For seven years, Jeffrey Beall, an academic librarian at the University of Colorado, maintained a blacklist of open-access Journals, which according to his criteria were questionable and untrustworthy. This list was mostly meant as a resource to warn the research community about predatory journals that would charge fees but did not provide appropriate publishing services, such as peer review, archiving and editing.
Throughout his lifetime the blog encountered its fair share of controversy, in the public eye but predominantly among scientists. The main point of concern was transparency – it was not always clear which criteria Beall followed to determine whether a journal was appropriate for his list or not. The to date fiercest discussions arose when he decided to add the Frontier journals to his blacklist, in response to the publication of several questionable papers in some of the Frontier journals. One of these was later retracted.
On January 15th this year, Beall suddenly announced that he had decided to close his blog, giving no further explanation as to why. The unexpected disappearance of the blacklist caused another stir in the scientific community, with some people, such as Lacey Earle, Vice President, Business Development of Cabell’s International Publishing, expressing concerns that this was the result of “threats and politics”. Publicly, Beall has always denied this, as well as that the shutdown might be due to legal actions.
Around the same time, the Scholarly Kitchen tweeted that the lists had been transferred to Cabell’s International, who at that point denied any involvement with the shutdown. They did note, however, that they were working on a blacklist set to be published in spring 2017. The company already hosts a whitelist of journals on their website that catalogs trustworthy and reputable outlets for publication.
Finally, last week, Cabell announced the launch of its own blacklist, based on Jeffery Beall’s List of Predatory Publishers. Their blacklist inclusion criteria can be found here and revolve mostly around integrity, access, peer review, publication practices, indexing and fees. The interesting twist here is that the blacklist will not be publicly accessible anymore, but is hidden behind a paywall, making this more of an option for funding or hiring committees and less for individual researchers.
The jury is still out on the question of whether blacklists are valuable for science or do more harm than good. But at least all fans of Beall’s old list will breathe a sigh of relief (if they are indeed able to access the list via their institution) and some light has finally been shed on the mystery of it’s disappearance. It has gone the way that so many blogs have gone before, if they are lucky enough to attract sufficient attention – into commercialization.