06 June 2014

Self-fulfilling prophecies, academic publishing edition

From the “The Top 100 Things I’d Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord”:

I will dress in bright and cheery colors, and so throw my enemies into confusion.

In other words, if you are an Evil Overlord, you don’t need to act the part so obviously.

The academic publisher Taylor & Francis would do well to heed this lesson. If you want to talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy, read this article. We learn that a journal article, critical of the business practices of academic publishers, was delayed and held up by, wait for it, the academic publisher of the journal in question.

(T)he non-appearance of the journal in September was followed, two months later, by a letter from a senior manager at Taylor & Francis demanding that more than half of the proposition article be cut. ... (W)hen the edition was finally published, Taylor & Francis unilaterally added a long disclaimer to each article warning that “the accuracy of the content should not be relied upon”.

It is rare to have such obvious meddling over such an obvious conflict of interest.

Despite my joking about publishers as Evil Overlords, this isn’t just about academic publishers. This is about the conflicts of interest that can arise any time you have gatekeepers. Open access publishing in and of itself wouldn’t solve this problem. (The article in question is open access.) Nor would having journals published by scientific societies solve this problem. An editor could be just as difficult and unreasonable as a publisher. So can reviewers.

Hat tip to Brembs.

Update, 24 June 2014: Taylor & Francis have apologized for their behaviour... albeit in a weak way:

Professor Macdonald said it had taken “hours” to agree a version of the letter with which he was satisfied and which avoided words the publisher was unwilling to use, such as “sorry”, “mistake” or “censorship”.

I’m not sure if it counts as an apology if you’re not willing to say “sorry.” C’mon, Taylor & Francis. Say, “Sorry.” It won’t kill you.

The article critical of publishers has become the most read thing in the journal Prometheus ever.

Hat tip to Mike Taylor on this update.


Harvie D, Lightfoot G, Lilley S, Weir K. 2013. Publisher, be damned! From price gouging to the open road. Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation 31(3): 229-239. DOI:

External links

Peter’s Evil Overlord list
Resignations threat over Taylor & Francis ‘censorship’
Taylor & Francis apologises after ‘censorship’ debate

Picture from here.

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