Reviewer to Frontiers: Your Review Process is Merely for Show — I quit

Frontiers

Equal opportunity for junk science.

A senior researcher recently forwarded me a copy of an email he sent to the controversial Switzerland-based open-access publisher Frontiers. In the email, the researcher resigns as a Frontiers reviewer, citing fatal flaws in the publisher’s peer review process.

Here’s the email, anonymized at the sender’s request:

From: [Redacted]
Sent: [Redacted] 2016 [redacted]
To: ‘Frontiers in Psychology’ <psychology@frontiersin.org>
Subject: RE: Frontiers in Psychology

Hi Dr. Ashikali,

I have finished my final review for Frontiers. Please remove me from the so-called “Review” Board.

As someone who reviews for over 40 scientific journals, I would like to note that I have continued concerns about Frontiers’ status as a predatory journal / publication mill. For the final resubmission I was waiting to review, the authors resubmitted without addressing any of the major concerns (basically saying see certain lines of text, which were actually word-for-word unchanged). The “review” process simply leads to low-quality work. Reviewers are bombarded with dozens of irrelevant review requests. In the event they agree to review, resubmissions commonly include letters that point to passages of text that have supposedly been “updated” but have not in actuality. Since reviewers are so overburdened with low-quality and irrelevant work from this journal, and because the rejection process is needlessly intricate (with numerous “are you sure” warnings), I suspect many non-updated or non-responsive resubmissions make it to publication. Essentially, this makes the “review” process merely for show. The incentive process supports low-quality reviews from reviewers, authors getting published, and Frontiers getting paid.

I will be forwarding a redacted version of this correspondence to Beall’s list. Please remove my name from your web site.

[Redacted]

Frontiers is on my list, and I recommend against submitting papers to its many journals.

Frontiers has been on the attack against me for months, as documented in Leonid’s Schneider’s blog For Better Science.

The publisher has sent numerous emails to the President of the University of Colorado and other university officials demanding that they silence me. They’ve recruited some of their editors to send long, smarmy messages praising the “beauty” of Frontiers to university officials.

One of the commenters on Schneider’s blog post noted that COPE guidelines advise publishers to be polite and avoid being drawn into personal exchanges. Frontiers has attacked both me and Schneider in long exchanges, in apparent violation of the COPE guidelines.

However, Frontiers used its wealth to recruit and hire a COPE board member from another publisher, so the likelihood of any corrective action from COPE is remote.

If there were a listing of arrogant predatory open-access publishers, I think Frontiers would lead the list.

32 Responses to Reviewer to Frontiers: Your Review Process is Merely for Show — I quit

  1. Miguel Roig says:

    I applaud the president and other University of Colorado officials for their support of academic freedom. I bet others would have caved under such pressure. Keep up the good work, Jeffrey.

  2. Nils says:

    As rightly pointed out by a commenter on Leonid Schneider’s blog, in their letter to University of Colorado officials Frontiers try to give the impression they are associated with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), although they are a commercial company that just happens to be located in the Innovation Park on the same campus as EPFL.

  3. wkdawson says:

    I have no experience personally with Frontiers, but I know someone who submitted a manuscript there because (living outside the US) I sometime help non-native speakers with their manuscripts. The subject area of the student was not my primary area of research, but I know enough to help with writing a good paper in general.

    The student came back to me several times during the reviewing process and asked me how to address the reviewer’s comments on the science and how to improve specific sentences. In that case, I think the reviewer’s requests were quite sensible and I helped the student address the concerns properly and it was eventually published.

    I didn’t know that Frontiers was actually on this list, but anyway, I was not involved in any aspect of that decision process.

    As a counter example, I can also vividly recall another instance where I was asked to review for a fairly high impact factor journal (subscription based) where the authors said they did things and corrected things after the first round, and quite in fact they didn’t do more than a cosmetic correction of my “minor comments”. The editor there took the side of the authors and ignored my objections.

    I always seem to come back to pointing out that the publication process relies very heavily on the good faith of all parties involved. The editor in Frontiers should have checked, but if an author says he/she fixed something, you usually assume that they did what was claimed. Applying the same measuring stick, perhaps I should have excoriated the high impact (subscription) journal. Lack of good faith is affecting both OA and subscription based journals.

    That said, I am sorry to read that Frontiers is attacking you. It would be better that they focus their energies on correcting any detected problems with their journal.

  4. Frontiers is one of the first Scientific Spammers that we listed when we fired up the list. The listing for

    inetnum: 95.138.139.60 – 95.138.139.63
    netname: RSPC-UK-Frontiers-Media-SA
    descr: Frontiers Media SA IP Space
    country: GB

    dates from 6 March 2014.

  5. Keith says:

    This case indicates that not all predatory journals/publishers (or, perhaps more pertinently, predatory publishers identified on this blog) are based in non-First World countries.

    Once again I’m baffled by the ridiculous, grammatically unsound and/or emotive language used by predatory publishers when defending themselves from allegations. The reference to “beauty” in this article made me roll my eyes, so I went looking for the original quote from the defending letter at ( https://drive.google.com/file/d/0By2HqPi4t2RbWFh4cnNQU3VnWTg/view ):

    “I would like to conclude by saying that for me and for many-many [sic] thousands of fellow scientists, Frontiers is [sic] beautiful and pure jewel. I was expecting everyone to share this feeling but I have learned over the years that when one succeeds there are always some that become bitter and envious of this success; some resist progress, others even try to destroy it. I wish that people like Mr. Beall could see the beauty when it is there – when the underlying passion is to improve the world and change it to [sic] the better, as is the case with Frontiers.”

    This sounds like a teenager defending their favourite TV show on Tumblr, or a sycophant sucking up to a billionaire on LinkedIn, or an Oscars acceptance speech, or even a toddler throwing a temper tantrum, not a professional letter. “Waaaah! Why can’t you see the beauty?! Why are you so meeeeeean! You’re just jealous! I’m gonna hold my breath until you stop being such a meeeeeeanieeeeee!”

  6. German says:

    Hello, Jeffrey. Thanks for your hard work watching over low-quality publishers.
    What do you think about the journal Chemical Engineering Transactions http://www.aidic.it/cet/? Recently I noticed high amounts of papers from certain researchers published here, so I took a peek to the journal, and saw that every “online volume” of the journal (I don’t know about the printed version, if it exists) has hundreds of papers, many of these of extremely low quality. And they show it without shame, every “online volume” has an “author index” which shows how many contributions has every author in the number, and some authors presents many papers in every particular number of the journal. What could be happening with this journal? Can it be included in your list, or not because is not OA (I think that is not OA, I didn’t investigate)? I suspect that in this case a journal included in Scopus is being exploited and abused to inflate the publications record of researchers. How could we refer to this situation (in case that there is not economic benefit for the journal, which I don’t know)?
    Thanks for your attention,
    German

    • The journal does appear to be open-access (I was able to access the full-text of every article I clicked on), and I do see some strange things about the journal, especially its industrial-like output. I am unclear whether authors have to pay to publish and unclear why it has so many articles in it, as the journal does not have an impact factor. Overall, it does not meet the criteria for inclusion in my list at this time. I will monitor it, and thank you for bringing it to my attention.

      • Caroline says:

        I publish in and have reviewed for the neuroscience journals of frontiers. I quite like the process, I have found the reviews to be helpful and sound, and when the review is done the reviewers were people in the field who were well qualified. I also think that knowing the reviewer’s name at the end helps take out some of the nastiness reviewers may have. I don’t mind true criticism, but sometimes there is a bite to it that is unnecessary. Not always, but it does make things feel more civil. I also notice that the reviewers and editors seem more diverse, open to non-US editors and reviewers. In each case they were qualified, just not the “big” names you often see.

        I hope these journals aren’t predatory, not only do I like them but I have three papers with them!

        The last submission cost $2500, but I was granted a reduced fee waiver.

  7. IndRes says:

    ResearchGate has there own impact factor system.But Beall has not included them in fake impact factor list. In return RG is not including the journals in Bealls list..

    • Keith says:

      Are you saying ResearchGate’s impact factor system (I wasn’t aware they assigned ratings to journals) is fake or misleading? On what basis?

    • Marco says:

      ResearchGate is not a Publisher. It does not have any journals. So, of course it is not included in Beall’s list!

      • IndRes says:

        Beall had written about many fake impact factors like Index Copernicus etc.They are not publishers.but he never mentioned about RG any time.If I calculate and publish impact factor based on thomson reuter method.Beall will say it is fake but never ever mention RG s journal impact

  8. Vince DeBari says:

    Over the past few years, I’ve developed a personal policy of vetting every journal that asks me to review a manuscript. If the journal or publisher is listed on Beall’s List, I decline, immediately.

    By the way, an example of the ludicrous reviews that are generated by these paper mills follows. [I redacted the journal’s name]. It was sent to a grad student who submitted the paper, knowing nothing about predatory publishers and,apparently, neither did her mentor!

    “REVIEWER 1

    This paper will undoubtedly contribute to the existing field of research. This is a timely research. The paper is organized, especially in presenting the consistent thoughts. This paper can be published in its present form.

    REVIEWER 2

    The research is informative and based on sound concepts. There is a good consistency in the paper. It follows the basic principles of a good research. No mentionable flaw has been found in the paper. I would like to recommend this paper to publish in IJXXX.”

    Poor grammar and syntax to start, but most offensive: These “reviews” could apply to anything from a paper in astrophysics to one in molecular biology!
    …and are clearly fabricated, most likely two of a stable of fake reviews this editor has on hand.

  9. sara says:

    Dear Jefrey I need information about if the journal Sensors & Transducers
    © 2015 by IFSA Publishing, S. L.
    http://www.sensorsportal.com

    has it ever been indexed in Scopus or Thomson Reuters ??

    Thank you

    • I can’t even find an ISSN on their website. I must refer you to Scopus and TR.

      • Mike B says:

        ISSN is not a prerequisite for a journal or book.
        ISSN and DOI are just new means of gathering money from people, particulalry DOI (as ISSN is generally free, but indirectly money is gathered, too).

      • I wouldn’t be so cynical about standard identifiers here. As a librarian, I can tell you that standard identifiers (DOI, ISBN, ISSN, ORCID) have great value and enable high search precision a recall, enabling high-quality information retrieval. They also enable the calculation of scholarly metrics.

    • sara says:

      ISSN: 2306-8515
      e-ISSN: 1726-5479

      for Sensors & Transducers

      • justaguy says:

        The journal was indexed in Scopus (as Sensors and Transducers) from 2011 to 2014. I did not find any trace of it in WOS.

  10. Mike B says:

    Researchgate is a spammer and it should be considered as such.
    They gather and sell users’ profiles without their permission.
    To appear “popular”, Researchgate adds articles from people who do not wish to appear in their spamming gate!
    This is unethical practice. Gathering money by advertisement and on the back of users should be shameful.

  11. Josh Herr wrote on 28 October 2016 at https://twitter.com/number_three/status/792077148219506688 and at https://twitter.com/number_three/status/792076699303194624 :

    “I quit reviewing for @FrontiersIn after receiving nasty email from an editor saying my review discouraged future submissions from authors.”

    “I try to always be an understanding and nice reviewer, but I refuse to rubber stamp manuscripts (i.e. those in @FrontiersIn).”

  12. Mike B says:

    What are the real values such identifiers would add to the identified materials?
    I’m sure that you are well aware that many journals have been operating for decades – some of them for centuries – without any of these identifiers.
    I do not see how a virtual identifier could make a manuscript or a book or a journal more valuable than others.
    If you have the best identifiers possible but the content of your material is mediocre, what values identifiers would add to it? Inversly, you can have good ideas, good content, etc but without any identifier.
    DOI, for example, applies annual and individual fees for papers but for nothing in return because journal publishers should keep their journals/manuscripts alive, otherwise the DOI identifiers won’t work at all!
    You just throw your money by the window by assigning DOI.
    For ORCID, it looks like Researchgate that has been transformed into a black market of frauds, money and ads. Nothing else worthy.
    Take a look at Researchgate and you will see it by yourself: starting from the profiles’ pictures, many senior and old guys put their pictures when they were young or “teenager” while now they have 70 ans!
    Many guys add whatever tables, figures, dataset, posters, etc., and they are all counted as publications. Try it yourself and upload whatever you want and it will increase your publication record substantially!
    Without talking about the same paper that could be added by more than one coauthor, so it will be counted as many times as it is added by the different coauthors.
    You can upload any kind of documents (picture, excel, word, etc.) and it will appear in your profile as a new publication.
    You can easily have 100 publications in your profiles by uploading anything you want, whatever you want.
    How, then, can you eventually trust identifiers issued from such a so-called “company”?
    It is a “GarbageGate” or “SpamGate” or “FraudGate”, nothing more.

    • You seem really upset about these identifiers and social media platforms. I see them as merely tools to share research (rather than measures of quality).

      Identifiers, such as DOI, ISBN and ORCID, simply make it easier for your work to be found and therefore more likely to be read. They do not make the articles or chapters intrinsically better, but they allow them to be more accessible.

      Social media platforms, like ResearchGate and Academia, do the same. They make it easier to share research. By posting preprints (or copies of hard to find chapters), even people without institutional access to academic journals or books can read your work.

      I have been on several hiring committees, but I do not know any serious academic who thinks that the number of publications (or citations) according to ResearchGate are valid measures of research quantity (or quality).

  13. Lalitha Pasam says:

    Happy Diwali jefff

  14. Hugo van den Berg says:

    What worries me most is that Frontiers’ bad practices are not a million miles away from those of some of the respectable ones. What we (against experience perhaps) judge an aberration in a proper journal has become standard practice in an operation like Frontiers. I mean, we all know that Royal Society journals are prone to “cluster f*cks” with a clique of mates reviewing one another’s work, and we have learned to take their “theme” or “focus” issues with a grain of salt. With Frontiers, this model has merely been taken to its logical extreme.

  15. Jeremy Marchant Forde says:

    I am a Specialty Chief Editor for a Frontiers journal and have been involved in the review process for this journal for about 2 years. I have been reviewing for about 25 years and have reviewed for over 40 different journals, acting in editorial roles for a number of them. As the Specialty Chief Editor, I monitor the review process for all the manuscripts submitted through the section and have no qualms about rejecting those manuscripts of poor quality that should be rejected. I also have received no ‘pressure’ from above to accept the unacceptable papers. I have personally invited and appointed all the Associate Editors, with their expertise and experience in mind, and have impressed upon them the need to ensure the quality and integrity of the section. I am confident that I am establishing and maintaining the section with these 2 key characteristics. The review process is different from ‘traditional’ journals, but I have not had any negative feedback from those who have gone through the process in my section. Indeed, I have had only positive feedback.

    Of the 40 other journals that I have reviewed for I have encountered unethical and/or dishonest practice in some, even in some of the ‘high end’ journals within my field. And of course as a scientist keeping up-to-date with the current research output, I have read some truly appalingly designed studies, that have somehow been deemed acceptable for publication in respected journals.

    So, the upshot of all this is that the quality, or lack of, should not be tied to any given journal, by name or reputation only. To dismiss the whole Frontiers set-up as predatory does a disservice. To include a Frontiers title on your list, you would need to look at each journal or even each specialty section individually and carry out a thorough review of the practices within the specialty. I suspect you have neither the inclination nor the required skillset to judge the science within each section. This should apply to all those journals/publishers that you have on your list.

    • My understanding is that the “specialty chief editors” receive income from from Frontiers, and these are the ones who always write about how great they are and who attack me personally. They want to preserve the income they are receiving for being so great. Frontiers uses multilevel marketing, like Amway.

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