I’ve recently been taking a closer look at the publishing models for Open Access (OA) scholarship. The Open Access movement advocates for free access and increased usage rights, up the maximum allowable within the legal context of the material in question.
OA has the potential to subvert traditional for-profit publishing models, transferring power away from publishers and toward users and the public in general. The developments in OA have the potential to make it one of the most exciting fields in scholarly information practice, but there’s a gap between the vision and the implementation of Open Access, however, and researchers are still trying to identify ways to bridge that gap.
For example, one of the popular models of OA publishing – the so-called ‘Gold’ model – often asks authors to pay in order to publish their work. It’s been noted that this model creates a conflict of interest for the publisher, and can encourage the proliferation of academically unsound or predatory practices in the publishing field. Fuelled by the intense pressure on academics to publish, publishers with unsavoury reputations are popping up all over the place.
Jeffrey Beall is a tenured Academic Librarian at the University of Colorado, Denver who has published extensively on the subject of “predatory publishing”. Since 2012, he has maintained a blog, scholarlyOA.com, containing critical analysis of the variety of open access journals. In particular, the blog is dedicated to identifying what he calls ‘predatory’ practices in the OA publishing world. According to his website, he’s been actively involved in researching this subject since 2009. The archives of scholarlyOA.com are available back to January 2012. The central feature of the blog is Beall’s List, a directory of online publishers and journals that exhibit behaviours that call into question their academic integrity. Publishers are listed for inclusion in accordance with Beall’s Criteria for Determining Predatory Open-Access Publishers (2nd edition), which can be found here.
I’d heard about fraudulent academic publishing practices before, but hadn’t made the connection with author-pays OA publishing. This is, apparently, big business. According to a study by Wuhan University, as quoted by The Economist, the underground market in fraudulent scholarly research was worth $150 million dollars in 2009 and had grown five-fold in the two years prior to that date. Though the criminals running these sites have mounted a campaign of rumour and misinformation against critics (see the comments section), far more integral to the maintenance of their business model is the continued demand for fraudulent material that boosts the metrics that measure the breadth of publishing.
Librarians must play a role as gatekeepers, using training that allows them to sort the excellent from the good, and the good from the rest. Collection development is a core competency of our discipline, and it makes sense to think of developing open access subject guides as similar to acquiring certain resources. Although the monetary cost isn’t there, we still need to Bad news travels fast, and there’s no doubt that these publications are bad news. If it’s only the bad news that makes it to the faculty, it may well discourage contributions that might help increase the profile of a legitimate OA publisher. It’s incumbent on supporters of OA to know how to tell the difference between the good and the bad.