When in 2008 Jeffrey Beall — a metadata librarian at the University of Colorado Denver — began to receive spam email solicitations from unknown Open Access (OA) publishers he became concerned.
Issues of spam aside, Beall suspected that some of the companies that were bombarding him with invitations to pay them to publish a scholarly paper were little more than vanity publishers, intent not on publishing high-quality peer-reviewed journals, but on ensnaring unwary researchers into paying for a shoddy service.
The suspicion was that in some cases these publishers were effectively doing little more than dumping papers on the web with little or no peer review. Yet they were charging authors hundreds of dollars to do this. (And in some cases $1,000+).
Conscious that the number of these publishers was growing, and convinced that researchers needed some guidance to help them distinguish between good and bad OA journals, Beall began to compile a list of what he termed “predatory publishers”.
“Predatory publishers,” he explained to me last year, “are those that unprofessionally exploit the gold open-access model for their own profit.”
Beall’s list was controversial from the start, not least because it was often not clear on what basis he had concluded that a publisher was predatory. Moreover, when last year he finally published the selection criteria he uses to make his decisions he met with some angry criticism, with researchers questioning both their validity and usefulness.
It also became apparent that Beall’s list included publishers who appeared to be entirely ethical, and to all intents and purposes keen to publish high-quality OA journals. To add to critics’ distrust, publishers’ names would sometimes disappear from Beall’s list without explanation.
Nevertheless, as it became increasingly evident that researchers were indeed being targeted by unscrupulous OA publishers, Beall and his list began to attract the attention of the scholarly press.