Jeffrey BeallÂ has essentially discredited himself. Â The time has come to take his important work in identifying predatory publishers from him, and run another list, one that can be trusted.
There is a spectre haunting the scholarly communication system – corporatism.
Oh all right, paraphrasing the communist manifesto is a wee bit OTT – or is it? Â I have a lot of time for Jeffrey Beall, maintainer of “Beall’s List” of predatory academic publishers. Â That its called “Beall’s list” should tell you something (rather than ‘the list of predatory publishers’). Â Its a useful and provocative resource, shaming businesses that are duping naive academics into paying article processing charges for publishing in mimic high profile journals. Â He’s exposing a rort, and for that I forgive him a certain amount of self aggrandisement. Â Actually, quite a lot. Â Personally, though he’s not Matthew Inman, I’d throw some money in a defense fund if necessary.
His recent article, “The Open-Access Movement is Not Really about OpenÂ Access”, however, is quite revealing about his attitudes about the OA ‘movement’. Â I’m not sure he realises, but this is a pretty standard tract made by libertarians, or those generally on the right of the labour movement about progressive labour tendencies. Â His argument boils down to the following: the OA movement is really a monolithic stalking horse behind which there is a cabal wanting to establish centralised control of academic publishing. Â Which is, of course, nonsense.
It’s a pity, because the moderates that support OA will see him as a bit of a loony, and will no longer trust his good work on predatory publishing. Â Those on the libertarian right will think he’s entertainingly provocative, and those on the infantile left (to borrow from Lenin) will see him as a traitor.
I’m using a political frame of reference in my critique as, well, he started it. He claims that ‘political correctness’ drives OA, Â much as it obviously runs academia in general. Â Obviously no social scientist, Beall has taken some leads from Fox News and claims that OA is “an anti-corporatist movementÂ that wants to deny the freedom of the press to companies it disagrees with”. Â Many will come after me with a Â detailed critique of this, but the points that fundamentally undermine this entire jeremiad are:
- OA is not a movement. Â Movements require organisation and leaders (just ask Occupy 🙂 Â No one has pictures of Stefan Hanard hanging above their repository server. Â (and if you do, that would actually be quite funny).
- OA is not anti-corporatist. Â Just because there is a fundamental change in the business models for scholarly publishing doesn’t mean there is a communist conspiracy designed to destroy Elsevier. Â The journal that published this article uses Open Source software on a commercial ISP. Â Ironic, much?
- How does making more information freely available deny anyone ‘freedom of the press’? Â I mean, seriously, WTF?
Now, just to out my own political predilections, I’m a bourgeois individualist left liberal with anarchist pretentions. Â I’m left enough to have a sneaking regard for Lenin, Lennon and Trotsky, programs and party building, but GenX enough to have a deep suspicion of all boomer bureaucracy. I’m all for ripping down capitalism, but its doing a pretty good job of it for itself. Â If every article I upload into my repository was a chip against inequality and a blow for freedom of opportunity, that would be lovely. Â If you scratch deep enough under any librarian’s facade (or get them drunk enough) I think you’ll find something similar. Â Are we enough of a force to create a cabal of OA zealots, with shock troops in every academic library secretly sworn to the destruction of commercial academic publishing? Â I hope so, but no-one invited me. Â In truth the downfall of the profiteering publishers was their own making: by creating unsustainable businesses that forgot who their customer was – the people paying for the research in the first place – taxpayers and consumers. Â Y’know, us.
I’ve been in the free/libre software milieu long enough to recognise that some people with interesting ideas can also be a bit nutty. Â Eric Raymond (who Beall should read sometime) has really interesting ideas on how an essentially anarchist approach to software development is fun, productive AND profitable. Â And he’s a gun-totin’ libertarian nutjob. Â Beall is welcome to write, and Â his article will provide students with a useful critical lever to examine ideas of openness.
However, this article does much to damage his reputation as a even handed player in the community. Â He is obviously angry about many things, and this tirade outs himself as politically motivated against the libre parts of the OA phenomenon. Â I suggest therefore, that his work on the list of predatory publishers be taken over by a group that are a little less openly provocative, and might be able to maintain a reputation for cool headed disinterest. Â I think I just ruled myself out of doing it as well!