Frontiers: vanquishers of Beall, publishers of bunk

Frontiers: vanquishers of Beall, publishers of bunk

It is now quasi official: do not mess with Frontiers. My earlier reporting made it a credible possibility that this Swiss publisher was behind the January 2017 shut-down and removal of Jeffrey Beall’s list of “potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers”, and it was now indeed verified by an article in Chronicle of Higher Education. The librarian Beall used to be constantly under attack from Open Access (OA) publishers who were unhappy about his personal opinions and his private decisions to place them on his blog list. With those, his University of Colorado in Denver supported Beall. But the trouble started when he placed in October 2015 the Swiss publisher Frontiers onto his list, thus effectively declaring this Holtzbrinck-owned outlet a predatory publisher, after hearing of scientists’ complaints and reading my reports. To be fair, Frontiers are still defended by a much bigger number of scientists who see the advantage of having a reliable business partner who will publish certain manuscripts which hardly any respectable journal might consider.  Especially certain kinds of psychologists figured out that with the life-science-oriented Frontiers they can easily get merited as proper neuroscientists, or even biomedical polymaths (e.g., here). Regardless of the bunk they place there for $2500 a pop.

Frontiers first tried it nicely with Beall, when the Chief Executive Officer Frederick Fenter and journal manager Mirjam Curno (who is also trustee at Committee for Publication Ethics, COPE, read here) visited the librarian before Christmas 2016 in Denver (see my report here). Since Beall still did not remove Frontiers from his list, Fenter rallied its loyal journal editors and started together with them in August 2016 a campaign against Beall, demanding that his university punishes the librarian or at least forces him to remove Frontiers from his private list (read here). That information on my site served as (utterly uncredited) template for the aforementioned Chronicle of Higher Education article (as its author Paul Basken admitted to me, but his editor Brock Read denied). Basken then contacted Beall, who then also revealed to him that in January 2016 the University of Colorado Denver caved in to Frontiers demands and opened a misconduct case against its librarian. At this point, Beall decided to delete his list and save his job. An academic disagreement was resolved in a honed and cherished academic tradition: with a call to the employer and a threat of sacking.

Continue reading “Frontiers: vanquishers of Beall, publishers of bunk”

The Costs of Knowledge: scientists want their cut on the scam

The Costs of Knowledge: scientists want their cut on the scam

When the mathematician Timothy Gowers, with some co-signers, started in 2012 his initiative “The Costs of Knowledge” to boycott Elsevier for their business practices, he was hoping to release science from the grip of commercial publishers. His reasoning went: with academics boycotting Elsevier en masse as authors, reviewers and editors, the commercial publisher would be forced to change its greedy ways, or the universities would separate themselves from the blackmail-like practice of Elsevier subscriptions (not that NatureSpringer, Wiley or others are much better in that regard). Meanwhile only 16800 people signed The Cost of Knowledge pledge, and some renounced on it silently. Open Access (OA) movement gained speed at roughly the same time, originally with the goal of reducing publication costs. Exactly the opposite was achieved, in fact what subscription publishers did was to usurp the OA movement for their greedy purpose, by subsidising OA conferences and feeding the egos of or simply doing business with those most vocal OA proponents. By now, same megapublishers sell so-called Gold OA on top or in addition to subscriptions; NatureSpringer and Elsevier became world’s biggest and second -biggest OA publishers, respectively.

University library budgets are near breakpoint, in fact Germany just now cancelled Elsevier subscriptions, in a desperate attempt to negotiate a better deal which would include both subscriptions and OA article-processing charges (APC). But some academics seem to have a different viewpoint on how to respond to publishers ripping off their own research institutions. They want their cut on the scam, namely to be paid for their peer review services. The idea is: since peer reviewing duties are not directly specified as such in faculty employment contracts, they must be then not a part of research activities, but a kind of voluntary charity to your peers, or in fact to commercial publishers. As journals and their for-profit owners (because even academic society-run journals are for-profit) make such big money publishing peer reviewed research, the peer reviewers want their share. And they don’t seem to spare a thought if science gets damaged beyond repair in the process.

incompetent referee

Continue reading “The Costs of Knowledge: scientists want their cut on the scam”

Beall-listed Frontiers empire strikes back

Beall-listed Frontiers empire strikes back

The Swiss publishing business Frontiers was placed by the US librarian Jeffrey Beall on his well-known and hotly disputed list as “potential, possible or probable predatory publisher”. Frontiers however was not prepared to take this lying down. The publisher’s Executive Editor Frederick Fenter first tried it nicely. Shortly before Christmas 2015, he flew to visit Beall at his University of Colorado in Denver, with the senior manager Mirjam Curno in tow. Curno is incidentally also board member and trustee of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Afterwards, Fenter stopped being nice. In August 2016, he bombarded around ten senior officials at the University Colorado in Denver with letters and a dossier (see below) demanding that they make sure Frontiers is removed from their employee’s private list.

Thing is: University of Colorado has nothing to do with the so-called Beall’s List. The list is part of the librarians private blog on WordPress (same platform I use). In fact, this is the disclaimer which Beall placed on his site clear for all to see:

“These views represent the personal opinions of the author (Jeffrey Beall)  and may not reflect the position of the University of Colorado Denver or the University of Colorado System”.

Continue reading “Beall-listed Frontiers empire strikes back”

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”

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”

No laughing matter

A small, highly specialized medical journal makes its first attempt at satire in 21 years. The New Year’s Eve spoof paper in question was a pretend randomized controlled trial (RCT), where toddlers were claimed to have been deliberately exposed to pain in order to study the efficiency of their mothers’ kisses at alleviating it. The author and the journal’s editor-in-chief intended this satire of evidence-based medicine (EBM) exclusively for their dedicated clinician readers, and did not expect a wave of anger, ridicule and confusion over social networks. Much less so, they did not expect being accused of predatory publishing. Now both found themselves in the need of explaining the humoristic nature of their publication and the original target of the satire.

The paper, which appeared on December 29th 2015 in the Wiley-published Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice (JECP) was easily recognizable as satire to anyone who spent at least a minute considering its title or reading its abstract.

It was titled: “Maternal kisses are not effective in alleviating minor childhood injuries (boo-boos): a randomized, controlled and blinded study”. Authored by “The Study of Maternal and Child Kissing (SMACK) Working Group”, it claimed to have exposed almost one thousand children to “experimentally induced minor injuries”, by tricking them into touching a 50°C hot plate or bump their heads under the table. The toddlers’ mothers were then supposed to either kiss or not kiss the injuries, while “‘sham’ kisses were delivered by a trained researcher”. Children’s pain was then measured using “a 15-point, five-domain, non-verbal tool”. Continue reading “No laughing matter”