OA Needs Open Evidence, Not Anonymous Innuendo

From: Stevan Harnad <amsciforum_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Mon, 8 Sep 2008 00:08:18 -0400

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The testimony of "Ethan" regarding SJI's publishing practices could
have been valuable -- if it had been provided non-anonymously. As it
stands, it merely amounts to anonymous, nonspecific, unsubstantiated
allegations. If those allegations against SJI are in reality true,
then making them anonymously, as "Ethan" does, does more harm than
good, because then they can be so easily discredited and dismissed,
as being merely the anonymous, nonspecific, unsubstantiated
allegations that they are. (If they are in reality false, then they
are of course a depolorable smear.)

Richard Poynder is a distinguished and highly respected journalist
and the de facto chronicler of the OA movement. I hope "Ethan" has
contacted Richard, as he requested, giving him his real name, and the
names of the SJI journal submissions that he refereed and recommended
for rejection as having "zero scientific value." Richard can
then fact-check (confidentially, without embarrassing the authors)
whether or not any of those articles were published as such. 

What "Ethan" should have done if he was, as he said, receiving
articles of low quality to referee, in a "peer review" procedure of
doubtful quality, was to resign as referee, request removal of his
name from the list of referees ? did "he"? and was his name removed?
? and, if he felt strongly enough, offer to make his objective
evidence available to those who may wish to investigate these
publishing practices.

What is needed in order to expose shoddy publishing practices is
objective, verifiable evidence and answerability, not anonymous

This is not, after all, whistle-blowing on the Mafia, that requires a
witness protection program. If you offer to referee for a publisher
with shoddy peer-review practices, you risk nothing if you provide
what objective evidence you have of those practices.

I know that "publish or perish" has authors fearful of offending
publishers by doing anything they think might reduce their chances of
acceptance, and that referees often perform their gratis services out
of the same superstitious worry; and I know that junior referees are
worried about offending senior researchers if they are openly
critical of their work, and that even peer colleagues and rivals are
often leery of the consequences of openly dissing one another's

But none of these bits of regrettable but understandable professional
paranoia explain why "Ethan" felt the need to hide under a cloak of
anonymity in providing objective evidence of shabby editorial
practices by a publisher and journals that hardly have the patina or
clout of some of the more prestigious established publishers and

Is it SJI's public threats of litigation, through postings like the
one below, that have everyone so intimidated?

      "Lies, fear and smear campaigns against SJI and other OA

Surely the antidote against that sort of thing is open evidence, not
anonymous innuendo. (Something better is needed by way of open
evidence, however, than just contented testimonialselicited from
accepted authors!)

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum
Received on Mon Sep 08 2008 - 05:10:23 BST

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