Open access critic has major publisher in crosshairs

Open access journal publisher MDPI, which drew criticism earlier this year after publishing a paper that Discover Magazine described as “pseudoscience,” has been added to Jeffrey Beall’s list of “predatory” publishers.

open-access-publisherBeall is a metadata librarian at the University of Colorado at Denver, but is primarily known for his blog Scholarly Open Access, where he keeps a running list of more than 250 open access journals he deems questionable or misleading.

Many open access journals rely on article processing charges to cover the costs of publication and review because the content itself is free and open to the public.

As a result, some dubious publishers are created with the sole intention of making money off of those fees, taking advantage of academics who have struggled to get their work published elsewhere.

While most of the publishers listed as “potential, possible, or probable predatory” on Beall’s List are fringe or more obviously deceptive publications, MDPI is a well-known entity.

Based in China and Switzerland, it publishes more than 130 peer-reviewed scientific journals, and advertises that it has ten Nobel Prize laureates on its journal’s editorial boards, as well as Peter Suber, a leader in the open access movement and director of the Harvard Open Access project.

It has released all of its articles under a Creative Commons license since 2008 through its online open access platform

“It’ll be one of the largest publishers on my list,” Beall said. “A few of its journals have impact factors. The owner is becoming an increasingly popular and controversial figure himself and is making many enemies.”

It’s those enemies that MDPI believes is the reason it is being included on Beall’s List, however.

Shu-Kun Lin, president of MDPI, said the publisher’s sponsoring of the Scientific Spirit Prize in China, awarded by an organization called New Threads, has led to an organized defamation attempt by those who oppose New Thread’s chair, Shi-min Fang.

Fang is well-known for his attempts at discrediting pseudoscience and academic fraud in China.

A forum post that Beall uses as his primary ammunition on the blog was posted by one of those “enemies,” said MDPI’s chief executive officer, Dietrich Rordorf, who added that he was “astonished” by the publisher’s inclusion on the list.

“The owners of the mentioned Chinese Internet forum have reasons to discredit and publish allegations against MDPI to ‘punish’ MDPI for its sponsoring of the Scientific Spirit Prize in China,” Rordorf said.

Beall’s reasons for including MDPI on his list range from its publishing of controversial papers — a decision the publisher has defended in the interest of the “scientific communication process” —   to accusations that the Nobel laureates serving on its editorial boards are not even aware they are listed as board members.

Rordorf said that “editorial members are only added with their permission and can contact us to be removed at any time.” Some members of the boards do indeed list their role at MDPI on their official CVs, and at least two members confirmed their involvement to eCampus News.

Suber said he accepted MDPI’s invitation to serve on an editorial board, in part, because the late Francis Muguet, a french chemist and staunch supporter of open access, was an associate editor at MDPI Center Basel, a precursor to the publisher in its current form.

“I still regard him as the most dedicated activist who has ever worked on the difficult front of trying to persuade the UN to support OA,” Suber said. “I’m now looking further into MDPI, and will decide whether to continue on the board based on what I find.”

Beall’s work is often described as a valuable resource, but his motivations for the blog have recently come under criticism from open access advocates. In an article published in the journal tripleC, Beall declared the open access movement as a “negative” and “socialistic” one meant to kill off for-profit publishers.

Beall is still frequently consulted by worried academics that are wary of being scammed, and being added to his list is a dreaded occurrence among open access publishers.

He and his blog have been featured in The New York Times, Nature, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Last year, OMICs, an Indian publisher Beall added to the list, threatened to sue the librarian for $1 billion.

Further making MDPI a rare inclusion on the list, Beall once published a paper in a MDPI journal.

“Before he became known for his valuable ‘list of predatory publishers,’ he submitted an article to the journal Future Internet, which was published after peer-review,” Rordorf said in an email. “As in many cases (more than 30% of our articles), Mr. Beall was not asked to pay publishing fees for his paper.”

Rordorf said, until this week, the publisher had never received a complaint from Beall regarding its editorial process, but Beall said he now regrets publishing with MDPI.

“I think it’s fair to classify MDPI as a questionable publisher, and as such, it belongs on my list,” he wrote on his blog. “I recommend that all scholars not submit papers to this publisher. In the long run, publishing a paper with MDPI will turn out to be a bad personal decision for most authors.”

In an eMail to Beall, Shu-Kun Lin described the blog post as “crazy,” and said he would be contacting the librarian’s supervisors at the University of Colorado.

“Many of the allegations are totally silly,” Rordorf said.

Follow Jake New on Twitter at eCN_Jake.

Latest posts by Jake New (see all)