May 20, 2013

Academic publisher sues librarian blogger for millions


These books are being sued for ONE BILLION DOLLARS

Beall’s list“, created by University of Colorado metadata librarian Jeffrey Beall, collates the academic journals which he regards as questionable. His hard work on outing journals whose business and academic practices are less than reputable has caught the eye of one of the publishers he named and shamed, and now he’s being sued.

Bogus academic journals are a growing problem. Earlier this year, Gina Kolata in the New York Times called them a “parallel world of pseudo-academia”. Most of these journals are based on an online subscription model and call themselves “open access”. The ease with which people can be published in some of these journals, with only a semblance of legitimate oversight, has been met with concern by academics, who fear that junk research is being given the appearance of a properly accredited paper.

Jeffrey Beall is being sued by India’s The OMICS Group, which, according to Jake New in The Chronicle of Higher Education, has been the subject of scrutiny for bad practices, such as spamming and steep fees for authors after publication, not only by Beall, but also by The Chronicle.

“The OMICS Group’s practices have received particular attention from Mr. Beall and some publications, including The Chronicle. In 2012, The Chronicle found that the group was listing 200 journals, but only about 60 percent had actually published anything…On his blog, Mr. Beall accuses OMICS of spamming scholars with invitations to publish, quickly accepting their papers, then charging them a nearly $3,000 publishing fee after a paper has been accepted.”

Now OMNIC has sent Beall a letter demanding he remove his blog posts, a letter which he said was both “poorly written and personally threatening”. The letter also warned that under India’s Information Technology Act,

“it illegal to use a computer to publish “any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character” or to publish false information. The punishment can be as much as three years in prison.”

Legal experts that New spoke with all seemed to think that Beall need not fear fines nor jail time, whether charges were filed in the United States or in India, but rather speculated that the letter served only to annoy and intimidate.

Although OMNIC’s moves have been clearly questionable, it’s worth considering that this problem was created not solely by greedy opportunists, but also by traditional academic publishing’s lack of action. Veteran journals have been slow to adapt online and still keep information behind steep paywalls, despite the push for more access to publicly-funded research.

The “open access” movement, while it has admirable goals, has been quickly hijacked by publishers such as the OMNICS group, who have moved quickly to fill the gap left by other, more “legitimate” publishers.

Beall’s list, and revolts like last year’s “Academic Spring“, might not be so necessary if publishers such as Elsevier did not engage in such steep and predatory pricing themselves. When some academics have to pay to have their articles available in their own libraries, the system is broken. OMNIC is certainly the wrong answer, but academia needs to move swiftly to find a better one.


Ariel Bogle is a former publicist at Melville House.