Prof says 'social justice warrior' librarians endanger science

A University of Colorado professor recently blasted “social justice warrior” librarians for “betraying” academia to promote an “anti-corporatist” agenda.

Professor Jeffrey Beall, who also serves as the Scholarly Communications Librarian at the school, alleged in an interview with Times Higher Education that “social justice warrior” librarians are promoting open access publishing solely to “kill off” big publishers.

[RELATED: Librarians ‘contend with oppressors within’ at diversity conference]

Open access publishing, Beall explained to Campus Reform, is a new way for professors to publish their research without the fees and other restrictions imposed by traditional academic journals, which has “the advantage of being free to readers, freeing them (or their libraries) from having to pay for access.”

Beall argues, however, that the approach is being leveraged by “social justice warrior” librarians as a means of undercutting the profits of big publishers, such as Wiley, Elsevier, and Taylor & Francis.

“Many academic librarians see themselves first as social justice advocates, and they are not shy about using their university positions to promote their beliefs and values,” Beall told Campus Reform, adding that “many are openly anti-corporatist.”

Indeed, in an effort to advance open access publishing, many college librarians have passed “open access mandates,” which require that professors publish all new research in open journals. According to Beall, Duke University, Cornell University, and Harvard University have all passed some form of an open access mandate in the past few years.

[RELATED: NYU librarian laments ‘fatigue’ from ‘presence of white people’]

The problem with open access publishing, he explained, is that “much junk science is being published in predatory journals” that claim to be peer-reviewed but often impose impossibly-short deadlines on the academics tasked with conducting the reviews, with the result that “some researchers take advantage of the easy publishing that many open access journals offer to get promotions, tenure, etc.”

Beall asserted that many university librarians are “failing to alert the patrons, the faculty, and the students at their university about the problems of predatory publishers [enabled by open access journals] because they just want to kill off Elsevier,” one of the world’s largest academic publishers, which earned roughly $3 billion in revenue from its “scientific, technical, and medical” division in 2016.

Meanwhile, activists are similarly taking advantage of the “easy article acceptance” enabled by open access publishing to “publish activist science,” Beall added, citing “research” that shows “vaccines cause autism” as a particularly prominent example.

[RELATED: Prof wins grant to student microaggressions in library]

In an effort to combat such trends, Beall once published a list of open-access journals, but the outcry was too great and he stopped its publication amid “intense pressure” from his employer and fear of losing his job.

“The subscription publishing model has many advantages,” Beall argued, pointing out that “because the publishers want libraries to continue to subscribe, they seek to publish only the best research, properly peer-reviewed, copyedited, and published on high-quality publishing platforms.”

Saying he doesn’t “want a system where crucial science is published by amateurs on a low budget” because “medical science is too important to trust to volunteers,” he concluded that academic research “needs high-quality, professional editing, and this costs money.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen