Skip

On questioning the quality of a publisher
February 9, 2013 3:06 AM   Subscribe

Dale Askey is a librarian. He blogs. In August 2010, Dale was a tenured associate professor at Kansas State University, where librarians are granted faculty status. There, Dale blogged about the quality, and prices, of publications from Edwin Mellen Press. Edwin Mellen Press has served McMaster University (Dale's current employer) and himself with a three million dollar lawsuit, alleging libel and claiming aggravated and exemplary damages.

The court action in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. The response from McMaster University and from the Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians.

More detail from the Philosophy & Religion Librarian at Princeton University, who concludes:

"If these reports are true, the Mellen Press is suing a librarian for claiming the press has a 'weak list of low quality books' and trying to sue (presumably) a professor for opining that Mellen books wouldn’t count towards tenure. But are they true? I don’t know what to say. If the reports are true, it does seem that there’s a lawsuit designed to repress the academic freedom of a librarian expressing a professional opinion. And if so, it’s one of the rare cases that illustrate why even academic librarians need their academic freedom protected."

Further from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Boing Boing, the Progressive Librarians Guild and Leiter Reports. The latter also held a recent poll "Which are the best book publishers in philosophy in English?"; the best and worst, as voted.
posted by Wordshore (60 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
If this action was in London then Edwin Mellon would win with ease. Good luck to McMaster and Dale Askey.
posted by marienbad at 3:11 AM on February 9, 2013


I suspect Edwin Mellen may not even care if they win or not. I also suspect they will throw some money at this, forcing the University to defend. The biggest deterrent will be the fear of costly litigation factor. You'll see Universities ensuring that their staff to NOT blog, publically express opinions, or voice criticism for fear of another expensive lawsuit.
posted by HuronBob at 3:20 AM on February 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I suspect Edwin Mellen are about to get a fairly brutal education in the Streisand Effect.
posted by unSane at 3:49 AM on February 9, 2013 [22 favorites]


The blog post ironically ended with "Given how closely Mellen guards its reputation against all critics, perhaps I should just put on my flameproof suit now."
posted by hepta at 3:50 AM on February 9, 2013


What would be a suitable hashtag to help along the streisand? #edwinmellensuck?
posted by memebake at 3:52 AM on February 9, 2013


#EdwinMellenDepress ?
posted by memebake at 3:53 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


ah, #EdwinMellenSuppress perhaps?
posted by memebake at 3:55 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter's Jessamyn has more on this, and some more links.
posted by Wordshore at 3:55 AM on February 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Interesting thread on the Chronicle boards, where Edwin Mellen (attempt to) respond to some criticisms.
posted by unSane at 3:57 AM on February 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


The biggest deterrent will be the fear of costly litigation factor.

Actually. . . I'd bet money that the defense is being funded by either McMaster's or Kansas State's insurance policy. Which one has coverage will depend on how the policy is written, but libel as a pretty regular exposure for universities, so I'd be shocked if they didn't buy coverage for that. And defense comes with coverage.
posted by valkyryn at 4:03 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a bizarre lawsuit, since the defendant is a popular librarian and a lot of people seem to agree with him (check out the Chronicle thread I posted above). Even if they win, they're essentially asking for a parade of experts for the defence to get up on the witness stand and say 'Yes, their books really are as bad as he says".
posted by unSane at 4:12 AM on February 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


"Actually. . . I'd bet money that the defense is being funded by either McMaster's or Kansas State's insurance policy."

Wouldn't you think that the insurers would put some pressure on the Universities to prevent further exposure?
posted by HuronBob at 4:17 AM on February 9, 2013


Wouldn't you think that the insurers would put some pressure on the Universities to prevent further exposure?

Providing liability insurance for universities is going to be a line of business that's sufficiently well-developed to deal with the unique exposures inherent in university activities. So while defense counsel can probably make them take the posts down, an insurance company that intrudes into the way universities run their academic affairs may quickly find themselves without many universities as clients.

The only way to completely avoid manufacturing defects is to stop manufacturing things. But that's not really an option for manufacturers, and insurers still sell products liability insurance. Similarly, the only way to avoid getting sued for defamation is to not publish anything. But that's not really an option for universities, so insurance companies will find a way of underwriting that risk too.
posted by valkyryn at 4:39 AM on February 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


If only they would apply the money they're spending on lawsuits to improving the quality of their catalog. Which I have heard sucks big-time.
posted by 1adam12 at 4:40 AM on February 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, and if there somehow isn't coverage for this, it's time to sue the agent who placed the coverage, because a university liability policy with no coverage for defamation by employees is pretty damned deficient.
posted by valkyryn at 4:40 AM on February 9, 2013


SLAAP fight! SLAPP fight!
posted by rough ashlar at 4:49 AM on February 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


The defense is not being funded by either Kansas State or McMaster. Dale Askey has been paying out of pocket since papers were served in June of last year.
posted by the dief at 5:05 AM on February 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


And if you're wondering why, it might have something to do with McMaster not thinking that librarians are all that useful or worth defending.
posted by the dief at 5:07 AM on February 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


Thanks for posting this, and in such a thoughtful way. I thought about doing it myself. It's infuriating. When I read it yesterday morning I was incensed. And I don't think Edwin Mellon is the only turd in this; just what is wrong with McMaster and Kansas State? Don't they see that beyond what Askey's job title is, they have an important stake in academic freedom. Shame on them. I hope their faculty is aware of this. Of course the majority are probably grad students and adjuncts so they probably don't have the security to speak up. Is anyone aware of any fundraising going on to support Askey's defense?
posted by Toekneesan at 5:25 AM on February 9, 2013


I used the hash tag #CallingAnAppleAnApple
posted by Toekneesan at 5:27 AM on February 9, 2013


I, too, was under the impression that the universities involved would have to defend their employees.

But I forgot that these are schools where the only important department is the department of Athletics.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:49 AM on February 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


So one of the things that's increasingly bewildering to me as the years go on is just how all these monstrous idiots get ahold of so much god damn money. How does this keep happening? Shouldn't it be REALLY HARD to be CEO or whatever of a publishing company - even a bad one - without some modicum of native intelligence?
posted by kavasa at 5:50 AM on February 9, 2013


In some ways, Edwin Mellon seems to redefine what it means to be a vanity press. The traditional definition involved authors paying at least in part for their own publication, and while that might be going on at Edwin Mellon, this publisher history from their site is amazing:
THE 200 YEAR BUSINESS/ACADEMIC ORIGINS OF THE EDWIN MELLEN PRESS

1802-1883 Issac Adams of Sandwich, New Hampshire. Adams invents the Adams Power Press, the most important nineteenth century innovation in book binding.

1866 Simon Richardson marries Flora [Hines], a freed slave. They establish The Worcester-Providence Coach Worcester-Providence Coach(sic).

1860-1918 Edwin & Adele Adams-Mellen, of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Artists and philanthropists, they support Booker T. Washington in establishing the Tuskegee Institute.

1906-1957 Herbert Richardson II (Edwin Mellen’s son-in-law). He is the publisher of a newspaper in Palm Springs, California.

1932-2011 Herbert Richardson III. He establishes The Edwin Mellen Press, fulfilling his father’s publishing aspirations. He names the Press to honor his grandfather.

I am also intrigued by this line on their publication process page.
Before signing their contract back, Mellen requires each prospective author to seek the approval of their Chair or Dean. Prior administrative approval is necessary because, after publication, the authors will be presenting their books as qualifications for promotion or tenure. So we want the project, the author, and ourselves to be pre-approved by the author’s own university before we proceed further.
This has never been a requirement of any other scholarly publisher I know, and I've been working in scholarly publishing for twenty three years. And Chairs and Deans don't decide the worth of a faculty members publications toward tenure, their Tenure and Promotion committee does. Though any Chair or Dean worth their salt would encourage a tenure track faculty member to find another publisher. The only reason I can think of for it being included is a P&T process going sour because Edwin Mellon published their tenure book. It's the kind of policy that seems born out of a lawsuit itself.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:54 AM on February 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


The defense is not being funded by either Kansas State or McMaster.

Assholes.
posted by valkyryn at 5:57 AM on February 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


I got his from Jessamyn's blog post: There is a petition.
posted by Mike Mongo at 6:04 AM on February 9, 2013


My own brush with Edwin Mellen Press:

I was at the Eastern APA (the philosophy APA, not the psychology APA) several years ago, wandering aimlessly through the book exhibits. I came across a book on Emerson, someone who contemporary philosophers don't talk about much, so I stopped to have a look. (At this point, though I'd seen EMP's books on occasion, I didn't know about their reputation, and I'd never thought about them.) Book stall dude starts chatting with me, asks what my area of research is, and we talk about it for awhile. He knows enough for us to have a perfectly decent conversation about it. Then he identifies himself as the head honcho at EMP, and asks whether I've got a manuscript. Odd, but I'm no snob, so I honestly tell him no, that I'm working on something, but it'll be awhile. I don't add that I'd try out more prestigious publishers first--that's not a snob thing, that's just...the way it's got to be. Then he starts asking about my dissertation, and whether I'd published it, and whether I'd like to. Now this is weird. Publishers want manuscripts, but not usually this much. I say that, no, my dissertation would require massive revisions to be publishable. Dude says, roughly: Look, here's our view. Our view is that publishers shouldn't be a bottleneck. Rather, they should get as much plausible scholarship out there as possible, and let the marketplace of ideas decide what's good and bad. He seemed sincere to me, and I don' think that's a terrible idea. Though the resource issue--books published more-or-less blindly by some libraries, using up valuable funds...that complicates matters, of course. Though that sounds like the libraries' fault as much as EMP's... Anyway even if it's a good idea, it's a good way for the average quality of your books to be low. So it's possible that both sides in this thing are basically right--EMP might have perfectly plausible, non-sleazy driving idea, and the quality of their books might be poor.

Anyway, by this point I was at yellow alert, and kinda figured out what was what. But I have a friend who flamed out professionally. His dissertation, now a bit too out-of-date for a more discriminating publisher, is a really fine piece of work and deserves to be published. So I mentioned this and tried to get the EMP guy interested. Heck, maybe they'll publish anything, I thought. And, indeed, after asking around, and hearing about their reputation, I figured I could easily get them to pursue my buddy's manuscript. But no luck. I got emails; they had no interest in my friend.

So, on the one hand, way too much interest in taking a look at the dissertation of some dude they just ran into wandering around in the book stalls at the APA. On the other hand, less interest than I would have thought in my friend's manuscript if they really were just blindly pursuing anything to publish.

Anyway, there's that, FWIW.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:16 AM on February 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


If you're in a tenure track job and your friend isn't, sounds like what they care about is the prestige of the author rather than the quality of the manuscript.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:22 AM on February 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Before signing their contract back, Mellen requires each prospective author to seek the approval of their Chair or Dean. Prior administrative approval is necessary because, after publication, the authors will be presenting their books as qualifications for promotion or tenure. So we want the project, the author, and ourselves to be pre-approved by the author’s own university before we proceed further.

I...I...what????

Although that's not literally the craziest thing I ever heard, of course, it is right up there...

OTOH, and perhaps explaining this: one of my colleagues once told me of a case in which a publication actually counted against a job candidate. Said candidate had a book with a publisher they deemed really bad (possibly EMP, actually, come to think of it), and they actually counted that against the candidate.

(On a barely-related note, I was acquainted with a dude in another department who claimed to have published a book, but it turned out that it was--and I want to stress that I am not making this up--"with" CafePress. Face. Palm.)
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:25 AM on February 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Look, here's our view. Our view is that publishers shouldn't be a bottleneck. Rather, they should get as much plausible scholarship out there as possible, and let the marketplace of ideas decide what's good and bad.

The problem with this is that what he's saying is that the marketplace of ideas should run on money. The truth of the matter is the market place of ideas uses a different currency, reputation, of both publishers and scholars. Scholarship is better off competing in an economy of reputation than in library purchases. And for diligent publishers, a good reputation leads to enough purchases, so that we're not having to resort to lawsuits to "win" in the reputation economy.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:35 AM on February 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


His original post which he had scrubbed.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:46 AM on February 9, 2013


"I, too, was under the impression that the universities involved would have to defend their employees." - anotherpanacea nice username ;)

His blog post was written before he was an employee... so they're co-defendants apparently.
posted by panaceanot at 7:29 AM on February 9, 2013


#EdwinMellenFollyAndTheInfiniteBadPress
posted by oulipian at 7:36 AM on February 9, 2013


Pitiful.
posted by mynameisluka at 7:37 AM on February 9, 2013


You guys in America should get some laws which allow freedom of speech. Crazy....
posted by Dr Ew at 7:51 AM on February 9, 2013


Canada.
posted by grobstein at 7:54 AM on February 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


one of my colleagues once told me of a case in which a publication actually counted against a job candidate. Said candidate had a book with a publisher they deemed really bad (possibly EMP, actually, come to think of it), and they actually counted that against the candidate.

A friend on a tenure track has several publications through a prominent Canadian university press. Bizarrely, one of his department-mates sent a (putatively secret) letter to the head of the tenure committee that said that those publications shouldn't count because that press isn't very picky or good. Most of the publications of the head of the tenure committee are from the same press.

Academics: So smart and so dumb all at once.
posted by fatbird at 7:56 AM on February 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


You guys in America should get some laws which allow freedom of speech. Crazy....

The lawsuit was filed in a Canadian court. It would be hopeless in an American court. Actually it doesn't stand much chance in Canada either, even in England (with much stronger libel laws) I don't think that this would be a success.
posted by atrazine at 7:58 AM on February 9, 2013


Canada/America. Ooops. Doh, sorry for insulting half of metafilter!
posted by Dr Ew at 8:35 AM on February 9, 2013


Dude says, roughly: Look, here's our view. Our view is that publishers shouldn't be a bottleneck. Rather, they should get as much plausible scholarship out there as possible, and let the marketplace of ideas decide what's good and bad. He seemed sincere to me, and I don' think that's a terrible idea.

Aren't dissertations available anyway? And thus in the 'marketplace of ideas'?

(I'm not sure how findable dissertations are in all fields. They're in Worldcat, right? I've certainly ILLed a dissertation written by someone who never published any of it (and seemingly left math right after his degree). I thought it had a MathSciNet entry, but it doesn't. Some dissertations do--I think the information comes from ProQuest or somewhere, as they're not reviewed.)
posted by hoyland at 9:28 AM on February 9, 2013


Aren't dissertations available anyway?[...]I think the information comes from ProQuest or somewhere, as they're not reviewed.
A friend of mine formerly in a program at a U.S. university recently discovered that his doctoral thesis is being offered for sale online (at Amazon and elsewhere) without his foreknowledge or permission. Probably no small number of universities require that students provide a publishing firm (in his case Proquest) with the thesis and a fee (nearly USD100); and apparently the original authors thereupon have little or no control over the publication and sale of the work by the firm.
posted by yz at 9:56 AM on February 9, 2013


But I forgot that these are schools where the only important department is the department of Athletics.

Not really - sports at Canadian universities like McMaster are not that important. The attitude in question here likely has more to do with prioritizing academic work that gets the big research grants or industry funding.
posted by parudox at 9:57 AM on February 9, 2013


I spend a LOT of time on the Chronicle of Higher Education forums and the EMP thread there are hysterical, particularly when the EMP secretary gets on.
posted by LarryC at 10:04 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


valkyryn: "Actually. . . I'd bet money that the defense is being funded by either McMaster's or Kansas State's insurance policy."
HuronBob: "Wouldn't you think that the insurers would put some pressure on the Universities to prevent further exposure?"

In my dealings as an employee of KSU, it appears that at least in some cases, as a state entity, KSU is prohibited by law from buying liability insurance. In my case, we were trying to join InCommons, an identity federation / consortium that allows for things like accessing wifi on another campus, or accessing library computers, etc., with your home institution's credential. The insurance I'm assuming was in case your system leaked another institution's information (FERPA or otherwise). I gather this was resolved without buying insurance, because they're a member now.

I hadn't heard about this case during my employment there. Maybe because they do buy libel insurance, or because nobody thought to bring suit.
posted by pwnguin at 10:46 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


ProQuest bought UMI, the old dissertations publishing point. It's now become the all-but-unnamed-monopoly for accessing dissertations and theses. It is not a publishing house--many students will go on to take their dissertations to true publishing houses, in fact--but rather a distribution point.

A prospective author signs their rights to ProQuest pretty explicitly ('we can sell copies of your work through a variety of mechanisms, make it available on an Open Access basis, or completely restrict access, based on your direction') and so your friend, yz, should have seen a piece of paper indicating what kind of limitations they want to place on their work (for example, a number of students will place their work on embargo for a year so that they can publish elsewhere first). If they can't recall what they signed, they could definitely contact ProQuest and work to remove unwanted copies.

I'm not like, ProQuest's biggest fan and in fact I think that ProQuest and EBSCO are problematic institutions for academic libraries but I wanted to let you know what's up with that, from the perspective of someone who answers that kind of question a lot.

As for Edwin Mellen Press, I saw the Inside Higher Ed article yesterday and was completely appalled. McMaster is being amazingly awful about this (and the guy had, iirc, tenure at K-State so this is true tenured faculty academic freedom we're talking about, not 'faculty-status') and EM Press of course worse.

Academic librarians pass around lists of vanity presses all the time and we do this to protect ourselves (usually these books are a waste of money) and the faculty/students we are working to support. The furor right now had been over regurgitated Wikipedia articles and public domain books hastily reprinted, but this will change the tenor of the conversation to be sure.
posted by librarylis at 10:47 AM on February 9, 2013


EMP appears to be a pretty small operations $3-5 million in annual revenues, publishing a relatively small number of titles a year. Academic publishing is undergoing a huge shift as the result of the move to digital and the emergence of open journals and books. Their corporate history seems indicate their legacy is as a status business created by a 19th century industrialist. A small business for the heirs to operate that will give the family a bit of respectability.

I offer for consideration that this lawsuit is rooted in the company's identity as a legacy of a family history. A legacy of social climbing through support of the arts. Now some one has dared challenge the legitimacy of this legacy by challenging the patron's selection and taste. Naturally this is going to be a very personal insult and would be a better explanation for this lawsuit than any business reason I can think of.

I think EMP would have been much better off to use the funds expended on this lawsuit on listening to their customers to improve their products and brand. The decision to file this lawsuit is totally suicidal for a company of this size. Their pipeline of authors will dry up and their distribution channel will shrink because of the outrage within the community.
posted by humanfont at 12:28 PM on February 9, 2013


I found out fairly recently that there is a name for this kind of thing: a SLAAP, or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. It's extremely evil.
posted by JHarris at 12:55 PM on February 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Huh. I used to regularly insult almost all British publishers for the shitty super extra acid paper they use in their hardcover books. Good thing I'm not a librarian at a university, I guess.
posted by Justinian at 1:15 PM on February 9, 2013


Seems Mellen is like today's patent trolls. If I were a judge I'd laugh them out of court - with a warning not to show up again.

What follows otherwise: someone who says that libraries should only buy books on acid-free paper gets sued by someone from the pulp industry. Then it becomes impossible for the guardians of the public interest to do their job.
posted by Twang at 2:15 PM on February 9, 2013


I don't think that this would be a success.

For whom?

In an adversarial system one has to be the loser. You think some will lose. Who will lose???
posted by rough ashlar at 6:06 PM on February 9, 2013


as a state entity, KSU is prohibited by law from buying liability insurance

That's just bloody weird. I know for a fact that there are at least some universities that do purchase liability policies. I've seen the dec pages. And it's not necessarily a governmental-entity thing either: I've actually assisted in the defense of claims against school districts on behalf of their insurers. Might be a a Kansas thing?

Then again, many universities are probably big enough that they just self-insure. Why spend $250k a year on premium when you've got $25 million you can just sock away to fund self-insured retention?

Suffice it to say that there are many ways to skin the risk management cat, and traditional insurance is only one way of doing it.
posted by valkyryn at 6:45 PM on February 9, 2013


A close friend of mine published his dissertation with EMP, and I met the head guy during the Canadian Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities where my friend was presenting some papers. I was not favourably impressed, especially when the head honcho found out that my friend's fiancee was about to finish her dissertation in something he obviously thought marketable; he gave her a handwritten scrawl guaranteeing her a couple of thousand dollars for the manuscript, leaving her a bit nonplussed (she didn't take him up on it). My friend's stories about dealing with the publisher alone were enough to raise red flags (holding business meetings over the phone with him while said publisher was eating and obviously drinking quite a bit while in a loud restaurant with friends) but one look at their display at SHHRC and their website made it clear that they were not an academic publisher of any seriousness. What they basically do is take PhD dissertations, slap covers on them-- no editing, no feedback, no copyediting, nothing-- and flog them to libraries. If you hand them something that is full of typos or looks like it was photocopied on a half-dead machine, that's what they'll ship out. I didn't say much of this to my friend, who was happy just to be published, and who eventually landed a fine job with tenure, but the whole operation seemed shady to me.
posted by jokeefe at 6:45 PM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


valkyryn: "Might be a a Kansas thing?"

It likely varies from state to state, but it I heard from someone who sat on the conference calls on that project that this is not the first time that clause was an issue for InCommons. It's really a clause for vendors anyways. As for why a government might legislate that, well, I can offer you no additional insight.

As to why a state funded school with it's own budget woes should be pitching in to defend a tenured professor who left for greener pastures, for a blog primarily to enhance the personal and professional reputation of Dale, I can't fathom. The about page seems pretty clear on who's liable for the writing:

Disclaimer: all opinions and ideas expressed here are mine alone, and do not reflect nor represent the views of any employer, past or present.

posted by pwnguin at 7:48 PM on February 9, 2013


The post by John Dupuis on ScienceBlogs has extra thoughts, and links (at the bottom) to lots of other articles and posts on this specific case.
posted by Wordshore at 12:24 PM on February 10, 2013


Also, an interesting post by the interim Dean of the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah about a phone conversation he had on this subject with the owner of EMP.
posted by Wordshore at 11:07 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Librarian Jeffrey Beall, creator of Beall's List, a list of predatory OA publishers, has also just been sued for Defamation and Libel, by a publisher with three imprints on his list.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:15 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Inside Higher Ed's story on the second lawsuit.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:35 AM on February 15, 2013


Correction: Has been threatened with a lawsuit.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:40 AM on February 15, 2013


Most pleasingly, the publisher has now decided to drop their action.
posted by Wordshore at 10:38 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Askey points out that they've only dropped the suit against McMaster and Askey. There were two suits against Askey. He's not in the clear yet.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:23 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Damn. :(
posted by Wordshore at 11:57 AM on March 5, 2013


« Older Less is more and science matters   |   Capote's In Cold Blood: new evidence Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post