The room was full, and feelings were strong at this session on the exploitation of openaccess (OA) publishing in the scientific community. Presentations on the culture and context of predatory behavior in publishing drove lively and informed debate. In the end, attendees challenged the presenters and each other to confront predatory publishers by taking a unified stance against OA abuse rather than against OA itself.
Jeffrey Beall—“the famous Jeff Beall”, the moderator joked—was preceded by his reputation as the creator of Beall’s List of Predatory Publishers and owner of the Scholarly Open Access blog (www.scholarlyOA.com). By making the author the consumer in the publication process, he proposed, OA creates a conflict of interest: More papers generate more money and provide incentives for publishers and authors to compromise standards and integrity. His list of resulting problems included corruption of OA, encouragement of research misconduct, facilitation of plagiarism, blurring of the boundaries between “real science” and “pseudoscience”, and unreliable preservation of paid publications. Beall noted that many OA publishers are legitimate, but he exhorted OA advocates to be forthright about the potential harms to scholarly publishing.
From his perspective of leading publication-ethics training in Asia, Donald Samulack considered the reasons that predatory publishers remain attractive to authors there despite the potential harms. He noted compensation structures that require publication in a work climate in which career pressure and inadequate time and infrastructure make expedience a necessity. Those issues are compounded by the use of English as a second language and by non-Western cultural norms of writing behavior. If writing or publication support is needed, Samulack explained, it is common in Chinese culture to seek vendor services, and unethical vendors are more than willing to provide such services. “Chinese authors want to be ethical and they want to learn,” he said, but Western publication practices are unknown, and education is needed.
Bruce Dancik emphasized the role of peer review in ensuring quality with respect both to catching errors and to prompting authors to take more care in anticipation of peer review. He noted that some predatory publishers use a semblance of peer review for an appearance of credibility. His concern is that this practice runs the risk of causing “burnout” in experts who get multiple requests to review and might not be aware of the quality of the requesting publications. Publications of questionable quality also have an effect on readers, he observed. Scientists feel that they “have to look at everything to the nth degree,” he said, to understand whether the science is good. Dancik described this scrutiny as a “waste of readers’ time”, particularly when papers are poorly written and not copy-edited.
The need for a coordinated response to the problem of predatory publishing was expressed throughout the question-and-answer session that followed the presentations. Samulack agreed that industry-wide scrutiny is needed and that the effort should not fall to a single person or organization. Beall shared the view that it would be better in terms of both effort and accountability for a resource like the Beall list to come from a group and said that he would support such a move. Attendees asked for formal descriptions of the characteristics of both predatory and legitimate publishers to assist in evaluating publications. Roles for CSE, the Committee on Publication Ethics, and the US Office of Research Integrity were discussed, as was the OA model’s business structure and vulnerability. There are no “proper predatory practices”, Samulack observed. “Authors think that they get something, but they get little or nothing.”