Join the Committee, ignore Publication Ethics

Join the Committee, ignore Publication Ethics

What we often perceive as independent quality certificates of publishing ethics are sometimes apparently nothing more than a fig leaf. This is especially true for journals self-registering with the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). Yet most strikingly, even official paying members of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) are not really bound to follow the rules of good editorial practice this organization advices. This happens with open consent of COPE, as the examples of Frontiers and also Nature Publishing Group demonstrate. In fact, the COPE council even appears partially managed by the very publisher which openly admits to ignoring its publication ethics guidelines:  Frontiers.

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After the Swiss publisher Frontiers was listed by Jeffrey Beall as a potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publisher, the Frontiers Communications Office provided a comment under the relevant news article in Nature. It argued against Beall’s listing by mentioning the awards Frontiers received and the Frontiers membership on the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). In fact, Frontiers writes on their website, under the heading Publication Ethics and Malpractice:

“Frontiers endeavors to follow the guidelines and best practice recommendations published by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). […] Frontiers follows the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) guidelines including its recommended authorship criteria. Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine is listed as a journal following ICMJE recommendations on its website.”

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Is Frontiers a potential predatory publisher?

Is Frontiers a potential predatory publisher?

The Lausanne-based publishing house Frontiers, founded by the neuroscientists Henry and Kamila Markram, has been recently added to the Beall’s List of potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers. Was this decision justified? I wish to share here some of my recent investigations.Predatory publisher

Previously, I reported about an editorial conflict at the Frontiers medical section in Laborjournal and Lab Times. In May 2015 Frontiers sacked almost all of its medical chief editors. This was because those chief editors had signed a “Manifesto of Editorial Independence”, which went against one of the key guidelines of Frontiers, namely that editors must always “allow the authors an opportunity for a rebuttal”. Associate editors are namely instructed to always “consider the rebuttal of the authors”, even “if the independent reviews are unfavourable”.  At the same time, chief editors claimed to have had little, if any, influence over the editorial processes at Frontiers. Since the Frontiers Executive Editor Frederick Fenter fired all 31 signatory chief editors, Frontiers in Medicine has been operated without an Editor-in-Chief and with few Chief Specialty Editors. Medical ethics requirement for publication, originally introduced by the previous chief editors, were not implemented in the Frontiers instructions for authors. There appear to be few people in a position to provide oversight, while the associate editors handle manuscripts which they often receive directly from authors. Some of these associate editors are no strangers to controversy themselves; Alfredo Fusco, who is also a frequent author at Frontiers in Medicine, has had several of his papers retracted and is facing a criminal investigation over alleged data manipulations. Continue reading “Is Frontiers a potential predatory publisher?”