The Swiss academic publisher Frontiers, owned by the EPFL professor Henry Markram and his wife Kamila (plus some investors, including the publishing giant Holtzbrinck, owner of SpringerNature), is not at all prepared to accept being placed by the US librarian Jeffrey Beall on his list of potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers. The Lausanne-based publishing house, represented by its Executive Editor Frederick Fenter, battles on many fronts to defend its respectability. As I report below, this includes a personal pre-Christmas visit to Beall at his university library in Denver, as well as some publisher-mediated attempts at ensuring editorial and peer review quality, which occasionally appear somewhat ham-fisted.

Seasons Greetings 001

Frontiers has joined some respectable organizations like the Open Access societies OASPA and DOAJ, got self-enlisted as following editorial ethics guidelines with ICMJE, and finally became member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). It the latter case, the double function of the Frontiers journal manager Mirjam Curno as COPE council member and trustee might have been only coincidental with Frontiers joining COPE just after Fenter has sacked almost all of Frontiers medical chief editors for demanding editorial independency.

Beall was highly criticized by the academic community for his decision to place Frontiers on his list of predatory publishers. Many scientists stepped forward to defend Frontiers journals, where they act as editors and reviewers, like Daniël Lakens, psychology professor at Eindhoven University of Technology. Beall’s possible scepticism towards Open Access (OA) publishing was used as argument to utterly disregard all his concerns about the predatory behaviour of some OA publishers and journals.

In the heat of dispute, Björn Brembs, neurobiology professor at the University of Regensburg and former Frontiers editor, described Beall and everyone who takes him seriously as “insane” on Twitter:

Frontiers however took a more reasonable and respectful approach. Shortly before Christmas 2015, Fenter wrote to Beall, asking for a meeting “at a location of your choice”, in order to “discuss in further detail how Frontiers operates, and learn from you in turn how you analyse academic publishers.” In follow-up emails, the meeting was set for December 14th 2015 at Beall’s university library, while Fenter reassured him that Frontiers has “no intention of taking legal action”. Just hours before the meeting, Fenter surprised Beall with an announcement that his colleague Curno will be joining the meeting as well. Beall was first given “a short presentation about Frontiers” and then had his “specific questions and concerns” addressed by Fenter and Curno. Later on, the two Frontiers executives had lots of time to evaluate their pitch after a huge snowstorm hit the airport and had them stuck in Denver for days. Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, Beall remained unmoved by his pre-Christmas visitors, despite the charitable atmosphere of the yuletide season: Frontiers is still on his list of potential predatory publishers.

It is worth remembering that Curno is also trustee and board member of COPE. In this regards, Virginia Barbour, Chair of COPE, has written to me:

“We had no knowledge of this visit, nor would I expect to – this an internal issue for the publisher, as would be any other such meeting between a publisher and an outside individual or group”.

In parallel, Frontiers was cleaning its house. After being criticised for negligent attitude to conflicts of interests (COI) and employing academically immature editors and reviewers, Frontiers so-called “editorial office”, which is actually publisher’s office, took sweeping actions. A postdoctoral scientist was sacked as reviewer for not having enough post-PhD years in academia. Natalie Matosin  was re-installed after Lakens and other Frontiers editors expressed their protest over Twitter.

Next, Frontiers editorial office either decided to widen or completely misunderstood the concept of the conflict of interests (COI). Usually, COI is present when manuscript’s authors on one side and its editors or reviewers on the other side are personally or professionally connected to each other. Personal relationships or professional competitions, collaborations or even collegial proximity can severely undermine the impartiality of peer review and editorial decisions. Exemplary for COI is a Frontiers in Medicine publication by the controversial Italian cancer researcher (and Frontiers editor) Alfredo Fusco, which was peer reviewed by his institutional colleague.

Frontiers now apparently decided that a COI is also constituted by an editor and a reviewer working in close proximity to each other, even if none of them has any relevant connection to manuscript’s authors whatsoever.

An experienced Frontiers editor Guillaume Rousselet, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Glasgow, was asked to revoke a reviewer, whom he assigned to a manuscript submission in Frontiers in Psychology, for being “affiliated with the same institution” as himself. Rousselet was told by Claire Martin, Journal Operations Specialist: “as per our review guidelines this constitutes what could be perceived as a potential conflict of interest”. The email ended with a “QUICK FACT: Frontiers in Psychology ranks third in Impact Factor and is the leading gold OA journal in the field in volume”.

After Rousselet refused to remove this reviewer, he was offered by a Journal Operations Assistant, Kirstin Sonne, that he can keep that reviewer if he provides a public statement: “The reviewer and handling Editor declared their shared affiliation, and the handling Editor states that the process nevertheless met the standards of a fair and objective review”. Rousselet was further encouraged “to assign a third reviewer to the manuscript, in order to erase any doubt that the review did not meet the highest standards of impartiality and objectivity”. He did no such thing, in fact, Rousselet instead resigned from his positions as Frontiers journals editor altogether.

I approached the journal’s EiC, Axel Cleeremans and the responsible chief specialty editor, Philippe Schyns for a comment. Both of them were rather communicative over phone and email, but categorically declined to be quoted for this blog. Shyns however indicated to me on the phone that he also has resigned from his Frontiers editorial post.

The interference by Frontiers publisher’s office in Rousselet’s case is particularly striking given the fact that Frontiers handling editors occasionally function as reviewers of the same paper. This happens at Frontiers surprisingly often; apparently no-one there saw this contraption as a possible COI. Here as an example: a Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience original research article, (criticised on PubPeer as a re-use of published material), was reviewed by two referees, one of whom was its handling editor and journal’s Editor-in-Chief (EiC), Misha Tsodyks, professor at Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel. It is literally mindboggling why Tsodyks had did not have any COI by acting simultaneously as editor and as reviewer, while supervising himself as EiC doing both tasks, but Rousselet and his institutional colleague did.

Shortly after that incident, Rousselet described to me at length his Frontiers experience as editor and reviewer:

“At the start, I really enjoyed the reviewing forum, which could give, at least in theory, authors, reviewers, and editors, a space to discuss research and reach consensus about a paper. […] In practice, it works in certain situations, and fails miserably in others.

As author & reviewer, my experience is very clear: editors do not engage in the forum to moderate the discussions. I do that as editor, but it is a painful process. You have to scroll through a growing webpage containing comments and replies, and replies to the replies. […]. This is a major complaint I have heard from other reviewers and authors: the forum can turn into a collection of fighting cages (one cage/tab per reviewer), in which certain authors try to wear down reviewers to submission (pressing the finalise review button) by submitting many small incremental updates to their papers. Instead of the 1 to 3 reviewing rounds you would get in other journals, certain authors would easily submit more than 5 different revisions. […] In some situations, authors are trying to avoid making painful changes, so everything is argued and revised versions with minimal changes are submitted. In other cases, authors are willing to make more drastic changes, but they require more help from the reviewers. So it goes back and forth many times. In this last situation, as editor I’ve had many reviewers leaving the forum, because although they think the paper would be publishable eventually, they realise it would take them too much time to bring it to a sufficient level of quality. […]

As editor, it is easy and tempting to do very little, because the forum is all geared up with decision buttons and pre-populated emails. So in practice, I think most editors just let reviewers and authors battle in the forum. Once two reviewers have finalised their reviews, the editor pretty much has to accept the paper. However, the system has some pernicious features: a paper cannot be accepted unless 2 reviewers have finalised their reviews. So if a reviewer is very late, or if as editor you think the paper should be published based on one review, you have to contact the publishing office to make that decision [apparently here, the publisher decides, not the chief editor! –LS]. Also, if reviewers leave the forum (which is how reviewers indicate the paper should be rejected), then the editor can keep inviting new reviewers until two finalise their reviews, and the paper can get published […].

I also heard from editors at other Frontiers journals that they have been explicitly encouraged by their EiC to be lenient, which aggravate the perception of inferior research quality in Frontiers journals. Once reviewers have accepted a paper, as editor I have little choice but to accept it too, even if I have important points yet to be addressed. There is no page in the forum for a discussion between the editor and the reviewers. The editor has to use the reviewers’ tabs to make comments. These tabs are closed once the reviewers finalise their reviews”.

It seems therefore, there is little quality control or editorial supervision happening at the Frontiers journals. Everything stands and falls with the integrity and dedication (or the lack of it) of the individual editors and reviewers. Dennis Eckmeier, neuroscientist at the Champalimaud Foundation in Lisbon, has been Frontiers neuroscience reviewer for three years, and his experience with the reviewer discussion forum was:

“very positive. It is a quick and informal, but recorded, way of interaction. In many cases misunderstandings could be clarified through the forum that would not have been addressed in a traditional review system. These interactions also highlighted unclear parts of the manuscript, which was usually addressed by the authors”.

Eckmeier cautioned though that many submitted manuscripts were of very low quality and gave examples for some cases:

“There were about 2-3 re-submissions, before both reviewers endorsed publication. In one case both reviewers agreed that for publication they needed to add more data. The data were provided and both reviewers endorsed publication.  In one case both reviewers agreed that the work was not publishable. According to the message in the review forum, the authors retracted the submission”.

As author with Frontiers, Eckmeier experienced a reviewer whose “review was basically useless” and who “endorsed publication already after I promised to revise the introduction”. But he also reported that “the second reviewer and the editor were knowledgeable, constructive, and patient”.

Maybe the best way for Frontiers to get removed from Beall’s list would be to sack all incompetent and COI-disregarding editors and reviewers, instead of the dedicated ones who demanded editorial independence, quality control and ethical guidelines. It could also help, if Frontiers chief editors would properly supervise their own journals, instead of leaving this task with the publisher’s junior managers. Many of these field outsiders simply lack relevant research field competence or even, with only with a bachelor degree, the sufficient academic credentials to perform such tasks. However, they are apparently quite busy with doing the jobs of EiC and other senior editors, on behalf of the publisher.

Rousselet and other researchers have been demanding from Frontiers a retraction of a certain article by a retired neuro-oncologist, Ivo P Janecka, titled Sensing risk, fearing uncertainty: systems science approach to change and described by many scientists as utterly nonsensical. As I reported, it was edited (and reviewed!) by a totally field-unrelated medical surgeon Tobias Alecio Mattei, who according to his own employment record, is not and never has been an active researcher, in any field. How he came to be associate editor at Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, is anyone’s guess. Yet also here, the journal’s EiC Tsodyks apparently chose not to interfere or even participate in the discussion. Instead, Rousselet was told by the Journal Operations Specialist, Martina Haller, that:

“The manuscript has undergone peer review as part of the Research Topic “Application of Nonlinear Analysis to the Study of Complex Systems in Neuroscience and Behavioral Research” and was approved by the Topic Editor, Dr Mattei. Our investigation did not identify plagiarism, reporting of unethical research, established misconduct, data manipulation, data fabrication or breach of third-party legal rights which would substantiate the need for retraction of this publication”.

Good to know that at least the publisher’s office thought the Janecka paper was scientifically sound, and the handling editor Mattei a fully qualified neuroscience researcher. Maybe Fenter and Curno should have discussed this Frontiers paper with Beall, to get some advice on their, as Fenter put it, “common goal: to hold academic publishing to the highest standards possible”.

Update 24.01.2015; 19:30. The figures from the above mentioned paper by Ivo P. Janecka in Front. Comput. Neurosci., 31 March 2014, were later on apparently re-used in a later 2015 publication by same author. Details in my comment below   –LS

35 thoughts on “Frontiers Christmas Carol

  1. Adding Frontiers to his list is surely Mr Beall’s most controversial move to date. But strangely enough he has still not presented any motivation for this decision. In a reply on his Appeals page, he recently wrote: “Note that I haven’t directly referred to Frontiers as a predatory publisher; my lists are broader than that.” And after that he refers to this blog as evidence for controversy about Frontiers. This means that as long as Schneider keeps writing his blog posts about Frontiers, there will be controversy, and Frontiers will stay on the list – irrespective of the actual quality of the papers that they publish. This makes me curious about the connections between Beall and Schneider – for example where did the information for this christmas carol blog come from?

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    1. Dear fghij, I am a bit puzzled by your concerns.
      It would be indeed outrageous of Beall to base his decisions on hearsay and fact-free blog rants. But I dare call myself journalist (albeit an amateur one), which means I try to present provable facts and information passed to me from reliable first-hand sources, which in turns serves my readers as a source of information. I invite you to make your own conclusions what the connections between Beall and Schneider are. Maybe they are even the same person.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I would like to report to the readers of this blog that I have sent on 22 December 2015 a formal request to Frontiers to retract a paper in one of the Frontier journals, because the paper in question is loaded with nonsense. See https://pubpeer.com/publications/AAEB117C8D008CB8EDCC5B88E0884B for backgrounds about the paper. I have until now only received an auto-response (sent to me on 22 December 2015). “The Frontiers office is closed for the end-of-year break and we may be a bit slow in replying to you.” The auto-response was signed by “Neuroscience Editorial Office Journal Manager: Stéphanie Maret, PhD”. I have sent today a reminder to Frontiers. There is is not yet a response on my reminder. The entire correspondence is also in the possession of Leonid Schneider.

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  3. I would like to emphasize to all readers that I have never argued that all papers in all journals of publisher Frontiers are of a low quality and that all manuscripts submitted to any of the journals of publisher Frontiers are always of a low level.
    .
    No way.
    .
    I am also sure that there are many very, very dedicated editors and reviewers at Frontiers. Dennis Eckmeier (see above) is for example without any doubt a very dedicated scientist who does his utmost best to assist authors to improve the scientific quality of their manuscripts.
    .
    “Climate change and the increasing impact of polar bears on bird populations” is the title of a recent paper in one of the Frontiers journals ( http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fevo.2015.00033/full ) which falls within my area of research. I have read the entire paper soon after is was published. It is in my opinion a great paper. Highly recommended.

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  4. I’m responding to rebut an allegation in this blog and to some tweets that Leonid Schneider has posted. 

    First, as I have said before, Frontiers applied and was accepted for membership in the usual way. We have an extensive and rigorous process for scrutinising new members and turn away a substantial proportion – overall 18 of 67 (27%) applications were rejected in the last year for which we have full numbers (mid 2015).  As I have also made clear before Mirjam Curno was not involved in the decision to accept Frontiers and you should stop alleging that. 

    For the wider issue of COPE and what we do, it’s simply incorrect and insulting to the more than 10000 COPE members as well as our many council members to suggest in your tweets that they “don’t care” about COPE publication ethics guidelines. Yes, clearly there are differences of opinion about how things should be handled and some issues cannot be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction despite often very extensive efforts – many of which are, necessarily, not public – not to hide anything but to ensure that due process is followed.  

    As anyone who works on a day to day basis in this area knows, many of the publication ethics issues that arise are complicated, may require detailed and lengthy investigation and are sometimes simply intractable. Each case also may have a profound effect on many individuals’ careers – and hence we believe a professional approach is essential. It can be quick to make an allegation and expect a simple or quick solution, but unfortunately often there is not one. COPE will continue its part in this difficult area, providing impartial advice, support and guidance – but we are not a police force, have never claimed to be one and do not have the remit or wish to be one.  

    We continue to believe in the overarching importance of not just talking about these issues but providing practical advice and tools to handle issues that arise. We are willing – and do – work with other groups who have similar constructive approaches both on specific issues and to raise awareness and knowledge in this area. Anyone is welcome to use the resources on our website http://publicationethics.org/

    Virginia Barbour, COPE Chair

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    1. Dear Dr. Barbour,
      many thanks for your comment. In no way have I indicated that all over 10000 COPE members ignore the COPE guidelines.

      Instead, in my tweet I was referring to two specific cases, outlined here: https://forbetterscience.wordpress.com/2015/10/31/join-the-committee-ignore-publication-ethics/
      1. Frontiers alternative publishing model which prohibits true editorial independence
      2. NPG refusal to adhere to COPE guidelines on following authorship disputes while correcting or retracting papers
      Your own earlier reply indicated that COPE does not oppose this behaviour of its members as long as it is properly announced by them.
      https://forbetterscience.wordpress.com/2015/10/31/join-the-committee-ignore-publication-ethics/#comment-25
      I never suggested any policing actions. But a reconsideration of membership with those members which disregard the very guidelines they have subscribed to, might be a viable option for COPE. Of course, COPE council members might have to vote unanimously on such issues as memberships, which includes Dr. Curno.
      Furthermore, I am still at a loss why my reporting on Dr. Curno’s professional activities are constantly answered not by herself, but by her respective superiors, Dr. Fenter and yourself. Is Dr. Curno bound by some peculiar non-disclosure contract in her COPE activities, which prevents her from communicating with journalists and public?

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  5. I would like to thank Virginia Barbour for her very valuable contribution. I would like to invite all readers of this blog to read https://pubpeer.com/publications/7DA806A8062EF9474F1A53717B9D1D#fb36200 and https://pubpeer.com/publications/CBDA623DED06FB48B659B631BA69E7 and https://pubpeer.com/publications/1C6B56C6600F850C0320D4161278E8#fb43193 and
    https://pubpeer.com/topics/1/2E91E8916236A6EE03F372E64FBBAF
    .
    I would like to note that I have until now (Saturday 9 January 2016) not received any of the correspondence of COPE with publisher Taylor and Francis.
    .
    See also https://pubpeer.com/publications/7DA806A8062EF9474F1A53717B9D1D#fb38047 for a response of Virginia Barbour (dated October 8th, 2015 11:32am UTC). I also would like to note that there is an extensive correspondence about this issue with PLOS, the current employer of Iratxe Puebla and the former employer of Virginia Barbour. I have until now received loads and loads of auto-replies from PLOS. The correspondence with PLOS is very one-sided until now. Iratxe Puebla does not respond.
    .
    I would like to suggest to Virginia Barbour to comment on the point of view of many scientists that a paper in one of the Frontier journals (see for backgrounds https://pubpeer.com/publications/AAEB117C8D008CB8EDCC5B88E0884B ) must be retracted because it is loaded with nonsense.

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  6. I would like to make some remarks about Virginia Barbour and COPE and I am inviting Virginia Barbour to rebut any of the details. I am of course always willing to correct any errors / mistakes (etc.).
    .
    1. Virginia Barbour presented herself as employee of PLOS (“having joined PLOS in 2004, finally becoming Medicine and Biology Editorial Director of PLOS in 2014” and “Chief Editor of PLOS Medicine and Medicine Editorial Director, PLOS, and thus employed by PLOS”) during my contacts with her in the period July – September 2015. It has turned out that this was untrue.
    .
    2. There is no evidence that Iratxe Puebla, the membership assitant at COPE and currently in charge to process my three complaints against publisher Taylor & Francis ‘has extensive experience in the area of publication ethics.’ This was confirmed to me on 31 December 2015 in an e-mail from Dr Veronique Kiermer, Executive Editor of PLOS.
    .
    3. Dr Veronique Kiermer confirmed, in the same e-mail of 31 December 2015, my point of view that ‘Iratxe Puebla has a very bad track record when it comes to maintain and to promote a high level of research integrity’. My point of view is underlined by the continuation of ‘no response’ from the side of Iratxe Puebla. I have also today (Sunday 10 January 2016) not yet recieved in cc the correspondence of Iratxe Puebla with publisher Taylor & Francis (see above, and see the various links). This implies that I am already waiting for 168 days to get in cc this correspondence of Iratxe Puebla with publisher Taylor & Francis.
    .
    4. Both COPE and PLOS refuse to provide transparency in the details of the financial ties between PLOS / COPE / Iratxe Puebla (an employee of PLOS who is acting as a consultant for COPE).
    .
    5. I was heavily turned down by COPE when I told COPE that I was expecting that all people of COPE (so including Virginia Barbour and Iratxe Puebla) are always acting, and for the full 100%, according to the rules and guidelines of VSNU ( http://www.rug.nl/about-us/organization/rules-and-regulations/algemeen/gedragscodes-nederlandse-universiteiten/code-wetenschapsbeoefening-14-en.pdf and http://www.rug.nl/about-us/organization/rules-and-regulations/algemeen/gedragscodes-nederlandse-universiteiten/wetenschappelijke-integriteit-12-en.pdf ).
    .
    6. Virginia Barbour wrote: “providing impartial advice, support and guidance”.
    Great, as this implies that both Virginia Barbour and Iratxe Puebla agree with me for the full 100% that there are only two options for solving the current problems around http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0040808 (see, eg, https://pubpeer.com/publications/CBECF9AE71D1469170E03B8E9861E1 ). Various readers want to have access to the raw research data, but the authors and/or their affiliations refuse to provide these readers a full and unrestricted access to the raw research data. The two options are
    (a): all these interested readers get full and unrestricted access to the entire set of raw research data of pone.0040808, and within a reasonable period of time, let us say two weeks.
    (b): pone.0040808 will be retracted when the authors and/or their affilations continue with their refusal to give all these readers full and unrestriced access to the entire set of raw research data. It will be a matter of a few days before such a retraction will be posted alongside pone.0040808, and after a deadline of let us say two weeks have passed.
    .
    7. Also https://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2015/12/16/seralini-feed-contamination-study-plos-fire-not-following-guidelines-data-access/ reports problems with getting access to raw research data in a PLOS ONE paper. The author reports that she was very surprized that Iratxe Puebla was both in charge when acting on behalf of PLOS and when acting on behalf of COPE.

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  7. Leonid Schneider wrote on January 9, 2016 at 10:33 “But a reconsideration of membership with those members which disregard the very guidelines they have subscribed to, might be a viable option for COPE.”
    .
    Copy/pasted from
    http://publicationethics.org/resources/guidelines-new/principles-transparency-and-best-practice-scholarly-publishing : “In the event that a member organization is found to have violated these best practices, or other specific requirements of the organisation, COPE shall in the first instance try to work with them in order to address any concerns that have been raised. In the event that the member organization is unable or unwilling to address these concerns, their membership in the organization may be suspended or terminated.”
    .
    So no problem at all to terminate the membership of a publisher / journal who is unwilling to co-operate with COPE. I have until today, Thursday 14 January 2016, not received any of the correspondence of COPE with publisher Taylor and Francis about a faulty paper on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler, see https://pubpeer.com/publications/7DA806A8062EF9474F1A53717B9D1D#fb36200 . I therefore propose that COPE will immediately terminate the membership of publisher Taylor & Francis.
    .
    I also propose that COPE will immediately suspend the membership of publisher Frontiers, just as long as Frontiers is placed on the list of potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers of US librarian Jeffrey Beall ( http://scholarlyoa.com/publishers/ ).

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    1. Dear Klaas, thank you for the tip. I am still waiting for a reply to my Twitter inquiry to COPE, which I have now reiterated in an email to Dr. Barbour. I am interested to know by whom and by what kind of vote COPE membership issues are decided.

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      1. Dear Leonid, COPE has an Ombudsperson ( http://publicationethics.org/about/council/suzanne-morris ) and you might consider contacting her ( http://www.smi.uq.edu.au/user/34 ) when you get no response from Dr. Barbour on your queries about membership issues at COPE.
        .
        You are of course also free to inform Suzanne Morris about the ongoing issues with publisher Taylor & Francis (see above) and about my proposals to suspend the membership of publisher Frontiers and to terminate the membership of publisher Taylor & Francis. I note that I have also today, Friday 15 January 2016, not received any of the correspondence of COPE with publisher Taylor and Francis about the faulty paper on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler.
        .
        You will be aware (see https://pubpeer.com/publications/7DA806A8062EF9474F1A53717B9D1D#fb36200 ) that I am working closely together with at least three persons who are EiC (and or have a similar position) of journals who are not member of COPE.
        .
        Please note that Dr. Barbour also has not yet responded on queries about a paper of her in PLOS Computational Biology ( https://pubpeer.com/publications/1C6B56C6600F850C0320D4161278E8 ).

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      2. I have now received a reply by Dr. Barbour:
        “Dear Dr Schneider,
        As I have said before – the COPE membership process is on our website – under “Become a member”. It is run, and decisions on membership applications are made, by the membership subcommittee – also listed on the site. In the rare occasion the committee wants further advice then, I along with the other officers would be consulted. It’s no different from processes that many other membership organisations have.
        Yours sincerely
        Ginny Barbour”

        I assume Dr. Barbour referred to this information: http://publicationethics.org/about/subcommittees
        I now see that Dr. Curno is currently not chair or member of the “Membership” subcommittee. She however chairs the “Outreach and Events” subcommittee and is member of “Education”, which makes me wonder why she was not interested in outreaching to an amateur journalist like myself, for the purpose of public education on COPE activities, and instead has delegated all communications to Dr. Fenter and Dr. Barbour.

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    2. I worked at PLOS from 2004 until March 31 2015. I have no idea why there is any dispute over this.

      Iratxe Puebla is a paid freelancer for COPE and does not handle any matters at COPE for which she could have a conflict. She is a highly experienced professional in this area and we very much value her work at COPE.

      COPE is actively pursuing the case that Mr van Dijk brought to us. As he is aware, we have told him we are unable to respond individually to his many emails repeating essentially the same information – which probably number in the hundreds to us now as well as postings on online forums. I will reiterate what I have said before – we will respond when we have further information but before that don’t propose to debate this further.

      Virginia Barbour

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      1. Dear Virginia,

        Your biography at COPE ( http://publicationethics.org/about/council/virginia-barbour ) stated on 10 September 2015: “She has a long history of working in open access publishing, having joined PLOS in 2004 as one of the three founding editors of PLOS Medicine, finally becoming Medicine and Biology Editorial Director of PLOS in 2014”. So this information in your biography at the website of COPE on 10 September 2015 was wrong, as it was outdated for already more than five months (“I worked at PLOS from 2004 until March 31 2015.”).

        Your biography at COPE ( http://publicationethics.org/about/council/virginia-barbour ) on 10 September 2015 stated as well: “COMPETING INTERESTS STATEMENT: The competing interest statement for Virginia Barbour for 2012 can be downloaded here (PDF, 190 KB)”. This COI statement was dated 20 January 2013. It states: “Chief Editor of PLOS Medicine and Medicine Editorial Director, PLOS, and thus employed by PLOS.” So this information in your COI statement at the website of COPE on 10 September 2015 was wrong, as it was outdated for already more than five months (“I worked at PLOS from 2004 until March 31 2015.”).

        Do you dispute the details about your financial ties with PLOS which were present on the website of COPE on 10 September 2015?

        Your COI statement dated 20 January 2013 states as well: “While COIs will be reviewed annually, they must also be specifically declared at the beginning of each Council or Forum meeting or before participation in any complaints processes.” Does this imply that you have not attended a Council or Forum meeting for already a very long period of time?

        Does this imply as well that you were not involved in any complaints process for already a very long period of time (although http://publicationethics.org/about/subcommittees lists that you are a member of the Complaints subcommittee of COPE)? Does this imply that you did not participate in the three complaints which I have filed at COPE against publisher Taylor & Francis? These complaints were filed on 6, 8 and 10 July 2015. See https://pubpeer.com/publications/7DA806A8062EF9474F1A53717B9D1D#fb36200 for the response of COPE (dated 26 July 2015). I would like to note that the correspondence of COPE-Iratxe Puebla with publisher Taylor & Francis has not yet been received by me. I am thus already waiting 191 days to receive this correspondence. Iratxe Puebla does not respond on queries from my side.

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  8. Dennis Eckmeier has indicated I have cited him incorrectly and that I alleged he reported the general quality of Frontiers submissions.
    http://www.eckmeier.de/?p=894
    Below is my question and his unedited reply:
    https://t.co/b3ckRhShnJ

    Question: “As reviewer, did you ever deal with low quality submissions?”

    D. Eckmeier:
    “I reviewed 7 articles for Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience and Frontiers in
    Computational Neuroscience.

    Many people seem to think of Frontiers as a ‘dump’, so on average the initial quality
    of the manuscript is usually crap.

    However, usually the work is scientifically sound, which is the only criterion for review
    editors at Frontiers, since the impact of studies is determined through the tier system.
    I am not sure if Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience even has a JIF.

    Thus, in 5 cases there were about 2-3 re-submissions, before both reviewers endorsed publication.
    In one case both reviewers agreed that for publication they needed to add more data. The data were
    provided and both reviewers endorsed publication.
    In one case both reviewers agreed that the work was not publishable. According to the message in the
    review forum, the authors retracted the submission”.

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  9. Leonid asked me to explain why I am insisting that the science was sound, when at the same time I would say that there were bad quality manuscripts.

    There is a fundamental difference between a manuscript and the study it describes. A scientific paper is a report that needs to deliver context and conclusions of the study in a clear, unambiguous way. Thus, the experimental data are not its only quality. The way they are presented and explained is what makes an article informative in the first place.

    A sloppily prepared manuscript may have great data, but it’s still unintelligible. In most manuscripts (even good ones), the presentation needs work. For example, I have seen authors attempting to explain a scientific principle using metaphors or allegories that simply didn’t fit. An expert would get annoyed, or even think the authors didn’t know what they are doing.

    On many occasions I’ve seen reviewer comments completely ignoring the possibility, that the problem might be in the presentation, not in the study. They misunderstood the text and instead of saying ‘these were parts that didn’t make sense to me, please clarify’, they wrote a long, mad review about how the work “wasn’t science”, how it should be rejected straight up. They displayed the weirdest assumptions about what the authors were trying to say. Every time I see a review like that I ask myself how the reviewer could possibly think that their peers – established professors – would come up with such nonsense.

    My baseline assumption is that the authors are not idiots. So when I find something odd I will ask clarifying questions and for text revisions – the FrontiersIn forum is perfect for this kind of exchange, and I have had many positive experiences in this regard.

    For this reason, I think it is a valuable feature that the reviewers can’t reject a paper without the authors having a chance to rebuttal. In other journals authors are usually not given this opportunity, and knee jerk reactions by reviewers who simply misunderstood the authors, lead to an unnecessary rejection.

    In my experience the majority of reviewer comments are addressed by clarifying the text, anyways, ‘even’ outside FrontiersIn. The difference here is, that the authors are always granted a clarifying rebuttal. Again, I think that is a good thing.

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  10. Dear Leonid, I have conducted some queries at UQ about the whereabouts of Suzanne Morris, the Ombudperson of COPE ( http://publicationethics.org/about/council/suzanne-morris ), and an employee of the University of Queensland (UQ), at least according to http://www.smi.uq.edu.au/user/34

    I got today a friendly response from the communications team at UQ in which it was told to me that Suzanne Morris is no longer employed by UQ. “From: communications; To: Klaas van Dijk; Sent: Tuesday, January 19, 2016 5:18 AM; Subject: RE: Friendly request to forward an open letter to Suzanne Morris of UQ to Suzanne Morris of UQ. Hello Klaas. We can confirm that Suzanne Morris is no longer with the University of Queensland. Communications team”.
    .
    I got today another friendly response from UQ “From: [name redacted] ; To: Klaas van Dijk; Sent: Tuesday, January 19, 2016 12:45 AM; Subject: [Eventum #2141577] Re: [#2141577] Friendly request to forward an open letter to Suzanne Morris of UQ to Suzanne Morris of UQ. This message has been sent through Eventum (https://helpdesk.library.uq.edu.au/) Issue #2141577 (https://helpdesk.library.uq.edu.au/view.php?id=2141577). Hi Klaas, Try contacting the sustainable minerals institute http://www.smi.uq.edu.au/smi-contact-us. Regards, [name redacted]”.
    .
    This implies of course that the information on the website of COPE about the affiliation of the Ombudsperson is currently outdated. E-mails to Suzanne Morris (see http://www.smi.uq.edu.au/user/34 for her e-mail address) got bounced. You are of course totally free to investigate the current whereabouts of the Ombudsperson of COPE and you are of course also totally free to investigate how long Suzanne Morris is already not anymore employed by UQ.

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  11. Dear Virginia, thanks for your posting of January 15, 2016 at 21:26 (see below).
    .
    1. Please note that I have until now not received a single piece of the correspondence between Iratxe Puebla / COPE and publisher Taylor & Francis about a faulty paper on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler ( https://pubpeer.com/publications/CBDA623DED06FB48B659B631BA69E7 ). Iratxe Puebla told me on 26 July 2015 (see https://pubpeer.com/publications/7DA806A8062EF9474F1A53717B9D1D#fb36200 ) that I would get in cc all the correspondence. Please urge Iratxe to send ASAP me and Richard Porter all this correspondence between Iratxe Puebla / COPE and publisher Taylor & Francis about this faulty paper in a TF journal.
    .
    2. Please note that you have not yet rebutted the statement about cronyism within COPE in a recent blog post of Jeffrey Beall (see http://scholarlyoa.com/2016/01/14/another-controversial-paper-from-fronters/ ). Can you please report over here, at this blog of Leonid Schneider, the total annual amount of money (in GBP, accurate up to 1 GBP) which COPE has paid to PLOS employee Iratxe Puebla for any of the years Iratxe Puebla has conducted consultancy work for COPE? So XXXX GBP for 2015, XXXX GBP for 2014, XXXX GBP for 2013 (etc, just as far back in time until the first year that Iratxe Puebla has started with consulting for COPE). Thanks in advance for providing the readers of this blog with these details.
    .
    3. Suzanne Morris indicates on https://au.linkedin.com/in/suzanne-morris-ba5b0511 that she is not anymore affilated to UQ for already almost one whole year and that she only has a position as Ombudsperson for COPE. This implies (1) her bio at http://publicationethics.org/about/council/suzanne-morris is wrong / heavily outdated; (2) http://www.smi.uq.edu.au/user/34 is wrong / outdated. E-mails to suzanne.morris@uq.edu.au get bounced. Do you have any idea about the current whereabouts of Suzanne Morris and do you have any idea about an e-mail address of Suzanne Morris? Can you please forward an open letter to Suzanne Morris at https://pubpeer.com/topics/1/2E91E8916236A6EE03F372E64FBBAF#fb43903 to Suzanne Morris?
    .
    Thanks in advance for your co-operation.

    —————————————————–
    Virginia Barbour wrote on January 15, 2016 at 21:26: “I worked at PLOS from 2004 until March 31 2015. I have no idea why there is any dispute over this. Iratxe Puebla is a paid freelancer for COPE and does not handle any matters at COPE for which she could have a conflict. She is a highly experienced professional in this area and we very much value her work at COPE. COPE is actively pursuing the case that Mr van Dijk brought to us. As he is aware, we have told him we are unable to respond individually to his many emails repeating essentially the same information – which probably number in the hundreds to us now as well as postings on online forums. I will reiterate what I have said before – we will respond when we have further information but before that don’t propose to debate this further.”

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  12. I was notified today by the data integrity sleuth Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva about following developments regarding the Ivo P. Janecka paper in Front. Comput. Neurosci.: a figure has been apparently re-used for a later publication in American Journal of Psychology and Cognitive Science, Vol. 1, No. 5, Pub. Date: Dec. 6, 2015
    http://www.publicscienceframework.org/journal/paperInfo/ajpcs?paperId=2254
    The publisher Public Science Framework was flagged by Jeffrey Beall: https://scholarlyoa.com/2015/01/15/strange-new-oa-publisher-launches-with-42-journals/
    The following might indicate self-plagiarism by the sole author Janecka:
    Figures 2a, 2b, 2d, 2e, 2f, 3 from this newer paper are very similar to Fig 1 in Frontiers: http://www.frontiersin.org/files/Articles/83551/fncom-08-00030-HTML/image_m/fncom-08-00030-g001.jpg

    Teixeira da Silva has also informed the EiC of Frontiers Comput. Neurosci., Misha Tsodyks, at his institutional email address

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  13. Dear Leonid,
    .
    I would like to report that Virginia Barbour et al have until today not provided me with their correspondence with publisher Taylor & Francis about a faulty paper on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler. Iratxe Puebla, the membership assistant of COPE had promised this to me on 26 July 2015. I am therefore already waiting 185 days on a response with these details. Iratxe Puebla does not respond on multiple queries from my side. The same is the case for all others at COPE. All of them simply do not communicate with me.
    .
    I also would like to inform the readers of your blog that COPE has not yet rebutted a bold statement of Dr. Burton about this issue. This statement (““A summary of the whole affair, but concentrating on the Academia cover up in Nature?”) was sent in cc to COPE on 6 September 2015. Dr. Burton is one of the co-authors of http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09397140.2015.1023424
    See https://pubpeer.com/publications/CBDA623DED06FB48B659B631BA69E7 and https://pubpeer.com/publications/7DA806A8062EF9474F1A53717B9D1D#fb36200 for more backgrounds.
    .
    There is as well no progress in removing the outdated / wrong details at http://publicationethics.org/about/council/suzanne-morris about the current relationship between UQ (University of Queensland) and COPE Ombudsperson Suzanne Morris. Presenting outdated / wrong information about yourself is in my opinion not in line with for example Responsibility 9 (“Transparency in public communications”) of the Singapore Statement ( http://www.singaporestatement.org/downloads/singpore%20statement_A4size.pdf ). Presenting wrong / outdated information about yourself is also not in line with for example item 4.7 of the VSNU Netherlands Code of Conduct for Academic Practice ( http://www.rug.nl/about-us/organization/rules-and-regulations/algemeen/gedragscodes-nederlandse-universiteiten/code-wetenschapsbeoefening-14-en.pdf ). It is stated in item 4.7: “Every academic practitioner affiliated with a university provides an up-to-date and complete list of their relevant ancillary activities on the university website.”

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  14. It has turned out today that another url at the site of COPE ( http://publicationethics.org/cope-staff ) presents updated details about Ombudsperson Dr. Suzanne Morris. A search of today ( http://publicationethics.org/search/site/Suzanne%20Morris ) reveals that this url was added / changed on 21 January 2016. The COI statement of Dr. Morris is dated 20 January 2016. I was unable to locate the url http://publicationethics.org/cope-staff in the period September 2015 – mid January 2016. The url with outdated information about COPE Ombudsperson Suzanne Morris at http://publicationethics.org/about/council/suzanne-morris is still online.

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  15. Virginia Barbour, the chair of COPE, states on her biography at http://publicationethics.org/about/council/virginia-barbour that she is a director of WAME (“As well as being Chair of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) she is a Director of the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME).”).
    .
    http://www.wame.org/about/wame-executive-board-and-committees lists Jose Florencio F. Lapeña Jr and Chris Zielinski as current (Jan 2016–Dec 2017) directors of WAME. Phaedra E. Cress, Fatema Jawad and Rajeev Kumar are listed as former directors of WAME.
    .
    I have contacted Margaret Winker, the secretary of WAME, to get insight in this issue. Dr Winker told me: “Dr Barbour was formerly a WAME Director”.
    .
    This all implies that Virginia Barbour presents at the moment wrong/outdated information about her position at WAME for anyone who is reading her biography at http://publicationethics.org/about/council/virginia-barbour
    .
    http://www.wame.org/about/wame-executive-board-and-committees lists Virginia Barbour as one of the members of the ‘Ethics and Policy Committee’ of WAME.
    .
    I am hereby inviting Virginia Barbour to explain to the readers of this blog why she is presenting wrong/outdated information about her current position at WAME and how this is in line with the goals of WAME ( http://www.wame.org/about ).

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  16. The Janecka paper has been retracted.
    http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fncom.2014.00030/full

    Frontiers retracts the paper: “Sensing risk, fearing uncertainty: systems science approach to change” (doi: 10.3389/fncom.2014.00030). Following a formal complaint concerning the publication cited above, the Specialty Chief Editors of Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience conducted an assessment of the article, according to the Frontiers complaints protocol. The Specialty Chief Editors concluded that the publication should not have been accepted in its published form, as it does not meet the standards of editorial and scientific soundness for Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience. This assessment was conducted in consultation with the Handling Editor, Dr Tobias A Mattei, who agreed to this conclusion. The author agrees to the retraction, commenting that the article was inappropriate for the Journal and its audience.

    This still leaves several queries unanswered:
    a) How did this paper enter peer review in the first place?
    b) if Janecka truly feels what he states in the last sentence of this retraction notice, then why did he submit to this journal in the first place?
    c) Did Frontiers reimburse Janecka the money he paid to publish this paper?
    d) The retraction notice assigns no blame to the editors who ultimately approved the publication of this paper, yet indicates that ” the publication should not have been accepted in its published form, as it does not meet the standards of editorial and scientific soundness.”

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  17. It is illegal to falsely claim mental illness. E.g. Pal v General Medical Council [2004] EWHC 1485 (QB).

    Society stigmatises mental illness as documented by C (A Child), Re [2015] EWFC 79 at Paragraph 29. An untrue allegation of mental illness is actionable in defamation: cf. El Diwany v Hansen & Anor [2011] EWHC 2077 (QB) at Paragraph 53.

    Cf. the 12th edition of “Gatley on Libel and Slander” at Paragraph 2.14 indexing Footnotes 109 and 111; at Paragraph 2.38 indexing Footnote 402; and at Page [170] (Paragraph 4.13).

    Apparently the Australian ex-court case Livingstone-Thomas v Associated Newspapers Ltd (1969) 90 WN (Pt 1) (NSW) 223 is also relevant but I do not have access to any of the documentation thereof. I would appreciate if I would be given access to it or to more information about it.

    Dishonestly imputing mental illness is a technique of cheaters who have no legitimate basis on which to make criticism.

    Regards,
    Colin Paul Gloster,
    R da Sofia, 139-2º Posterior,
    3000-387 Coimbra,
    Portugal.

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