Frontiers removes junior peer reviewers

Brief NEWS piece

Shortly after my article appeared where I reported of a case of a freshly graduated Master Student acting as  peer reviewer and associate editor at Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience,  Frontiers started to act on its junior peer reviewers. Coincidence?

Natalie Matosin has finished her PhD studies in 2014 at the University of Wollongong, Australia, her research topic was molecular biology of schizophrenia. She is author on a number of publications, several of them as first author.

Chao Deng, professor at the University of Wollongong, Australia, and associate editor at Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, invited Matosin to peer-review a paper on a topic related to her research specialisation. The paper was submitted on August 6th, 2015. There are no conflicts of interests, Deng is not Matosin’s advisor or former employer.

Matosin was invited as reviewer on November 7th, 2015 and has promptly delivered her peer-reviewer report. On 18.11.2015 she was notified that the authors have replied to her comments, only to learn on 20.11.2015 that her academic research experience is deemed as insufficient and her “participation in the Review is no longer required”. According to Frontiers argument, Frontiers peer reviewers are expected to have a postdoctoral experience of several years, and she has only recently graduated (in July 2015, though she submitted her thesis in 2014 and has since been working as postdoctoral scientist in a different lab).

These are the rules on the Frontiers website:

Frontiers Review Editors should hold a PhD with post-doctoral experience, or an equivalent degree with several additional years of academic work, or the equivalent number of years to a recognized qualification in the relevant field of research. Review Editors should have a recognized affiliation and a proven publication record in the specialty area”.

It is strange why Frontiers started to purge fully qualified postdocs as peer reviewers now, while happily tolerating students and even non-scientists as peer reviewers and even associate editors all these years.

The current decision was made apparently by the Frontiers editorial office, which is actually publisher’s office and answers only to the owners, Kamila and Henry Markram, and their management, primarily Executive Editor, Frederick Fenter. The action against Matosin goes against the common editorial practice, where only a chief editor can interfere into peer review process in such manner, but never the publisher.

One simple reason for that:  publisher officials (who at Frontiers are generally not at all field-related and occasionally have no PhD) do not have the scientific competence to judge the qualifications of a peer reviewer, unlike an academic editor can. Especially if the reviewer in question has a PhD and an impressive list of first-author publications.

Matosin received no communications from either of the two chief specialty editors, Egidio D‘Angelo and Christian Hansel. The question is now if they were involved in or even informed of the publisher’s action in the first place.

I have contacted them both as well as Deng (who apparently was also only contacted by the “editorial office” on that matter, without any reference to the chief editors). Should I receive a reply, I will update this post accordingly.

Frontiers is COPE member. COPE guidelines expect publishers to foster editorial independence, while the handling of peer review (such as it is the case here with Matosin) is located entirely with the editors.  However, COPE openly tolerates Frontiers attitude to editorial independence and the tendency to interfere in editorial processes, as I recently reported.

Soon after, Frontiers has apologised to Matosin over Twitter and promised to restore her as peer reviewer.


5 thoughts on “Frontiers removes junior peer reviewers

  1. Seems like a mistake on the journal’s part, especially when there’s such a need for qualified peer-reviewers. Not to mention, it’s working for free… A bigger question might be how the quality of a reviewer is assessed, junior or otherwise.


    1. Dear Boaz, may I correct here: it can only be a mistake on the publisher’s part, not on journal’s part. I have not heard back from the journal’s editors so far, and the available information indicates they were not involved in this publisher’s decision to revoke a reviewer.


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