Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado in Denver, US, until March 2018, coined the term “predatory publishing” eight years ago, when he published the first list of such publishers on his blog in 2010. After the list gained attention, Beall started a new blog in 2012, updating his posts almost every day. But following several threats of law suits, Beall removed the blog and list in January 2017. Responding to queries from The Indian Express on email, Beall said that universities need to re-examine how they evaluate faculty and should not give credit for publications in fake journals. Edited excerpts:
Why did you remove the list of predatory publishers and journals from your blog?
My university began to attack me in several ways. They launched a research misconduct investigation against me (after seven months, the result of the investigation was that no misconduct had occurred). They also put an unqualified, mendacious supervisor over me, and he constantly attacked and harassed me. I decided I could no longer safely publish the list with my university threatening me in these ways.
How many predatory publishers, journals, conference organisers were on your list? How many were there from India?
I don’t remember the exact numbers. I actually had two lists, one for publishers and one for “standalone” or independent journals. When a publisher was included on the list, this listing applied to all the journals it published. There are also many standalone or “mega-journals. Each list had over 1,000 entries on it.
What is your comment with reference to the predatory publishers and organisers of dubious conferences in India? Are you aware of the volume of this business in India and by Indians?
South Asia has many predatory publishers. India is a large country with over 1.2 billion people and a history of using the English language, and English is the language of scholarly publishing and of science. In addition, there are many Indians abroad who create scholarly publishing operations (in London, for example) that cater to professors back in India. An academic in India can get credit for publishing in an “international” journal in the UK or the US, when in fact the entire operation is typically a small operation run out of a house in the West.
Can you name some the biggest predatory publishers from India whom you have located?
The worst case is OMICS International, based in Hyderabad, Telangana. It publishes hundreds of low-quality, open-access journals and organises hundreds of poorly organised conferences each year. It uses deceptive practices and does not carry out a proper peer review, publishing scientific papers without proper quality control. It also uses deceptive practices and has hurt many academics throughout the world, giving a bad name to India. An agency of the United States government (the Federal Trade Commission) is currently suing OMICS International for its corrupt practices, and a judge here in America has ordered the company to stop its deceptive practices.
Have you received any threat or legal suit from an Indian publisher?
Yes, in fact, OMICS International threatened to sue me in 2013.
What is the harm of this predatory publishing to higher education/scientific research community?
Civil society relies on science to advance social, political, and economic conditions. Many open-access publishers publish fake, junk, and pseudo-science. They only want to make easy money, so they don’t reject fake research. Instead, they just publish it and send an invoice to the authors, so they can earn money. In the past, scientific journals would reject bad research. Also, universities and colleges use scholarly publications as a measure of academic achievement. Now anyone can publish in scientific journals, as long as he or she pays the open-access publisher. So many people have gotten Ph.D. degrees and have been awarded promotions at universities using publications in these fake journals.
What is the way out? What should authorities do?
There is no easy solution. I learned that the publishers now have much political power, and they will do anything possible, including collusion with universities, to attack their critics. Unfortunately, many professors love the easy, automatic publishing. There is no risk of your scientific paper being rejected for publication, so you can essentially buy a promotion at your university. I tried to explain the problem and warn researchers about it, but the attacks against me became too intense. I am now retired.
Should all open access journals be banned?
Banning is not an option because we value freedom of the press. Universities need to re-examine how they evaluate faculty and should not give credit for publications in fake journals. The scholarly publishing industry needs to regulate itself better. Librarians ad universities need to help educate university faculty about this problem and should exclude fake journals from their catalogues.
OMICS chief Dr Srinubabu Gedela has alleged that librarians make money out of journals subscribed to libraries and that their job is now at stake because of open access journals. How would you respond to this allegation?
The fact is that most academic librarians support open access. This is not the issue, and I would recommend that you be very skeptical of anything Mr Gedela says. For example, librarians do not make money from subscription journals — this is complete nonsense. Libraries pay lots of money for journal subscriptions. Librarians like me are questioning open-access publishing because it has led to the creation of corrupt publishers such as OMICS International, a publisher that threatens scientific integrity and is an embarrassment to India because it does not carry out an honest peer review.