CRS Standards Forum: Predatory Publishing and the ISSN Center’s Response

The Continuing Resources Standards Forum was held on Saturday, January 25, from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. and focused on the relatively new problem with predatory publishers in academia.

To start off the forum, Nettie Lagace, National Information Standards Organization (NISO, http://www.niso.org/), gave an update on three NISO recommended practices projects. Presentation and Identification of E-Journals (PIE-J) issued a report in 2013, and a standing committee has been charged to carry on with the group’s work. The Phase II report of Knowledge Bases and Related Tools (KBART) is due out in February 2014. And the Open Discovery Initiative (ODI)’s 2013 survey report is available and the final recommended practices will be available by the end of February 2014. Librarians are encouraged to inform content providers about these standards.

Next up, Rick Anderson, University of Utah, provided a synopsis of Jeffrey Beall’s inventory of “predatory” open access (OA) publishers (Beall’s List, http://scholarlyoa.com/publishers/). The criteria for making it on the list can be boiled down to two broad categories: misrepresentation, and selling false prestige. Misrepresentation might come in the form of a phony identity, editorial board, or publishing location, whereas false prestige is along the lines of promising but not performing peer review, or stating an impact factor when the journal doesn’t have one.

There are many objections to Beall’s List coming from publishers on the list and from OA advocates who cite Beall’s bias against OA, evidenced by unabashed criticism of the OA movement in a recent opinion piece. Many people also accuse Beall of having a cultural bias, since publishers based in the Middle East and India are disproportionately represented on his list. The explosion of research in these parts of the world may explain why; publishers are sprouting up to capitalize on the demand to get published in prestigious, international journals. This demand enables scam, and Anderson believes the OA market facilitates exploitation at a different level than possible in subscription journals.

Anderson’s criticism of Beall’s List is that it does not provide enough detail about why a publisher has been selected. There is an appeal process, but it’s solely managed by Beall himself, so the process is too subjective. Despite these flaws, Anderson hopes Beall’s List continues and improves. It provides a valuable service for the good of scholarship, since predatory OA publishing is a real and growing problem. The deception of authors has been the focus of outrage over predatory publishers, but the deception of readers with plagiarized and non- peer-reviewed scholarly material is also a serious concern.

Other than blacklisting OA publishers, what other approaches are being taken to help scholars discern legitimate from non-legitimate OA publishers? Regina Romano Reynolds, U.S. ISSN Center, spoke about the ISSN Network’s efforts. (The ISSN Network sets the standards for the ISSN National Centres around the world.)  The Network has been deluged with open access publisher requests for new ISSNs, with a single publisher requesting dozens to hundreds at a time. As a result, guidelines were developed for obtaining an ISSN, and numbers are no longer given out in bulk, pre-publication. Publishers might apply to multiple National Centres for an ISSN (providing phony addresses), so it was important to develop international criteria. 

While the ISSN Network cannot provide guidance on which journals to publish in, they do verify information such as the address and editorial board provided by the publisher. On December 16, 2013, the ISSN International Centre and UNESCO launched ROAD (beta, http://road.issn.org/), the Directory of Open Access Scholarly Sources. ROAD is a subset of the ISSN International Register, consisting of bibliographic records describing scholarly OA titles registered with any of the ISSN Centres. Records can be downloaded as a MARC XML dump and will be available as RDF triples in 2014.

ROAD joins the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) as a listing of vetted, legitimate OA publishers. Others are likely to come as a result of the “Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing” guidelines developed collaboratively by four scholarly publishing organizations. In the forum audience, Sam Brooks, EBSCO Publishing, revealed that EBSCO maintains its own index of good and bad OA journals, and that their “good” list covers more titles than DOAJ.

Librarians must dance a delicate dance between promoting OA and warning scholars about predatory publishers. There is also a conflict we need to be cognizant of between many society publishers and OA publishing, and the loyalty academic scholars feel to their society.

Anneliese Taylor, Assistant Director, Scholarly Communications & Collections, University of California, San Francisco Library