Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Beall's List Post-Mortem

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a illuminating and depressing post-mortem on the demise of Beall's list (alas, behind a paywall). If you can access it, you will find it well worth your time to read. Here's a taste:
Why, after toiling so hard for five years — and creating a resource cherished by scientists wary of exploitative publishers — did the University of Colorado at Denver’s Jeffrey Beall abruptly give it all up? Who, or what, forced his hand?
There are several prime suspects:
  • His fellow university librarians, whom Mr. Beall faults for overpromoting open-access publishing models.
  • A well-financed Swiss publisher, angry that Mr. Beall had had the temerity to put its journals on his list.
  • His own university, perhaps fatigued by complaints from the publisher, the librarians, or others.
  • The broader academic community — universities, funders of research, publishers, and fellow researchers, many of whom long understood the value of Mr. Beall’s list but did little to help him out.
  • Mr. Beall himself, who failed to recognize that a bit of online shaming wouldn’t stop many scientists from making common cause with journals that just don’t ask too many questions.
In the end, all played important roles in the demise of Beall’s List. On one level, Mr. Beall’s saga is just another tale of warring personalities. On another, though, it points to a broader problem in publishing: Universities still have a long way to go to create systems for researchers to share and collaborate with one another, evaluate one another’s work, and get credit for what really matters in research.
The second and third items are entangled---the Swiss publisher, Frontiers, headed by Frederick Fenter, executive editor in charge of open-access journals at Frontiers, complained to Beall's university:
When that didn’t win a reversal, Mr. Fenter traveled from Lausanne, Switzerland, to Denver in December 2015 to personally urge University of Colorado leaders to punish Mr. Beall. He accused the university of being "directly implicated in this absurd and slanderous action," and demanded an investigation of Mr. Beall.
The following month, the university accepted Frontiers’ demand and opened a research-misconduct case against the librarian. Mr. Beall responded almost immediately by killing his list.
The university took seven months to complete its review, which posed for Mr. Beall the threat of dismissal, even with his tenured status. After years of pushing back dozens of complaints, the university finally agreed to accept the Frontiers plea for a formal investigation into research misconduct on the grounds that Mr. Beall’s scholarship was "unethical and flawed," said Ms. Williams, the university spokeswoman. "The Frontiers complaint was unique in its composition, length, detail, and complexity," she said.
Ms. Williams said she could not comment on details of the investigative process, beyond confirming it ended in recent weeks with "no findings" or action taken against the professor. The experience nevertheless had its effect, leaving Mr. Beall unwilling to resume his list. Mr. Fenter had no comment on behalf of Frontiers.
The university initially served as a much more welcoming home for the project, which Mr. Beall began in 2012 after years of enduring the "spam" solicitations sent to researchers by the fast-expanding number of open-access publishers using an author-pays model. He chose the term "predatory," feeling such journals were victimizing smart scientists who just didn’t have the time to weed through mounds of solicitations to find quality suitors for their work.
"For a very long time, his university supported him," said Mr. Witwer.
But that tolerant attitude began to turn, Mr. Beall and Mr. Witwer said, as the list grew, case-by-case decisions became tougher, and better-financed publishers, such as Frontiers, more directly confronted him and his university.
The fifth point reveals another, disturbing feature of fake academic publishing---if it is predatory, as Beall labeled it, who is preying on whom?
When a scientist elects to use a "predatory" publisher, who, if anyone, is the real predator? It may be cynical to admit, said Brian A. Nosek, co-founder and director of the Center for Open Science, but if researchers choose a low-quality journal "and receive the rewards that they desire from publishing, then nothing predatory occurred."
A researcher’s claim to victimhood could be stronger, for instance, if he or she had genuine reason to expect a quality peer-review process but did not receive one, Mr. Nosek said. A predatory act also could occur, he said, if researchers unexpectedly found that their universities "actually care about quality and integrity of peer review," and deny career rewards to those published in poor journals.
Just last week, a research team at the University of Ottawa laid out evidence suggesting that while many low-quality journals are based in developing nations, it’s often scientists in wealthier nations who agree to publish in them. It’s hard to tell how many of those scientists are being genuinely misled, said one of the study’s authors, Kelly D. Cobey, an adjunct professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Ottawa.
It seems more than merely possible that the explosive growth of the fake academic publishing industry is fed by the need of researchers to lard their cv's with published results in order to garner another research grant or position. 

Meanwhile, an anonymous European researcher has reposted Beall's list here,though due to lack of time and resources, it is unlikely to be curated and maintained the way Beall did.


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