I’ve been meaning to write about the sudden demise of Beall’s List of Predatory Publishers. I’ve referred to it several times over the years in posts about the lower (much lower) end of the scientific publishing world, and used it many times as a resource. To recap, while there are many reputable open-access publishers in the various disciplines, there are also plenty of people who have moved into the field to make a fast buck. They run whole lists of “journals” that publish verbatim whatever gets sent in, despite promises of peer review and editing, as soon as the funds hit their bank account (and not one second sooner).
So what you end up with is piles of useless stuff. The contents of these things include a lot of very low-quality stuff that’s been recycled and finely sliced in order to increase someone’s publication list, generally from places where administrators are counting numbers of papers and not much else. In those cases, both the authors and the publishers are in on the scam, but each have something to gain. There are also papers which could not meet the standards of most any actual journal but are cheerfully “published”, and some of these are doubtless from people who don’t know that they’re dealing with crooks. It is rare indeed that anything worthwhile makes it into these titles, and in those cases you just feel bad for the authors, because they really should have sent their material somewhere else rather than having it land on top of a garbage dump. (Note also that some of these outfits have branched out into running their own scam conferences as well).
Jeffrey Beall’s list of these publishers and journals was controversial (that adjective seemed to be required by law to appear in the same sentence every time the site was first mentioned). There is a margin at which people argue about whether a given title is “predatory” or not. But the vast majority of the publishers on it were indeed sleazeballs, and it was good to have a list of them all in one place. Until about ten days, ago, that is, when whooomph: it went dark. Here’s Retraction Watch, Science, and Stat on the story, which was made even more newsworthy by Beall’s own total refusal to comment. There’s a tale there to be told, that’s for sure, but no one’s sure quite what it is. Update: see the comments for archives and mirrors of the list itself.
Something like Beall’s list is needed; I have no doubt of that. I only wish I had the time to take it on myself. I’m a great believer in having scientific bad behavior dragged out into the open and ridiculed, and I think if we had more of that we might have a little less of the bad behavior. I know that there are borderline cases all the time, but when you put Hoss Cartwright on your editorial board without checking anything about his credentials, you deserve all the horselaughs you get. The people who deserved shaming are the ones who will cheerfully publish gibberish from made-up names, as long as the check clears. With all the arguing about “fake news” in American politics these days, it’s worth knowing that there are plenty of sources of fake science, too – or at least people who don’t give a damn if it’s fake or not.
So I’ll be watching with interest to see if a successor list appears, and I’ll be glad to give it what publicity I can (and to contribute to its legal defense fund, if it comes to that). Perhaps some day we’ll find out what happened with Beall’s own efforts, but for now, the bigger priority is to have that torch picked up in some fashion.