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An academic librarian’s lists of “predatory” journals and publishers on Sunday vanished from the internet without explanation. His business partners now say he was forced to shut down the website.
Jeffrey Beall, scholarly communications librarian at the University of Colorado at Denver, created the lists in 2008. They grew to include thousands of journals and publishers that Beall alleged exploit open-access publishing for their own profit -- for example by spamming researchers with invitations to publish their findings or present at conferences, then pocketing publication or registration fees while providing little or no quality review. Beall populated the lists based on 52 criteria he developed.
People first noticed Beall’s website had been wiped on Sunday. The pages that contained the lists now read, “This service is no longer available.” Since the content disappeared without notice, many suspected the website had been targeted by hackers or a lawsuit.
Lacey E. Earle, vice president of business development for Cabell’s International, said on Twitter Tuesday that Beall “was forced to shut down [the] blog due to threats and politics.” A spokesperson for the company said the information came from Beall, but that it was all he told them.
Beall declined to comment.
Cabell’s, which offers services that help librarians, researchers and others discover scholarly journals, has since 2015 worked with Beall on developing a journal blacklist. That list is slated to launch this spring. In response to speculation this weekend that the removal of Beall’s lists had anything to do with that initiative, however, Cabell’s said on Twitter that it “is in no way involved.”
Beall’s lists have been controversial among researchers and scholarly communications experts. Advocates of open-access publishing have criticized Beall for being overly negative toward the model. In a 2013 essay, for example, Beall wrote that the open-access movement is an “anti-corporatist, oppressive and negative movement, one that uses young researchers and researchers from developing countries as pawns.”
Some publishers have objected to being featured on the lists. OMICS International, a publisher Beall has previously described as “the worst of the worst,” in 2013 threatened to sue Beall, seeking $1 billion in damages.
But Beall has also received credit for highlighting a growing problem in the field of scholarly publishing. A 2015 study by researchers at the Hanken School of Economics in Finland found that “predatory” publishing skyrocketed between 2010 and 2014, during which the number of scholarly articles published in journals on Beall’s list increased nearly tenfold. Many academics also rely on the lists to determine if a journal or a publisher is legitimate. Some of Beall's fans are advocates of open access who believe it's important for scholars to be able to differentiate between legitimate and less legitimate publishers.
In a statement, a spokesperson for CU Denver said Beall made a “personal decision” to take down the website, adding that the university did not play a role in that decision.
“Jeffrey Beall, associate professor and librarian at the University of Colorado Denver, has decided to no longer maintain or publish his research or blog on open-access journals and ‘predatory publishers,’” the spokesperson said. “CU Denver supports and recognizes the important work Professor Beall has contributed to the field and to scholars worldwide. CU Denver also understands and respects his decision to take down his website scholarlyoa.com at this time. Professor Beall remains on the faculty at the university and will be pursuing new areas of research.”
The University of Mumbai is planning to create a campus in the United States, The Indian Express reported. Officials said that they hoped to work with prominent Indian immigrants to the United States and perhaps to create joint degrees with American universities.
We’re in the middle of an opioid crisis. In today’s Academic Minute, the University of North Florida’s David Courtwright discusses an earlier epidemic and what we can learn from it. Courtwright is a Presidential Professor in North Florida’s history department. A transcript of this podcast can be found here.
The University of Toronto is backing the world’s first ever “anti-psychiatry” scholarship, spearheaded by a professor who denies the existence of mental illness and, by extension, the need for mental health care.
Bonnie Burstow, namesake of the scholarship and associate professor in adult education and community development at the university, has offered to match up to $50,000 of her own money to fund the scholarship, which would be awarded annually to a graduate student researching anti-psychiatry.
She has received at least $12,000 in donations toward the scholarship, The National Post reported last week. “A quite large number [of donors] are parents of kids who have been hurt by psychiatry and want to see this line of research encouraged,” she told the newspaper.
Burstow, who has been with the University of Toronto since 1995, has worked closely with psychiatric “survivors,” according to her profile on the university’s website, and is a “world-renowned critic of institutional psychiatry.” She argues that any form of psychiatric treatment is a direct violation of human rights.
“Psychiatry’s tenets and claims do not stand up to scrutiny. We do not have to begin by trying to prove that,” Burstow told the Post. “I am saying these are not diseases. … There is not a single proof of a single chemical imbalance of a single so-called mental illness.”
Of course many faculty members at Toronto and elsewhere say that evidence is abundant, and that arguing against the concept of mental illness is irresponsible and could be dangerous to people struggling with mental illness. Some say this goes beyond an academic disagreement -- and the university should not be supporting this work.
Burstow declined to comment for this story and instead deferred to a university spokesperson.
In an announcement posted on its website, the university justifies the scholarship on the basis of equity and academic freedom, calling it a “historical breakthrough” that “materialized at an opportune time.”
But many academics have expressed outrage with the university.
“Normally in university life, we welcome a lot of different points of view,” said Edward Shorter, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto and expert in the history of medicine, in an interview. “But that balance doesn’t really apply to some things … and it’s unacceptable for us to pretend that balance applies to this issue.”
The effectiveness of penicillin, the occurrence of the Holocaust, the existence of mental illness -- these are things we know to be true, Shorter said, adding that Burstow’s scholarship is the “intellectual equivalent of fake news.”
“We’re really on very thin ice when we start tolerating people who say a medical field has no legitimacy,” Shorter said. “This is dangerous for the public. If you put the idea out there that there is no such thing as mental illness and treatments are worthless, people are going to commit suicide.”
He said he was “terribly embarrassed” for the university and hoped the administration would soon reverse course, but that doesn’t seem likely.
Despite the negative reaction to the scholarship, the university continues to defend Burstow and her “right to pursue questions of interest and controversy,” said Charles Pascal, a professor of applied psychology and human development at Toronto. In fact, Burstow has received many emails from people who support her anti-psychiatry research and want to thank her for the scholarship, Pascal said.
From an academic standpoint, Pascal believes Burstow has every right to question the science, because her skepticism will foster important debates among other scholars. On a personal level, he disagrees with her position. “I disagree with her comments, absolutely, but I also think the conversations I have with her make us both better in being able to sharpen our views and improve our practices,” Pascal said.
Glen Jones, dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, which established the scholarship, said in a statement that the institute does not discredit the field of psychiatry but it does defend Burstow’s right to debate it.
“Key to our quest for the ‘truths’ we seek is the notion that, as scholars, we need to feel comfortable in the gray zone, that we constantly strive for something that moves us closer to truly understanding an idea or improving a practice,” Jones said.