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Critical Analysis of Jeffrey Beall's Blog - Open Access Publishing

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Jeffrey Beall
Potential, possible, or probable  predatory blogger

March 05, 2015

The Wheels Come Off the Beall express… Beall's first sentence may qualify as “not even wrong"

The story picks up from there.

The Serials Crisis is Over.

That absurd title heads this May 7, 2013 post by Beall at Scholarly Open Access; just below it is a silly image of a locked version of the OA open-lock with smart quotes around it. Huh? "I declare that the serials crisis, the event that gave birth to the open-access movement, is over. I base my declaration on my observations as an academic librarian and on the scholarly literature, selections from which I include here:

That first sentence may qualify as “not even wrong.” Beall’s evidence that the serials crisis “gave birth to the open-access movement?” I guess because Beall says so. Just to be clear: If all scholarly journal publishers agreed that, for every academic library in the world, the total cost for all scholarly journals would be, say, 20% of the library budget (which would be much lower than what most medium-sized and larger academic libraries spend now), that would not eliminate the need for OA. Just for starters, it would not provide any access to me or any other researcher or layman who’s not affiliated with an academic institution.

n any case, that’s not likely to happen, and the serials crisis is only “over” to the extent that academic libraries are being slowly bled to death by journal costs rather than being rapidly bled to death. Price increases are still much higher than inflation; even Harvard can’t afford all the journals they’d like to have. The rest of the post consists of Beall’s “evidence” for the serials crisis being over. What evidence?

Let’s see:

·         The first is an assertion within a report (not in any sense part of the scholarly literature) to the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers—a trade group that wants to believe the crisis is over.

·         The second, which is peer-reviewed, claims that the serials crisis may not be “as acute as some have suggested” and that “most academics are clearly operating productively under the existing methods of scholarly communication.”

(The article itself is behind a paywall—but in any case the excerpt only argues that the crisis within academia is less severe than some claim. It’s also pretty limited, based on eight New Zealand universities.)

·         The third is, astonishingly, excerpted from an interview with Derk Haank, at the time CEO of Springer and formerly chair of Elsevier Science. Is it any surprise that Haank says the crisis is over?

·         The fourth is apparently a peer-reviewed article and the excerpt says ARL libraries—the ones most able to handle serials price increases— get a lot more serials (not necessarily journals) now than they did in 1989-1990. (Specifically, the asserted median has gone from 21,187 to 80,292.) How this establishes that the serials crisis is over for all academic libraries or that open access is less necessary? It doesn’t. It says that the Big Deal increased the number of available journals; it says nothing about affordability or about access beyond ARL libraries. (Just as a reality check, I looked at FY2010 figures for Carnegie Classification 15, which appears to encompass what used to be Research I and II and includes 151 reporting institutions: it’s not quite the same set as ARL. The median number of serials is 59,942; 48 of them have 80,292 or more, and that 48th institution is precisely 80,292. If you’re wondering, the median number of serials for Carnegie Classification 16, what used to be Doctoral I and II, is 12,739 serials.)

The fifth? Eureka: this one does specifically say that the Big Deals “essentially resolved the serials crisis by 2004.” It’s behind a paywall. It’s a short communication, not a scholarly article, appearing in Learned Publishing (when I had a full article in that publication, it was not peer-reviewed). Oh, and it’s by Jeffrey Beall—the piece appears to be another attack on gold OA. So his one solid piece of evidence is…quoting himself.

Go through that list again. I don’t know about you, but it strikes me as remarkably thin. The first comment, by Steve Hitchcock, is interesting— as it accepts the quotes at face value (which I’m not prepared to do for either Haank or Beall): You make two assertions in your opening sentence: 1 there was a serials crisis, 2 this led to open access.

Your selective quotes do not show either, so it is hard to justify your headline point on this evidence. What your quotes may show, however, is that the serials crisis was about journals pricing, and the Big Deal was a response to that. But the Big Deal is not open access, and the case for open access is not over.

As for the first assertion, in a way it’s true: there never was a serials crisis, there were—and are— many serials (primarily journals) crises affecting different segments of academia in different ways. The next comment, by Pierre de Villiers, makes another interesting point (although I partly disagree with the first sentence, which offers too narrow a case for OA):

The main case for open access is free access to public- funded research. The big deal does not solve that, and actually worsen the situation by consuming library budgets in favour of those big deal-publishers, excluding journals from smaller publishers. I also doubt the statement that the farabove- inflation in serial subscriptions came to an end. Is this supported by evidence?

Beall “responds” to the question with a non-answer: “Please see quotation number 4, which shows that libraries pay a lot less per journal title than they did in the past.” Actually, the quotation doesn’t say that at all. It says the median ARL library, not in any way typical of all academic libraries, gets four times as many serials (most of them, presumably, not refereed scholarly journals) as it did a decade earlier. It says nothing about how much that library paid. Across extensive doctoral institutions, a somewhat larger group of libraries, the median library also spent 51% more on serials in 2010 than in 2000 after adjusting for inflation, which pretty much answers Villiers’ question. (For all academic libraries taken as a group and not adjusting for inflation, 2010 serials spending was considerably more than twice the level of 2000 spending—and close to 65% higher after inflation. If you want to see a truly gulp-inducing graph, consider ARL’s “Expenditure Trends in ARL Libraries, 1986-2011” with its 402% increase in serials expenditures.)

Dr. Gunn offers a quick snark questioning the assertion that academics are doing just fine—and Andrew Miller basically says that’s true, quoting yet another publisher association report…and admitting that he’s an Elsevier publisher, perhaps not a wholly disinterested party. Mike Taylor takes the light approach:

Jeffrey, was this post a satire? If so, of what? Sorry if I am being dense, I just don’t get it.

To which Beall responds by basically repeating his absurd assertion. Karen Coyle chose to point to my book The Big Deal and the Damage Done, which came about partly because of other claims that the Big Deal had solved the serials crisis, and says my analysis suggests Beall is wrong. His response? I think you’ve got it backwards. He should have read the sources I cite first.

To which I felt a need to respond: I had in fact read most of the sources you cite. The suggestion that quotable sources, mostly publishingrelated, count for more than the actual facts is an amusing one, but I think I’ll go with the real world for now. (Also, as has been said before, the serials crisis is neither the only nor the primary reason for OA.)

In fairness—and because it’s a nice touch—I should quote Vinz Clortho’s response to my comment:

Jeffrey’s sources are better. He said so.

Which is, in essence, what Beall’s trainwreck of a post boils down to: Beall’s right because Beall says so. And has mostly Beall and publishing industry assertions to back him up. Well, and eight New Zealand universities.

The comments for this post served as an interesting set of revelations into Beall’s mind and methods. Joe Kraus points out that unaffiliated scholars and others (and those not affiliated with the very largest institutions) would not agree that the serials crisis was over, and cites others who also would not agree—including students at his “well funded private university library in south Denver” who don’t have access to some journals because even Kraus’s library can’t afford it. Beall’s response? Go for the jugular:

So, let me check my understanding, the University of Denver, which charges outrageously high tuition, especially in its mediocre library school, is worried about people who don’t have access to some scholarly publications? If DU is so worried about “access,” then it ought to lower its tuition. Also, DU just completed a 35 million dollar renovation of its library and you whine about not being able to afford a couple four-thousand dollar journal titles? This doesn’t add up.

Whew. Extent to which this is in any way a refutation of what Kraus says: Zero. Extent to which this is pure ad hominem on an institutional level….well, read it yourself. Kraus agrees “this doesn’t add up”:

Crawford, W. (2014). Sad case of Jeffrey Beall.  Cites and insights, 14 (4).

Posted by Friends of Open Access