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Totally Nonquestionable Publisher Suing Librarian for Calling it Questionable

We have apparently entered the libel suit silly season. Last week we had a librarian blogger sued for libel by the Edwin Mellen Press (which for the record, in my humble opinion, is the finest scholarly press in the whole darned world). Mellen is suing an American librarian who works in Canada in Canadian court for a blog post he wrote while working in America.

Now we have someplace called the Canadian Center for Science and Education suing a librarian at the University of Colorado Denver in a California court. Presumably that makes sense to someone.

The librarian included the Canadian Center for Science and Education on his Beall’s List of Predatory Publishers 2013. The CC for S&E claims that is “actionable libel.”

Since I’m not a lawyer, as far as you know, I went out on the Internet to find someone who might be. According to the Citizen Media Law Project at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society (which sound very official like):

A defamatory statement is a false statement of fact that exposes a person to hatred, ridicule, or contempt, causes him to be shunned, or injures him in his business or trade. Statements that are merely offensive are not defamatory (e.g., a statement that Bill smells badly would not be sufficient (and would likely be an opinion anyway)). Courts generally examine the full context of a statement’s publication when making this determination.

So it has to be a false statement and not a matter of opinion. But you can’t just add “in my opinion” to a statement to make it an opinion.

For example, there is no legal difference between the following two statements, both of which could be defamatory if false:

  • “John stole $100 from the corner store last week.”
  • “In my opinion, John stole $100 from the corner store last week.”

The CC for S&E objects to being called “predatory,” although that would seem to be an opinion. Does anyone think that the publishers really kill or eat people or other animals? The only language besides the adjective “predatory” that would apply to the CC for S&E is the following:

There are two lists below. The first includes questionable, scholarly open-access publishers. Each of these publishers has a portfolio that ranges from just a few to hundreds of individual journal titles….

In both cases, we recommend that researchers, scientists, and academics avoid doing business with these publishers and journals. Scholars should avoid sending article submissions to them, serving on their editorial boards or reviewing papers for them, or advertising in them. Also, tenure and promotion committees should give extra scrutiny to articles published in these journals, for many of them include instances of author misconduct.

So the only other statement about the CC for S&E is that Beall considers them “questionable.” Is that the kind of thing that can be proven false? Or is it merely an opinion? If anyone is questioning their behavior, wouldn’t that behavior in fact be questionable by definition? Can it be proved that Beall doesn’t really believe them to be questionable?

As for the recommendation that people avoid them, that’s not even a statement regarding the publishers. It’s clearly an expression of the librarian’s opinion.

Compared to the Mellen case, this seems like slight provocation, and that’s saying something. Suing someone for saying “I recommend researchers avoid you because you’re questionable” seems a bit much, like trying to kill a gnat with a chainsaw.

It might also lead to another example of the Streisand Effect.

Search Google for Canadian Center for Science and Education as a phrase, and that predatory list doesn’t come up. What comes up in the first ten results are laudatory articles from such prestigious websites as dictated.com, segment.com, indyposted.com, and interpacket.com.

Those look like top quality news sites with rigorous publication standards, and not at all questionable press releases from the CC of S&E. I’m sure librarians who might apply standard source evaluation criteria to them would agree with me.

From now on, it’s entirely possible that after a few days the first thing that will come up after the CC of S&E’s website is going to be this blog post.

The question on any librarian’s mind will be, is suing a librarian for calling your press “questionable” the sort of thing nonquestionable presses do? Keep in mind, I’m not saying you’re questionable. I’m just saying people will be asking the question. Something tells me you won’t have an answer.

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Comments

  1. Joe Kohlburn says:

    Isn’t this what librarians are supposed to do? Aren’t we supposed to make judgements about content? Isn’t the creation of any collection inherently selective/subjective based on our individual opinions as filtered through your experience and professional expertise. To me, this seems like an assault on the very strength of academia- the dialectic. If I was a publisher and someone said my products were of low quality, I might write an editorial, comment on their blog, etc, but I would definitely NOT try to shut them up. Such actions undermine even the POINT of having journals- discourse!

    • me says:

      Exactly. We have enough to worry about in terms of keeping our jobs. We don’t need publishers trying to sue us out of them too.

  2. the.effing.librarian says:

    I’m still stumped by “Bill smells badly.” Is his nose not working? or smelling peaches when he sniffs a dirty diaper? That might be a plus in the library; how do I get one of those?

  3. Mark says:

    I wonder if they are objecting to the “include instances of author misconduct” bit, which is a factual statement. Or, perhaps, inclusion in a list of which it may be said that “many” (but not all) show a particular problem. Anyway, whatever it is to which they object will come out at trial.