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The Dark Side

The Predatory Publishers List Goes Dark

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.

19 comments on “The Predatory Publishers List Goes Dark”

  1. Marcus Welby says:

    The material that I’ve linked as the URL for this comment may be of interest

  2. Ed says:

    If Mr Beall is not commenting, one wonders if he’s the victim of a lawsuit and has to abide by a consent decree, which could be worded so he can’t even comment about the existence of the consent decree.

  3. John Watson says:

    For those interested, here is the Internet Archive link for Jeffery Beale’s scholarlyoa.com site as of January 3 of this year.
    https://web.archive.org/web/20170103170903/https://scholarlyoa.com/

  4. Mark L. Potter says:

    I have been following this story for a while now. Popped in to comment about the static archives and was pleased to see that multiple sources had already been posted! I suspect, with no evidence whatsoever, that there are legal proceedings involved. With someone as vocal and prolific as Jeffrey Beall I can’t imagine radio silence after a complete removal (as complete as any removal from the Intertubes can ever be) is something done voluntarily. A complete change in M.O. smacks of exterior influence. However there is no evidence of such a thing, at present, so speculation would be largely fruitless.

  5. Magrinho says:

    Speculation is fruit.

    1. pete says:

      No, it’s without. And, ergo, never to be low-hanging.

  6. Rhenium says:

    Did anyone see the comment/perspective by Karl O. Christe in Science?
    A new poly nitrogen compound from a Chinese group.

    http://science.sciencemag.org/content/355/6323/351

    C.Zhang, C.Sun, B.Hu, C.Yu, M.Lu , Science 355, 374 (2017).

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      Tomorrow’s blog post!

  7. Eric Nuxoll says:

    While I’m sad to see Beall’s list taken down, I’m not sure it (the blacklist) is the best approach to the problem anyway. Perhaps it used to be, when these garbage journals first started springing up, but it in the long run it is much, much harder to keep up with every garbage journal popping up in the dead of night than it is to keep up with the open access journals that actually publish legitimate scholarship. Those are far, far harder to create.
    My university tries to encourage open access publishing by offering to pay the publication fees for researchers who don’t have other means to pay them. To keep from sending their money to garbage journals, they limit program eligibility to a journal whitelist maintained by the Directory of Open Access Journals. Their website is their acronym dot-org
    I don’t know how the details of how these gatekeepers exert their responsibility (err on the side of inclusion? err on the side of exclusion?) They beg for money from anywhere they can get it, including the publishers, though they claim that this has no impact on their decisions, and it looks like they get a lot of their money from user groups (libraries, etc.) This is probably a much less litigious approach as well.

    1. me says:

      But we like fights!

    2. tangent says:

      Yeah, a whitelist really seems more practical than a blacklist here. Just by the numbers, there are more bad journals than good ones already. And by the adversarial game, a blacklist is subject to workaround by a flood of new-new-new bogus journals, which can be generated by a Python script. A whitelist doesn’t fall to that one.

      I imagine a blacklist grows out of the seed of “look at this bogus-AF journal, I’m going to rant about it online!” to which is added another and another until it’s a blacklist.

  8. Anon says:

    Perhaps it has been renamed “Spicer’s Directory of Alternative Facts”?

  9. Feri says:

    Unfortunately this “predatory journals” are like the bacteria and the antibiotics cat and mouse game. The bacteria are getting resistance and also find the weaker persons to attack. The predatory journal’s list is futile, because the “bacteria” can mutate. What to do? Use preventive methods! There are plenty of well know publishers, who also publish books. If your research is not up to that standards, your ideas are not the mainstream, there are a handful of journals (non ISI), which will publish for free your research. Don’t look for journals which ask for a fee. If you have money to spend, look to the open access journal list (at https://doaj.org/). If you want to publish whatever you write, regardless of quality, and have enough money the “predatory journals” are for you. Lastly, if none of the above works for you, just create a web blog and “publish” your research.

  10. Clare says:

    Does anyone know how I can find Beall’s article “Everything’s Bogus at the Journal of Nature and Science”? It looks like it was a blog post he published on October 4 2016. I’m trying to dissuade an author from contributing to it, but would love to be able to have that article to back me up…

  11. Duncah Bayne says:

    For what it’s worth, this sort of “going dark” problem isn’t an issue with IPFS:

    https://ipfs.io/

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