries to make themselves appear
legitimate. Euro-Journals is based in Mauritius.
The open-access version of Professor Opolot’s
paper has disappeared from the Internet. Plagued by takedown requests due
the high incidence of plagiarism among its articles, Euro- Journals
decided to switch the distribution model for some of its journals to the
subscription model, and it removed all of their content from the open
Internet. The publisher simply stopped publishing the balance of its
journals, and it removed all of their content from the Internet as well. A
blog post I wrote in March 2013 (Beall 2013b) showed that the publisher
had 29 journals in its portfolio. Among these, 10 became toll-access
journals, and nineteen disappeared from the Internet. Dr. Opolot’s paper
was published in one of the journals whose content was removed, apparently
permanently, from the Internet. I expect this process to repeat itself
many times over in the coming years with other open-access publishers.
This is the worst form of cherry-picking. Open
access publishing is “failing” because one open access publisher that
published an insignificant number of papers went out of business? There
are huge numbers of papers being published in open access journals (PLOS,
BMC, and many others) that take archiving seriously. Indeed legitimate
open access journals have the advantage of having all of their contents
permanently archived by the National Library of Medicine – far more
stable than any journal publisher.
The open-access movement has been a blessing to
anyone who has unscientific ideas and wants to get these ideas into print.
Because the predatory publishers care very little about peer review and
see it merely as a charade that must be performed, they don’t really care
when pseudo-science gets published in their journals, as long as they get
paid for it. In my blog, I’ve given examples of pseudo-science being
published as if it were true science. Here are three examples:
The Theory of Metarelativity: Beyond Albert
Einstein’s Relativity (Jaoude 2013)
Prevalence of Autism is Positively Associated with
the Incidence of Type 1 Diabetes, but Negatively Associated with the
Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes, Implication for the Etiology of the Autism
Epidemic (Classen 2013)
Combating Climate Change with Neutrinos (Wet 2013).
Beall missed perhaps the most egregious example of
drivel being published in open access journals:
The Open-Access Movement is Not Really about Open
Access (Beall 2013)
But seriously. Yes, there is crap published in open
access journals. But like Bohannon before him, Beall has no perspective.
There is a long history of bunk science being published in subscription
based journals – including the highly prestigious ones. There are, and
always have been, journals at the margins of respectability that will
publish anything. To blame this on open access by picking a few examples
The last of these, “Combating Climate Change with
Neutrinos”, was summarily retracted (without any notice) by the
publisher after I drew attention to it in a blog post (Beall 2013c). I
saved a copy of the article’s PDF and have made that document available
on the blog post. There are many unscientific ideas that people can get
published in scholarly journals thanks to predatory open-access
publishing. Authors of these works find that their ideas fail peer review
in legitimate journals, so they seek out predatory publishers that are
more than happy to accommodate their publishing needs. Some of these ideas
include issues relating to sea-level rise (or the lack of it), Sasquatch,
anthropogenic global warming (or the lack of it), the aetiology of autism,
and the nature of dark matter and dark energy.
Often promoted as one of the benefits of open-access
is the fact that everyone, even the lay public, will have access to all
the scientific literature. But in the context of pseudo-science being
published bearing the imprimatur of science, this becomes a serious
problem. People who are not experts in a given field generally lack both
the ability to understand the most complex research in the field and the
ability to distinguish between authentic and bogus research in the
discipline. As more bogus research continues to be published open-access,
it will be accessed more by the public, and many will accept it as valid
research. This bogus research will poison discourse in many scientific
fields and will create a public that is misinformed on many scientific
The public accepting peer reviewed research as fact
without skepticism is indeed a problem. But let’s ask ourselves what was
the most egregious example of this in the last decade? Has to be Andrew
Wakefield’s papers on the link between vaccines and autism. Where were
they published? The Lancet, Gastroenteroloy and the American Journal of
Gastroenterology. All subscription journals. Is this bad? Yes. Is this a
problem with open access? Of course not.
Megajournals are becoming like digital repositories.
These journals, many of them now editorless, are losing the cohesion,
soul, and community-binding roles that scholarly journals once had. My
website has its main list of publishers, but in early 2012 I was compelled
to create a second list, a list of what I refer to as predatory standalone
journals. These are predatory journals that cover the entire breadth of
human knowledge, much broader than just science. Predatory publishers
discovered the megajournal model by copying “successes” like PLOS ONE.
As of late November 2013, I have 285 megajournals in my standalone journal
list. They have titles like Journal of International Academic Research for
Multidisciplinary [sic], International Journal of Sciences, and Current
Discovery. The broad titles reflect the marketing strategy of accepting as
many papers as possible, in order to maximize income. How many
megajournals does the world need? Most of these journals exist only for
the authors, those who need academic credit. Many of their articles will
never be read, and many are plagiarized from earlier articles. The
articles then become the source of future plagiarism. Collectively, they
lower the quality of science and science communication. They clutter
Google and Bing search results with academic rubbish.
We don’t need 285 megajournals. I agree. But we
also don’t need 10,000 subscription journals. I’d argue we don’t
need journals at all. But Beall’s math is misleading. There may be 285
megajournals (I’ll take him at his word), but the vast majority of
papers published in these journals are in a very small number (with PLOS
ONE at the front). Saying that megajournals are bad because there are a
lot of (largely failed) efforts to copy the success of one is like saying
that search engines are bad because there are hundreds of useless and
poorly used ones trying to copy the success of Google.
The future of the Creative Commons Attribution
License (CC BY) may be in doubt. Numerous companies are emerging that
aggregate content from CC BY-licensed works, publish them in new formats,
and sell them at a profit. Frequently, when scholars find out that their
work has been published for profit without their knowledge, their first
reaction is often anger, even though they freely assigned the free license
to their work. They feel betrayed. The CC- BY license has been promoted by
European open-access advocates; the North Americans’ view of open-access
is more restrictive. Many here prefer to promote the CC BY NC (non-
commercial) license. For many in North America, the concept of open-access
itself means “ocular” open-access – that is, OA means that you can
access content but can’t do much else with it, other than read it. The
Europeans are more collectivist and appropriative; for them scholarly
publishing is another opportunity for taking. They do not respect the
freedom of the press when the free press doesn’t adopt their
This is a complete red herring. I’ve heard people
raise this as a potential problem, but very very few complaints about it
actually happening. And even when I have, it’s always been possible to
explain why PLOS and other OA publishers prefer the CC-BY license. In
contrast, I hear all the time from publishers that they want to use
CC-BY-NC, not to protect against misuse, but to protect their revenues.
Thus it is absurd to attribute any reluctance to use CC-BY to authors.
We mustn’t forget the strengths of the traditional
or subscription model of scholarly journal publishing. When space was an
issue, journals could only publish the very best of the articles they
received, and any lapse in quality over time led to subscription
cancellations. The result was that the traditional journals presented the
cream of the crop of current research. With open-access journals, the
opposite is often true.
Indeed, when many libraries began to engage in
journal cancellations in response to higher subscription prices
(subscription prices increased mainly due to a great increase in the
amount of scholarship being published), the subscription publishers came
up with a solution that has greatly benefitted libraries: bundling and
differential pricing. This innovation has greatly benefitted scholars by
making a great amount of research affordable to academic libraries. On top
of this, many publishers grant additional discounts to library consortia
licensing journal subscriptions in bulk. According to Odlyzko (2013, 3)
“the median of the number of serials received by ARL [Association of
Research Libraries] members almost quadrupled during the period under
investigation, going from 21,187 in the 1989-1990 academic year to 80,292
in the 2009-2010 one. Practically the entire increase took place during
the last half a dozen years, without any big changes in funding patterns,
and appears to be due primarily to ‘Big Deals’”. This finding shows
the power of the market; when subscribers cut subscriptions, publishers
take beneficial action for consumers.
Beall has to be the only person on the planet –
outside of the Elsevier board room – who thinks “Big Deals” are a
good idea. Virtually everyone I know in the library world – including
many who are not fans of open access – think that “Big Deals” are a
very bad idea, and university systems across the world have been
OA journals don’t have any space restrictions.
They can publish as many articles per issue as they want, so the incentive
for them is to publish more. We hear less about acceptance rates than we
did in the past because of this.
Why does Beall think subscription journals have any
limit on the amount of articles they can publish? Since almost nobody
accesses these journal in print (aside from Science, Nature, Cell and a
few others), they don’t. The only reason they limit what they publish is
to create an artificial scarcity. And precisely because of the “Big
Deal”s Beall seems to love, subscription publishers have exactly the
same incentive. Big Deals have created an economy in which subscription
publishers are directly rewarded with higher subscription revenues when
they publish more papers.
There is one, and only one, reason for the massive
increase in the number of subscription journals over the past few decades.
It’s not because the community has been clamoring. It’s because
publishers know that the easiest way for them to increase their revenues
is to launch new titles and publish as many papers in them as possible.
That is why Big Deal publishers like Elsevier specialize in launching new
journals that provide no knew value to the community (most overlap
existing journals in scope and selectivity), but provide huge benefit to
Traditional journals didn’t have the built-in
conflict of interest that gold open-access journals have. For gold OA, the
more papers a journal accepts, the more money it makes.
As I pointed out above, there is a direct
correlation between the number of articles subscription based publishers
accept and their revenues. Thus subscription based publishers have as much
of a conflict of interest as OA publishers – it’s just hidden from
view because the money is laundered through libraries.
Money is corrupting scholarly publishing. Scholars
never should have allowed a system that requires monetary transactions
between authors and publishers. Libraries took responsibility for this
financial role in the past, and they performed it well. Now the realm of
scholarly communication is being removed from libraries, and a crisis has
settled in. Money flows from authors to publishers rather than from
libraries to publishers. We’ve disintermediated libraries and now find
that scholarly system isn’t working very well.
Most libraries have done great work providing
scholars with access to the literature they need to perform their jobs.
But it’s a bit ridiculous to say that the system has thrived on their
watch. For decades the cost of scholarly publishing has increased at a
rate that far exceeds the rate of inflation, and it has done so precisely
because scholars have not been involved in the financial transaction. A
system in which scholars decide where to publish but have zero incentive
to make choices based on cost leads to out of control spending increases.
Of course libraries aren’t responsible for this – they have been left
in charge of paying the bills without any effective way to keep costs
down. Indeed, librarians were the first to begin writing about this
problem – as long ago as the 1980s – warning that increases in costs
were unsustainable. But if we’re actually going to tackle the ever
escalating costs of publishing it will be by giving authors an incentive
to make publishing choices based on cost – something that open access
does, but subscription based publishing does not.
The open-access movement isn’t really about open
access. Instead, it is about collectivizing production and denying the
freedom of the press from those who prefer the subscription model of
scholarly publishing. It is an anti-corporatist, oppressive and negative
movement, one that uses young researchers and researchers from developing
countries as pawns to artificially force the make-believe gold and green
open-access models to work. The movement relies on unnatural mandates that
take free choice away from individual researchers, mandates set and
enforced by an onerous cadre of Soros-funded European autocrats.
Ooh. That’s scary. Soros-funded Europan autocrats.
The open-access movement is a failed social movement
and a false messiah, but its promoters refuse to admit this. The emergence
of numerous predatory publishers – a product of the open-access movement
– has poisoned scholarly communication, fostering research misconduct
and the publishing of pseudo-science, but OA advocates refuse to recognize
the growing problem. By instituting a policy of exchanging funds between
researchers and publishers, the movement has fostered corruption on a
grand scale. Instead of arguing for open-access, we must determine and
settle on the best model for the distribution of scholarly re- search, and
it’s clear that neither green nor gold open-access is that model.
Open access IS a social movement. Not only will I
not deny that. I am proud of it. It’s a social movement based on the
principle that scholarly research is a social good and those of us lucky
enough to be involved in it should do everything we can to make sure that
we do not let our vanity and narrow self-interest prevent us from making
sure that our fields operate in the most efficient way, and that we give
back to society in every way possible.
But open access is also a business model. And it’s
a very successful one that is growing in popularity. Predatory open access
publishers are a problem – but they’re a minor one that can easily be
dealt with by establishing and enforcing standards for good journal
It’s too bad
Beall turns out to be so stridently anti open-access. He deserves credit
for almost single-handedly raising awareness about predatory publishers
trying to take advantage of the rise of open access – a problem nobody
else was noticing let alone trying to do something about. He could have
been a constructive force in helping to develop ways to counter this trend
– as it is we’ll have to work it out on our own.
About the Authour
Eisen biologist at UC Berkeley, and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes
Medical Institute, USA. He works primarily on flies, and his research encompases
evolution, development, genetics, genomics, chemical ecology and behavior.
He is a strong proponent of open science, and a co-founder of the Public
Library of Science. And most importantly, he is a Red Sox fan.
He can be reached at:
mbeisen at berkeley.edu
and @mbeisen on
See more at: http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=1500#sthash.JY7DjEgp.dpuf
by Friends of Open Access