Open access, power, and privilege A response to “What I learned from predatory publishing”

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Open access, power, and privilege A response to “What I learned from predatory publishing”
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Swauger, S. (2017). Open access, power, and privilege: A response to “What I learned from predatory publishing”. College & Research Libraries News, 78(11), 603. doi:
Swauger, Shea
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Chicago, IL
College & Research Libraries News (C&RL News)
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Auraria Institutional Repository
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Auraria Library
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603 I n June 2017, Jeffrey Beall published an opinion piece in Biochemia Medica titled What I Learned from Predatory Publishers. 1 While there are several elements of this pub lication that I nd inaccurate or problematic, Im choosing four specic themes within his piece to critique. In the interest of full disclosure, I am Jeffrey Bealls direct supervi sor at the University of Colorado-Denvers Auraria Library and have been since I began working there in July 2015. Dangerous nostalgia At several points, Beall describes a history of scholarly publishing where authority and credibility were known and stable, and from which we have signicantly regressed: At that time, most journals were generally respected and of good quality, and peer review was tak en seriously and managed well. The once-proud scholarly publishing industry is in a state of rapid decline. There is a general sense among schol ars that scholarly publishing is collaps ing, falling apart, or whatever meta phor one might select that compares the industry to something that was once mighty and respected that later declined rapidly and unexpectedly into an embarrassing heap of debris. 2 These statements portray a publishing sys tem that I believe never existed. The history of scholarly publishing is less a meritocracy of ideas and more a reection of who held privilege in society. Access to at least one, and often multiple, intersections of privilege 3,4 were almost a requisite for being considered to join in the scholarly conversation. Who and what got published was largely deter mined by established power structures that favored maleness, whiteness, cis-gendered heterosexuality, wealth, the upper class, and Western ethnocentrism. Note that these are still the dominant structures that control our social and scholarly discourse. 5,6,7,8 More importantly, nostalgia for a time when these power structures were even more entrenched than they are now is dangerous and, if taken seriously, threatens the participation of people typically mar ginalized in our scholarly record. Bealls implicit call for a return to this previous imagined reality is by far his most concern ing position. Predatory publishing is an information literacy problem Beall states, I think predatory publishers Shea Swauger Open access, power, and privilege A response to What I learned from predatory publishing scholarly communication Shea Swauger is head of researcher support services at the University of Colorado-Denvers Auraria Library, email: 2017 Shea Swauger


604 pose the biggest threat to science since the Inquisition. 9 Predatory publishing is at once a larger and a smaller problem than Beall claims, and while I believe there are legitimate threats to science, I disagree that predatory publishing ultimately holds the gravity that he suggests. The problem is larger in that his denition of predatory publishing articulates only one kind of unethical practice (the systematic abuse of the Gold OA model), when other practices like exclusionary pricing models, closed-access vanity publishing, the selling of public domain content, and others like them are not addressed. 10 The problem is smaller in that the broader discussion about how predatory publishing is an unprec edented or unique challenge to research or science is misplaced. While predatory publishing is relatively new (Beall coined the term in 2010), 11 the class of problem it ts into is not. The problem of preda tory publishing is a problem of informa tion literacy. Evaluating the credibility of a publisher or journal is a particular exercise in evaluating the credibility of an informa tion source. Fortunately, a large segment of librarianship (sometimes in title, often in practice) is dedicated to guring out how to teach people to become information liter ate. There is a vast body of literature and thousands of intelligent professionals that can help address the problem of identifying predatory publishers. Bealls list was a useful resource, and his work calling attention to predatory publish ing was a valuable contribution to research in almost every discipline, but a list was never a sustainable or ideal solution. Black lists and whitelists share the same problem in that they attempt to externalize an evalua tion process that is best internal, contextual, and iterative. Its unsurprising that research ers and librarians relied so heavily upon Bealls list, as it alleviated the burden of having to learn how to evaluate whether a publisher or journal was predatory. Teaching and practicing information literacy is difcult. Questions such as What is authoritative? and How do I know if something is credible? are complex and unsettling, largely because their answers are constructed and contextual. 12 Just be cause something was published in a preda tory journal doesnt mean that its false or poor research. Just because something was published in a prestigious closed-access journal doesnt mean that its true or excel lent. Authority isnt about the containers that information comes in, and the solution was never a list of bad containers. The best thing librarianship can do to support science and research is to engage in the inherently messy, dynamic, and important work of systematic information literacy instruction in higher education and research. Political correctness Beall writes, Librarianship slavishly fol lows political correctness and trendiness, so its no surprise that the profession fell in line with the open-access social movement and attacked those seeking to tell the truth about it. 13 The most insightful part of this remark is his centering on the idea of political correct ness in librarianship. While I dont interpret Beall as sharing this denition, I dene political correctness as the act of changing the terms of public discourse by challeng ing narratives and structures that benet the powerful or the majority at the expense of the powerless or the minority. Oftentimes, critiques of political correctness manifest when words or ideas that were once accept able by a dominant group of people arent acceptable any longer, and when those words or ideas are expressed, the person who expresses them experiences some form of social pressure to stop. This is an uncomfortable experience for that person, and one response to that discomfort (which I believe Beall to be employing above) is to classify that social pressure as overly sensitive, intolerant, or even discriminatory. Based on the above denition, political correctness is something that I aspire to and is something that I believe librarians have


605 a role in: changing the terms of public dis course and challenging dominate structures of power that disenfranchise the marginal ized. In my opinion, this is also the single greatest merit of open access: it can shift the publishing system to expand its deni tion of whose voice matters and who can participate in the scholarly record. Academic freedom Beall wrote, In January 2017, facing in tense pressure from my employer, the Uni versity of Colorado Denver, and fearing for my job, I shut down the blog and removed all its content from the blog platform. 14 At no time did I pressure Beall to discon tinue his work, or threaten his employment because of his work. In fact, I did everything I could to support his ability to research and publish, and would continue to support him should he decide to publish his blog and website again. The University of ColoradoDenver, the institution for which we both work, released the following statement re garding Bealls website and is worth noting: CU Denver disagrees with Jeffrey Bealls assertion that he was pressured by the university to take down his website,, earlier this year. We are not aware of anyone at or afliated with the university who asked Professor Beall to take down his website and blog. Additionally, CU Denver has defended and supported Professor Bealls academic freedom to pursue predatory publishing as part of his scholarship, but also respects the personal decision he made in January to take down the site. His tenured fac ulty position here at CU Denver was never in jeopardy because of his work researching open access journals or predatory publishers. 15 Protecting academic freedom is essential for healthy scholarship, and I rmly support it, even for academics I profoundly disagree with, and I often profoundly disagree with Beall. That said, I have become alarmed by the acerbic nature of commentary from both Beall and his critics in the course of discuss ing open access and predatory publishing. When the academic community conates a human being with something theyve said, using ad hominin attacks as a way to dis credit the ideas they present, the community becomes toxic. Beall has engaged in this on several occasions, in his publications, 16 on social media, 17,18,19 and on WorldCat. 20,21,22 He often uses hyperbole and condescension. This is both disrespectful and unprofes sional. His critics have sometimes responded in kind. 23,24 To everyone involved: stop. It isnt clever; it isnt helpful. I want to be part of a community that can separate the worth of a person from the worth of their message. Someones mes sage may be abhorrent. It may legitimately hurt people. When this happens, its the responsibility of the community to respond, to urge them to stop, and to counter their narrative with something better. I experi ence an acute tension between supporting academic freedom and for protecting human dignity in our discourse. Our profession has to gure out a way to hold both. I dont have an answer for how to do this well when someone uses their academic freedom to attack anothers dignity. Conclusion Our scholarly communication system is a representation of what and who we val ue as an academic community, and open access is one way to help democratize that system to include people who have historically been devalued through their exclusion. While predatory publishing is a problem, its actually an information lit eracy problem for which we currently have the knowledge and skills to address. We should acknowledge that librarianship and publishing participate in social and politi cal power structures and narratives, and we should challenge any structure that per petuates discrimination. While we wrestle through the complicated issues that arise


606 in the course of this work, we need to af rm that both academic freedom and hu man dignity have a place in the scholarly conversation, and we must to do a better job practicing them in concert. Notes 1. Jeffrey Beall, What I Learned from Predatory Publishers, Biochemia Medica 27, no. 2 (2017): 273-9. 2. Ibid. 3. Frances E. Kendall Wijeyesinghe and Charmaine L., Advancing Social Jus tice Work at the Intersections of Multiple Privileged Identities, New Directions for Student Services 157 (15 March 2017 2017): 91-100. 4. Kim A. Case, Jonathan Iuzzini, and Morgan Hopkins, Systems of Privilege: Intersections, Awareness, and Applica tions, Journal of Social Issues 68, no. 1 (2012): 1-10. 5. Charlotte Roh, Emily Drabinski, Har rison Inefuku, Scholarly Communication as a Tool for Social Justice and Diversity, in Academic and Research Libraries (ACRL) Conference, Portland, OR: Academic and Research Libraries (ACRL) 2017. 6. Elizabeth R. Cole, Lanice R. Avery, Catherine Dodson, Kevin D. Goodman, Against Nature: How Arguments About the Naturalness of Marriage Privilege Hetero sexuality, Journal of Social Issues 68, no. 1 (2012): 46-62. 7. Michael S. Kimmel and Abby L. Ferber, Privilege: A Reader, 2nd ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2010). 8. Leah R. Warner and Stephanie A. Shields, The intersections of sexuality, gender, and race: Identity research at the crossroads, Sex Roles 68 (2013) (11): 803-10. 9. Beall, Biochemia Medica, 273-9. 10. Monica Berger and Jill Cirasella, Beyond Bealls List: Better Understanding Predatory Publishers, College & Research Libraries News 76, no. 3 (2015): 132-35. 11. Jeffrey Beall, Predatory Open-Access Scholarly Publishers, The Charleston Advisor 12, no. 2 (July 2010): 50-50. 12. ACRL Framework for Information Lit eracy for Higher Education, /standards/ilframework 13. Beall, Biochemia Medica, 273-9. 14. Ibid. 15. John Elmes, Journals Blacklist Cre ator Blames University for Website Closure, Times Higher Education (2017). 16. Beall, Biochemia Medica, 273-9. 17. Jeffrey Beall (@Jeffrey_Beall), Duh, every librarian should know pred pubs add names to ed boards w/o permission. What library is unlucky enough to have you? #An tilibrarian, June 15, 2017, 10:25 a.m. Tweet. 18. Jeffrey Beall (@Jeffrey_Beall), East Tennessee St. Univ. med faculty love to publish in predatory journals, e.g.: http://bit. ly/2s4tVMC and #OA, June 15, 2017, 5:36 a.m. Tweet. 19. Jeffrey Beall (@Jeffrey_Beall), This is fake news from an anti-librarian. Budget cuts affect library journal licensing much more than price hikes, #OA #FakeNews, June 14, 2017, 10:11a.m. Tweet. 20. Jeffrey Beall (DenverJeffrey), The Worst Library Article Ever, []. OCLC, January 1, 2008, web, July 10, 2017, /DenverJeffrey/reviews/82648?reviewaction =fetchfull 21. Jeffrey Beall (DenverJeffrey), If You Hate Libraries, Youll Love This Work, [], OCLC, January 1, 2008, web, July 10, 2017, /DenverJeffrey/reviews/1266?reviewaction =fetchfull 22. Jeffrey Beall (DenverJef frey), Dont Buy This Book, [World], OCLC, October 4, 2016, web, July 10, 2017, http://aurarialibrary. /2965214?reviewaction=fetchfull 23. David Rothman (@davidlrothman), just called @rachel_w .... anti-librarian? Youve always been kooky, Beall, but youve lost your damn mind, June 14, 2017, 1:36 p.m. Tweet. 24. Funk, Mark (@funkme77) [citation needed] Plus, calling someone names? What a snowake! June 14, 2017, 1:20 p.m. Tweet.