The Tale of a Book Published

Yesterday, a colleague received a notice from an old friend about a new book he’d published, with “U.S. publisher X.” My colleague went to check out the publisher, and the first question he asked was: is this one of those predators?

Yes and no; while some libraries do collect selected items from this publisher (for example, Harvard’s collection currently includes 278 items from this press), the publisher does not have the best reputation. My colleague ended up encouraging his friend to consult with a librarian prior to publishing next time, to frankly discuss the intent of the publication and possible long-term reputational issues.

To my colleague and me, it seemed to us that self-publishing (or having this colleague’s institution set up its own quality publishing house) would be preferable to having his name associated – forever! – with this particular publisher. While I do understand the temptation and pressure to publish in English, today there are good options for printing a high-quality book independently on one’s own.

Later, taking a deeper look at the publisher’s website, I got truly terrified thinking about the scientific titles that other, even more contentious, publishers out there might be offering. In our colleague’s area, regional security, there isn’t much chance that someone will get injured by inaccurate content (or is there?). But it got me thinking: what about medical titles? What about disciplines in which inaccurate information published in “academic looking/scientific” book format might cause harm?

A couple of weeks ago, I watched a documentary about dietary supplements in the American market, which are not subject to the same regulations as pharmaceuticals. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

Unlike drugs, supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases. That means supplements should not make claims, such as ‘reduces pain’ or ‘treats heart disease.’ Claims like these can only legitimately be made for drugs, not dietary supplements. … Under existing law, including the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act passed by Congress in 1994, the FDA can take action to remove products from the market, but the agency must first establish that such products are adulterated (e.g., that the product is unsafe) or misbranded (e.g., that the labeling is false or misleading).

To me it seems that publishers who do not impose rigorous review standards over their content are in some way acting like the makers of supplements, and this leads to a situation in which the buyer – the library, the information user – must be vigilant and aware.

At least, in terms of supplements, if things go horribly wrong, doctors can appeal to an oversight agency and do something, at the national level.

But in publishing right now, there doesn’t really exist an appeal hotline, at any level (nationally or internationally). If someone has heard of one, please let me know.


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