Predatory Publishers and Exasperating Editorialists: Updated 2/14/2017

writerbewareI found this story about a scientist who faked an article interesting. I recognized the problem of predatory publishers because I occasionally get spammed by them too. Then I remembered; a few weeks ago I found this paper about physician burnout entitled “Physician Burnout and Occupational Stress: An inconvenient truth with unintended consequences.” Click on the title and click on “pdf” to read the article. The Journal of Hospital Administration in which the article appears is published by Sciedu Press.

I got more uncomfortable with this paper the further I read, and not just because the editing left something to be desired. Even though I agreed with the authors’ basic premise, I found myself troubled by what sounded like an almost manifesto-like tone.

I know I often write with a manifesto-like tone and my grammar is sometimes rough. But I’m an editorializing blogger, not a scholar writing a review for publication in a scientific journal.

That led to my searching the internet for the publisher’s web site, which returned a link to Jeffrey Beall’s list of “potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers.” You can guess what I found, which is that Sciedu Press is on the list.

I wonder who I should trust, and I’m troubled by the negative light into which open access publishing is thrown by all this. Every year Open Access Week is widely promoted at academic centers in the U.S. including The University of Iowa.

So getting back to my discomfort with the article on physician burnout, I keep wondering whether it’s the authors’ tone or Beall’s List which led me to avoid tweeting it on the day I found it. It’s probably a little of both.

It isn’t so much the data that Privitera et al cite regarding the very real problem of physician burnout–it’s the overall tone of activism (not bad in itself; I engage in it regularly) which I wouldn’t expect in a review article printed in a scholarly publication and which an editor might have asked the authors to soften. I expect bloggers like myself to write like that. I expect a different kind of writing from a scientist.

For example, as a blogger, I’m pretty provocative if you haven’t noticed. What if I had called Beall’s List the “Beall’s Black List?” above. You might not have given it a second thought if you read my blog with any regularity, which you ought to be doing by the way. See? Provocative and a little messy.

But what if I wrote that and tried to get it published in a scholarly journal indexed in PubMed? It would never see the light of day.

I’m not saying that maybe we shouldn’t see more of the kind of writing in scientific journals that Privitera et al did. The point is we don’t really expect it. A blog is the place for advocacy, activism, and humor that may occasionally be a little on the rough side. We expect more restraint in journals which have the word like “science” or “peer-reviewed” in the title.

Now here’s an idea: who is Jeffrey Beall and who hired him to be the policeman for open-access scholarly journals? And could he be wrong?

Mr. Beall is a librarian at the Auraria Library at the University of Colorado, Denver. And here’s what he has to say about Sciedu Press and another publisher, which he calls “questionable,”

“Sciedu is a not-so-clever combination of Sci and edu. It publishes 17 journals in the areas of biology, economics, and social sciences. One of its journals is the World Journal of English [sic] Language.  (I think it should be World Journal of the English Language.)

It uses the Open Journal Systems software as its platform, making it look more professional than it really is.”

I’m definitely not in a position to judge either Mr. Beall, Sciedu Press, or The Journal of Hospital Adminstration in which Privitera’s article about physician burnout is published. But I can tell you what Privitera et al write about burnout resonates with me because I’ve been there. And I can also tell you Mr. Beall’s style resonates with me because he’s also a blogger.

If Mr. Beall can influence my thinking about a topic which I happen to know a bit about by casting aspersions on the publisher of the journal in which the topic is treated in a fair way overall–what does that mean? You might say I’m too easily influenced.

On the other hand, it would not have occurred to me to Google Sciedu Press if the editing of the Privitera paper had been managed differently, allowing it to be presented more clearly as an editorial rather than a review and with greater attention to grammar. It’s this kind of pattern which gives readers the impression that open-access journals are the poor relation to PubMed-indexed journals in scholarly publishing and which the industry would do well to correct.

Maybe that’s why Jeffrey Beall is the policeman for open-access scholarly publishing.

Update: By now, most of you know that Jeffrey Beall’s website went dark in January. Here’s one of many posts about it.