On Monday of this week, I posted a brief piece about a threatening letter sent to University of Colorado-Denver librarian Jeffrey Beall by the attorney for OMICS Publishing. Beall is the proprietor of Scholarly Open Access, a blog that tracks what Beall calls “potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers,” in which company he includes OMICS. On his blog Beall explains how he arrives at his characterization of a publisher as “predatory,” saying that he begins by analyzing “the publisher’s content, practices, and websites according to ethical standards established by membership organizations” such as the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (whose standards can be seen here), the Committee on Publication Ethics (standards here) and the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (standards here). He also applies criteria that have to do with editorial practices (e.g., are editorial boards populated by fictitious individuals or individuals with fictitious credentials?), business management (e.g., does the publisher hide the fact that it charges author fees?), and general business integrity (e.g., does the publisher make false claims about where and whether its journals are indexed?).
As noted in my previous posting, Beall’s list has generated some heated responses, particularly (though not exclusively) from publishers he categorizes as “predatory.” And as can be seen in the comments section following my posting, some of these responses may cross the boundary that separates “heated” from “criminal.”
For example, on 21 May, just as it seemed the commenter traffic on my posting might be winding down, a new comment was submitted by someone identifying him- or herself simply as “Mehdi.” It shared what were purported to be quotes from two writers, Gillian Dooley (an academic librarian in Australia) and Mark Robinson (said to be an editor for Stanford University’s alumni magazine); both quotes were highly critical of Beall and his list.
Tipped off by the strange and awkward diction of those quotes (of a type that one would not expect to see from a native English speaker), I did a quick Internet search and found that the same quotes had been posted in response to other online articles and blog postings about Beall and his list (for example here and here). I subsequently contacted both Dooley and Robinson to see whether they could confirm their authenticity. I learned that Robinson had not worked for Stanford Magazine since 2000, and he told me directly that the quote was fabricated. Dooley responded similarly, and subsequently added her own comment to the Kitchen’s comments page, saying that the quote had been invented and falsely attributed to her and that she “(does) not endorse the sentiments expressed.”
“Mehdi” also submitted a second comment, one which reproduces an email purportedly sent by Beall to Ashdin Publishing (which is included in his list) and offering to remove Ashdin from the list in return for US$5000. This email has been distributed widely, and its real origin is disputed; Beall denies that he had anything to do with it, and says that he is the victim of email “spoofing.” For a discussion of this issue with the person who seems to have been first to claim receipt of the email from Beall (and for some critical examination of the email’s provenance), see Richard Poynder’s January 2013 interview with Ashry Aly of Ashdin Publishing.
Harsh public criticisms of Beall have also been attributed to such noted OA advocates as Stevan Harnad and Peter Suber, both of whom deny they ever made the statements; those attributions are also referenced and discussed in conjunction with Poynder’s interview with Aly.
Just a few minutes after “Mehdi” posted a copy of the disputed email message to the Kitchen’s comments page, another comment was submitted by someone using the name “An lee Su.” This message characterized Beall as a “scammer” who “will write rubbish about the journals for a particular period of time and then email the publisher for negotiation.” For “more details” the commenter refers readers to a blog titled Jeffrey Beall Scam, which contains nothing except a few paragraphs reiterating the same message as the comment submitted to the Kitchen, along with a copy of the disputed email message.
Since these comments were posted, a number of very long comments have come in from interested parties in defense of some of the publishers listed on Beall’s blog, or taking exception to Beall’s blog in principle, or suggesting that the behavior he characterizes as “predatory” reflects only a lack of experience on the publishers’ part, or simply attacking Beall personally. A repeated theme on the part of these commenters (and others) is that Beall’s real target is open access itself — and that his behavior is itself “predatory.”
What will happen next? No one knows. It will be very interesting to see whether OMICS follows through on its threat of a lawsuit and criminal complaint. And as the conversation around Beall’s list and the issues it raises continues to become broader, more international, and more fraught, the possible implications and outcome scenarios will continue to multiply. You can be sure that we’ll continue monitoring these developments closely here in the Scholarly Kitchen.