Jeffrey Beall divides opinion: the now-defunct blacklist of predatory journals created by the librarian at the University of Colorado Denver was as much decried as it was celebrated. Now he has taken aim at some of his peers, claiming that they are “social justice warriors” who are pushing the open access agenda solely to “kill off” the big publishers.
It was in January that Professor Beall abruptly shut down his blacklist website. In an article published in Biochemia Medica in June, he said that he took the decision to close the site because of “intense pressure” from his employer and fear of losing his job. In the same paper, he had some choice words for members of the academic community who had attacked him during the five years that he ran the website.
In an interview with Times Higher Education, Professor Beall opened up again about his experiences, suggesting that some scholarly librarians put their personal feelings about open access before their job, and are “betraying” the academy by not alerting patrons to the problems of predatory publishers.
“They’re more like social activists. What they really want to do is kill off the big publishers – Wiley, Elsevier, Taylor & Francis. They seek to be heroes and make everything open access,” he said. “So many are social justice warriors and [are] failing to alert the patrons, the faculty and the students at their university about the problems of predatory publishers because they just want to kill off Elsevier.
“All I did was point out the weaknesses of the open access model, and they are significant – because you have to pay to publish in most cases.”
While “not opposed to open access”, a format in which he has published, Professor Beall said he felt that “someone has to alert people to the weaknesses of it”. His concerns focus on how directly linking publication to profit has led to peer review safeguards being abandoned and consequently the value of measuring an individual's scholarly output for use in employment and promotion decisions being undermined.
Professor Beall claimed that there was a “tacit understanding in the academic library community” not to discuss publicly the problems of open access, and that he “violated that by being frank and open”, alerting researchers to “very serious problems that are affecting science communication itself”.
He accused some academic librarians of “putting their politics before their job”, likening them to citizen activists who campaign against multinationals such as McDonald’s or Monsanto.
“They just don’t like the big, successful corporations. They just want to tear it down and then proclaim themselves heroes for helping the little guy,” he said. “They’re pretending like all open access is great, when it’s really not. It’s completely chaotic and full of deception, lack of transparency and corruption.”
Saying that academia needed to move to an open access model in which authors did not need to pay to publish, Professor Beall nevertheless argued that scholarly publishing has a “very grim outlook”.
“I think it’s a complete disaster right now. Predatory journals and academic librarians are threatening the future of science communication and scientists, because predatory publishers are bringing the whole system down,” he said. “They’re putting pressure on the legitimate publishers to speed up peer review.
“Sometimes I get peer review requests from journals, and they’re asking for me to turn around the paper in one or two weeks – that’s not enough time to read the paper several times and contemplate the errors. Legitimate journals are pressured to act more like predatory publishers and skimp on peer review. That’s bad for science, because science is cumulative and new research builds on [existing] research.”
Although Professor Beall conceded that there were some well-received, functioning open access journals, there was not yet any clear evidence of their long-term sustainability, he said.
Additionally, he continued, the drive to open access was “damaging scholarly societies around the world”.
“[Take] the American Psychological Association. It has a number of subscription journals, [which] it makes a profit on. It is a non-profit society, so it takes that profit and throws it back into the functions of the society – organising conferences, providing grants and scholarships to graduate students,” he said. “But if all these societies are forced to go open access, which is a lot of what the movement wants them to do, they won’t have any extra income.”
Professor Beall said that he did not regret starting his list and would do it again, despite noting that he “made a lot of mistakes…it wasn’t perfect”. So how did he feel about all his detractors – did he worry that they would hold their grievances?
“Most of these social activists live in Twitter, and memories are short on Twitter,” he joked. “They’ll soon forget about me and that’s fine.”