One of our responsibilities as OA advisors at Manchester is to keep track of so-called predatory publishers, and advise our researchers on publishers they should avoid. It can be hard to separate wheat from chaff, so we rely, where possible, on others helping to do this. Until recently, we recommended Jeffrey Beall’s list, a well-known directory maintained in the US. However, we have now removed the link, and will no longer advise our colleagues to use it. Here’s why …
Some of the work we do extends beyond Manchester and is about sharing our experience. We are currently lead institution on opeNWorks, a Jisc-funded Pathfinder project which aims to share best practice with colleagues from the North West region who have limited experience of providing OA support for researchers and to develop a community of good OA practice. The purpose of the community is to ensure that trusted advice and resources are easily accessible to institutions that are unable to fund a full-time OA support post.
If the resources and systems we have created are seen as examples of good practice then we’d like them to be representative of our views on OA and it is clear our views are not aligned with Beall’s.
On the basis of what we’ve read – the Berger and Cirasella article recently posted on the LSE Impact Blog provides a good overview and entry points – and what Beall seems to have said in his recent presentation at the US STM conference, here are a few points on which we differ.
Let’s start simply. There is a cost to publishing scholarly works. We know this and we’ve had frank conversations with publishing colleagues on this issue. In the subscription model authors (who may also be editors) tend to be unaware of the costs, and librarians are aware only of the costs to their own institutions. What’s ethical about this lack of transparency? It’s practically the OED definition of predatory (“unfairly competitive or exploitative”).
We’ve taken the recommendation of the Finch Group to heart and have shared the costs of publishing with University of Manchester authors as a first attempt to remedying this problem, telling them that the University spent a total of ~£5million on journal subscriptions in 2013-14 and informing individual authors of the cost of article processing charges (APCs) – added to which there may also be page, colour or submission charges, let’s not forget – paid on their behalf. Most of the charges we’ve paid have been to publishers of subscription journals offering a hybrid gold option, along with most of the UK universities in receipt of OA grants from RCUK and COAF. With even more money flowing from university libraries to large commercial publishers there’s a new chapter in the Serials Crisis – an urgent need for offsetting schemes to address the issue of double-dipping. This work has already begun and we’re feeding into these discussions. However, the models we’ve seen so far are early experiments that need further refinement to be truly ethical.
OA advocacy is at the heart of our interactions with researchers and we tailor our message to audiences at a disciplinary level and to individual authors as required. This is necessary to win the hearts and minds of researchers for whom subscription publishing is the cultural norm, or to encourage a new generation of researchers to confidently challenge the advice of their senior colleagues, who frequently fall into that first category. And while we might repeat core messages, the effectiveness of our advocacy depends on the nuance, which requires the thinking that Beall sees as unnecessary. We tell researchers about the OA publishing model, explain why they need to know (and as funded researchers and/or employees of a UK HEI they do need to know) and why they should care. The most effective message to some authors might be pragmatic (“you might jeopardise your chances of securing funding with a particular funding body if you don’t publish OA”) but we always include positive messages about extending readership and the public good. I often relate the experience of researchers in other parts of the world with severely limited access to academic journals, based on the inspiring presentation I heard Erin McKiernan deliver at the 2014 SPARC OA meeting.
We find our advocacy activities most successful when we engage researchers in discussion based on our experiences of providing OA support, and this is as important for us as it is for the researchers because it allows us to understand the barriers to OA. Mostly this is down to complexity of publisher workflows – traditional publishers that is – and remembering to choose an OA option. We hear these concerns often, much more so than the questionable publishers Beall focuses on, and we respond to these concerns by participating in RLUK-led initiatives to engage publishers in discussions on the simplification of OA procedures or, at a local level, by reminding authors to make new papers OA, and we know that traditional publishers are also helping with this culture change. This doesn’t mean that we are enemies of traditional publishers, as Beall might suggest, rather that their systems and workflows aren’t as intuitive for authors as they might believe, and the scale of support we provide to authors addressing problems relating to these publishers makes this a priority for us.
But that’s not to say that we are simply reactionary in our approach to OA. We do react, of course, to new funder policies, new publisher workflows, but we are also hugely supportive of new developments in scholarly communications, eg, JiscMonitor, ORCID, Altmetrics, and we are always interested in the emergence of new publishing models. We have responded to requests from Manchester researchers who wish to publish RCUK-funded papers with PeerJ by setting up an institutional membership plan. We are working in partnership with our colleagues at Manchester University Press, developing the Manchester Open Library imprint. The latest journal in development is student-led and will operate a form of peer-review that MUP CEO, Frances Pinter, considers worthy of patenting. We are also supporters of Knowledge Unlatched and the Open Library of Humanities, and are encouraged to see traditional publishers experimenting with OA monographs as the sector seeks a sustainable business model. OA has created opportunities for experimentation and innovation in publishing, driven by energetic and passionate individuals. There are too many to name but Martin Eve certainly deserves a mention after bizarrely being charged with hypocrisy in Beall’s STM presentation last week.
We don’t disagree with Beall on everything, eg, we don’t dispute the existence of questionable OA journals and publishers. As fund managers for the University’s OA grants from RCUK and COAF we take our duty of care to authors and funders seriously. Requests for APC payments prompt an extra Quality Assurance check in the publication process at Manchester which allows us to alert School Research Directors of submissions to journals of questionable reputation. Our website advice also provides a checklist for authors to consider as part of their publication strategy and we’ll now focus on this type of guidance until a community-driven alternative to Beall’s list emerges.