OA Needs Open Evidence, Not Anonymous Innuendo

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 allegations.

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 research.

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 journals.

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 journals”

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 testimonials elicited from accepted authors!)

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum