Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

More on SJI and the Poynder inquiry

Strange Case: Publisher Threatens OA Reporter with Lawsuit, Charges Racism, Library Journal Academic Newswire, September 2, 2008.  Excerpt:

Livening up a quiet Friday before Labor Day, a long, rambling post entitled Lies, Fear and Smear Campaigns against SJI appeared on Yale University’s Liblicense-l electronic discussion list, suggesting that a well-known U.K.-based reporter covering open access (OA) issues is facing a lawsuit from a relatively unknown publisher. The legal threats stem from a series of inquiries and Internet postings by Richard Poynder, an independent journalist in the information field, who had asked about the practices of startup Minnesota-based open access publisher Scientific Journals, Inc. (SJI). Poynder had sent out a call for information about SJI on various blogs, including Peter Suber’s Open Access Blog and on “green” OA evangelist Stevan Harnad’s forum , and had contacted SJI officials as well. His overtures to SJI, however, were rebuffed.

On the publisher’s web site, and in a ten-page post to Liblicense-l on August 29, SJI founder, Dr. Niaz Ahmed, a mass communications faculty member at St. Cloud State University, MN, called Poynder’s inquiries “libelous, unethical, and illegal,” and labeled Poynder’s journalistic approach as “arrogant, ignorant, disrespectful, hostile, and suspicious.” Ahmed told the LJ Academic Newswire that SJI has sent a legal notice to Poynder demanding “an apology and a retraction” of Poynder’s postings questioning the practices of SJI. Poynder, meanwhile, declined comment, citing the possibility of legal action.

In a brief conversation with the LJ Academic Newswire, Ahmed reiterated that SJI would indeed pursue a libel charge—as well as complaints that he was the target of racism, although he declined to offer any evidence for the explosive charge. “It will be brought out in court,” Ahmed said. The SJI post to Liblicense-l, meanwhile asserts that “no one needs to be a rocket scientist” to figure the firm was targeted because of Ahmed’s “Arabic or Moslem-sounding name.”

Librarians, contacted by LJAN and in the blogosphere, meanwhile have characterized SJI’s lengthy post as bordering on bizarre. None said they had experience with any of SJI’s fledgling journal titles—and they defended Poynder as a solid journalist. “I’ve had my differences with Poynder, but that doesn’t stop me from respecting him and his excellent work as open-access chronicler,” noted Caveat Lector blogger, Dorothea Salo.

Certainly, as Poynder’s posts suggest, there are legitimate questions about SJI’s operations and its brand of OA journal publishing....

A legal case, meanwhile, would seem to be a risky strategy for the publisher....

PS:  For background, see my post on Poynder's original inquiry, which I've since updated with links to replies and comments.