Fear and Loathing at Frontiers

Fear and Loathing at Frontiers

Many scientists have been receiving unsolicited emails from the Swiss publisher Frontiers, with invitations to submit papers or become peer review “editor” with this Open Access (OA) publisher. In fact, the Holtzbrick-owned Frontiers are occasionally criticized for these activities, which were compared to spamming. These “spam” emails however are not written by robots, but by actual human beings, usually interns. Many of them do not seem very happy about their jobs with Frontiers, as one can read at the employer-evaluation portal Glassdoor. Most of the criticism is directed against middle management, who, as I have previously shown, sometimes nonchalantly manage academic topics way outside of their professional competence.

Now, you can learn what goes on inside the Frontiers “spam” factory from a first-hand source.  I was approached by a reader of my website, who turned out to be a former full-time employee at Frontiers. This person told me that the Frontiers interns (who are recruited for a 6 month period, as advertised here) were expected to write 200 emails a day, canvassing academics to submit papers to this for-profit OA publisher:

This threshold was recommended to all interns by the journal managers based on one “exemplary” staff employee, who could actually send these many emails. The messages included canned follow-up responses to potential authors clarifying what Frontiers is [see Q&A list below, -LS], a similar correspondence with editors, and reminders about the papers undergoing peer-review. Since we sent these emails from shared journal email accounts, everyone could see their quality. It was clear to me that the quantity over quality was an approach applied there. The journal managers asked us to use only template responses, word for word. It was more acting like a robot, without support from permanent staff members”.

Continue reading “Fear and Loathing at Frontiers”

Frontiers’ Bread Madness

The journal Frontiers in Human Neurosciences now published a paper titled: “Bread and Other Edible Agents of Mental Disease“. It is authored by two psychologists, Paola Bressan and Peter Kramer from the Department of General Psychology at University of Padova in Italy, and claims “in non-technical, plain English” that mental diseases such as schizophrenia and autism are caused by bread (yes, you read right, bread). In their “review article” Bressan and Kramer claim to provide evidence that bread gluten makes “holes in our gut”, thus activating an immune response, and is degraded into opioid substances (“some of them resemble morphine extremely much”). The casein in milk has allegedly exactly the same effect, and cure for “schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and autism” is possible by adhering to a strict bread- and milk-free diet. In fact, other staple foods might make you mad as well, as authors conclude:

“Bread is the very symbol of food, and learning that it can threaten our mental wellbeing may come as a shock to many. Yet bread is not alone; like it, other foodstuffs, such as milk, rice, and corn, release exorphins during digestion”.

Though the paper appeared on March 29th, it was meant seriously and not as an April 1st joke. Continue reading “Frontiers’ Bread Madness”

April Fools: Elsevier pledges integrity, sacks Marcus, Horton

April Fools: Elsevier pledges integrity, sacks Marcus, Horton

On March 22nd, Tom Reller, Head of Global Corporate Relations for the publishing giant Elsevier, declared the often criticised and occasionally reviled Dutch conglomerate to be “4th largest open access publisher” and announced: “we will continue to produce that highly relevant academic and professional research and knowledge”.

Today, on April 1st, Reller explained how exactly Elsevier aims to deliver on its promise. He stated:

“The new Elsevier will not be the greedy and unscrupulous monster of the past, but an open and transparent publisher every true scientist will be proud to work with. There will be no tolerance for research irreproducibility, misconduct and data manipulation at Elsevier from now on. The times, where dishonest scientists could safely rely on our quasi-official policies of looking away and cover-up are over. We will be revising all evidence on PubPeer and elsewhere, which we previously only used to laugh at, and we will correct all problematic literature accordingly. We will demand unconditional sharing of original research data and we will call out research misconduct for what it is. There will be many retractions coming”.

Continue reading “April Fools: Elsevier pledges integrity, sacks Marcus, Horton”

Nonsense paper at Frontiers retracted

Frontiers now retracts the paper by the retired surgeon Ivo P. Janecka “Sensing risk, fearing uncertainty: systems science approach to change“, following complaints by Klaas van Dijk and Guillaume Rousselet.

sensing risk

 The retraction note reads:

“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”.

Below excerpts from my earlier posts where this article has been discussed.

Continue reading “Nonsense paper at Frontiers retracted”

OA publishers Hindawi vs. Frontiers: similar, yet different

OA publishers Hindawi vs. Frontiers: similar, yet different

In this article, I will compare editorial policies of two for-profit open access (OA) publishers, Frontiers and Hindawi. Though both are members of OASPA and COPE as well as sponsors of DOAJ, respectively, Frontiers has been placed on the controversial Beall’s list of predatory publishers. Nevertheless, both OASPA and COPE expressed being “fully satisfied” with Frontiers. The two publishers are regularly criticised for their excessive email advertising, occasionally compared to “spamming”. Unlike Hindawi, Frontiers successfully negotiated publishing agreements with Western (predominantly European) research institutions, such as the German Max-Planck-Society, and a number of research centres and universities, which ensure that Frontiers authors will get their article-processing charges shouldered by their institutional libraries.

My analysis suggests that editorial independence is still possibly a tricky issue with Frontiers, and much less so with Hindawi. While Hindawi academic editors apparently enjoy exclusive responsibility for managing the peer review and making decisions about acceptance or rejection of submitted manuscripts, these processes are tightly regulated at Frontiers. There, chief editors are expected by contract to deliver a certain minimum of published papers per year, while manuscript-handling associate editors are basically powerless. Rejections are not allowed until every single reviewer recommends it, and are even then at the discretion of the chief editor. Frontiers’ bold claim of “full editorial independence” seems less credible, once you read through the editorial contracts, which I make available below. Continue reading “OA publishers Hindawi vs. Frontiers: similar, yet different”

Frontiers Christmas Carol

Frontiers Christmas Carol

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. Continue reading “Frontiers Christmas Carol”

Part 2: Trolling peer review to promote its ethics

Part 2: Trolling peer review to promote its ethics

In this follow-up to my previous article, I will describe two cases of how the editorial and peer review weaknesses at a Frontiers journal were exposed or abused (depending on viewpoint) by its own academic editors.

In the first case, an established scientist, Nikolaus Kriegeskorte, research group leader at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK, cleverly revealed the deficiencies of Frontiers peer review, while simultaneously defending peer review ethics. By placing, with the help of his own student as handling editor, largely data-free (and scope-unrelated), yet peer-reviewed opinion articles in the journal Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience,  Kriegeskorte demonstrated that Frontiers’ official high editorial standards can easily be circumvented. In the second case, a professionally rather unrelated medical surgeon has imposed himself as associate editor of this journal, and allowed a publication of an original research paper by his senior colleague which can only be described as disastrous. Nowhere was there any protest or interference from the journals’ chief editor or from the publisher.

Dunderhead Continue reading “Part 2: Trolling peer review to promote its ethics”