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Why we don’t need journal blacklists

A journalist approached me yesterday, and asked the question: “I’d like to know what you think about [journal/publisher] blacklists and whether you would pay for one?” I can’t reveal too much about the context just yet (see here), but it was regarding the release of a new ‘blacklist’ this month by a company called Cabell’s Publishing Services (see this Twitter thread). Predatory publishing and blacklists aren’t something I’ve dedicated too much thought to yet, so I spent some time processing it and kinda subjected her to a total brain dump of thoughts. See also this excellent post by Cameron Neylon. Here’s my response posted in full:

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So I would never pay for a blacklist service. I think there are much more suitable services out there that also teach us about issues with publishing, while providing an alternative way of helping researchers decide about suitable venues for publishing. These include the DOAJ (Directory of OA Journals) and ‘Think, Check, Submit‘, or Walt Crawford’s ‘GOAJ‘ service (well documented and with open data) for example (also services like PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, ScienceOpen..). Criteria for inclusion here, and even the raw data, are often provided making them at least consistent and valid, compared to a closed blacklist.

I think there is also a huge conflict of interest in having a publishing services company operating something like this. Any sort of list should be maintained by and for the scholarly community really. Journals have to be certified or pass a certain quality check, like with the DOAJ, in order to make any sort of ‘whitelist’. Blacklists will never be complete as they can never satisfy this simple criterion. By having a publisher maintain this service, it will be naturally disciminatory against other publishers which challenge them – those which are innovating in some way, thereby stifling any new entrants to the market. Which is exactly what publishers want. This is fine if the blacklist is specifically targeting individuals who are practicing ‘predatory’ behaviour, but not if those criteria are blindly applied to others who are acting legitimately. Transparency will be key here.

In reality, ‘predatory publishers’ are a bit of an overblown issue too. For details, see the section ‘Deceptive publishing practices’ here. A much more valuable thing would be to provide a regulatory service to publishers such as Elsevier, Wiley, and Taylor and Francis, who operate based on behaviours remarkably similar to extortion and racketeering, yet legal, to hold a monopoly over an unregulated publishing market (see here and here). “Predatory publishing” is really just a distraction from these much larger issues in my views. What’s the real threat? A handful of bad pseudo-publishers that sucker in a negligible fraction of the research community with very little real, negative consequences ultimately, or the corporate empire that sucks $billions out of public universities each year to sustain it’s bloated 35%+ profit margins by leveraging the free labour of academics and breaking the backs of our financially-drained libraries. The name of the game here is distraction.

What I would like to see finances being directed towards are more training services to teach those at most risk for falling for predatory publishers more about the ethics surrounding scholarly publishing (e.g., those from lesser economically developed countries, students). More awareness of these issues means that we lose the need for a blacklist of any sort. What we want is an informed scholarly community who are able to make decisions on where to publish themselves – I mean, that’s what we should be doing as researchers anyway, making evidence-informed evaluations. If we can’t do that, and need blacklists to help, then we probably don’t deserve to call ourselves researchers.

I have enormous concerns with any new blacklist too, in that often the traits that define membership to any such list are often opaque and very subjective. Jeffrey Beall was well-known for adding publishers to his list that he simply didn’t like, didn’t agree on the model with (especially those that were innovating or not based in the western world), or didn’t fulfill his criteria for being a ‘good’ publisher. He was also very anti-open access and antagonistic towards those who supported OA (including myself at one point where I called him out for his aggressive/classist comments towards the SciELO platform). That doesn’t sound particularly scientific or professional to me, and isn’t something that we should invest in. If Beall is indeed a consultant, as has been rumoured for this, then the same issues with his list can be transferred to the new services. Including that his list got removed due to potential legal or political issues. That doesn’t seem too practical, sustainable, or reliable to me either.

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I always figure that if you’re going to say things in private, you shouldn’t say anything that you’re not willing to stand by in public. Which is why I post this here for full transparency. If you disagree with any of this, please let me know! I’m happy to discuss this further as my thoughts develop on the matter.

9 thoughts on “Why we don’t need journal blacklists

  1. Pingback: Justin M. White
  2. Some valid commentary and discussion! Indeed, Beall has been opaque about his blog’s closure [1], and the internet archive is not a suitable substitute. He raised awareness, but was so determined to “grow” his lists, that he failed to see that his criteria and their application in any consistent manner were a failure. So, it is not surprising if one or more entities listed sued him. The fact that Cabell’s has confirmed that Beall has worked on the new “blacklist” as a “consultant” is troubling. In fact, Cabell has Tweeted conflicting and contradictory information, immediately reducing trust in its new commercial venture. The DOAJ list is also far from perfect. There is still alot of “junk” on there, but it seems to be the “whitest” of white lists among OA journals at the moment. I agree that transparency is key in the success of this new “blacklist”. Beall only achieved fame because his blog was open, for all to read and interpret freely, as academics do. But if Cabell makes their list – and even more importantly their selection criteria which I think are based on 65 criteria, “smelling” like a renovated Beall’s list – then this is bad news, because it means that the list, and its criteria, are hidden. As bad as the opaque impact factor, and as opaque as the sell-out Publons will become.

    [1] Teixeira da Silva, J.A. (2017) The ethical and academic implications of the Jeffrey Beall (www.scholarlyoa.com) blog shutdown. Science and Engineering Ethics (in press)
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11948-017-9905-3
    DOI: 10.1007/s11948-017-9905-3

    1. Oh, could you also archive a version of your paper to make it freely available please? I don’t have access, and can’t see one via Unpaywall! 🙂

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