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Beall's list: Gone but not lost

Beall’s list of ‘predatory’ open access journals has disappeared but the information isn’t lost: It still exists across many resources - including on Publons.

Predatory publishers. Most researchers have heard of them, some have fallen victim to them, and some receive hundreds of emails from them every year.

These email requests kick off the chain of deception. They’re usually sent by journal editors soliciting papers under the guise of Open Access. They prey on authors by charging them a fee to publish or present their findings in conferences. They then pocket the money without providing any of the services provided by reputable publishers, and the unchallenged research is pushed out into the public domain.

Peer review is the service most of these journals fail to provide. It is a quality control method that helps to maintain the trustworthiness of published literature, and when it’s missing, the credibility of the entire research is called into question.

This puts peer review at the heart of the predatory publisher problem.

Some researchers are able to recognise predatory publishers from a mile away. Their emails often range from overtly to mildly suspicious. But spotting them is becoming harder and harder. The number of them is growing exponentially - they pushed 420,000 into the market in 2014, up from 53,000 in 2010 - and the sheer volume of their emails is a reckoning force.


Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall

Jeffrey Beall once helped researchers fight against this problem. But his solution recently vanished from the internet.

In 2010, Beall created a list citing thousands of “potential, possible, or probable predatory publishers” that he alleged would exploit or deceive authors. Researchers could refer to it when they needed a second opinion on a suspicious publisher or journal.

It’s still unknown why Beall, a scholarly communications librarian at the University of Colorado, Denver, removed his list, but the controversy surrounding it was well known.

For many, it was an influential guide that helped researchers determine whether a publisher or journal is legitimate. For others, it lacked transparency, was unforgiving, and was the cause of several legal threats.

Criticisms aside, however, Beall’s goal of deterring predatory publishers and promoting best practices was much-needed. So what now?

The Alternatives

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is a valuable resource for catching unethical publishing requests. This membership organisation has undertaken a review of the journals and publishers listed to ensure they commit to and prove quality, peer-reviewed open access. These can be found in the DOAJ’s directory.

Another option comes from librarians Sarah Beaubien and Max Eckard. In 2014 they published a set of Open Access Journal Quality Indicators with both positive and negative journal characteristics. This helps researchers perform their own evaluation of ethical and unethical open access publications.

The Think, Check and Submit campaign also helps authors identify trusted
journals for their research. They offer a simple checklist to assess the credentials of a journal or publisher - as does Nature magazine reporter, Declan Butler, in this article.

While all this information is extremely helpful in spotting unethical operators, a gap still exists. We know this because we still regularly face challenges when determining which journals to formally partner with.

With that in mind, we’re releasing our internal checklist for evaluating the publishers we partner with, and more information on how researchers can use our Journal List.

Publons Journal List

Publons’ Journal List is also a positive and dynamic alternative to Beall’s list.

It not only includes information we’ve collected about our vetted partners, but also data contributed by reviewers in the Publons community.

Publons' partnered journals

Our list of journals and the profile page for each journal shows review policy, verified review volume, and endorsements by the community for just about any journal in the world. It enables researchers to see who is reviewing and editing for the journal, who endorses it, and enables researchers to make up their own mind based on the information presented.

Researchers can also see which publishers we partner with. We take this process very seriously and worked with our publisher advisory group right from the start on a guide to analyse publishers’ practices. It’s not the only determining factor we use, but it’s a useful set of standards that help us evaluate if we should partner with a publisher or not.

Sensors journal

There are several filters on our journal list to help researchers pull out this important information. Take MDPI and its journal, Sensors, in the screenshots above, for example. Our filters show this open access publisher is a vetted and valued partner of ours, that allows both signed and published reviews. And upon clicking the journal for closer inspection, information on the reviewers, editors, and researchers endorsing the journal is all available.

Publons’ guide to evaluating publishers

Our process involves researching the journal or publisher and answering the questions posed in the checklist below.

The answers to these questions, plus information on how that journal or publisher has engaged with Publons to date (number and quality of reviews added, for example), inform our decision on whether or not to partner with them.

Our full guide is below. But first, here’s a few indicators researchers can use to get a quick handle on a journal’s ethical processes:

  • How many reviews does this Publisher have on Publons?
  • Are they verified?
  • Do any have review content added? If so is the review thorough?
  • Does the publisher/journal have any editors on Publons?
  • If so consider reaching out to one or two and enquiring about the editorial processes.
  • Are any of the researchers listed as editorial board members for the publisher’s journals on Publons?
  • If so consider reaching out to one or two and enquiring about the editorial processes.

We have also developed step-by-step guidance for how to use Publons to help inform your decision about a journal or publisher's processes.

And here is our complete guide:

Publons' publisher checklist

We’re aware that our checklist can discriminate against new publishers and journals. Where this is the case, we work with them as they establish themselves and reviewers begin to verify reviews on our system. This helps to develop a record of reputable performance before making any decisions to partner.

Building on Beall

We hope this helps. Don’t forget we go through this process for all our partners, and provide information on review policy, verified review volume, and reviewer endorsements on our Journals List page.

We see our Journals List as a positive and agile alternative to Beall’s list. We used his idea - his goal - as a starting point and built on it. Now you can too.

Top image credit: SteveP2008

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