Some scientists have identified a published, scholarly article they consider nonsense, but the paper’s publisher, Lausanne-based Frontiers, has so far refused to take any action to correct or retract the article, despite a growing consensus against the article’s soundness and despite numerous appeals.
The article is “Sensing risk, fearing uncertainty: systems science approach to change” by Ivo P. Janecka of the Foundation for Systems Research and Education, a supposedly New York-based organization that apparently has no website.
Scientists are engaging in boundary-work, hoping to demarcate the article as unscientific and therefore unsuitable for publication in a supposedly scientific journal. They have repeatedly emailed the publisher and requested an investigation, they have complained to the Committee on Publication Ethics, and they have used PubPeer to engage with the article’s sole author and explain why they think it is unscientific.
So far, none of this work has been successful, for the questionable paper remains published. Emails forwarded to me indicate that scientists started seeking action on the article at least as early as Summer, 2015.
The work of one researcher to correct the record has even resulted in action from a lawyer demanding that he cease communicating with current Frontiers employee Mirjam J. Curno.
The comments about the article left on PubPeer are telling and convincing. Here’s a selection:
- My deepest apologies to the author if this isn’t the case, but this paper reads as though it is computer generated. Our group was cited by it, but I can’t make any sense of why.
- This article does appear to be absolute gibberish. And indeed the names of the editor and the three referees who are supposed to have accepted this appear on the article:
Tobias Alecio Mattei, Ohio State University, USA
Damian Stephen, Harvard University, USA
Tobias Alecio Mattei, Ohio State University, USA
David Kronemyer, University of California, Los Angeles, USA
- The figures appear incoherent within themselves. Is this one of those “tests” of the peer review system to see what can get through?
- Agreed. Only further strengthens my resolve not to publish in Frontiers again. Seems like they’ve completely lost it.
- Frontiers got paid, that seems to be the important part. Science is incidental.
Problems at COPE
COPE, the Committee on Publication Ethics, is experiencing problems that are affecting its credibility. Some believe that it has succumbed to cronyism, and as evidence of this they point to the election of Frontiers employee Mirjam J. Curno to COPE’s eleven-member Trustee Board.
I guess if you own a major pay-to-publish operation known for regularly accepting payments to publish highly-questionable scholarly articles, having one of your employees on COPE’s Trustee Board could be quite convenient.
The COPE board’s chair, Virginia Barbour, has regrettably politicized COPE by writing strident essays favoring open-access and attacking Elsevier. She uses military metaphors (“The battle for open access is far from over”) to fan the flames.
I think it’s inappropriate for a publishing ethics board chair to publicly favor one publishing model over another, to singularly attack one publisher that uses her unfavored model, and to politicize a so-called ethics organization.
Moreover, like many open-access zealots, Barbour underhandedly fails to acknowledge today’s most significant source of ethical failures in scholarly publishing — and the biggest threat to science — predatory publishers and journals.
Increasingly, those who draw large salaries from open-access publishing are the most fervent proponents of it. Their ideology supports their paychecks, or the other way around.
Frontiers makes its money from authors; they are the company’s customers. A business has to keep its customers happy to survive, and that’s Frontiers’ strategy here. Frontiers does not want to become known as a publisher that retracts papers, for this will result in a decrease in submissions and therefore revenue.
Frontiers’ peer reviewers have told me that the publisher’s in-house journal management system makes it virtually impossible to recommend a paper be rejected, a strategy designed to keep potential revenue from fleeing elsewhere. [Update: Frontiers now informs me that its journal management system now offers reviewers the option to recommend a paper be rejected.]
Other publishers have the same strategy expressed through different means. For example, this is why so many legitimate publishers and societies now have “easy acceptance” mega-journals: keep the money in-house.
Both Frontiers and COPE have been counterproductive in resolving the questionable nature of this article and its ongoing published status. The only worthy work has come from the operators of PubPeer, who have provided a platform to let the voice of scientists be heard.
Hat tip: Klaas van Dijk