Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The OA Interviews: Jeffrey Beall, University of Colorado Denver

In 2004 the scholarly publisher Elsevier made a written submission to the UK House of Commons Science & Technology Committee. Elsevier asserted that the traditional model used to publish research papers — where readers, and institutions like libraries, pay the costs of producing scholarly journals through subscriptions — “ensures high quality, independent peer review and prevents commercial interests from influencing decisions to publish.”
Jeffrey Beall

Elsevier added that moving to the Open Access (OA) publishing model — where authors, or their sponsoring institutions, paid to publish research papers by means of an article-processing charge (APC) — would remove “this critical control measure” from scholarly publishing.

The problem with adopting the gold OA model, explained Elsevier, is that publishers' revenues would then be driven entirely by the number of articles published. As such, OA publishers would be “under continual pressure to increase output, potentially at the expense of quality.”

This is no longer a viewpoint that Elsevier promulgates. Speaking to me earlier this year, for instance, Elsevier’s Director of Universal Access Alicia Wise said, “Today open access journals do generally contain high-quality peer reviewed content, but in 2004 this was unfortunately not always the case.”

She added, “Good work in this area by the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) has helped to establish quality standards for open access publications. For several years now Elsevier has taken a positive test-and-learn approach to open access and believes that open access publishing can be both of a high quality and sustainable.”


While many OA publishers today are undeniably as committed to the production of high-quality papers as subscription publishers ever were, Elsevier’s 2004 warning was nevertheless prescient.

No one knows this better than Jeffrey Beall, a metadata librarian at the University of Colorado Denver. Beall maintains a list of what he calls “predatory publishers”. That is, publishers who, as Beall puts it, “unprofessionally exploit the gold open-access model for their own profit.” Amongst other things, this can mean that papers are subjected to little or no peer review before they are published.

Currently, Beall’s blog list of “predatory publishers” lists over 100 separate companies, and 38 independent journals. And the list is growing by 3 to 4 new publishers each week.

Beall’s opening salvo against predatory publishers came in 2009, when he published a review of the OA publisher Bentham Open for The CharlestonAdvisor. Since then, he has written further articles on the topic (e.g. here), and has been featured twice in The Chronicle of Higher Education (here and here).

His work on predatory publishers has caused Beall to become seriously concerned about the risks attached to gold OA. And he is surprised at how little attention these risks get from the research community. As he puts it, “I am dismayed that most discussions of gold open-access fail to include the quality problems I have documented. Too many OA commenters look only at the theory and ignore the practice. We must ‘maintain the integrity of the academic record’, and I am doubtful that gold open-access is the best long-term way to accomplish that.”

When presented with evidence of predatory publishing, OA advocates often respond by saying that most OA journals do not actually charge a processing fee. 

But as commercial subscription publishers increasingly enter the OA market it would be naïve to think that the number of journals that charge APCs will not grow exponentially in the coming years.

Whether this will lead to an overall increase in quality remains to be seen. It must be hoped that as more and more traditional journals embrace OA, so quality levels will rise, and predatory publishers will begin to be squeezed out. 

However, if Beall’s growing list is anything to go by, the omens are not currently very good. Moreover, if it turns out that there is indeed an inherent flaw in the gold OA model — as Elsevier once claimed — then the research community would appear to have a long-term problem.


The interview begins …

RP: You are a metadata librarian: what does your job involve?

JB: As a faculty librarian, my work is divided up into three components: librarianship, research, and service. My librarianship work involves creating and maintaining library metadata in my library's discovery systems, including the online catalogue, the discovery layer, and the institutional repository, and related duties.

My research component is thirty per cent of my job, and I am devoting it to my research in scholarly communication. The service component chiefly involves committee work.

RP: How and when did you become interested in predatory open access publishing?

JB: I became interested in predatory publishers in 2008 when I began to receive spam email solicitations from new, online, third-world publishers.

RP: What is the purpose of the list of predatory OA publishers you keep, and how many publishers does it currently include?

JB: The lists are part of my blog. I write the blog to help myself develop my ideas and to share what I am learning about scholarly open-access publishing. The lists are a means of sharing information about publishers I have judged as questionable or predatory.

There are actually two lists, one of independent journals that do not publish under the aegis of a publisher, and one of publishers. There are 38 independent journals and 111 publishers currently on the list.

RP: When you say independent journals do you mean journals published by researchers themselves?

JB: No, I mean journals that exist independently on the Internet that are not part of a publisher's fleet of journals. An example is the Global Journal of Medicine and Public Health.


RP: Do you have any sense of how fast the phenomenon of predatory publishing is growing?

JB: Yes, the attention my blog has received has inspired academics and others to forward me spam emails they have received and to pass on information they have about new, questionable publishers. In the last couple months, I have been adding 3-4 per week. A new predatory publisher appears almost weekly in India, the location of most of my recent listings.

RP: Is predatory publishing in your view a phenomenon that originates primarily in the developing world?

JB: Yes, and in this I include publishers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K. that are run by people from developing countries. They typically set up shop in developed countries and then market their services (vanity scholarly publishing) to the unwary worldwide, especially to those in their home countries.

RP: How do you define a predatory publisher?

JB: Predatory publishers are those that unprofessionally exploit the gold open-access model for their own profit.

RP: Presumably this implies publishers that charge a fee to publish scholarly papers (Not all gold OA journals do charge a fee)?

JB: By definition, gold open-access publishers levy an article processing charge (APC).

RP: How do you select publishers to include in your list? What criteria do you use?

JB: As I mentioned, most of the additions to the list result from tips from scientists and other scholars. I have composed and use a criteria document, currently in draft form, that I am preparing for publication on my blog.

Most importantly, I use established criteria, specifically those published by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), and the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM). There is one statement in COPE’s code of conduct that nicely encapsulates all the criteria into one: “Maintain the integrity of the academic record".


RP: Can you say what specific things you look for when assessing a potentially predatory publisher: for instance, do you look for evidence of spamming, poor or no peer review, the absence of information on ownership and/or location of the publisher, lack of an editor-in-chief, or editorial board, or what? What are the tell-tale signs of a predatory publisher?

JB: Yes, broadly I look for deception and lack of transparency. These two characteristics can manifest themselves in many ways, including those you list.  One thing (among many) that I look for is publishers that refer to themselves as a “center”,  “institute”, “network”, etc. For example, the Institute of Advanced Scientific Research is not really an institute; it's a predatory publisher. This is deception. If you look at their contact address on Google Maps, it's an apartment.

RP: Is there such a thing as a subscription-based predatory publisher?

JB: No, not according to my definition of predatory publisher.

RP: You mentioned OASPA. OASPA has been accused of doing too little to stem the tide of questionable OA publishers. Would you agree? Could it be doing more? If so, what? On the other hand, might OASPA be the wrong organisation to attempt to control these activities? What is and should be OASPA’s role (if any) vis-à-vis predatory publishing?

JB: Only one or two of the publishers on my list are OASPA members. Therefore, there's little the organization can do to control the predatory publishers. In fact, most of the publishers on my list lack affiliation with any professional association, and they fail to follow many established publishing standards. It's not really my role to tell OASPA what it should be doing.

RP: One of OASPA’s founding members, Hindawi, was at one time on your watchlist, but subsequently you removed it. However, your current list of predatory publishers still includes the International Scholarly Research Network (ISRN). ISRN is one of Hindawi’s brands. What do we learn from this?

JB: If you're a publisher, don't call yourself a network when you're not a network.

RP: When and why do you remove a publisher from your list?

JB: I have removed publishers from my list for two reasons. First, if the publisher's website disappears, I remove it from the list. This has happened only once or twice, and I removed them from the list without saving the names. Second, I remove a publisher from the list when I receive convincing comments from colleagues disagreeing with my having added it to the list.

Legal threats

RP: Have you ever removed a publisher from your list as a result of receiving a legal threat? Have you ever received any legal threats in connection with your list?

JB: My answer to the first question is no. Regarding the second question, yes, I have received two legal threats.

RP: I am struck that at least one of the publishers that you have removed from your list — Dove Press — was formerly a member of OASPA. Dove has been the subject of some controversy, and is no longer a member of OASPA. Why did you remove Dove from your list of questionable publishers?

JB: I removed it based on comments that JQJohnson left on my old blog. He is Director, Scholarly Communications and Instructional Support, at the University of Oregon and someone whose opinion I respect. I took his comments as a form of "peer review" and decided to accept his suggestion to remove Dove Press from the list.

RP: People have said to me that you tend to “shoot from the hip” when listing publishers as predatory, sometimes making your decision on too little information. Would you agree? Have you ever regretted putting a publisher on your list?

JB: In most cases, the decision to place a given publisher on my list is an easy one because the publisher is so clearly corrupt and predatory. Thus, a decisive and resolute action is appropriate, and no, I don't agree, for I believe I make the decisions with sufficient information.

I now regret having the watchlist on my earlier blog. The feedback I received indicated that the watchlist painted a negative picture of the publishers on that list given the context in which the list appeared (juxtaposed with a list of predatory publishers). I acted on the feedback and now no longer have a public watchlist, though I do maintain one privately.

Conflict of interest?

RP: Others have suggested that you might have a conflict of interest, pointing out, for instance, that you are on the editorial board of a subscription journal. Should such claims be taken seriously? Why? Why not?

JB: Two people have said that. One is Scott Albers, an attorney from Great Falls, Montana and author of  the article, "The Golden Mean, The Arab Spring And a 10-Step Analysis of American Economic History", a paper published in the Middle East Studies Online Journal. He asked me for advice as he was submitting the same article to a second publisher. I told him the publisher was essentially a vanity press, and he became offended and then contrived the conflict of interest story. The second is Ken Masters, the editor of Internet Scientific Publications' The Internet Journal of Medical Education. Masters is an assistant professor at Oman's Sultan Qaboos University, and he took it personally when I put Internet Scientific Publications, a publisher run out of a spare bedroom in Sugar Land, Texas, on my list.

The truth is there is no conflict of interest. I have no financial stake in Taylor & Francis, the publisher of the journal on whose editorial board I serve. In point of fact, my service on the editorial board has enabled me to learn a lot about the scholarly publishing process and scholarly publishing in general. Masters has been trying to bait people on email lists, including LIBLICENSE, with the conflict of interest story, but he has been ignored.

RP: The implication in the above claim, I assume, is that you are anti-OA. How would you describe your position vis-à-vis OA: advocate, sceptic, opponent?

JB: I am not "anti" anything. I am in favour of the best model for scholarly communication, whatever it turns out to be. If that is gold OA, then so be it.

I review science books for Library Journal. Occasionally, I'll give a book a negative review. That doesn't mean I'm anti-science. My list is essentially a collective review of gold open-access publishers. It's a re-invention of what librarians call "readers advisory".

RP: Whatever your position vis-à-vis OA, do you think the author-pays publishing model is inherently flawed so far as scholarly publishing is concerned?

JB: It's too early to tell, so I don't have a final opinion on this yet. On the one hand, the evidence I see every day argues that the model is indeed flawed. On the other hand, we need to ask, Which is the best model for the future of scholarly communication? It's too early to eliminate a potentially successful and sustainable model.  

Abused the system

RP: I assume most researchers publish in the journals of predatory publishers without realising that they are dealing with a predatory publisher — and clearly a list like yours can play a useful role in helping them avoid doing so. On the other hand, I have had researchers say to me that they have knowingly paid to appear in a predatory publisher’s journal, explaining that they did so because they were having difficulties being published in a more reputable journal, or simply needed to get a paper published quickly for tenure or promotion purposes. I do not know how common the practice is, but does it not suggest that the research community is conspiring in the growth of predatory publishers, and, therefore, that the phenomenon is likely only to grow?

JB: I don't think there's a conspiracy, but I do think that some individuals have unprofessionally abused the system for their own benefit. But that's why we have tenure and promotion committees. It is the committees' job to vet the research of their tenure candidates. Tenure and promotion committees must now bring greater scrutiny to candidates' published works than they did in the past, given the presence and abuse of scholarly vanity presses and the disappearance of the validation function that traditional publishers have so effectively provided.

RP: In the UK recently the Finch Report recommended that all publicly funded research should be made freely available on an OA basis, and by means of gold OA. This, it said, would require UK universities to pay an additional £50-60 million a year in order to disseminate the research they produce. If other countries follow suit, and if the author-pays model does indeed turn out to be inherently flawed, we can presumably expect the research community to find itself in trouble at some point can we not?

JB: Yes, and I am dismayed that most discussions of gold open-access fail to include the quality problems I have documented. Too many OA commenters look only at the theory and ignore the practice. We must "maintain the integrity of the academic record", and I am doubtful that gold open-access is the best long-term way to accomplish that.

RP: What future plans do you have for your work on predatory publishers? Will you be adding new features to your blog, for instance?

JB: One weakness of my list is that it is binary: a publisher is either on the list or it isn't. I would like to classify the publishers more granularly in terms of their quality, an upgrade that would differentiate among the borderline ones and the really bad ones. I am also in the middle of a research project about library catalogues and inclusion of predatory journals and hope to carry out additional research on open-access publishing.


Anonymous said...

Does Mr. Beall have any sense of how large a problem this might be on a percentage basis? Certainly the larger OA publishers (PLoS, Scientific Reports, BMJ Open, AIP Advances, etc. etc.) have well documented peer review methodologies, and it would seem they represent the vast majority of gold OA publishing. E.g., PLoS One is on track to publish 3% of all STM in 2012.

Stevan Harnad said...


The biggest risk from Gold OA (and it's already a reality) is that it will get in the way of the growth of Green OA, and hence the growth of OA itself. That's Gold Fever: Most people assume that OA means Gold OA, and don't realize that the fastest, surest and (extra-)cost-free way to 100% OA is to provide (and mandate) Green OA.

The second biggest risk (likewise already a reality, if the Finch Follies are Followed) is that Gold Fever makes sluggish, gullible researchers, their funders, their governments and even their poor impecunious universities get lured into paying for pre-emptive Gold OA (while still paying for subscriptions) instead of providing and mandating Green OA at no extra cost.

The risk of creating a market for junk Gold OA journals is only the third of the Gold OA risk factors (but it's already a reality too).

Gold OA's time will come. But it is not now. A proof of principle was fine, to refute the canard that peer review is only possible on the subscription model.

But paying for pre-emptive Gold OA now, instead of mandating and providing Green OA globally first will turn out to be one of the more foolish things our sapient species has done to date (though by far not the worst).

Unknown said...

In response to the anonymous comment, a research study that Bo-Christer Björk I just published that included virtually all the journals in the DOAJ that charge article processing fees found that just under 80% were in journals had impact scores from either the JCR or Scopus or both. The better journals tend to publish more papers.

Anonymous said...

To Unknown:

Thank you. Just as I suspected. Could you provide a link to the article

Unknown said...

In reference to the comment above.

The accepted version is at:

The published version is at:

This was not the focus of the article and I don't believe that particular breakdown is in the text or figures. I just I just ran the analysis on the data set from the study in response to the interview with Mr. Beall.

Sorry I did not leave my name on the post. I thought I logged into Goggle account to leave my identity but it apparently didn't take.

Dave Solomon (

Richard Poynder said...

Thanks for this information David.

Can I ask a question: how many of the total number of OA journals are listed in DOAJ?

Richard Poynder said...

In other words, what percentage of the total number of OA journals is covered by DOAJ?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link, Dave. I don't have a Google account, hence "Anonymous."

Mark Kurtz

Unknown said...

Richard, I have no idea but I suspect most publishers that charge APCs if they any sense at all would put their journals in the DOAJ. It's generally accepted as the most comprehensive list of OA journals, it costs nothing and takes a few minutes to fill out the form. It's free advertising!

One of the reviewers of our article asked the same question and pointed out a number of publishers on Beall's list that are not in the DOAJ. I can't remember percentage but 20% of the ones on the list sticks in my mind. My guess these are probably the dumbest of the dumb or perhaps the naivest of the naive. In looking though over a 100 publisher websites it is clear some are clueless about publishing or for that matter web design and those are the ones with enough sense to put their journals in the DOAJ.

My point is these publishers don't tend to publish very many articles though they may have lots of journals. It is a problem but I think it is important to keep in in perspective.

Richard Poynder said...

David, thanks for this. I could be wrong, but it was my understanding that while anyone can suggest journals for inclusion in DOAJ, only those deemed suitable are added.

If that is right, if a journal appeared to be predatory then perhaps it would never make it into DOAJ? That might explain why your survey did not include many of them, although I think it did include some.

If predatory journals don't make it into services like DOAJ then many of them could be flying under the radar perhaps?

Most OA publishers appear to recruit researchers by means of bulk email, and so may not see much value in published lists like DOAJ.

Katie said...

"By definition, gold open-access publishers levy an article processing charge (APC)" either lacks specificity or is is just inaccurate. There are open access journals being published that don't charge APCs. The largest class of these that comes to mind are those that are subsidized by universities and law schools, run at low cost with volunteer labor, hosted on the school's website or institutional repository. Other non-APC models are also possible.

Ulrich Herb said...

Thanks for that interesting interview! I'm not sure if Jeffrey Beall is right when he is pointing out that there are no subscription-based predatory publishers (according to his definition). I only have anecdotal evidence, but I have heard that for instance in Russia there is such a thing as subscription-based predatory publishing. Some Russian psychologists told me some years ago, that if you want to reach a doctoral degree you have to publish two articles in peer reviewed journals. This lead to the situtation that in Russia there was a big market for subscription based fake journals. These were printing a minimum of copies, just enough to hand it over to the author's faculties. Surely this is just some sort of hearsay and I do not remember if it was said to happen in the Russian psychology in general or just at some universities. Nevertheless I could imagine there are subscription based fake publishers and that it is harder to unmask these predatory publishers than it is to unmask their open access pendants, for instance because their journals hardly (or not even) appear in libraries. Not to mention their missing online availabilty, that is hampering us from reviewing their scientific substance.

Shomita said...

Regarding DOAJ, I am not sure that predatory publishers do not figure on the list. Two suspect publishers from India SJournals and Scientific Research Publishing are listed but very likely do not have an authentic peer review process. One of them (SJournals)has this on the website "Our objective is to inform author(s) of the decision on their manuscript (s) within one week of submission. Following acceptance, a paper will normally be published after acceptance."
I sent DOAJ a mail asking them why they are listed and their response was very ambiguous, indicating that they are looking into the matter and are aware of Beall's list.