A recurring theme in discussions about open access is the problem of predatory publishers, illustrated by Beall’s list. Now I agree that it is not nice that these exist (although the threshold for inclusion in the list can be debated), but I am left wondering: if the existence of these predatory publishers is the major problem of open access, how big a problem is it?
So with predatory open access publishers, what is the worst which can happen?
- Articles which have not been properly peer-reviewed are available online. Which is already the case in ArXiv, which is widely regarded as a useful service.
- The publisher might disappear. Since the papers should be published under creative commons, they can be stored and redistributed from any other service on the web. So if any paper was of interest to anyone, or if any author had some iniative, then the paper should not be lost.
- Authors who were not careful about their choice of journal, or who are more vain than rigorous, will have lost a small sum of money.
- The authors CVs might be inflated by less than rigorous publications. Since most committees for hiring, funding, etc, will not recognize these journals, the risk seems low.
- Science consumers outside academia (MDs, politicians, journalists…) might be fooled into thinking that this was peer-reviewed and handled by a competent editor, whereas it was not. A real risk.
Most of these risks do not seem to be real to me. I would like to compare risks 2 and 5 to the classical subscription-based publication system.
For risk 2, any publisher can go backrupt or otherwise disapear or change its business model, and in closed access publishing the papers are potentially all lost. Predatory open access actually wins over the status quo in this case.
For risk 5, the creation of pseudo-peer reviewed journals for Big Pharma, creationists, or other interest groups, predates open access and will certainly continue. At least if the pseudo-science is open access, everyone can see what’s inside and maybe notice the problem. At worst, predatory open access does not seem worse than the status quo.
So can we stop discussing what seems to be mostly a non issue, and concentrate on the reality of high quality publicly funded science locked up by commercial publishers and unavailable?