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”

Frontiers reviewer told: don’t be strict, endorse paper, reports Giulia Liberati

Journal peer review is a mysterious black box all scientists fear. The task of the reviewers is to help authors to improve their manuscripts scientifically and to help journal editors to weed out scientifically substandard and inappropriate works. That’s the theory anyway, in practice there are good reasons why the peer review process is traditionally something to be hidden by all means from the readers of published papers. Probably to avoid occasional shock, disgust  and repulsion, similar to how the supermarket customers should by no means be made aware of the true origins of industrially raised meat. In a kind of a vicious circle, this peer review secrecy is a direct invitation to rig it even more. Editors tend to assign friendly reviewers according to authors’ eminence, while peer reviewer conflicts of interests are routinely disregarded, since no one will ever find out anyway. In the same vein, scientists who made themselves some powerful enemies will see their manuscripts destroyed by unreasonable and aggressive peer review. They often naively hope the editor was decent enough not to invite those same adversaries whom the authors specifically asked to be excluded. Continue reading “Frontiers reviewer told: don’t be strict, endorse paper, reports Giulia Liberati”

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”

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”

Stem cell cures for everything, Made in Germany by TICEBA

Stem cell cures for everything, Made in Germany by TICEBA

The Heidelberg-based company TICEBA (abbreviated from Tissue & Cell Banking) is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill cell bank. This German company, scientifically advised by the Harvard professor Markus Frank, claims that our skin contains pluripotent stem cells, which are capable of curing all kinds of diseases. This concept is utterly unsupported by scientific literature, and is widely rejected by stem cell scientists. Nevertheless, there is internet evidence that the company’s founder, Christoph Ganss is already treating patients with these cells, in East Asia and even in EU and in Germany. According to certain (sometimes already removed) internet information, patients are being offered autologous “stem cell” injections not only for beauty treatments, but also as cures for type II diabetes, cardiovascular problems, hereditary degenerative eye diseases, and possibly even cancer.

Stem Cell for Sale

A small price to pay for youth and health

My investigation started with an advertisement in a Lufthansa in-flight magazine, which I was browsing during my return flight from a family visit in Riga in August 2015. The Heidelberg-based company TICEBA advertised to inclined customers on page 41 under the headline “You will age. Your cells won’t” some very exciting service:

“We like a tiny sample of your skin. Separate the stem cells. Store your stem cells in liquid nitrogen. Forever. Then, one day, when old age or illness overtakes you, we re-programme them. Introduce them back into your body. Regenerate you using your younger, stronger, healthier self. It’s not science fiction. Just science”.

Continue reading “Stem cell cures for everything, Made in Germany by TICEBA”

Part 1: Frontiers in Paranormal Activities

Part 1: Frontiers in Paranormal Activities

This is my currently final (two-part) instalment on the topic of Frontiers listing by Jeffrey Beall as a potential, possible or probable predatory publisher. This time I will focus on the Frontiers scientists: the authors as well as the academic editors. In brief, it appears that Frontiers’ own rules for peer review and conflict of interest are sometimes being bent and broken to boost scientists’ publication record. As result, in better cases personal ideas and largely data-free opinions are published as peer reviewed papers, often outside the journal’s original scope. In more embarrassing cases, pseudo-scientific and esoteric nonsense was peddled as original peer reviewed research. Though maybe, Frontiers is being instead secretly trolled and ridiculed by its own authors and academic editors. In any case, the publishing house profits through additional publication fees, increased output on citable (even if totally scope-unrelated) papers per field journal and thus likely an improved journal impact factor.


Continue reading “Part 1: Frontiers in Paranormal Activities”