Extending Academic Freedom to Blogs

I recently came across a troubling story about a publisher suing a librarian for libel based on a blog posting. Dale Askey, while an academic librarian at Kansas State University (he has since moved to McMaster University), posted a negative review about a publisher, Edwin Mellen Press, on his blog.  He stated that the publisher exhibited poor editing quality and processes. He referred to EMP as a ‘vanity press’ with few scholarly editors. His conclusion was that libraries should not purchase their materials. EMP subsequently sued both Askey and McMaster University for libel.

This case has the potential to chill librarian and faculty activities such as providing book reviews and authoring professional blogs. As Leslie Green states in a comment about this story, “Librarians are expert at making such judgments; that’s what universities pay them to do.” If librarians are silenced in these endeavors, the academic community suffers. If the same lawsuit were brought against negative reviews in the ubiquitous Choice Reviews cards we would be left with reviews of questionable quality and authorship, subject to editing and removal.

As a science librarian, I am very concerned about detecting spurious publishers of scientific research. Many of these predatory publishers attempt to pass themselves off as legitimate open-access publishers when they are in fact vanity presses with little to no attempt at quality peer review. Not only does this bury quality research under a blizzard of questionable articles, but it has the potential to do actual harm if findings are used.

We cannot depend simply on a publisher’s inclusion in acceptable organizations to differentiate between quality and predatory publishers. Indeed, at least one of the publishers identified as a “predatory publisher” in the link above is also a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, along with respected open access groups such as BioMedCentral and BMJ Group. Therefore, it is crucial that librarians are able to publish their findings about predatory publishers for other librarians and researchers without fear of reprisal or lawsuits.

Librarians, faculty and administrators must stand up to this bullying. Academic freedom must be protected and this protection must extend to blogs when the blogging includes professional opinion and research.

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