Some perspectives on “predatory publishing”

Predatory open access publishing is a model where journals charge publication fees and provide minimal peer review or quality control for their authors. The term “predatory publishing” was popularized by Jeffrey Beall, librarian at the University of Colorado, Denver. Beall maintains a list of predatory publishers (last updated on July 27, 2015), who meet the criteria set out in this document.

The list focuses entirely on Open Access publishers and, in a 2013 article, Beall posits that while “the 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. The movement is also actively imposing onerous mandates on researchers, mandates that restrict individual freedom.”

The list has been a topic of much discussion in scholarly communications since its first publication in 2010. Below are some highlights from recent discussions.

In March, two librarians at City University of New York, Monica Berger and Jill Cirasella published “Beyond Bealle’s List”, which was reposted on the London School of Economics blog.

The authors point out that deceptive journal practices predate the OA movement, that there are mediocre subscription-based journals and many that charge author-side fees. They note that even well respected journals accept very problematic submissions (the authors draw attention to the Lancet’s article linking autism with childhood vaccines and Alan Sokal’s hoax article published in Social Text). They also point to recent work which suggests that Beall’s work often conflates poor quality and predatory. The authors note that the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) has recently changed their inclusion criteria to weed out predatory publishers. Berger and Cirasella also point to a rubric devised by two Grand Valley State Librarians that allows scholars to evaluate journals.

Over at the scholarly kitchen blog, Rick Anderson, Associate Dean for Collections and Scholarly Communication at the University of Utah, has questioned whether the term “predatory publishing” is still useful. He notes, along with others, that Beall “only examines one kind of predation… What about toll-access publishers that jump on the OA bandwagon “just for the fees”?… What about publishers who simply do an unconscionably poor job of fulfilling their obligations to authors, or who unethically leverage their monopoly power to maximize revenue at the expense of libraries-a practice some characterize as "predatory pricing"? And what about the authors who intentionally use the services of fraudulent publishers in order to deceive their colleagues or employers, or who engage in dishonest manipulation of the peer-review process? Aren't they "predators" as well?”

In place of the term “predatory”, Anderson suggests switching to the term “scholarly bad faith” which would encapsulate all this sort of behavior.

On the Digital Science blog, Phill Jones suggests that predatory publishing may be a “symptom of global information inequality.”

When publishing research, scholars should also be aware that credible journals can either be "hijacked" by third parties and that reputable journals can be sold to publishers who may not maintain editorial standards.