"More than machinery, we need humanity."
What actions taken by a librarian, on a blog, could cause damages in the range of one billion dollars? That wasn’t an error, really, one billion dollars. This is likely a question that Jeffrey Beall is currently pondering, as the OMICS Publishing Group is currently threatening to sue him for that whopping sum, along with threatening him with criminal charges that might see him put in jail for three years (OMICS is based out of India).
According to the “About the Author” tab on his blog (Scholarly Open Access), Beall has been an academic librarian for over two decades, and currently works at Auraria Library at the University of Colorado – Denver where he received tenure in 2012, and was promoted to associate professor. It is not Beall’s work at the university that has sparked OMICS ire but rather his “interest in scholarly open-access publishing” which has seen his blog become an important listing of the relative trustworthiness of various open access publications. Beall’s blog (sometimes known as “Beall’s List”) has received a fair amount of attention and press, and is a useful tool for scholars and librarians investigating the merit of a particular publication/publisher.
“The OMICS Group’s practices have received particular attention from Mr. Beall and some publications, including The Chronicle. In 2012, The Chronicle found that the group was listing 200 journals, but only about 60 percent had actually published anything.”
The elements in the above quote that refer to findings by The Chronicle are important to note as they help indicate that Beall is not the only one who has found some of OMICS practices worthy of a closer look. New’s Chronicle article also notes that Beall’s blog:
“accuses OMICS of spamming scholars with invitations to publish, quickly accepting their papers, then charging them a nearly $3,000 publishing fee after a paper has been accepted. He also alleges that the publisher uses the names of scholars without their permission to entice participants to attend scientific conferences and then promotes those conferences by using names “deceptively similar” to well-known, established conferences.”
Much of this lawsuit (which has not actually been filed as of yet) hinges upon different national laws. Based in India, OMICS has recourse to more restrictive “freedom of speech” laws than those found in the US, particularly as regards Section 66A of India’s Information Technology Act which places severe penalties on those who use computers and the Internet to disseminate “any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character” (that quote comes from New’s article).
Though it is likely that OMICS will follow through, in some way, with their threat, it is unclear exactly what will happen. And if this case should wind up in a US court it is difficult to imagine damages in the range of one billion dollars seriously being considered. While a threat of one billion dollars may take on laughable aspects due to its size, it should be clear that OMICS does not think that this matter is a joke.
As this blog has previously noted in regards to the legal actions taken against librarian Dale Askey by the publisher Edwin Mellen Press (more on that here and here and here and here), actions such as these send a chilling warning to librarians. A threat that if librarians (or other individuals) should choose to present a negative assessment that their opinion may be met with legal action.
One of the important roles that librarians play, especially academic librarians in this case, is analyzing the merit of available resources. This is an analysis that includes looking into publishers and journals. Librarians need to recommend which journals are worth subscribing to (and those fees can be expensive) and librarians are frequently consulted by academics looking for information on which journals/presses are good places to publish. It is in this framework that “Beall’s List” can be seen as a valuable resource, indeed, Jeffrey Beall’s work in assessing various journals is (meaning this as praise) simply an example of a librarian doing the work of a librarian.
While it is certainly the case that librarians do not always make perfect judgments, Beall’s site has a clear “Appeals” section that gives publishers easy instructions for appealing the inclusion of their journal on the site. Here is that appeals section, quoted in full:
“Publishers can appeal the inclusion of their journal or publisher on this blog’s lists. If you believe that your journal should not be included on the list, please send an email to the blog’s owner, Jeffrey Beall, at [E-mail address removed for this quotation]
In the email, please state the reasons why you believe your publisher or journal should not be included. The email will be forwarded to a four-member advisory board. The board will then review the publisher’s website and conduct on the publisher’s operations. The board will then advise the blog’s author to retain or remove the listing. Appeals are limited to one every 60 days.”
The threat of a lawsuit is no substitute for putting together a thorough appeal, and as Beall’s appeals section makes clear it is a process that he takes seriously, as he must surely understand that the trustworthiness of his website is couched in the degree to which it is viewed as giving a fair assessment of publishers. And Beall’s (lengthy) criteria for determining whether or not a journal is questionable are easily accessible on his site.
It is understandable for those behind journals that find themselves on “Beall’s List” to feel frustrated by their inclusion, but the onus falls on them to demonstrate why their inclusion is unwarranted. And threats of legal action do little to further the conversation. Indeed such actions reduce the debate to the equivalent of name calling: “you said this, so I’m suing!” While such legal actions only further harm the publisher as they will now be associated with threatening to sue a librarian for doing the job of a librarian (and most librarians don’t look too kindly on groups that sue librarians).
Librarians and others engaged in similar pursuits are more important than ever in the information-saturated age in which we live. Helping patrons and scholars recognize trustworthy and useful sources for information versus questionable sources is essential.
But perhaps it is time for Jeffrey Beall to begin another “Beall’s List,” one of librarians who have been sued by publishers for doing their jobs.
Here’s hoping that list stays small.
Update – Specifically Regarding Comments
The comments that are being submitted on this post show that Jeffrey Beall is quite the polarizing figure. While we here at the Shipwreck want this site to spark conversations we believe that there is something to be said for preserving at least a modicum of civility, and thus we are somewhat unsure of how exactly to respond to some of the vitriolic comments that some are attempting to post. We will continue to approve the comments that we feel contribute to the conversation, but are increasingly leery of “approving” attacks. Furthermore, if you would like to link to a post or article that has a different viewpoint about Mr. Beall please feel free to post the link with a few words explaining why you think it is worth reading, but do not just cut and paste the entire link into the comments section.
Thanks for reading and commenting!