Cabell is the new Beall.

Blacklists bad, thinking good.

Cabell’s has launched a successor to Beall’s List – a new blacklist of ‘predatory publishers’.  I can’t comment on it in any detail because its subscription only, but here’s my list of why I won’t be recommending we pay money for it at the academic library I work for, even though I haven’t had a detailed look at it.

  • It is subscription only, and we don’t have any money.  If we cancelled access to actual research, we’d be able to afford it.  What subscriptions should we cancel?  Note: we’re pretty evidence driven about subscriptions, you better have a damn good case.  Our procedures for who we give funding for APCs to are also pretty good, and we’ve already saved a few authors from publishing in questionable journals.
  • The word ‘Blacklist’ is pretty loaded, and has racist overtones.  In fact, the whole idea of predatory publishing is a bit of a beat up, given a sexy name to help sell the product.  When it was just Beall, it could be seen as a tactic to improve overall education about scholarly publishing.  Now, a company is trying to make a profit out of it.  Kendall Jenner and Pepsi, much?  Not even thinking about the implications of that word shows a lack of understanding of the values and kaupapa of the library community.
  • By not being an entirely open and transparent process, in all of its parts (and I can’t tell you if it is or not, because I can’t afford to), it is open to corruption.  Unlike H indexes or impact factors, the data that puts publishers on the blacklist will always be somewhat subjective.  I can pay for opinions.  Data not so much.
  • It dumbs down the efforts of research support people everywhere, from teaching people to feed themselves and do the necessary work in looking and judging publishers on their own merits, and researchers know better than anyone else where they should publish, once they have some experience.  Are we going to let one list tell us, or are we going to use Think Check, Submit and actually do some, umm, thinking?  I thought thinking was these people were good at, shouldn’t we respect that?
  • It narrows down the debate from looking at ethical publishing behaviour in a continuum, to a dualism.  Take profiteering, for example – should publishers be able to make super-profits from work that has been paid for and generated by a community?  A dodgy, no review, pay-to-play publisher is certainly guitly of making profits incommensurate to the value they provide .  So are some of the most ‘prestigious’ journals as well, it could be argued (2 billion euros in one case last year).  A blacklist lets unethical behaviour  – in my opinion, anyway – off the hook, and muddies the water for a thoughtful discussion on an equitable and fair business model for the propagation of new knowledge.
  • Rick Anderson from the Oddly Themed School of Chefing in Academic Publishing, The Scholarly Kitchen, thinks its an immature product, in need of ‘significant improvement’.  And he was a paid consultant for the development of it, by Cabell!  (And the skitch got a paid consultant for a company to review its own products.  What was that I  said about the potential for corruption?  Rick seems like a stand-up guy, but couldn’t they have got one of the other chefs to whip up this particular hash?)

So, blacklists bad, thinking good.  Lets let this particular spasm of commercial innovation die the death it probably will, and get on with the hard work of improving the scholarly communication system through education, and hands on production of equitable platforms that are open and FAIR.

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