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Should We Retire the Term “Predatory Publishing”?



Recently I was reading the latest installment in Richard Poynder’s frequently-excellent series of interviews with figures in the open access (OA) community, this one a joint interview with the founder and the Chief Production Officer of MDPI, an OA publisher whose publishing practices have been variously attacked, defended, and formally examined in recent years by members of the scholarly and scientific community.

Inevitably, the various discussions of MDPI’s practices have also involved discussion of the concept of “predatory publishing,” a term that came into common usage with the establishment of Beall’s List, a famous (or notorious, depending on your perspective) clearinghouse of information on “potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers”—a category into which Beall has placed MDPI, for reasons outlined here. (MDPI’s response can be found here.)

It’s important to note that Beall uses the term “predatory” in a fairly specific way. For the purposes of his list, a “predatory” publisher is one that falls short on some or all elements of a multi-page list of criteria of good publishing practices, many of which have to do with the publisher’s honesty (does it falsely claim editorial board members or impact factors?), business practices (does it engage in spam solicitations or steal content from reputable journals?), and transparency (does it hide author charges until after manuscript acceptance or hide its content from search engines?). Publishers that fail on these criteria are suspected of being “predatory,” then, in that they seem to be attracting revenue by deceiving their authors, their readers, and/or those trying to evaluate the scholarly achievements of their authors.

Beall’s List has been controversial since its establishment for a variety of reasons, some of them obvious (no publisher, whether legitimate or not, appreciates being publicly branded a “predator”), and some of them less so. One of the more subtle reasons for the controversy around Beall’s List lies in the fact that it focuses entirely on OA publishing. Predictably, this has aroused the ire of many in the OA community, who have accused Beall of targeting these publishers out of an animus towards OA itself—a charge to which Beall provided a fair amount of ammunition when he wrote an impassioned attack on the OA movement in the journal tripleC.

Of course, the question of whether Beall is an enemy of OA is ultimately peripheral to the question of whether his list sheds light on a real and serious problem with author-pays scholarly publishing—which, while not synonymous with OA, is highly relevant to OA, given that the majority of OA articles published each year are funded by author-side charges. That question has been debated in many forums, including the Scholarly Kitchen, and probably doesn’t need to be rehashed here. Instead I would like to discuss a different question: what do we mean when we say “predatory,” and is that term even still useful?

This question has become relevant because of that common refrain heard among Beall’s critics: that he only examines one kind of predation—the kind that naturally crops up in the context of author-pays OA. What about toll-access publishers that jump on the OA bandwagon “just… for the fees,” or who publish fake journals themselves? 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?

It may be true that these behaviors deserve exposure and shaming just as much the behaviors of those publishers branded “predatory” by Beall’s List do. The problem is, all of these behaviors are different enough from each other that I’m not sure lumping them all together under the epithet “predatory” is useful. (On whom is a lazy peer reviewer “preying”?)

So I suggest that we simply do away with the term “predatory” in the context of scholarly publishing. It’s a nice, attention-grabbing word, but I’m not sure it’s helpfully descriptive, given the wide spectrum of behaviors to which it can reasonably be applied; ultimately I think it generates more heat than light. More helpful, I think, might be simply to talk in terms of bad faith. Publishers who falsely promise peer review or lie about having an Impact Factor are operating in bad faith; so are authors who intentionally pay for (and benefit from) review and certification services they know to be fraudulent; so are peer reviewers who only pretend to do rigorous review.

I would suggest that scholarly bad faith can be expressed in multiple ways, including:

  1. Attempting to deceive authors into paying for nonexistent or shoddy editorial services
  2. Selling authors fake or meaningless credentials in order to help them deceive their peers
  3. Deceiving one’s peers by purchasing fake or meaningless publishing credentials
  4. Publishing journals or books (whether on an OA or a toll-access basis) that are presented to the marketplace as rigorous and scholarly, but consist in fact of whatever nonsense or garbage authors may wish to submit
  5. Leveraging monopoly power excessively to exact maximum revenues from academic customers
  6. Taking advantage of one’s role as, say, the certifier of academic programs to require that those programs have access to one’s commercial products
  7. Stacking a “big deal” package with weak or sub-par journals in order to inflate those journals’ usage data and/or justify otherwise indefensible price increases

Another question that sometimes arises in the context of “predatory publishing” is about real-world impact rather than intent. The line of argument often goes like this: “Sure, there are dishonest publishers out there who sell fraudulent credentials to authors, but no one with half a brain would be fooled into thinking that these publishers’ products are really serious scholarly publications. Just take a look at them, for crying out loud; they’re obvious fakes.” This may generally be true, though recent research suggests it’s not that simple. In any case, this argument misses an important point: fraudulent credentials are not usually encountered in the context of the publications that conferred them. When we’re faced with them it’s usually in the context of a CV, where the fraudulent credentials will look just like (and may actually be embedded among) legitimate ones. Fake or shoddy journals, in fact, often have titles formulated with just that kind of camouflage in mind, a tendency that Beall documents amply in his list. In other words, a citation to a fake or shoddy journal looks exactly like a citation to a real one, and this is one important aspect of the real-world danger of predatory or bad-faith scholarly publishing: the danger isn’t so much that smart and well-intentioned authors will accidentally publish with a fraudulent journal, but that busy search committees will (inevitably) fail to vet carefully every citation provided in a job candidate’s CV, and thereby accidentally hire a fraudulent scholar. Doing so can have nasty consequences for the institution’s reputation when the fraud is exposed later.

Of course, one problem with the concept of bad faith is that it addresses intentions more than actions, and the intentions of others can be pretty tough to divine. This means that in practice, bad faith ends up being, to some degree, in the eye of the beholder: there are some who see the imposition of access fees on scholarly content as an inherently bad-faith exercise, and others who see the institutional imposition of CC-BY licensing on authors as an inherently bad-faith exercise. But without knowing the thoughts and intents of those who do these things, it’s not really possible to know whether they’re operating in good or bad faith. Being wrong doesn’t mean that one is insincere or malicious, and authors can indeed be fooled by journals that go to significant lengths to hide their fraudulent intentions.

Another problem with the term “bad faith” is that it’s just not as grabby as “predatory.” But I don’t see a universally acceptable definition of that grabbier term anywhere on the horizon, and until we all agree on what it means it’s going to be difficult to have useful and constructive conversations about the problem of predation. So maybe we should let the term die.

About Rick Anderson

I'm Associate Dean for Collections and Scholarly Communication in the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah.


89 thoughts on “Should We Retire the Term “Predatory Publishing”?

  1. Interesting post, but let’s remember that “predatory” was introduced in an attempt to identify something new on the scene — publishers that prey on naive authors by establishing a raft of OA journals quickly, not following through with legitimate editorial or publishing practices, and exploiting the quick money of Gold OA. Lists aside, that’s the gist of the term, and it helped quickly erect defenses among authors and potential editorial board members who needed a term to describe these publishing practices. You can quibble around the margins, but the community needed the term, and still does.

    The term “bad faith” is a specific legal term that means duplicity and “double-heartedness.” Forgive the pedantic passage here, but negotiating a bundled deal or exercising market power isn’t “bad faith,” more “bad ass.” Consortia, for instance, are the libraries’ response, an attempt to become more “bad ass” themselves in negotiations. Exercising hard-earned market power, whichever side of the table you’re on, isn’t “bad faith.” It’s simply “bad ass.”

    When established publishers screw up, that’s more “bad job” than “bad faith,” because often they’ve simply grown too large and too lax, and are caught out. That’s “bad job.”

    If we’re going to be more precise and fair in our terminology, expanding the term “bad faith” to cover things that aren’t themselves bad faith isn’t improving our lexicon, just muddying it in an attempt to sweep an unpleasant term under the carpet.

    Posted by Kent Anderson | May 11, 2015, 6:38 am
    • Thanks Kent, was going to respond in much the same manner. If the problem is imprecise language, then this grouping isn’t the answer because it brings together too widespread a set of behaviors, some ruthless, some duplicitous. As you note, there is a particular phenomenon in the author-pays world that could use a descriptive term, but it’s unlikely that the same term is going to be useful to describe a commercial enterprise doing what a commercial enterprise is supposed to do–driving as hard a bargain as possible and maximizing shareholder value.

      I also worry that attempts to control popular use of language may be pointless. Just ask anyone who has tried to regulate use of the word “irregardless” or for that matter, tried to strictly limit the use of “open access” to describe one particular definition of the term.

      Posted by David Crotty | May 11, 2015, 7:09 am
      • I’ll point out here only that when commercial firms are operating in the marketplace of scholarly communication, I think we tend to expect them to do something a bit different from what, say, stock brokerages or advertising agencies or carmakers do. One reason there’s so much passion around the ideas of OA and predatory publishing and pricing behavior is that there is a general feeling in the scholcomm community that ours is a different kind of marketplace governed by somewhat different values than those governing the marketplace of commodity goods, and that when a commercial entity (whether nonprofit or for-profit) exercises its market power in ways designed solely to benefit its most narrowly-defined set of shareholders, something is wrong. I realize that may sound naïve, and maybe it is, but I think it’s a widely-held position in our community–and not only among librarians and OA advocates.

        I should also point out that while I’m suggesting a particular use of language, I’m certainly not trying to control anyone’s use of it.

        Posted by Rick Anderson | May 11, 2015, 7:19 am
        • Rick:

          Why would you expect an established publisher to be more ethical or operate on a higher moral ground than other businesses? I surely don’t nor did. Publishers answer to the same stock holders as banks, etc. I never went to a noted scholar who I wanted to be my editor in chief and said: “Look we operate on a higher moral ground and serve a higher moral audience; therefore I would like you to accept much less money for your services.” I wonder how that would go over? In fact, I am surprised universities don’t use that argument when it comes to faculty pay!

          Regarding your dislike of the term predatory. How about “rip off”? What the “rip off” publishers are doing is selling snake oil to the unsuspecting.

          Posted by Harvey Kane | May 11, 2015, 8:12 am
          • I don’t disagree that publicly-traded scholarly publishers have a fundamental obligation to their stockholders. However, I believe that they also have an obligation to the scholarly community in which they do their business. In some cases, that obligation may certainly be in tension with their obligation to their shareholders.

            Posted by Rick Anderson | May 11, 2015, 8:53 am
        • I don’t know–I kind of see maximizing return for owners as being the very nature of commercial enterprises. I’m reminded of Aesop’s fable about the scorpion and the frog:

          The Scorpion and the Frog

          A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the
          scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The
          frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion
          says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”

          The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream,
          the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of
          paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown,
          but has just enough time to gasp “Why?”

          Replies the scorpion: “Its my nature…”

          Think about how quickly Google’s “Don’t be evil” went out the window once they had an IPO and shareholders. For academic libraries, this may just be part and parcel of doing business with these types of companies. The upside is that there are many alternatives that are governed by academics and the community itself, should at some point the community decide that the value offered by those commercial companies is outweighed by the negatives.

          Posted by David Crotty | May 11, 2015, 9:12 am
          • Maximizing return is a goal of public companies, but there is also branding. I would argue that some companies, Elsevier chief among them, have damaged their brands so much that they will have a harder time maximizing return in the future. No doubt Starbucks could sell cigarettes and make a pile of money, but would they ever?

            Posted by Joseph Esposito | May 11, 2015, 9:19 am
            • But branding is part of business strategy, and for the public company, the end goal of that branding is maximizing return. Any such efforts are done because they’ll result in greater profits, not because the company is nice or it’s the right thing to do.

              Posted by David Crotty | May 11, 2015, 9:21 am
            • In my view Elsevier did nothing wrong, rather they are the victim of a social and political movement. Such movements typically demonize those practices they seek to change.

              Posted by David Wojick | May 11, 2015, 10:10 am
          • I don’t know–I kind of see maximizing return for owners as being the very nature of commercial enterprises.

            Sure, but when that commercial enterprise is also functioning (and consciously presenting itself) as a member of a scholarly community, don’t you agree that a certain tension is introduced?

            The upside is that there are many alternatives that are governed by academics and the community itself, should at some point the community decide that the value offered by those commercial companies is outweighed by the negatives.

            In theory there may be alternative systems, but in reality there are no alternative providers of content. A library can only buy Chem Abstracts from the ACS, and can only buy Nature from Nature. The content controlled by those companies in those products is not available from any alternative source or under any alternative (legitimate) system. That’s largely what makes possible the particular kinds of bad-faith actions that we sometimes see on the part of copyright holders.

            Posted by Rick Anderson | May 11, 2015, 9:22 am
            • I do agree that there is a certain amount of branding and marketing that takes place. But one needs to judge a company by their actions, not by what they say. It turns out that Lite beer is neither less filling, nor does it taste great.

              And the academy has set up their funding career advancement system to encourage publication in journals from those private sources. This is a choice the academy can make, but clearly there have been some positive services provided by these private companies that have driven the academy to be so dependent upon them. If you don’t want to pay for content from companies whose practices you disagree with, then stop publishing papers with them. Then they become less vital, and may change their practices to recover lost return.

              Posted by David Crotty | May 11, 2015, 9:31 am
              • If you don’t want to pay for content from companies whose practices you disagree with, then stop publishing papers with them.

                Ah, but there’s the problem — those who publish papers with them don’t typically pay for their content.

                Posted by Rick Anderson | May 11, 2015, 9:35 am
                • Agreed. This is one of the reasons, as you’ve pointed out in the past, that the marketplace for journals is so distorted. The customers are the libraries, but they are not the users of the product, and that creates a disconnect. But those users answer to the same authorities as do the libraries, the administration of the institution. If a cohesive philosophy came in a top-down manner, it might resolve the conflict we see.

                  Posted by David Crotty | May 11, 2015, 9:54 am
                  • Agreed, but of course that’s a big “if.” University administrators are even more disconnected from the problems of the scholcomm system than librarians and authors, and (in my experience) are even less interested in the system itself than authors are.

                    Posted by Rick Anderson | May 11, 2015, 9:59 am
    • Forgive the pedantic passage here, but negotiating a bundled deal or exercising market power isn’t “bad faith,” more “bad ass.”

      The two concepts are not mutually exclusive; one can exercise market power in ways that are simultaneously in bad faith and badass. (And forgive my pedantry in turn, but I’m pretty sure “badass,” as both an adjective and a noun, is formally a single word.) To be clear, though, I’m not proposing that all exercises of market power are exercises of bad faith–only those that involve some degree of ill intent or the immoral misuse of that power. That’s why I used modifiers like “excessively” and “indefensible” in my hypothetical examples. Those terms are subjective, of course, and that’s part of the problem I pointed out in my penultimate paragraph–whether talking in terms of predation or bad faith, you’re trying to divine the intentions of the actor.

      When established publishers screw up, that’s more “bad job” than “bad faith,” because often they’ve simply grown too large and too lax, and are caught out. That’s “bad job.”

      Agreed. Of course, if the laxness persists because the company can’t be bothered to remedy it, then it seems to me that we start sliding into “bad faith” territory (see below).

      If we’re going to be more precise and fair in our terminology, expanding the term “bad faith” to cover things that aren’t themselves bad faith isn’t improving our lexicon, just muddying it in an attempt to sweep an unpleasant term under the carpet.

      “Bad faith” is indeed a legal term with a very specific meaning in that context. But, like many other legal terms, it’s also a colloquial term with a somewhat more general meaning in general conversation, and that’s the sense in which I’m suggesting it here. (Though I think most of the examples I provided fit the legal definition fairly well, too.) The problem with “predatory” isn’t that it doesn’t apply well in some situations–I agree that it does. Nor is my goal here to “sweep it under the rug” because it’s “unpleasant.” The problem with that term is that it doesn’t apply equally well in all of the situations in which we tend to apply it, and I wonder if there’s a better and more broadly applicable term. “Bad faith” was the best I could come up with, but I have no investment in it and would happily entertain proposals for better ones.

      Posted by Rick Anderson | May 11, 2015, 7:10 am
    • I tend to agree, Kent; the problem being that Rick’s list is far broader than Beall’s and so includes what may be sound business practices. But I share his concern so maybe what is needed are several narrower terms. It has always bothered me that, as Rick points out, some of these “predatory” practices actually benefit the authors. Who then is the prey? In fact in his early writings Beall complains about some of his listed journals being publishers of last resort, making them the author’s best hope.

      Perhaps we can at least distinguish journals that cheat authors from those that help them. As it is predatory is a meaningless catch all term, which probably misdescribes some of its criteria.

      Posted by David Wojick | May 11, 2015, 7:30 am
    • Note that “badass” is usually “a general term of approval: formidable, superlative” (OED). Cf.

      I read that sentence as “publishing monopolies are awesome!”🙂

      Posted by jshoyer | May 17, 2015, 6:47 pm
  2. “Predatory” implies a predator-prey relationship. Who is the prey? Some authors are tricked into submitting an article, but more than a few do so will full knowledge. The real prey may be our society as a whole, where ordinary people accord bogus articles the same believability as those in real peer-reviewed journals. The last thing we need is for scientific credibility to be further eroded by untrustworthy publications.

    Posted by Ken Lanfear | May 11, 2015, 8:12 am
  3. Can you bear with me while I analogize publishing to manicures? The NYT front page story this week on nail salons in New York exposed a particularly nasty, one might even say predatory, practice among some salon owners– exploiting workers by paying low to no wages and exposing them to hazardous substances. As popular as the story itself was the sidebar on ways that consumers could get activist about the issue, starting with asking whether their manicurist gets to keep her tips.

    The point here is that we’re in an era of ethical consumption– or at least an era of media attention to ethical consumption. Why should publishing be any different? Yet in my experience few scholars/ authors really understand the difference between for-profit and non-profit scholarly publishing, assuming that all scholarly publishers want the same thing–namely the support and production of research/ scholarship/ knowledge. Business models, even those that allow non-profits to survive, are a surprise to many. Business models that are designed to maximize profit for shareholders from the publication of scholarship, are a shock.

    So while the term “predatory” may need to be retired or refined, the purpose of educating scholars about why and how their support for different publishing business models makes a difference continues to be vital.

    Posted by Karin Wulf | May 11, 2015, 9:29 am
  4. Thanks for this post Rick. I agree that “predatory” is now too narrow a term and that limiting this to OA journals is not very helpful. While Jeffery Beall has established this list and brought to light some very bad practices, this list is becoming a problem. What does it mean to be on the list? Does it mean that no one should sell services to these publishers? Is it possible to get off the list if you make systemic changes? What about if you start buying real journals? Does that make you legit?

    Then again, I don’t know what we would do without the list. A few times a month I refer people to the list. Mostly editors who have been contacted to be editors or reviewers for these journals. Or, I hear from other societies or groups within my organization that have been approached to “partner” with one of the publishers on the list. Or, the publisher has done a conference (sham or not) and has just submitted a dozen papers to us.

    No one else is going to maintain this list. What we are seeing are lots of guidelines on what makes a good publisher as a means to disqualify the bad publishers but this will not be as useful as looking at a list of “bad faith/predatory” publishers.

    I don’t even know what to say about #5 and 7. Guilt on those two is enormously subjective.

    Posted by Angela Cochran | May 11, 2015, 9:31 am
    • Thanks, Angela — and let me clarify that I completely agree with you about the indispensability of Beall’s List. My concern is only with the term “predatory” itself.

      Posted by Rick Anderson | May 11, 2015, 9:39 am
    • Yes, it is so easy to use Beall’s list. If we find a publisher on the list – that’s it, back to normal business. Sure, we do not have time. This is also the reason, why few people seam to miss a proper abstract definition of what “predatory open access publishing” is (Wikipedia tried). Ok, if there is no proper definition then there are Beall’s criteria. Which criteria? As I understand not his “Poor journal standards”, but all the other criteria. How many of the other criteria? One criterion met is sufficient? Do we discuss his criteria? More is problematic than just #5 and #7. E.g. “… publish papers that are … obvious pseudo-science”. This means, Beall is the expert in all scientific areas? Did we discuss when his criteria change (now: 3rd edition)? How many “predatory” journals make a “predatory” publisher? Do we see how Beall arrived at his verdict? No! But Beall provides a link to the “predatory” publisher. Thanks.

      Posted by Dieter Scholz | May 11, 2015, 10:19 am
  5. Interesting essay but regarding the comment “Why would you expect an established publisher to be more ethical or operate on a higher moral ground than other businesses?”, “other businesses” do not derive their profits from taxpayer-funded research intended to benefit the public. If some publishers cannot take the moral high ground because of shareholders’ demands or mandated profit margins, then authors and governments should submit their research to publishers who can, as seen with OA mandates.

    As was pointed out, “predatory” or “bad faith” journals are not always easy to identify. Several organizations, specifically the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME), Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), and the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), developed the Principles of Transparency and Best Practices in Scholarly Publishing (posted on all the organizations’ sites including here: for journals ) to help journals understand best practices and share their own.

    Margaret Winker, MD
    Secretary, WAME

    The views expressed are my own.

    Posted by Margaret Winker | May 11, 2015, 10:00 am
    • I think you’re confusing research with the reports written about the research. Journals do not derive their profits from “taxpayer-funded research intended to benefit the public.” It is the researchers and the universities that do this through patents and technology transfer offices. Journals offer a service to those performing research (and not all research is funded, and the portion that is funded is not all publicly funded). In the case of subscription journals, the service is generally offered for free (though to be fair with some costs such as page charges and the like). The journals then derive their primary profit from selling subscriptions, which are paid for by a combination of university funds that come from areas such as tuitions, student fees and grant overheads.

      Posted by David Crotty | May 11, 2015, 10:10 am
      • I’m aware of the distinction and the business models after 22 years as an editor first at JAMA and then PLOS Medicine, but much of the funding that supports the research that generates the reports is taxpayer funded. I object to the idea that it is acceptable and expected for a publisher of medical research to operate under the same motivations as a bank.

        Posted by Margaret Winker | May 11, 2015, 10:23 am
        • I don’t disagree. Academia deserves better, and can do better for itself by being more selective in who it chooses to do business with.

          But I think the argument that because something is taxpayer-funded it 1) automatically should be made freely available to all or 2) it somehow places the results in a rarified air where real world practicalities don’t come into play is both specious and perhaps naive. And it’s particularly problematic when many of those who complain about publisher behavior are even more guilty of locking up actual research results to drive massive profits, rather than just stories written about those results.

          Posted by David Crotty | May 11, 2015, 10:28 am
        • Depends where you are incorporated. As a matter of law, in some states companies are required to act on behalf of their shareholders. I assume you are not aware of this and are not suggesting that companies in those states violate the law.

          Posted by Joseph Esposito | May 11, 2015, 12:05 pm
    • It’s important to bear in mind that the majority of publishers involved in this marketplace aren’t for-profit entities at all — and that a lot of the research published by both nonprofit and for-profit scholarly publishers was not underwritten by public funds. The scholarly communication marketplace is a very complex one, and this can make it hard to define (in usefully broad terms, anyway) what constitutes the “moral high ground.”

      Posted by Rick Anderson | May 11, 2015, 10:11 am
    • How do your strictures apply to, say, Google, which has certainly inserted itself into the scholarly communication process through Google Scholar and in many other ways? Should it be held to its pledge to “do no harm”?

      Posted by Sandy Thatcher | May 11, 2015, 10:52 am
      • I don’t think Google ever pledged to “do no harm.” You may be confusing it with the medical profession. Google has a corporate motto, not a pledge, and it’s “don’t be evil.” I’m not aware of any Google behavior in the scholcomm space that I would characterize as “evil.”

        Posted by Rick Anderson | May 11, 2015, 12:00 pm
  6. Those of us who are old enough will remember that “bad faith” was a central concept in French existentialism. To quote Wikipedia: “Bad faith (from French, mauvaise foi) is a philosophical concept used by existentialist philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir to describe the phenomenon where a human being under pressure from societal forces adopts false values and disowns their innate freedom hence acting inauthentically. It is closely related to the concepts of self-deception and ressentiment.” So, the term comes freighted with some philosophical baggage that you may not want it to carry in this context, Rick.

    Posted by Sandy Thatcher | May 11, 2015, 10:54 am
    • I’m not particularly concerned that Sartre’s usage of the term has had much influence on the way it’s used in common current parlance. (Same goes for his use of “nausea.”)

      Posted by Rick Anderson | May 11, 2015, 11:13 am
  7. I´m against the term and even more about allowing a single person the attribute the power of saying who is a good and a bad publisher. I get spam emails from “reputed” publishers almost every week. Don´t be cynic and do not associate rich publisher with reputed and poor publisher with predatory.

    Posted by David Ryan | May 11, 2015, 10:54 am
    • If you don’t think Beall should be allowed to be the only person acting in this watchdog capacity, then by all means, feel free to do some of that work yourself. There’s nothing at all stopping anyone interested from helping to catch and expose bad-faith actors in the scholcomm marketplace. (Well, nothing except the large amount of thankless work it will involve, and the attacks that will inevitably come, both from the bad actors you catch and from advocates who don’t appreciate the discussion of any risks or downsides to author-pays OA publishing.)

      Posted by Rick Anderson | May 11, 2015, 11:21 am
      • This last point is important Rick. While I too am wary of a one-person blacklist, let’s not forget before we criticize Jeffrey that he began Beall’s List in a vacuum and still largely operates in one. None of the professional or trade associations had stepped in to create a institution-run list (white- or blacklist). None have meaningfully stepped in to this day. The closest thing is DOAJ, which up until quite recently has been an unreliable white list more interested in comprehensiveness than quality control. This appears to be changing but is not there yet. It is also unclear to me that a whitelist will be as effective as a blacklist in dealing with this problem given the tactics of predator (or “predatory”) publishers, who have become facile at mimicking legitimate credentials. So while it is easy to say one is against a single person blacklist, it is an unfair and largely pointless critique in the absence of an actual alternative.

        Posted by Michael Clarke | May 11, 2015, 11:43 am
        • Yes — I think we need both a good, honest, well-managed white list (like DOAJ) and a good, honest, well-managed blacklist. Those two lists serve complementary (not identical) functions. There are good criticisms to be made of Beall’s List, but it seems to me that very often those criticisms are coming from people with a vested interest in minimizing the issue of genuinely predatory publishing.

          Posted by Rick Anderson | May 11, 2015, 11:49 am
          • Beall maintains an unscientific (details given above) list of “predatory” publishers. Not even “predatory”. Beall calls his list, a list of “potential, possible, or probable predatory” scholarly open-access publishers. As of today there are 789 publishers found guilty. How helpful is all of this? Forgiven. I do not care if someone somewhere does something without quality. However, Beall says “I am an academic crime fighter” (tripleC). He is policing also – as he says (potential, possible, …) – innocent publishers. He writes: “I recommend that researchers stay away from …”. Earlier he wrote “do not do business with these publishers”. Without business, innocent publishers may go out of business. Is this only a little collateral damage? Do we care if an innocent Indian company goes bankrupt because Beall found it guilty of e.g. incorporating in Delaware, USA? Beall does not say that this is the reason for listing the publisher! In my view, this is where Beall’s activity is crossing a red line and has to get ignored!
            We know there is an alternative: The DOAJ whitelist. DOAJ is set up for work with many volunteers. People at DOAJ are open to include good advice, we can comment on their blog and wording about their criteria improves slowly. Let’s just hope to get the remaining 9000 journals checked soon … in the mean time 16 common criteria are out there from OASPA, DOAJ, COPE, WAME, and everyone can quickly check in a specific case of a journal which has not been rechecked by DOAJ since March 2014. I think publishers should provide online information where they go through all 16 criteria (and at best also the 55 DOAJ questions) and point to their specific web pages to demonstrate and prove beyond doubt for every criterion how it is met (answered). This can bridge the gap until DOAJ is ready and will be a good exercise for the publisher. This proposal is in line with a recent recommendation from Science Europe: “In case of an Open Access venue that has been founded recently and is therefore not yet registered in the DOAJ, it has to be clear from the journal website that the DOAJ criteria are fulfilled.”

            Posted by Dieter Scholz | May 11, 2015, 3:15 pm
            • We know there is an alternative: The DOAJ whitelist.

              The DOAJ is an invaluable resource, and is in the process of becoming even more so as it cleans house and tightens its criteria. But it’s not an alternative to Beall’s List. Because DOAJ is a whitelist, it can’t do the work (also very important) of a blacklist. We need both, because the absence of a publisher from the whitelist does not, in and of itself, tell us anything about that publisher’s good faith and reliability–it may be missing from the list because it’s a predatory publisher that was actively excluded, or it may be missing because it just hasn’t been added yet. So we need a whitelist to help us identify the good guys, and a blacklist to help us identify the bad guys.

              Now, I agree with those who point out the problems with Beall’s blacklist: his criteria are loose and subjective, and he doesn’t seem to maintain the list rigorously enough–notably, it’s not clear to those he brands “potentially predatory” what they have to do to convince him that they’re not. That’s a very big problem. However, what Beall offers is currently the best offering out there. I would love to see someone do it better–or, even better, volunteer to help Beall improve it. Again: the only reason Beall is a one-man show is that no one else has shown a willingness to do this very important work. Nothing is stopping anyone else from doing it better. But doing a whitelist instead does not constitute doing it better–it constitutes doing something different and complementary.

              Posted by Rick Anderson | May 11, 2015, 3:46 pm
              • Those who like backlists may go and help Beall. For me a better blacklist is still a blacklist and unethical because it is libel. Compare with the common statement of OASPA, DOAJ, COPE, WAME, which includes: “We do not intend to develop or publish a list of publishers or journals that failed to demonstrate they met the criteria for transparency and best practice.” If something is seen as unethical it simply can not be part of the solution. I also do not see the necessity for a blacklist. If authors want to be safe with their publication to get proper credit, they will check a whitelist. If authors want to get funding for their APC they will see funder’s options for eligibility of the journal. Inclusion in the DOAJ will most probably be one option of showing eligibility for the journal. (How to bridge the gap until DOAJ is ready please see above.) Now what about the questionable journals? Authors who do not care to check a whitelist and select a journal from it will probably also not care to check a blacklist and avoid journals (publishers) on it. Journals working with APC will need to get whitelisted to provide funding for their authors and as such to stay in business. Publishers will offer a more or less cost effective product. Minimum standards (ISSN, DOI, archiving, transparent proper peer review, …) are forced on those publishers who want to participate in mainstream publishing with whitelisting. It is all normal business. APC can only be enforced in the market up to a certain limit depending on what the journal offers. Meeting minimum standards does already incur notable expenses and hence needs some APC. Further positive attributes like being a journal with (TR) Impact Factor and fast track but still quality peer review, will allow charging higher APC. Publishers with a flexible pricing strategy and good cost effectiveness will grow, the others will wither. Problem solved.

                Posted by Dieter Scholz | May 11, 2015, 9:11 pm
  8. Absolutely agree that “predatory” is a nonsense term as used in Beall’s sideshow, and I use scare quotes around it in my forthcoming Library Technology Reports issue on the gold OA landscape. I use “questionable” as a better term, and I don’t believe in a one-person blacklist.

    Posted by waltcrawford | May 11, 2015, 11:17 am
    • Like I said to David above, if you don’t like Beall’s List being a “one-person blacklist,” feel free to contribute to solving this problem yourself. It’s not Beall’s fault that he’s doing it alone.

      Also, to be clear: I don’t think “predatory” is a “nonsense term” at all. I think it applies very well in some cases, such as to publishers that try either to deceive authors into buying fraudulent services or that deliberately help authors to deceive their colleagues. But I don’t think the term applies equally well in all of the cases it has come to be used.

      Posted by Rick Anderson | May 11, 2015, 11:27 am
  9. “meretricious publishing”

    Posted by Thomas Lawrence Long | May 11, 2015, 11:51 am
  10. I must be missing something. Can Rick or anybody else point me to the group-maintained (or single-person) blacklist for predatory/sketchy/meretricious subscription journals or publishers? Or, for that matter, to the whitelist for such journals or publishers? Or is it only OA that deserves/requires such blacklists and whitelists?

    Posted by waltcrawford | May 11, 2015, 3:59 pm
    • It’s not so much a question of who “deserves” what. It’s a question of structural reality. Journals that make their money by selling putatively scholarly certification and peer-reviewed publication to authors have a conflict of interest that doesn’t exist with journals that make their money by selling content to readers and libraries. This isn’t to say that all subscription publishers act in good faith–but it is to reiterate the problem I’m trying to discuss in this piece: what we call predation in the author-pays OA environment is behavior that is far less prevalent in the subscription environment, because the incentive to commit that particular kind of bad action doesn’t exist when you’re selling content rather than selling publication services. And yet we do see bad behavior in the subscription realm, so what should we call that?

      Another reason, I think, that there’s no centrally-maintained “blacklist” of subscription publishers is that historically, we’ve been free to criticize the behavior of subscription publishers in the general scholcomm conversation without being shouted down or put on an enemies list. You don’t generally get in trouble for calling out bad actors in the subscription world, so their bad behavior tends to be a matter of public record and public discussion. That’s not the case on the OA side, however: when you try to discuss downsides of OA programs and models instead of (or even as well as) the upsides, you get landed on hard by the advocacy community.

      Posted by Rick Anderson | May 11, 2015, 4:16 pm
    • Whitelists would include things like MedLine and Web of Science, among many others.

      Posted by David Crotty | May 11, 2015, 4:37 pm
      • Perhaps but Medline and Web of Science are known to underrepresent journals from low- and middle- income and non-English-language countries, so the absence of a journal from those databases is not necessarily a reflection on the journal.

        Posted by Margaret Winker | May 11, 2015, 4:43 pm
        • I didn’t say they were perfect, or even necessarily good whitelists, but the question was implying that no one bothered to judge subscription journals in the same manner we do OA journals. There are plenty. Let’s throw in the Science Citation Index, Social Sciences Citation Index, Humanities Citation Index, Scopus, etc. I’m sure I’m missing many (and each has their pluses and minuses).

          Posted by David Crotty | May 11, 2015, 4:47 pm
          • And it’s worth pointing out that what you (Margaret) are identifying as a weakness of Medline and WoS is actually a structural weakness of whitelists generally. They are always and inevitably incomplete, and can never be assumed to offer a comprehensive list of “good guys.” That’s not to say they aren’t useful, only that they are never complete and you always have to take that into account when using them.

            Posted by Rick Anderson | May 11, 2015, 4:51 pm
            • Agreed. The reason it’s important in this conversation is that the journals that are less likely to appear on the white lists are also those at risk for winding up on Beall’s blacklist despite publishing in good faith (as was pointed out earlier) — small, poorly funded, from low and middle income countries. Not to say that there aren’t journals with those characteristics that are bad actors (or whatever descriptor you want to use), but it would be especially unfortunate to wrongly blacklist journals serving an underserved community that have little opportunity for recourse and next to no likelihood of being indexed, ie, whitelisted.

              Posted by Margaret Winker | May 11, 2015, 5:03 pm
              • Agreed, and this is one reason why Beall’s List needs to be tightened up and improved. It needs more rigor than it can reasonably be expected to have as long as it’s something done by one person in his spare time.

                Posted by Rick Anderson | May 11, 2015, 5:05 pm
              • The problem with lists is two fold:
                1. First, creating them according to standard, objective, reproducible criteria (no small feat)
                2. Maintaining them in the face of journals that change (rare, but not unheard of: ), the appearance of journal-level identity theft ( ) and the number of new journals that can be created at a single go (which is one of Beall’s criteria at the publisher level).

                It is simply not possible for any list to be both comprehensive and current – on its own.

                Therefore, to echo Margaret – there is a serious problem with perceived false-positives (it’s not on the blacklist, so it’s good), and false-negatives (it’s not on the whitelist, so it’s bad).

                WoS and Medline (and other aggregators that select content at the journal level, including the ERA journal list: all have criteria for inclusion that do not depend on the conduct of the journal or publisher. They deal, first with criteria, then with the coverage goal of the product, whether by subject, or size, or international diversity. While their lists can reliably be considered “clean” and they are maintained and reviewed, they are deliberately NOT inclusive.

                To my knowledge, Beall’s list is the only “blacklist” out there. He, also, acknowledges that it is neither perfect nor comprehensive. (What sensible person would expect it to be – see above re the problem of lists!)

                Authors are still left with the “check this list, and that list, and the other list, then ask your adviser and your colleagues, go to the website and trust your instincts.”

                Caveat scriptor isn’t very satisfying.

                Posted by Marie McVeigh | May 12, 2015, 12:18 pm
  11. One of the things which bothers me a bit is not the “predatory” part of the term but the “publisher.” Many publishers, both OA & traditional cede responsibility for how individual journals are run to the editors. Recent events make it clear how important a good editor is to keeping ethics, peer review etc. above board. But when a publisher has hundreds or thousands of journals it becomes difficult for them to have oversight. We see examples of this from smaller OA publishers to large publishers (Elsevier & more). My point is, why brand the entire publisher catalog as being “predatory” when it is really just one journal among many? I’ve used the term “predatory publishers” quite a bit myself but lately have started using “sham” or “scam” journals. Now having said this, there certainly are many publishers who produce nothing BUT these types of journals, so in those cases the term does seem to fit.

    As far as developing a white list, Rick makes an excellent point that any such list may always be incomplete, but that is something we hope to do (in time) with PRE. We view ourselves as an independent 3rd party which supports legitimate publishers/journals who follow best practices.We are the ONLY service that I’m aware of which uses the metadata from the journal peer review system and other methods to validate that peer review has actually occurred.Our hope is that we will find wider adoption over the next 6-12 months and continue to work with the other organizations others have already mentioned in their responses to address many of the concerns raised here.

    Posted by adametkin | May 11, 2015, 5:15 pm
    • One of the things which bothers me a bit is not the “predatory” part of the term but the “publisher.” Many publishers, both OA & traditional cede responsibility for how individual journals are run to the editors.

      They do, and I think that any publisher that does so is, frankly, acting in bad faith. It seems to me that if your logo is on the publication, you can’t reasonably evade responsibility for what’s published in it. “But I’ve taken on more products than I can be responsible for!” doesn’t seem to me like a reasonable excuse for your journal’s bad behavior. It’s an admission of irresponsible business practices.

      That said, I agree that branding a publisher (and therefore its entire output) as “predatory” because of one or two bad journals out of a list of, say, 100 would probably be excessive. In that case, the virtue of a blacklist would be in its power to bring such problems to the publisher’s attention and encourage it to fix them. When it does fix them, those who maintain the blacklist should remove the publisher from it. (And what constitutes “fixing” should be a matter of public record.)

      Posted by Rick Anderson | May 11, 2015, 5:22 pm
  12. If we look at this from the POV of the individuals and committees who recommend academic recognitions (hiring, P&T, grant applications, etc.), we see a greatly diminished level of confidence in works that have been published under an OA banner.
    It used to be that reputable publishers could be counted on to tend to their self-interest by publishing only those works that would sustain their subscription income, the good stuff. True, there were disreputable publishers operating what came to be derisively known as a “vanity press.” This was not a problem because these were all reputation-ally sorted out and ranked hierarchically. Zero points for vanity pressed published works, non-zero points for the others depending on rank. There was very little ambiguity.
    Now comes OA green and gold where publisher motives may be quite different than they were before. It may well be that even the most altruistic of publishers are less able or motivated to go the extra mile to maintain a reputation that no longer draws the ROI of days gone by. When APCs represent more income than subscriptions, does that not change publisher motivations?

    Posted by Frank Lowney | May 11, 2015, 5:41 pm
  13. Lots of good stuff here. Just one comment:

    “The danger isn’t so much that smart and well-intentioned authors will accidentally publish with a fraudulent journal, but that busy search committees will (inevitably) fail to vet carefully every citation provided in a job candidate’s CV, and thereby accidentally hire a fraudulent scholar.”

    I have little sympathy with a department that hires someone on the basis of papers that they don’t actually read. We all appreciate the unwelcome reality that metrics are often necessary for whittling 500 applicants down to a shortlist; but once at the shortlist level, a department that hires someone on the basis of a list of papers in a CV is negligent, and gets what it deserves.

    Posted by Mike Taylor | May 12, 2015, 3:27 am
    • Due diligence at the time of hiring and promotion is indeed very important — it’s how we (hopefully) keep the frauds and cranks out of academia. Of course, keeping an eye out for frauds and scammers in the scholarly publishing marketplace is very important too. And luckily, we don’t have to choose between those two types of due diligence — we can do both, and should.

      Posted by Rick Anderson | May 12, 2015, 8:46 am
  14. With respect to the initial question: “Should We Retire the Term ‘Predatory Publishing’?” I would like to compile some intermediate results:
    Rick Anderson: “I suggest that we simply do away with the term “predatory” in the context of scholarly publishing.” “More helpful, I think, might be simply to talk in terms of bad faith.” “Of course, one problem with the concept of bad faith is that it addresses intentions more than actions, and the intentions of others can be pretty tough to divine.”
    Kent Anderson: The term “bad faith” is a specific legal term that means duplicity and “double-heartedness.”
    Harvey Kane: rip off
    David Crotty: abusive
    Sandy Thatcher: “bad faith” was a central concept in French existentialism
    Walt Crawford: questionable
    Rick Anderson: I don’t think “predatory” is a “nonsense term” at all. I think it applies very well in some cases, such as to publishers that try either to deceive authors into buying fraudulent services or that deliberately help authors to deceive their colleagues. But I don’t think the term applies equally well in all of the cases it has come to be used.
    Thomas Lawrence Long: meretricious publishing
    Adam Etkin: “sham” or “scam”
    I did not notice a strong tendency in the discussion to NOT retire the term ‘predatory publishing’. So, it could be ok to retire it, but only in a situation where a new term is on the horizon.
    Please allow me to bring in something that got lost together with my first comment:
    Due to its origin the term “predatory publishing” seems to be used more naturally in the USA. In Europe, I noticed some hesitation in using the term (e.g. at OASPA or DOAJ). Lars Bjoernshauge from DOAJ derives based on a dictionary definition: “A predatory publisher can then be described as a publisher who intends to injure or exploit others for personal gain or profit.” Therefore, Bjoernshauge uses the term “questionable publisher” and defines: “Questionable publishers are publishers, who are not living up to reasonable standards in terms of content, services, transparency and of business behavior.” (
    Walt Crawford also proposed “questionable”. The new/replacement term “questionable” is already in use. Why should a new term be invented again? Or does that sound (smell) “fishy” to you?!

    Posted by Dieter Scholz | May 12, 2015, 11:55 am
  15. Community is key for viable alternatives to a one-man’s opaque blacklist and an elusive all-encompassing whitelist.

    The best approach that I’ve seen so far is those of subject-area expert-reviewed journal listings, such as the Directory of Nursing Journals, that has been vetted by interested parties (the International Academy of Nursing Editors, in this case). So everybody who cares about their little area, would get together and come up with their group’s own white or blacklists. Hopefully learned societies will step up to the challenge.

    Geography-based communities are another option. Some countries maintain national lists of approved journals, such as the Norwegian Scientific Index, the Brazilian Qualis, and the South African DHET list of Approved Journals. I’m sure there are institutions establishing their own internal vetted lists, too. Inclusion in non-profit online scholarly publishing platforms may help in gauging journals not otherwise indexed in Scopus or Web of Science; examples are BanglaJOL and Scielo, see also LILACS Database Journal Selection and Permanence Criteria (these are not just article aggregators nor abstracting & indexing services).

    These are in addition to recent development under the theme of crowd-sourcing journal recommendations, see “Rate that journal” newspiece in Nature. All-in-all I’m in favor of a plurality of lists to cover all ground and shed light on the gray areas.

    Posted by Felipe G. Nievinski | May 12, 2015, 9:23 pm
  16. Another problem with Beall’s list is that he has used it to wage a vendetta against a journal that refused to publish his work. He threw them on the list for that, then when he changed the predatory journal list to open access only, he kept them on the list despite the fact that they are not an open access journal. For more details see

    Then of course there’s his infamous rant against open access which has been thoroughly debunked by Michael Eisen:

    Worst of all, Beall has been accused of extortion:

    Frankly, Beall is not anti-predator, he is anti-open access, and should be boycotted by every scientific blog in existence. Yet this has not happened, and science blogs continue to uncritically repeat him and welcome him.

    Posted by Kristoffer | May 16, 2015, 10:27 pm
    • Even more:
      How does a person with no Ph.D, not a single peer reviewed paper to his name, and not a minute of teaching experience be an associate professor, and be on the board of a Taylor & Francis journal?

      Posted by Kristoffer | May 16, 2015, 11:24 pm
      • Kristoffer, you need to educate yourself a bit about how faculty appointments work in academic libraries. I have no Ph.D, and yet I have an academic rank equivalent to full professor while also serving as an associate dean (and on the boards of multiple peer-reviewed journals). This is far from unusual.

        Posted by Rick Anderson | May 16, 2015, 11:39 pm
    • If the OA community would like to shut down Beall’s List, it can do so at any time by taking on the responsibility of identifying and exposing deceptive and fraudulent OA publishers. The benefits of self-policing would be significant: for one thing, no one would be able to accuse the OA community of being motivated by an anti-OA bias. For another thing, the community has a built-in incentive to do a better job than Beall has so far done of saying exactly why each publisher is included on the list, and to provide each one with a clear and fair set of steps it has to take in order to get itself removed.

      Of course, by doing this, the OA community would be acknowledging the reality of the problem of predatory OA publishing. This does pose a political difficulty, given its general unwillingness to do so up to this point. But that very unwillingness is exactly what has made Beall’s List necessary and his work so important. Whether that work is motivated, at least in part, by a personal anti-OA agenda is an interesting question (the answer to it appears to be yes), but it’s separate from the question of whether predatory (or abusive or meretricious or bad-faith) OA publishing is a real problem. The answer to that question is also yes, and until the OA community decides to take upon itself the burden of policing that problem, we’re going to need Beall’s List.

      In other words, if you don’t like Beall, then by all means put him out of business by doing a better job than he does of dealing with the problem of predatory OA publishing. No one is stopping you or anyone else from doing so.

      Posted by Rick Anderson | May 16, 2015, 11:31 pm
      • I’m clearly missing something: The well-maintained blacklist of subscription journals and publishers. One that might include publishers that produce phony journals with cherry-picked articles paid for by corporations to serve as PR, or publishers that regularly republish articles from one journal in another journal (without attribution) (until they’re called on it), or journals that effectively serve as an editor’s soapbox, or ones that take “hybrid” payments but don’t make the paid-for articles fully available, or…

        Until there’s such a blacklist, you’re saying that OA publishers have to be held to a higher ethical standard than subscription publishers–and that blacklists are a good way to accomplish things. I don’t believe the latter (especially since formalized blacklists make it extremely difficult for a journal or publisher to redeem itself). Indeed, meretricious and bad-faith and abusive publishing practices are real problems–one that’s clearly not limited to OA, not even close.

        Note that I’m not actually calling for a subscription-journal/publisher blacklist (just the criteria noted above would include publishers of more than 10% of scholarly journals); I don’t think blacklists are the right approach, no matter how formalized the practices. But at the very least, it’s a little hypocritical to say that OA journals suddenly require an inquisitorial process that has never been needed or expected for subscription publishing.

        Posted by waltcrawford | May 17, 2015, 1:54 pm
        • All publishers should be subject to scrutiny. That doesn’t mean that every analysis must cover all publishers. In any event, I must take exception to Walt. Traditional publishers are subject to vilification every day. No doubt some of it is deserved. But it is truly astonishing to think that Elsevier or the Nature Group has been given a free pass.

          Posted by Joseph Esposito | May 17, 2015, 2:09 pm
        • Until there’s such a blacklist, you’re saying that OA publishers have to be held to a higher ethical standard than subscription publishers.

          I’m saying nothing of the sort. I believe that all publishers should be held to the same ethical standard, and I think I’ve said so about as clearly as it can be said. If a publisher is doing business fraudulently (no matter what kind of publisher it is), then those it is trying to defraud need to be warned. The reason this issue has been raised in the context of OA publishing rather than toll-access publishing isn’t because anyone believes deceptive and fraudulent behavior is acceptable in toll-access publishing, but rather because the author-pays model (which, for obvious reasons, is far more prevalent in the OA publishing world than in the toll-access world) lends itself more readily to this kind of fraudulent behavior — but if a toll-access publisher is deceiving and defrauding its authors and readers, then we need to be warned about that publisher as well. If I ran a blacklist, I would be just as ready to put such publishers on it as I would an OA publisher that deceives and defrauds.

          Posted by Rick Anderson | May 18, 2015, 7:48 am
          • Fair enough: I withdraw the “you’re saying” comment. One thing, though:
            “the author-pays model (which, for obvious reasons, is far more prevalent in the OA publishing world than in the toll-access world)”
            is not clearly true, at least according to some studies that found that a higher percentage of subscription journals than OA journals impose author-side charges (but they’re not called APCs). That may have changed, but it’s not clearly the case that OA publishers are more likely to impose such charges. (According to my 6,490-journal analysis, OA journals could have taken in just under $294 million in APCs in 2014, although the figure is almost certainly lower thanks to waivers and discounts. It would be interesting to see whether page charges and other author-side charges in subscription journals exceeded that, but it’s not something I’m in a position to research.)

            Otherwise, there’s the question of whether blacklists are appropriate methodologies and whether they can be maintained in a fair way that allows for redemption/improvement. I doubt it, but it’s at least an open question. Meanwhile, this remarkable multiway discussion has been interesting and enlightening…

            Posted by waltcrawford | May 18, 2015, 11:05 am
            • One thing, though: “the author-pays model (which, for obvious reasons, is far more prevalent in the OA publishing world than in the toll-access world)”
              is not clearly true, at least according to some studies that found that a higher percentage of subscription journals than OA journals impose author-side charges (but they’re not called APCs).

              I’d be very interested to see those studies — can you provide citations? Bear in mind also, though, that counting publishers isn’t the best way to measure the prevalence of the author-pays model. PLOS is only one publisher, but it accounts for more than 35,000 OA articles per year, all of them funded by APCs. And don’t forget BioMed Central–also very prolific, also APC-based. There are indeed lots of Gold OA publishers out there that don’t impose APCs, but my understanding is that, as a group, they don’t produce nearly as many articles as the (relatively few) APC-charging publishers do. (But I confess that I don’t have really solid statistics on that. If anyone can provide links to good studies that either support or refute my understanding, I’d love to have them.)

              Otherwise, there’s the question of whether blacklists are appropriate methodologies and whether they can be maintained in a fair way that allows for redemption/improvement.

              For what it’s worth, it seems clear to me that this can be done, given sufficient support. All it takes is a clear set of reasonable criteria against which publishers will be judged, an explanation as to which criteria were used to find a particular blacklisted publisher unworthy, and a clear path of appeal that those publishers can use either to dispute the finding or to demonstrate that they have mended their ways. If we had in our scholcomm marketplace both a blacklist (managed in this way) and a whitelist that does the important work of certifying Good Guys (like the DOAJ), I think we’d all benefit. But this would require not only quite a bit of work, but also a willingness to own up to the problem of “predatory” publishing.

              Posted by Rick Anderson | May 18, 2015, 11:20 am
              • Re the first question: Not offhand; I suspect OATP is the place to look. Most such studies are at least a year or two old, most likely.

                Re the “bear in mind”: Yep. That’s right. That’s why in my studies (not “scholarly” and not institutionally-blessed, but complete and done transparently), I look at both and emphasize article percentages. Your understanding is correct for some fields and for OA as a whole (largely because it’s correct for medicine and STEM, which dominate OA publishing in terms of article counts). My weekly series of topical posts on Walt at Random include the percentage of fee-charging (or non-fee-charging) journals and articles, year by year, and my Library Technology Report out this summer includes summarized data for 2011, 2012, 2013 and the first half of 2014 (the weekly series covers all of 2014).

                Overall for 2014, for journals that actually published articles in 2014 and either state their APCs or clearly don’t have any (there are some–probably on their way out of DOAJ–that don’t state APCs clearly; I regard those as red-flagged “avoid these” journals), roughly one-third of journals charge APCs, but those journals account for roughly two-third of articles in 2014. The LTR report will have more detailed numbers. I just posted a table showing subject-by-subject percentages of 2014 articles involving fees; the percentages run from 100% for megajournals (by necessity) to 2% for history journals, with the Big Kahuna–medicine–at 65%, which is also roughly the overall figure. Here’s the link:

                Posted by waltcrawford | May 18, 2015, 12:09 pm
                • Thanks, Walt — that confirms what I thought: a minority of OA journals are APC-based, but they produce a majority of OA articles. That’s an important qualification to the standard line we hear, which is “most Gold OA publishers don’t impose APCs.” That’s a technically true statement, but a misleading one.

                  Posted by Rick Anderson | May 18, 2015, 12:19 pm
  17. Rick, thanks for going already so far as to indicate the following (see above): (1) Beall is not saying exactly why each publisher is included on the list. (2) Beall does not provide publishers on his list with a clear and fair set of steps the publisher has to take in order to get itself removed. (3) Beall is motivated, at least in part, by a personal anti-OA agenda. (4) Beall’s List needs to be tightened up and improved.
    Above you write: “It [Beall’s List] needs more rigor than it can reasonably be expected to have as long as it’s something done by one person in his spare time.” Please note that his employer writes: “Jeffrey … advises on topics such as open-access publishing, research misconduct”. ( He is free to do research as part of his job and is using this for his OA investigations.

    You advise David Ryan and Walt Crawford: “feel free to contribute to solving this problem yourself. It’s not Beall’s fault that he’s doing it alone.” You repeat this with: “if you don’t like Beall, then by all means put him out of business by doing a better job” and with “If the OA community would like to shut down Beall’s List, it can do so at any time by taking on … the responsibility of identifying and exposing deceptive and fraudulent OA publishers.”
    It is NOT correct to turn down arguments against Beall by just saying critiques should do a better job in blacklisting. Individuals may not believe in blacklisting at all or do not have the financial support that Beall has. You can well condemn something (e.g. nuclear power) without solving the problem or at least doing your part in it (e.g. by building a wind power plant).
    I repeat myself in saying that OASPA, DOAJ, COPE, WAME have no intention in starting a blacklist “We do not intend to develop or publish a list of publishers or journals that failed to demonstrate they met the criteria for transparency and best practice.” (, because they see it as unethical. If something is seen as unethical it simply can not be part of the solution. With COPE and WAME this view goes even beyond OA.
    I was brought up learning it is not good behavior to tell your father about your brother doing something wrong. Or take this: “When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” ( It is also not ok to police and punish in the absence of any other police (e.g. it was not ok when during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, paramilitaries considered themselves to be law enforcers in their own areas).
    The problem of backlisting is that it creates vicious circles. One example: A publisher is considered a “probable or potential predatory publisher”, for this reason it is not allowed to get into an archiving arrangement (e.g. policy at CLOCKSS and LOCKSS), for this reason it is also not whitelisted.
    Beall clearly crosses the line from free speech to libel. As newly established publishers grow in setting up their OA publishing activities according to, Beall moves into activities of identifying what he/some call “junk science”. There may be “obvious” cases, but quite often things are too complicated for a librarian to make an educated comment in every field of STM. Beall is mocking authors (see e.g. his latest post along this line from 2015-05-14) for their contributions or for going to conferences that are “really vacations disguised as academic meetings”.
    Beall’s writings are not scientific. For this reason the scientific community can not rely on his results. Blacklisting in unethical and can not be part of the solution. Whitelisting may not cover everything, but that’s then the best ethical move we can make.

    Posted by Dieter Scholz | May 17, 2015, 3:53 am
    • I have already published my view of Beall’s work on the Kitchen, under the title “Parting Company with Jeffrey Beall”: Having said that, I think Rick is in the right here. Beall is not the complete package, but he got the ball rolling. Indeed, some of the whitelists cited in these comments set about improving their own work (e.g., DOAJ) in response to being called out by Beall. Scholarly communications is better for Beall. The next step is to go beyond Beall’s work. Why or why if Beall is so terrible won’t anybody do the job better? Kudos to Rick for sticking to his guns.

      Posted by Joseph Esposito | May 17, 2015, 12:55 pm
    • It is NOT correct to turn down arguments against Beall by just saying critiques should do a better job in blacklisting.

      I’m not turning down arguments against Beall. I agree with some of the critiques of his work, and there are significant things about it that I wish he did better. But although it’s flawed, his work is nevertheless important and necessary.

      I was brought up learning it is not good behavior to tell your father about your brother doing something wrong.

      I was brought up differently, apparently. If one of my brothers were lying to and stealing from my sister, I would have been expected to say something about it to my parents — or at least to warn my sister.

      Whitelisting may not cover everything, but that’s then the best ethical move we can make.

      The problem with whitelisting isn’t just that it doesn’t cover everything; the problem is that it doesn’t do the same work that a blacklist does. If a fox is in the henhouse eating chickens, you won’t solve the problem by keeping an accurate count of fox-free henhouses (or by pointing out that the vast majority of henhouse occupants aren’t foxes). At some point you’re going to have to draw attention to the fox.

      Posted by Rick Anderson | May 18, 2015, 7:57 am
      • Let Me Try to Provide a More Systematic Approach with this Comment

        Most things have shades of gray. If we go quickly about them we can only spot black and white. My comments seem to be rather long (sorry for that). Nevertheless, I feel my arguments still remain too much in black and white, because acceptable comment length must have limits.

        There are different dimensions to blacklisting. I claim, we did not even get close to an examination:
        a) Criteria (with respect to Beall: Angela Cochran touched on “Editor and Staff #5 and #7”. I mentioned “Other #5”. Details here:
        b) Data retrieval: collected (Internet and/or interview) or submitted (taken as it is or discussed)
        c) Evaluation: hidden or transparent.
        d) Handling lack of precision: “innocent convicts” or “in dubio pro reo”.
        e) Goal: destruction, warning, neutral information.
        f) Style: racist, polemic, scientific.
        g) Mechanisms for getting off the list: only in theory, with payment, legal steps required, neutral, active help provided.
        h) General complaints procedure: not offered, offered.

        Beall’s blacklist can be characterized with attributes as given above rather on the “left side” of each list. A blacklist with attributes on the “right side” of each list, certainly would not make so many people as upset as they are with Beall.

        Gold OA journals offer a service. In many cases this service has a price (APC). If the product is worth nothing or not safe or the price is too high a word of caution is justified. This is the very same as with every other (consumer) product.

        Other consumer products are tested and evaluated by consumer organizations ( Known are e.g. ( or
        joint in International Consumer Research & Testing (ICRT)
        ( These organizations could be a model for evaluating (OA) journals and could help authors to make an educated selection when deciding where to publish. Authors of such consumer reports do not ride the high horse. Information is factual. Those evaluated with a low score certainly do not like it but are not losing their face.

        I think these are the areas that need to be looked at:

        1.) What is the problem and what is its scale
        2.) What is done in similar situations
        3.) Who needs action?
        4.) What are possible solutions?
        5.) What is legal? What is ethical?

        With respect to:

        1.) What is the problem? From this discussion:
        a) “publishers that prey on naive authors”,
        b) “authors are tricked into submitting an article”,
        c) “deceive authors into buying fraudulent services”,
        d) “The real prey may be our society as a whole, where ordinary people [get false information and] … scientific credibility … [is] further eroded”,
        e) “deliberately help authors to deceive their colleagues”.
        The scale? Just one typical(?) example: A publisher has published 40000 papers with “satisfactory” number of downloads. Some authors have several papers. There is a comment function under each article. Discussion activity is low. No major complaints raised in the discussions. Publisher is criticized in about 12 (mostly) blog posts on the Internet within 6 years. 7 of them from Beall, of which there are 5 about a controversial article or researcher. Even if I may have missed something on the WWW, the level of discontent is low compared to the number of published papers. In addition it is at least questionable, if critiques are (fully) justified.

        2.) See above “consumer organizations”. Adapted to publishing: International approach similar to ICRT.

        3.) Action is only advocated by those who see a real and large scale problem or by those who have a hidden agenda.

        4.) Solutions range from: BlackList & WhiteList, only BL, only WL. My (new) proposal: A rather unified BL/WL neutral evaluation of all offered journal services in ICRT-style, with definition of minimum standards and warnings when minimum standards are not met. Clear criteria, so that everyone can evaluate offers (not evaluated) against these criteria and compare with tested, evaluated, and ranked services. DOAJ is a good example, but active (on purpose) on the WL side only.

        5.) Libel is illegal. Unethical: See below!

        Rick, thanks for the illustration. It is very helpful for me. Our upbringing may not be so different. It is more the view of the situation we do not share. For me the rule is: Do not tell your father when your brother sticks the finger in the nose. Do not blame your brother in front of your father, because you do not like your brother, or just because you try to get into a better position. Do not sneak on your brother.

        We go to the police if neighbor A threatens/kills neighbor B. But we do not go to the police if A sold his car much over average price to B, or if A growth his tree over the fence into B’s property. The rule: Do not get into other’s business.

        In MY story some people claim they saw a fox eating a chicken in a henhouse. Others have seen a few more such foxes. Someone even said he may(!) have seen 789 foxes each eating many chickens (but he does not show proof of it). It is debated now, if all 789 foxes should be killed (just to be safe).

        We should not use the “naive author” as an excuse to shut down publishers e.g. in India. Normally, we hear action was taken because the weak have called out for help (often taken as an excuse for taking action). Here, I have not even heard “naive authors” calling for help (and it is no so difficult to place a comment somewhere on the Internet). So, why take strong action with blacklisting?

        If the BL and/or WL activity is set up internationally, it may well also take an international dimension. But it is internationally not unanimously appreciated if global policing and punishment seems to be carried out from one location.

        Posted by Dieter Scholz | May 19, 2015, 4:20 am
  18. “Predatory journals” are hopefully only a temporary step on the way out of our current, but dreadfully outdated, scientific publishing system. There are many problems here, but most stem from having grant success tightly linked to the quantity and quality of publications, with the quality of a publication based on the journal in which it was published. This creates a clear market for journals with low quality control, but with branding that could be mistaken for journals with higher quality control.

    The current system of scientific publishing is based on a model with slow communication and high printing costs. High costs limited the number of publications a journal could publish, requiring editorial or peer review to select the best manuscripts, and this demand also increased journals’ apparent value for authors. We are stuck with this measure of publication quality today, even though Journal-centric measures such as Impact Factor are of questionable value in measuring the quality of individual papers. Slow communication meant that only a few individuals could participate in this pre-publication review. Such small sample sizes are not considered acceptable in other aspects of science.

    The internet removes these barriers. Publishing and communication are essentially free. This could allow anyone to review, critique, or applaud a publication, meaning that the most appropriate reviewers are able to comment, not just those invited by an editor to review. Post-publication peer review, or pre-print services, are an efficient way to enable this. Low publishing costs mean that there is no need to limit the number of papers published, although this is definitely useful for journal quality branding and saving time in finding papers worth reading. Many solutions and publishing models have been proposed, and are being trialled: e.g. journals without an “impact” requirement like PLoS ONE or Peer J; or those without a “quality” requirement like The Winnower, or “Predatory Journals”.

    In this context, the label “Predatory journal” will hopefully become meaningless, in a scientific publishing system that emphasizes post publication peer review, and granting systems that value the quality of individual papers.

    Also, I don’t consider MDPI to be predatory, since they once rejected a manuscript of mine😉

    Posted by Ben Schulz | May 19, 2015, 8:15 pm
    • The problem with predatory publishers isn’t that they don’t have a “quality” requirement. There’s nothing ethically wrong with publishing a journal full of crap. There is something ethically wrong, however, with selling authors peer review and editorial services and then giving them neither. There’s also something ethically wrong with giving your crap journal a deceptive name designed to make people think it’s associated with a reputable organization, or putting people’s names on your crap journal’s masthead without their permission, or lying about having an impact factor, or stealing other journals’ content.

      Someday our current system of scholarly credentialing may be obviated by a new one. Until that day comes, we’re going to need to keep an eye out for the frauds and thieves that have figured out how to scam the system we’re dealing with now.

      Posted by Rick Anderson | May 20, 2015, 12:01 am
      • How to Deal with Thieves!

        Thanks Rick, here we are getting to the point: Criminal activities need to be handled as such. Unscrupulous journals need to be held accountable. I can not resist giving some hints.

        Correct words: We should communicate these things in a clear and acceptable language, free of words marked “vulgar” in a dictionary. Publishing is an international activity and nonnatives may not know subtle distinctions in the meaning of words. Using a word deemed inappropriate by the recipient can easily make the recipient upset. I think, superiority in a conversation does not come from the stronger words, but from clear well sourced arguments and a writing style that mirrors the scientific education. With the words of Joseph Esposito: “I have to pinch myself and remember: this is scientific publishing we are talking about.” (

        Correct category: We have to arrange wrong publishing activities correctly on a scale that includes the terms illegal, unethical, and harmless. Illegal activities offend the law. Organizations are established in countries to deal with illegal activities. These organizations have the monopoly on violence. Citizens who do not accept this monopoly may get into self-administered justice (vigilantism; also: Internet vigilantism!!!) which is illegal in itself. Theft (stealing), fraud (including identity fraud) are illegal.

        Taking up some points from the comment:
        * Selling is usually offering to exchange a product or service for money. It is theft, if someone takes the money without providing the offered product or service.
        * “The best way to protect a [journal] title is to register it with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.” ( “Once the USPTO publishes a trademark in the TMOG, any party who believes he or she will be damaged by the registration of the trademark has 30 days … to … file an opposition …” (
        * “publishing a journal full of crap”, I would consider as legal (as long as no one gets hurt), but unethical because it could mislead people by its wrong information provided.

        Getting prepared for prosecution (with respect to further points in the comment):
        * We can learn here ( that publishers do much. We need to argue precisely what is “sold” (offered) and what is delivered (or not delivered) for what price (APC differ much between journals!). This analysis will show if the trade is theft, unethical or just at high price.
        * APC are usually charged after a manuscript passed through peer review. In this situation there is little room for fraud.
        * Occasionally (e.g. Beall, Criteria, Other, #4) copyediting is demanded from all OA journals (no matter if APC are charged or not). Some OA journals do not charge APC. However, free (high quality) copyediting is still demanded. Please consider, if a journal offers some publishing services already for free (or at little costs), it can not be prosecuted for not offering copyediting for free.
        * Journals already know for what they may get prosecuted. To be safe some journals ask academics to sign an Appointment Form before they are put in any position. Our memory is limited and it can happen to forget to have signed such a form. Academics should check their files and old e-mails, otherwise is could happen that they get charged for giving false testimony.
        * The “impact factor” (JCR IF) follows a simple equation which is not protected ( Anyone can calculate an impact factor based on an available database (Google Scholar). This will clearly not be the JCR IF. As before: Getting prepared for prosecution means to be precise in defining the illegal activity.
        * Many authors allow journals to publish CC BY (or: journals force authors to allow for CC BY). It will be difficult to prosecute a journal that copies this material. Ethics are defined here:

        We hear it is all about young/naive/poor authors who need to get protected. Publishing organizations could support such victims to get justice. Theft by an unscrupulous journal could be brought to court with the poor author supported by a good lawyer. If the journal gets punished it would be a clear signal to other such unscrupulous journals. Although there is so much fraud, I have not heard of such a case. Have you?

        Posted by Dieter Scholz | May 23, 2015, 9:42 am
        • Criminal activities need to be handled as such. Unscrupulous journals need to be held accountable.

          Agreed. One important dimension of holding unscrupulous journals accountable would be prosecuting them when they have committed actual crimes. Another important dimension of holding them accountable would be continuing to warn people about them.

          We hear it is all about young/naive/poor authors who need to get protected.

          I’m not aware of anyone who claims that it’s “all about young/naive/poor authors.” There are other good reasons to raise the red flag about predatory and dishonest publishers. I discuss several of them in my posting.

          Although there is so much fraud, I have not heard of such a case. Have you?

          No. Fraud very often goes unprosecuted. The scholars whose names are fraudulently added to the mastheads of predatory OA journals don’t typically take the publishers to court; nor do the authors who are fraudulently promised genuine peer review by those journals, nor the academics who are tricked into believing that their colleagues published in legitimate journals. The legitimate scholarly organizations whose names are imitated by predatory OA publishers so as to deceive authors and readers have never, to my knowledge, taken those publishers to court. Prosecuting them would be expensive, time-consuming, and ineffective. What works better is to expose them and warn people about them (authors and readers alike).

          Posted by Rick Anderson | May 23, 2015, 10:24 pm
          • Trying to Understand what Motivates Activities

            I should not have abbreviated “all about …”. The longer and better version is: “In the end the arguments in debates often boils down to the protection of young/naive/poor authors/scientists.” Why? This, because, experienced scientists will probably not get tricked, saying: “I know the reputable journals in my field. I can find out, if a journal has a JCR IF. I can distinguish a good paper from a sub-standard paper, …, but it is necessary to alert young scientists, who may otherwise may decide to submit their manuscripts to these questionable journals.”

            Sure, there is nothing wrong with warnings. If I drive into a car park with pieces of glass on the ground and a warning sign “car theft”, I know the glass is not from an accident and I better find a safer place. Taken to publishing, warnings could be:
            a) General warnings: “There are journals who claim they have a JCR IF although they do not have one.” “Do not take for granted, that EB members really support a journal. The EB members may not even know they have been put on the EB. Check first, if they have written an article in the journal or write to the EB member to find out.”
            b) Specific warnings (with names put to the warnings): “Journal xyz claims to do extensive copyediting, but look at the article a,b,c with many spelling errors.” This would be a neutral statement based on facts.

            Now let’s put things together from what we have learned from the discussion so far. Rick, you see illegal activities that would need strict measures, but you do not want to included the organizations of the state who have the monopoly on violence, because prosecution “would be expensive, time-consuming, and ineffective.” Instead of going the path set by the authorities, you propose: “What works better is to expose[!] them [the questionable publishers]”. Notably, you want a good/better blacklist: “All it takes is a clear set of reasonable criteria against which publishers will be judged, …”. Joseph Esposito: “The next step is to go beyond Beall’s work.” But there is no other (better) black list on the horizon. There is just no answer to the question “won’t anybody do the job better?” What remains is “Parting Company with Jeffrey Beall” but unfortunately without clearly accusing him for his libel, harassment, and Internet vigilantism. The online disinhibition effect ( seems to have influenced Beall’s writings on his blog. Do not simply turn a blind eye to what happens on his blog. Is the reputable part of the scholarly publishing community glad to have a volunteer to do the dirty work? Are established publishers inwardly pleased by a little collateral damage which limits the growth rate of successful new entrants to the market? (No quotes possible for things from hidden agenda; only questions). No one should act here like Pilate who “took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent”.

            Posted by Dieter Scholz | May 25, 2015, 3:38 pm
            • Dieter, since you’re showing no inclination to read carefully and respond to what I’ve actually said, but instead insist on changing or twisting the things I say and then responding to the misrepresentations, there’s no point in continuing to try to engage with you.

              Posted by Rick Anderson | May 25, 2015, 5:36 pm
  19. There should exist a simple community feedback upvote/downvote database for scholarly publishers, and let the authors provide anonymous feedback.

    Posted by Paul Johnston | May 27, 2015, 11:39 pm


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The mission of the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) is "[t]o advance scholarly publishing and communication, and the professional development of its members through education, collaboration, and networking." SSP established The Scholarly Kitchen blog in February 2008 to keep SSP members and interested parties aware of new developments in publishing.
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