Thursday, June 15, 2017

Beall speaks

Jeffrey Beall, he of the late and much missed Beall's list, explains himself:
In January 2012, I launched a new blog titled Scholarly Open Access that listed predatory publishers and journals and offered critical commentary on scholarly open-access publishing. In January 2017, facing intense pressure from my employer, the University of Colorado Denver, and fearing for my job, I shut down the blog and removed all its content from the blog platform. In the five years I authored and published the blog, I had an amazing learning experience. I met and corresponded with hundreds of brilliant scholars and scholarly publishing industry executives from all over the world. I learned more about scholarly publishing than I ever imagined I would, about the pressure for researchers to publish, about academic evaluation, and about peer review.
In the rest of this piece, he provides his own account of the cancer eating away at scholarly publishing, and in his view, it isn't profit driven oligopolist publishing houses, at least, not at first:
In the 1980s and 1990s, many academic libraries in North America carried out journal subscription cancellation projects. They were pressured to cancel journals because subscription prices had gone up and library budgets had decreased. The subscription prices increased in North America for several reasons. First, as the baby-boomer generation reached the age where many were finishing their PhDs and entering tenure track, journals began to publish more articles to accommodate the increase in the amount of research the boomers were carrying out. In some cases, bi-annual journals became quarterlies, and quarterlies became monthlies – all to accommodate the increase in the number of research articles being submitted for publication. Naturally, publishing more costs more, and this was especially true in the print environment of the early 1990s. A contemporary discussion of some of the causes of serial price increases is provided by Farrell (1).
There were two other factors that contributed to price increases in subscriptions in North American academic libraries. One was the weak American and Canadian dollars in the late 1990s, and the practice of many larger academic libraries to collect journals from Europe, where currencies were strong at the time. The other was the creation of new fields of study, a phenomenon that paralleled the arrival of the baby boomers into higher education faculty positions. New fields such as nanomaterials and genomics were born, and they spawned many new journals.
Unfortunately, few understood all these reasons for journal price increases. Most took the politically-correct, intellectual shortcut of blaming journal price increases directly – and only – on the publishers, ignoring the true causes.
Ignoring what he takes to be the true drivers of price increases led to the 'open access/author pays' movement:
Several prominent “open access statements” were drafted by elite, self-selected committees of hero-wannabes, people whose careers were safely built on the foundation of articles published in subscription journals. Open-access repositories were formed, costing academic libraries huge sums of money in expensive software licensing costs, professional and support staff positions to manage them, and other, additional costs, yet faculty largely ignored their library-managed repositories, despite the fact that they could enjoy the dual-advantage of publishing in a respected, subscription journal and also have their work made open-access in the repository – or at least a post-print counterpart of it. Or was green open access really the great advantage its backer claimed it was?
And this movement invited the predatory open access/author pays fake academic publishing industry into the academy:
And then predatory journals, those using the author-pays model just for their own profit, started to appear (2). I first noticed them in 2008 and 2009, when I received spam emails soliciting me to submit to broad-scoped, newly-launched library science journals I had never heard of before. I began to print out the solicitations as I received them, and as an academic librarian, it was natural for me to want to organize this new information and share it. I published my first list of predatory publishers on the Posterous blog platform (3). The list was informal and only had a few entries. For borderline cases, I had, for a time, a second list called the “Watchlist,” but it soon became clear to those using the list that a publisher’s inclusion on the Watchlist was essentially the same as being on the main list.
What I learned from predatory publishers is that they consider money far more important than business ethics, research ethics, and publishing ethics and that these three pillars of scholarly publishing are easily sacrificed for profit. Soon after they first appeared, predatory publishers and journals became a godsend both for authors needing easy publishing outlets and sketchy entrepreneurs wanting to make easy money with little upfront investment.
The whole piece is worth reading, even if you disagree with his take (as I do, without seeing more evidence in support of his view) on the price problem of genuine academic publishers. But Jeffrey, please explain why your essay appears in Biochemia Medica, the journal of the Croatian Society of Medical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine.

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