Interview with Jeffrey Beall (On predatory journals and digital age librarians)

For a Pinoy Scientist episode, our group (w/ Dr. Custer and Dr. Guido) interviewed Dr. Jeffrey Beall, the creator of Beall’s List, through a video conference. I honestly had no idea who he was or what the significance of his initiative is (or even how his name was spelled, haha) beforehand. But I did overhear that it is a controversial topic in the scholarly environment, and since I am to forge an unorthodox path to the academe, I figured that this is something worth knowing. Here is what I picked up from the interview:

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Dr. Jeffrey Beall is an academic librarian who pursued degrees in Spanish, English, and Library Science. (According to him, Library Scientists deal with the curation of learning resources, information retrieval, and optimizing the research environment.) He has 25 years of library work under his belt, first in Harvard for 10 years before moving to the University of Colorado Denver.


BEALL’S LIST

His biggest contribution to the academe is a blacklist of journals. The 900 or so publishers in Beall’s list are said to be mostly predatory or hijacked (or just plain sketchy). He defines predatory journals as those that take advantage of the Gold open access model in an unethical manner. It is quite normal for some journals to charge a publication fee from the author, but the main issue against predatory journals is that this business model can be exploited to prioritize the revenue without regard for the quality of the papers they accept. Hijacked journals, on the other hand, are journals the general look and feel of which were counterfeited from legitimate journals to deceive authors into publishing there instead (evil twins!).

Some of the criteria he uses to judge whether a journal deserves to be in the list are:

  • dishonest/unhealthy peer review
  • spammy (spelling, grammar, math mistakes)
  • lesser known but looks strangely familiar
  • easily accepts papers or promises rapid publishing (too good to be true!)

Beall continually maintains his list through feedback (it’s said to be currently in its 3rd edition) and notifies people of recent additions through his blog and twitter. What makes it controversial is that some of the items in his blacklist also belong to some existing whitelists. For example, I found out from Nature that he took some heat for adding Frontiers (reason: publishing 2 pseudoscientific articles, deeming its standards questionable) to his list despite its reputation for being a well-patronized journal. Some scholars try to discredit his list (and even give lawsuit threats they never really act on, haha) and accuse him of basing it purely on his intuition, but in my opinion, one should not disregard intuition in quality control since it could be the only way to detect intricate deceit (or expertly-disguised stupidity) hiding behind flawless logic.

Fortunately, the most of the feedback he garners are positive. There’s no doubt that academia needs journal police like him to protect researchers all over the world from falling prey to predatory journals.

Some advice from Beall to people who are starting out on their academic career:

  • Citing articles from predatory journals is risky. Taking advantage of them for tenure will most likely compromise credibility.
  • Take whitelists and blacklists with a grain of salt.
  • Publish in good journals. They don’t have to be top journals, as long as they’re high-quality.

THE MODERN LIBRARIAN

The onset of the digital age brought about an obvious change in learning media. Most information are now online, but Beall says that does not mean less people read books nowadays — they simply switched from print to ebooks. Thanks to that, the role of librarians have evolved as well, from being simply custodians of books to being pioneers in improving access to and adding value to information. According to him, the electronic environment also makes a librarian’s life easier, as it automates the process of search and lending. And of course, they have an easier time with helping researchers.

[Fun fact: There are more libraries that McDonald’s branches in Denver. Unlike in the Philippines. XD)

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EXTRAS!

Dr. Custer likes shining light on the human side of scientists. Dr. Beall is no exception, so here are some things about his personal life:
  • He likes reading books about volcanoes, nature, and astronomy, but he hasn’t had enough time to read lately.
  • He also likes driving to mountains (Denver is a mountainous region, after all).
  • Being a single man, he finds joy in traveling for academic talks.
  • His website is self-maintained and he has no time to collaborate (Dr. Custer has a habit of offering a collaboration to guests, haha).

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