SILS alumnus evaluates integrity of open-access journals

May 24, 2013

In the world of academia, the phrase “publish or perish” is used to describe the expectation of faculty members to write books, book chapters, whitepapers and to submit and publish articles in scholarly journals that communicate their research findings. The publication process serves to validate their research, share important findings with the scholarly community, demonstrate the faculty member's expertise and put his or her institution on the map. Scholarly publishing also assists in promotional opportunities for an academic who is on track for tenure. With pressure to publish, faculty members are continuously submitting articles for publication in scholarly journals. 

Driven by a grassroots movement in the academy and requirements by many major funding agencies, open access publishing is the publication model that scholars are increasingly using. The open-access model makes research available for free over the Internet, thereby making it easier for researchers to share their findings with a global audience. 

Like e-mail when it first began, open-access publishing was an honest and quick means of communication. In the case of e-mail, eventually spammers began to use e-mail to solicit funds to help a sick relative, or perhaps announce that the reader is the lucky winner of a major award that can be collected when payment of an exorbitant handling fee was received. Because of the intensity and frequency of these spam messages, our e-mail inboxes now require filters and a keen eye to discern what’s honest and real. 

As with e-mail, some open-access journals are now being misrepresented as legitimate scholarly publications, but in actuality are pseudo journals, made to look official with impressive Web sites, familiar names and similar features of the journals that are tried and proven. To entice the scholar, these spammers solicit manuscripts, oftentimes offering a discount on an author’s fee, quick turn-around time on review and publication and many topics from which to select. 

Jeffrey Beall (MSLS ‘90), scholarly initiatives librarian, associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver for the past 13 years and alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science (SILS), has been tracking open-source journals since 2009. He has learned that academics are being deceived by those who claim their publications are open-access and then abuse the open-access model.  

To help his colleagues identify the journals which are questionable, Beall created a blog titled, “Scholarly Open-Access: Critical Analysis of Scholarly Open-Access Publishing” ( where he offers a list of publishers and standalone journals that he believes use questionable pricing, review and processing models. The blog is open for discussion and many participate.  

The popular blog was featured in the March 27, 2013 issue of Nature magazine in an article by Declan Butler titled, “Investigating journals: The dark side of publishing.” The article describes how open-source publishers often surprise authors by charging fees after an article is accepted, among other policies and procedures that go against the philosophy of open-source publishing.

(The citation is: Butler, Declan. “Investigating Journals: The Dark Side of Publishing.” Nature 495 (28 March 2013): 433–435)

Beall is also quoted in The New York Times article “Scientific Articles Accepted (Personal Checks, Too).” The article discusses the growing issue of open-access scholarly journals that do not follow the scholarly publishing industry standards. It also mentions scientists who are being recruited to bogus conferences and others who are asked to serve on editorial boards in impressive positions in what the author calls the “parallel world of pseudo-academia.”

Beall’s blog has become a popular starting point for scholars who wish to publish in reputable open-source publications. He says he receives between approximately 2,000-3,000 hits on his blog each day.  In addition to his list, he offers tips on what to look for when researchers are solicited by those who are not on the up-and-up when it comes to publishing scholarly work.

Some main tips include: 

  • Avoid submitting to publishers who use spam e-mail to solicit article manuscripts
  • Be wary of publishers that hide their true headquarters location
  • Be wary of  publishers who use names like “Network,” “Center,” “Association,” “Institute,” etc. when it is only a publisher and does not meet the definition of the term used
  • Be wary of publishers whose journals are not listed in standard periodical directories or are not cataloged in library databases (unfortunately, some publishers will claim to be included in A&I services when they are really not)

The School of Information and Library Science and the SILS Alumni Association offers the following statement about Beall’s work: 

SILS and the SILS Alumni Association commend Jeffrey Beall, our alumnus and colleague, in his courageous and vigorous efforts to advance fair and equitable scholarly publishing. Scholars, publishers, and librarians must work together to ensure that new knowledge is made available to humanity speedily and equitably. Mr. Beall, through his blog (Scholarly Open Access: Critical Analysis of Scholarly Open-Access Publishing, advocates for open access publishing models that fairly reward producers and distributors for their efforts to broadly share new knowledge. His list of publishers that use questionable pricing, review, and processing models is open to discussion by all interested parties, and these discussions serve the common good. We encourage librarians, scholars, and their professional associations to defend and support Mr. Beall and all librarians, scholars, and publishers who work for fairness in scholarly publication.