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”

Open Science, Open Scientists

Open Science, Open Scientists

On the evening of December 5th, I participated at the OpenCon Satellite Event in Berlin. It was organised by Jon Tennant and Peter Grabitz, my travelling was kindly subsidised by Stephanie Dawson on behalf of the publisher ScienceOpen.

First of all, I am glad that it is now understood that Open Access (OA) is not a final goal in itself, but the first key step to achieve reliable and transparent academic research. Open Science is about more than just open access to scientific literature. It is even more that openness of published data. It is about the openness of the entire research and the researchers. Academic research is riddled with back-room dealings and hidden conflicts of interests at peer reviews and scientist evaluations as well as with irreproducibility of published results, unacceptably widespread over- or even false interpretation of experimental data and even misconduct. Opening scientific literature without changing what is actually being published, without addressing the way how science is performed and presented, and how scientists are evaluated, could easily result in the OA revolution being hijacked by utterly wrong people. The currently hotly debated issue of predatory publishing and the scientists involved therein is just one example to be named here.

It is good therefore, that Open Science meeting and workshops involving young scientists and activists take place. Continue reading “Open Science, Open Scientists”

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”