Friday, March 20, 2015

Open Access and Predatory Publishing

LSE Impact Blog has an essay by Monica Berger and Jill Cirasella  on Open Access:

Although predatory publishers predate open access, their recent explosion was expedited by the emergence of fee-charging OA journals. Monica Berger and Jill Cirasella argue that librarians can play an important role in helping researchers to avoid becoming prey. But there remains ambiguity over what makes a publisher predatory. Librarians can help to counteract the misconceptions and alarmism that stymie the acceptance of OA.”

They have some valid points, but there is also much that I disagree with. They spend too much time criticizing Jeffrey Beall for not being sufficiently supportive of OA. In addition, they confuse the issue of low quality and predatory. There are a lot of low quality journals out there, but they do not charge large fees to publish papers on line, they do not advertise that you can have your paper published in a month, they do provide some peer review and editing. They do not face up to the costs of the rush to OA, especially attempts to mandate publication in OA journals.

Open access is not the same thing as predatory. Open access means that people can view a piece of scholarship without having to pay a fee, either directly or indirectly through their school or employer. Predatory journals exist to make money by selling false information. The false information that they sell is that the papers in them have been published in a peer reviewed journal. Academics pay the predatory publisher to say that their paper has been published in a peer reviewed journal; the academics then put the lie into their cvs and their annual activity reports and their tenure and promotion files. After examining a number of these journals I am convinced that it is all too easy tell legitimate publishers from predatory publishers.   The researchers that publish in these fake journals are not being preyed upon; the people that are led to believe that these researchers are publishing in peer reviewed journals are the prey.  Beall’slist is really more of a tool for these people than it is for researchers.

Being open access does not prove that a journal is predatory. Not being open access does not prove that a journal is not predatory. There is, however, a connection between open access and predatory publishers. Legitimate open access journals have created an opportunity for predatory publishers by publishing online and charging fees. Predatory publishers mimic these features, but, unlike traditional journals they have no incentive to provide peer review and editing. Traditional journals have an incentive to engage in careful peer review and editing. They need to get people to buy their journal. The articles have to be good enough that universities, members of an association, or people in the field will be willing to pay to read them. Predatory publishers have no incentive to expend time and resources on peer review and editing. The last thing they want is to have anyone read the articles.  If you read something like this it will only make it harder to tell people that you thought you were publishing in a legitimate journal.

Personally, I do not see publication in traditional journals as incompatible with open access. I noted in a previous post that I went through a recent issue of The American Economic Review and was able to find an open access, or ungated, version of every paper.  In addition, we were hiring this year and pretty much everyone had a website with access to their job market paper. There are often some differences between the “ungated” version of a paper and published version of a paper; if you want to cite a paper you should probably get access to the published version. But if the issue is simply access to research results the ungated version will typically provide this. It seems to me that this general approach existed in economics for a long time. Even before widespread access to the internet economists distributed working papers.  Pretty much anyone who mattered had probably read your paper years before it appeared in print.  There may be reasons why this approach will not work in some disciplines. There may even be reasons it will not continue to work in economics, but advocates for open access journals need to acknowledge the problems they give rise to and the possible alternatives.

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