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

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  Predatory Blogger: Jeffrey Beall

Posted on June 30, 2015

Anti-OA and the Rhetoric of Reaction

Wayne Bivens-Tatum chimed in on December 17, 2013 at Academic Librarian—and as usual his perspective is different, interesting and thought out. The lede: You know when someone at Scholarly Kitchen thinks your anti-open access rant is excessive you’ve crossed some sort of threshold. You also know that when a biologist and a co-founder of the Public Library of Science bothers to give your article a thorough fisking, you have people’s attention. Even Roy Tennant seems a little riled, and he’s usually pretty calm. Jeffrey Beall has managed to publish an antiopen access article in an open access journal that’s so poorly argued that I wonder if he’ll later use the publication as an example of how bad OA publishing can be. The Beall Hoax.


All but one of those links are to items already discussed here; the Roy Tennant post deals largely with a Beall piece attacking OCLC, and by policy I don’t comment on OCLC, so I didn’t include Tennant’s piece here. (Which does not mean I disagree with what Tennant’s saying.) I was going to write a detailed response pointing out, among other things, that Beall makes a number of outrageous claims about OA advocates without referring to or citing any of them. There’s absolutely no evidence presented that any OA advocates hold any of the “anti-corporatist” (sic) views that Beall attributes to them, which leaves the article as an eight-page rant against a straw man. Beall claims that “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.” Needless to say, the close analysis never comes. If it had come, this article would be a serious contribution to the OA discussion instead of an uninformative rant, especially if it had analyzed representative passages from numerous OA advocates instead of cherry-picking juicy but unrepresentative quotes from a handful of alleged zealots. It wouldn’t have proved anything against OA itself, but it might have made for a good read. [Emphasis added.]

Consider that final sentence. I can certainly find a few OA advocates who are anti-copyright, but that doesn’t even begin to suggest that OA is anticopyright. Even if Beall had some support for his claims about some advocates, it wouldn’t prove a thing about OA. BT didn’t do a detailed critique of the arguments because Michael Eisen did that. Instead, he looks at the rhetoric. BT quotes a paragraph from Albert O. Hirschman’s book The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy:

I have come up with another triad: that is, with three principal reactive-reactionary theses, which I call the perversity thesis or thesis of the perverse effect, the futility thesis, and the jeopardy thesis. According to the perversity thesis, any purposive action to improve some feature of the political, social, or economic order only serves to exacerbate the condition one wishes to remedy. The futility thesis holds that attempts at social transformation will be unavailing, that they will simply fail to “make a dent.” Finally, the jeopardy thesis argues that the code of the proposed chafe or reform is too high as it endangers some previous, precious accomplishment.

BT finds all three in Beall’s article, and explains that; his discussion is worth reading directly. I’ll quote two paragraphs that seem very much on the money, discussing three of the more outrageous sentences in Beall’s piece (“Randian” refers to Ayn Rand, who BT calls a “Manichaen apocalyptic novelist often taken for a political philosopher by teenage boys”):

This makes some sense if you share a Randian worldview. In this comforting worldview, the world is a simple place to understand. It’s filled not with flawed human beings acting upon a variety of motivations trying to make their way through a complex world. No, the world is made of heroes and villains. The heroes are the people who think as I do and are always right. The villains are any people who disagree with any part of my ideology. They do so not because the world is complicated and disagreement natural, but because they are evil and possibly stupid, and no matter what noble motives they might claim to have, they’re lying and trying to destroy some beloved institution. Also, there’s the faith that commercial enterprise is always good and free markets (if they ever really exist) always lead to the best outcome. Challenging this faith in any way leads to an extreme reaction. It’s a world of extremes. Criticizing any area in which private enterprise and free markets maybe don’t give us the outcomes we want is equated with being a “collectivist” who wants to bring the capitalist system down. That explains why in the article, criticism of Elsevier or of commercial science publishing means that one wants to destroy all corporations.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense until you look at it through the Randian lens. In this world, people don’t support open access because they think the creation and dissemination of new knowledge is a public good. They do it because they want to destroy all corporations and deny freedom to people. This must be their motive because they disagree with Beall about open access scholarship, and he thinks these things are bad, so they must be motivated by these evil ideas. Q.E.D. Since there have to be heroes and villains, Beall must be the hero and everyone who disagrees with him in the slightest a villain who is acting from evil motives to destroy everything he holds dear. Once you share this worldview, evidence doesn’t matter anymore.

There’s a lot more here—it’s not a brief post. Go read it. I like BT’s syllogistic version of part of Beall’s “reasoning”:

Some OA publishing is predatory publishing. All predatory publishing is bad. Therefore, all OA publishing is bad. Sounds about right—not, to be sure, as a valid syllogism.

This post, by the Library Loon on December 19, 2013 at Gavia Libraria, may be the most  important post in this whole section, because what the Loon’s saying is true. It’s so important, and so well stated, that I’m going to quote the whole post (Gavia Libraria operates on a CC BY license…I have to credit the pseudonymous Loon as the original author, which I of course gladly do):

The open-access movement has always had its… characters. Zealots. Kooks. Scary people. People who just Aren’t Our Sort, Dearie. Any old loon can start a weblog, after all; at least one Loon has done so. For all the differences the Loon has with some of OA’s other characters, she stops short of wishing them gone. It takes a certain amount of kookiness to provide energy sufficient to get anything done sometimes. Moreover, engaging publicly with kookery is often a fool’s game, at best analogous to teaching pigs Mozart arias, at worst lending kooks credibility they do not deserve and should not be permitted to have. So OA tolerates its kooks, usually with kindness, sometimes with a politely blind eye or deaf ear… and that is largely as it should be.

Why did OA let Beall get away with his act so long? no one has yet asked, probably because the answer the Loon has just given is so patently obvious to those in the movement as not to need saying. (If the Loon had to characterize the attitude of those in the OA movement who noted Beall’s deep-seated antipathy toward OA months or even years previously— evidence was available for the persistent and perceptive—she would say it was “oh, him, he’ll blow himself up someday.” As, in fact, he has.)

Nonetheless, there is a lesson in this that the movement could do with taking to heart: do not let your enemy control a visible, high-mindshare product or service in your space. If not for Beall’s list, Beall would never have been anything but another easily-ignorable kook. If a suitable group of individuals, or an organization, had taken on the job of publicly calling out bad practice, Beall would have sunk back into easily ignorable kookdom. Instead, we have… this, whatever this is; “embarrassing evitable mess” is the

Loon’s first instinctive characterization. The Loon will mercilessly mock and possibly savage any commenter waltzing in here with “oh, well, nobody actually believed Beall; he had no real influence.” That is arrant nonsense, and the greatest pity is that it is arrant nonsense spouted by those most deeply steeped in the OA movement and most desirous of its success.

If the above paragraph describes you, the Loon loves you dearly—you know she does!—but must remind you that people like you are so few as to be fringe still. It often does not feel so on Twitter, true, but academic Twitter itself is a rounding error compared to all of academe. You cannot measure what academe understands by what you understand, nor how academe gets its news by how you do. (You use a feedreader? You digitally-brainwashed solutionist kook, you.)

In the Loon’s prior professional world, Beall’s list was an enormously valuable convenience, and because of that, Beall himself enjoyed considerable credibility, such that his least pronouncement was freely email forwarded everywhere. Every now and then this was plainly passive aggression against the Loon herself (she has mentioned how deeply her prior workplace loathed her and all her works, correct?), but by and large, it was ignorance crossed with homophily among librarians to whom OA and its advocates felt like a threat. The Loon’s workplace was no sort of outlier—well, except insofar as many, many academic libraries still boast insufficient knowledge of or interest in OA to bother forwarding communiqués about it.

Those OA advocates who wonder why libraries are not more active in the OA movement need wonder no more. The Loon boggles particularly at one currently- circulating notion that academic libraries will just take over scholarly publishing wholesale. Not in an environment where Beall’s frothings circulate as freely as water churned up by migrating flocks of waterfowl! Fortunately, the Loon can’t think of any other major OA showpiece services run by OA’s enemies. (OA and hybrid journals at toll-access publishers are insufficiently influential to count at this juncture.) We can at least hope that an analogous situation will not arise again. If it does, though, let us please intervene earlier. Keep what is valuable about such services by all means, but let us not allow their proprietors to fuel further apathy and anti-OA agitation.

I quoted that in its entirety because I suspect most readers don’t click through on most links and because it’s relatively short. I wish I could say “yes, but…” but I can’t: There’s simply too much evidence, even now, that Beall’s held in high regard and OA is viewed suspiciously—not only among academics but among too many librarians and even library journalists. I will disagree with something the Loon says— although in a response to a comment, not in the piece itself: “If academe had found him out, he would have quickly been laughed to scorn (as has now happened).”

Unfortunately, as such examples as a January 2014 link from ALA Direct to the latest Beall’s List demonstrates, the scorn hasn’t happened effectively. The first link is to Distraction Watch, a community archive of strange emails from probably-sketchy publishers. It’s no substitute for stronger action from OASPA and others, but it’s an interesting piece of the puzzle.

Source: Crawford, W. (2014). Ethics and Access 1: The Sad Case of Jeffrey Beall, Cites & insights, 14(4), 1-22.