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Another Don Quixote gone: Beall’s List of Predatory Journals

Open access publishing is an exploding market, and, hence, has attracted many predators trying to make a quick buck selling the corpse of scientific credibility. But there was one riding against them, but no more.
I just found out the Beall’s blog/page (https://scholarlyoa.com/) has gone blank end of January this year (not into social media; it apparently was a bit of a stir). First, no-one really seemed to know the reasons, but eventually Jeffrey Beall broke the silence writing an opionion paper in Biochemica Medica (see this post at Debunking Denialism). The pressure by the publishers became to much, and left alone by his employer, he gave in afraid of loosing his job. A great loss to science (and shame on us, the scientists, for letting this happen!). Facing criticism from different sides, Beall had the courage and persistence to go openly against questionable publishers and provided an invaluable service to the unexperienced or naïve scientists, desperately searching for a receptacle to publish their science. So, in memory of his great work, another post (adding to those of other fans) and a collection of links.

The market and concept

With most journals practising a non-transparent (“confidential”) peer review system (open access or not), it can be hard for inexperienced, non-confident scientists to publish their research. Particularly, when none of their co-authors is a native English speaker (bad English is always a good argument to shoot down a paper from inside the Impermeable Fog). This is where open-access predatory scholarly journals step in. Publishing just online, usually lacking any professionality, they essentially have no costs. So, they can offer a publication for as less as 150$ instead e.g. the 3000$ Springer-NPG (which they need to feed the machine, and their shareholders) charges for an open-access publication. Honest, non-profit pure-online scholarly publishers charge between c. 1000$ per paper (PeerJ; also offering live-long per author publishing plans for 399–499$) or 2500$ (eLife). Review and decision is extremely fast with a predatory journal because no-one will have to read the submission, and – after having paid the fee – there is a 100% chance that your paper will be published. However, publishing in a predatory journal typically means you discredited your work a priori.

Beall’s legacy

Jeffrey Beall collected potentially predatory open-access publishers and put together a list of dubious journals. He also gave guidelines how to recognise a fake journal. But his page is down, but the problem persists and gets more complex every day. Since it is such a big market, all commercial science publishers now have huge portfolios of partly or fully open-access journals, with not a few running in the grey zone between obviously predatory and stringently peer-reviewed. New publishers emerged, with increasing economic power, and economic power always translates in political power and influence. One publisher particularly active in the grey zone (also discussed on Beall’s page) is Hindawi, which issues hundreds of purportedly peer-reviewed open-access online journals. I never had to publish in one of them or ever crossed an article there worth citing; but what I’ve heard from colleagues, their journals are more on the dark side than on the light one.That is not entirely a bad thing, there are case of distress (e.g. approaching end of paid Ph.D. time), where you have no other choice, but to get a paper out at all cost. A tip: when you run out of time, and there is no rule explicitly prohibiting it, you can publish your paper on a pre-print server such as arXiv, bioRxiv or PeerJ Preprints for free.

How to recognise a predatory publisher?

Here are some quick tests, for more comprehensive information see the links below
  • Contacts you per email although you haven’t signed up for any newsletter.
  • Promises review within a week, and decision within two.
  • Journal issued by a commercial publisher not stating the publication costs or with hilariously low publication costs (anything lower by what PeerJ charges could be conspicuous; being a highly professional non-profit publisher, their fee is probably close to the lowest-possible price per paper).
  • Is not listed on Wikipedia’s list of open access journals. The list is non-comprehensive, but at least the listed journals in my fields seem to be kosher; and it’s strikes me to be more conservative than the Directory of Open Access Journals; which is comprehensive but also includes a few dark-greyish journals.
[I also put any journal on the never-submit list that invited me out of the blue to become an editor; this included several Hindawi journals, but also NPG's Science Reports, all good examples for grey.]

A collection of useful links to avoid predatory publishers

With Beall’s page gone, the light of science darkened, but there is still hope and lots of help out there:
https://archive.fo/d7Klc — an archived version of Beall’s page; see also David's comment below for another link
http://beallslist.com/ — a page dedicated to Beall’s work, including mirrors of his lists and links to his publications
A copy of Beall’s list of predatory publishers, last updated December 31st 2016 can also be found here; also available as PDF
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predatory_open_access_publishing — Not too useful to make a call, but gives some background and is a fair entry portal into the topic (as are most Wikipedia articles); may become more useful in future
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Predatory Journals but Were Afraid to Ask — A paper by M. Berger, written for librarians and providing useful information for scientists, too; e.g. the section on “Detailed characteristics of predatory journals
How to Identify and Avoid Predatory Publishers — A comprehensive introduction by K.C. Li & B. Wong into the topic, with a lot of useful tips.
http://thinkchecksubmit.org/ — easy to use, with simple checklists for the inexperienced scientist where to submit a paper
And then there is of course the obligatory short animated introductory YouTube video (by University of Manitoba Libraries) with so far just over 1000 clicks (deserves more); details are in their add-on video.

1 comment:

  1. Just a resource to add to your list. The Internet Archive Wayback Machine has a copy of Beall's whole site, captured just after his 2017 List was put online, and before it was taken off. https://web.archive.org/web/20170103170903/https://scholarlyoa.com/

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