Of course the serials crisis is not over, what the heck are you talking about?

May 8, 2013

Jeffrey Beall’s fatuous pronouncement that The Serials Crisis is Over has been nagging away at me since it was posted yesterday. I admit my first reaction was that it was some kind of parody or satire, but Beall’s subsequent comments seem to rule out that charitable interpretation.

I’m pleased to see that the comments on that post have shared my bafflement: Karen Coyle cited Walt Crawford’s new book, The Big Deal and the Damage Done; and an important comment by Joe Kraus of the University of Denver cites a BMJ editorial, wunkderkind Jack Andraka and the Who Needs Access? site [disclosure: which I helped build]. So far no-one’s mentioned that Harvard can’t afford its subscriptions — or maybe they have but the comment was silently moderated into oblivion, as has happened with three separate comments that I posted there.

(It is of course because my comments have been repeatedly censored that I’ve given up trying to contribute to the original post’s comment thread, and am writing this instead. I can promise anyone who wants to comment here, Beall included, that we allow all comments except spam and direct repeated personal attacks.)

Beall’s response to Joe Kraus’s comment was simply an attack on the university that he works for — an attack that Joe took rather graciously. But what about all the other people that he mentions? It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the lines are as follows: those who say that the serial crisis is over are the hugely profitable incumbents; those who say it is not are scholars, librarians, editor, doctors, students, and in fact every single group that doesn’t stand to gain financially from the continuation of the status quo. Doesn’t that look just a tiny bit suspicious? (I asked Beall this: that was one of the comments that was censored.)

But leave all that aside. The part that I really want to comment on is this, from the original article:

I declare that the serials crisis, the event that gave birth to the open-access movement, is over. I base my declaration on my observations as an academic librarian and on the scholarly literature, selections from which I include here:
“Publishers, through the oft-reviled “Big Deal” packages, are providing much greater and more egalitarian access to the journal literature, an approximation to true Open Access.”

That quote is from Odlyzko (2013), “Open Access, library and publisher competition, and the evolution of general commerce”, which is freely available on arXiv. So let’s look at the whole abstract that Beall quoted from so we can see the context of the quote that he used. (My emphasis added.)

Discussions of the economics of scholarly communication are usually devoted to Open Access, rising journal prices, publisher profits, and boycotts. That ignores what seems a much more important development in this market. Publishers, through the oft-reviled “Big Deal” packages, are providing much greater and more egalitarian access to the journal literature, an approximation to true Open Access. In the process they are also marginalizing libraries, and obtaining a greater share of the resources going into scholarly communication. This is enabling a continuation of publisher profits as well as of what for decades has been called “unsustainable journal price escalation“. It is also inhibiting the spread of Open Access, and potentially leading to an oligopoly of publishers controlling distribution through large-scale licensing.

The “Big Deal” practices are worth studying for several general reasons. The degree to which publishers succeed in diminishing the role of libraries may be an indicator of the degree and speed at which universities transform themselves. More importantly, these “Big Deals” appear to point the way to the future of the whole economy, where progress is characterized by declining privacy, increasing price discrimination, increasing opaqueness in pricing, increasing reliance on low-paid or upaid work of others for profits, and business models that depend on customer inertia.

It could not be clearer that this paper is not evidence for Beall’s assertion that the serials crisis is over — on the contrary, it argues that things are worse than ever and getting worse.

This is a classic example of quote mining.

I’m afraid that at this point in the development of his site, Beall is looking less and less like someone offering a helpful service to researchers looking for open-access venues; and more and more like a troll.


18 Responses to “Of course the serials crisis is not over, what the heck are you talking about?”

  1. I only wonder whose pocket that guy is in.

  2. marcrobinsonrechavi Says:

    I consider him as a troll since this post:
    “I believe that open-access publishing enables, facilitates, and increases the rate and occurrence of author misconduct. I base this conclusion on my observation of predatory journals over the past several years.”
    Notice the conflation of open access and predatory publishing.
    Of note, he only replied to sycophantic comments, not those raising obvious problems in his post.

  3. I posted a comment asking him who pays him – let’s see if it makes it past moderation ;)

  4. Perhaps we’ll see him blogging over at the The Scholarly Kitchen soon?

  5. I am sure there is a medical explanation.

  6. Joe Kraus Says:

    I am guessing that he is not getting paid to say these things–I think that he simply has a biased and skewed worldview.

  7. Mike Taylor Says:

    I am inclined to agree, Joe. But it certainly wouldn’t hurt for him to make an explicit “no conflicting interests” declaration. It’s standard academic practice, after all.

  8. Mike’s right on target re my intentions

  9. kcoylenet Says:

    Mike, I consider Jeffrey Beall to be the library world’s Rush Limbaugh — and equally as embarrassing. Conservative*, nasty, ignorant, racist… and with a following of ditto-heads. What I can’t understand about either of them (Beall or Limbaugh) is how it is that so many people take them seriously. Beall has negated any of the value of his analysis of open access scams by his overt prejudices. What I find interesting at the moment is that his recent blog posts have had more negative comments than positive (and of course those don’t include the comments he rejects**), and that the comments debunking his ill-conceived statements have been voted up by a great margin. Perhaps the tide is turning as more people discover the “real Beall.”

    * He wrote an article for American Libraries in support of the Citizens United decision: “Librarians and the threat to free political speech: why librarians should back the citizens united decision”. 42.9-10 (September-October 2011): p33

    ** He’s rejected most of my comments, and none of them were nasty or personal attacks.

  10. kcoylenet Says:

    Oh, and I forgot this: after all of his complaints about people masking their identities, he uses an anonymizing service for his scholarlyoa.com site:

    Domains By Proxy, LLC
    14747 N Northsight Blvd Suite 111, PMB 309
    Scottsdale, Arizona 85260
    United States

  11. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks for this perspective, Karen — and welcome to the blog. (As far as I remember, this is your first comment here.) I’d never been aware of Beall at all outside of his work on predatory publishers, and it’s disappointing to increasingly find he may not be the disinterested party he appears to be. Comment censoring is particularly nasty, since it effectively kills all real discussion on his site. (Even the Scholarly Kitchen have the decency to email me and let me know their reasons when they censor one of my comments.)

  12. So glad to see you calling him out on that quote from the abstract of the Odlyzko article. That was egregiously mendacious, and I attempted to leave more than one comment calling that out on Beall’s post. Strangely, those comments have yet to appear. Maybe he needs a better commenting system?

    The sad thing to me is that there are people who apparently don’t realize that Beall is an extremist misanthropic troll and give his opinions weight and credit that they do not deserve.

  13. Mark C. Wilson Says:

    This whole affair has been a big shock to me – I was sure it was satire, but alas it seems not. Despite some methodological issues, his list of predatory journals seemed a useful starting point. Of course, perhaps it would have been better to use a positive approach, and simply to have a clear checklist based on best practice in publishing (e.g. http://publicationethics.org). Beall’s comments recently completely invalidate him as worthy of reading, unfortunately. Still, that will save me a few precious seconds per day, on average.

  14. a301khan Says:

    I don’t want to believe that Beall has hidden agenda against “Open Access model”. May be he is targeting first the most vulnerable parties to create a huge media hype against COMPLETE OPEN Access. I am not sure. Please advise.

    Some interesting criteria of applied by Beall to include some journals in his “predatory list”
    I want to clear that I am not in support of any specific publisher. I am describing the problem of small publishers.
    Case: International Journal of Medicine and Biomedical Research (Reference: http://scholarlyoa.com/appeals/#comment-16169)
    Beall’s argument: 1. There is the regular occurrence of plagiarism among the articles. For example, one of the journal’s articles contains this passage, without any attribution:
    “Variability in CD4+ LCs among healthy HIV seronegative adults has been widely reported and has been attributed to biological, ethnic group influences as well as differences in the methodologies used for T-cell enumeration.”
    That passage originally appeared here:
    My points: If a new and small publisher becomes victim of an unethical scientist, very fast we conclude that it is a predatory one. If journal of a giant publisher becomes victim, we are ready to give this journal more and more chances to prove itself. This tendency is not healthy. We (including me) should show more patience for the new before labeling it as bad. Beall himself reported a case of self-plagiarism in a journal of Springer. But it seems we are ready to show more patience for the big names!

    See some of previous cases:
    Reason 1. Publication of plagiarized paper (http://scholarlyoa.com/2012/12/19/publisher-charges-authors-for-retractions/)
    1. http://scholarlyoa.com/2012/08/22/plagiarism-in-the-journal-of-sports-medicine-doping-studies/#more-614
    2. http://scholarlyoa.com/2012/08/31/international-prank-involving-predatory-publishers-makes-headlines-in-indonesia/#more-642)
    In spite of all efforts (manual/software), plagiarism existed in past as well as present. Unethical authors are always available. Therefore, if Elsevier / Springer /T&F can not stop plagiarism with the assumption that they have most trained manpower or costly software or access to all subscription based databases, then it is obvious that small publishers with limited resources (as mentioned above), can not fight this plagiarism disease. Therefore, unethical authors can fool these small publishers more easily. (My assumption is: The small publisher is really honest and not a predatory publisher who wants to accept all papers for a fee). But if a publisher regularly publish plagiarized articles (may be intentionally), then researchers will automatically distance themselves from that publisher. Therefore, that publisher will not have no business in future. It is really difficult to believe that a publisher is such a fool to loose its all business by intentionally publishing some ‘plagiarized articles’. I believe that even a ‘true predatory publisher’ is not that much fool.

    Beall’s argument 2. Much of the authors’ guidelines is copied from other sites.
    My point: Theoretically speaking it is a copyright issue and other sites can lodge a complain. But is it a predatory practice to dupe the authors? NO. Frankly speaking if all journals (at least of same discipline) follow a single ‘author guideline’ it will save many thousands of hours of authors wasted for formatting, style matching, etc.
    Beall’s argument 3. The journal has a very broad coverage to attract more author fees, and there are already many journals with a similar coverage — there is no authentic need for this new journal. It’s just being done for the profit.
    My point: He is ready to term a small publisher predatory, if it publishes a journal with very broad scope. So ‘PloS One’ can be predatory as Nature was there. Some other examples: PLoS ONE ($1350) — “submissions in any discipline that will contribute to the base of scientific knowledge”
    – SpringerPlus ($1080) — “all disciplines of Science”
    – Nature’s Science Reports ($1350) — “all areas of the natural sciences”
    – IEEE Access ($1750) — “all IEEE fields of interest”
    – Nature Communications ($5000) — “all areas of the biological, physical and chemical sciences”
    – BMJ Open ($1885) — “medical research from all disciplines and therapeutic areas”
    – SAGE Open ($99) — “span the full spectrum of the social and behavioral sciences and the humanities” (Reference: Felipe G. Nievinski’s comment: http://scholarlyoa.com/2013/03/05/new-term-moamj-multidisciplinary-open-access-mega-journal/#comment-14891). Amazing! Somebody can apply same analogy and can term him a ‘predatory evaluator’ as his evaluation criteria are too broad. Beall’s evaluation criteria are so broad that if properly applied no publisher in the world can escape his list (Reference: Lars Juhl Jensen’s comment: http://scholarlyoa.com/2012/08/04/criteria-for-determining-predatory-open-access-publishers/#comment-1373).

    Beall’s argument 4. The journal claims to be indexed is services that are not abstracting and indexing services.
    My point: It can be inexperience or lack of knowledge regarding ‘definition’. Is it a serious issue? I doubt. If the publisher claims to be indexed somewhere falsely and duping the authors by that information then I think it is a predatory practice. As I found that “Science Record Journals”, are doing the same: Please see my comments here: http://scholarlyoa.com/2013/04/11/the-suspicious-case-of-science-record-journals/#comment-17256
    Beall’s argument 5. There no indication of the journal’s digital preservation policies.
    My point: Please keep some patience on new start ups. No one can start in a absolutely perfect way. Can Beall claim that he was ‘born perfect’? If any publisher does not have digital preservation policy, it can be low quality new publisher. But predatory! Please think twice.

    Beall’s argument 6.. There is no indication of the journal’s policies regarding retraction.
    My point: Please see my explanation of point 5.

    I can give many such interesting examples on how Beall is preying on so called small ‘Predatory publishers”

    A Khan

  15. prefer to remain anonymous based on the tone Says:

    I have to say I am shocked at the very personal level of attacks on Mr. Beall just because he has expressed a negative view toward OA and an accepting view toward the current publishing practices. We need to be able to have a debate on these topics without the hysteria and personal attacks.

  16. Mike Taylor Says:

    The problem, Anonymous, is that Beall is presenting his site as one thing (a service to would-be open-access authors) but it’s becoming apparent that it’s really a completely different thing (an attack on open access in general). That doesn’t strike me as very honest. (And of course neither does the quote-mining.)

  17. A Khan Says:

    @ Anonymous: Anyone may argue and complain the same (i.e personal attack) about Beall. Please see my comments here: http://scholarlyoadisq.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/open-discussion-on-whats-up-with-dr-george-perry/.
    Here Beall is attacking Prof Perry. If I start attacking others publicly and start ‘organized hate campaign’ then I must prepare myself for ‘reaction’. Then I should not be surprised for those reactions. It is obvious to come (See reference: http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2013/05/20/high-noon-a-publisher-threatens-to-lunch-a-criminal-case-against-librarian-critic/#comment-96810)

    Beall does not think that OA model is sustainable. He thinks only ‘traditional subscription based’ system is sustainable. Sometimes I suspect Beall that whether he is really a supporter of OA or he wants to destroy OA secretly (for his personal fame or may be for a hidden competing interest due to his role of Librarian. Normally Librarians have very influential role is purchasing of subscription of traditional journals, which costs thousands of dollars. If subscription based journal losses its present position and all journals become OA then what….). Sometimes we have heard of the story of “purchased journalists” to destroy competitors. I don’t know the real motive of Beall. Once Beall confessed that he believes that “The only truly successful model that I have seen is the traditional publishing model.” (Reference: http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/on-predatory-publishers-a-qa-with-jeffrey-beall/47667). I sincerely want to believe that Beall is not having any hidden agenda behind his hard work to find only the ugliest areas of OA not the strength of OA. I will be very happy that if my all apprehensions about Beall is wrong.

  18. Que sera, sera Says:

    I wish to draw bloggers’ attention to the need to critically evaluate Mr. Jeffrey Beall’s blog at http://www.scholarlyoa.com. Although I am of the belief that that blog brings considerable awareness about the open access (OA) movement, I find that there are serious factual flaws in that blog that need to be seriously addressed. The predatory nature of OA journals affects all academics, and thus we need correctly factual, unbiased, balanced and transparent criticism of the Beall blog. Some points worth pondering may be found at Retraction Watch:
    PS: this notice has been cloned on multiple blog sites to increase awareness

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: