Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Is Frontiers Media a Predatory Publisher?

Frontiers Media (frontiersin.org) is an open access publisher in Lausanne, Switzerland, founded by serious neuroscientists. I looked around to learn what people were saying about it after receiving a request to review a manuscript for Frontiers in Genetics. The associate editor who wrote me as well most of the large board of "chief editors" seem to be serious and published researchers, but I do not know what to make of the journal's claim to have 5,689 editors. Zooming in on the field of "ELSI in Science and Genetics" yielded a list of 131 "associate editors." Frontiers notes the number of articles these editors have written; 27 had no publications of their own (or if they did, Frontiers neglected to mention them).

Naturally, Frontiers claims that all of its 59 journals covering more than 460 specialties conduct transparent and rigorous peer review. It also states that "We publish all papers that are scientifically correct." (Emphasis in webpage). This asservation is hardly transparent. What is a "scientifically correct" paper? One that reports true results? No journal can guarantee that. Does it mean that every article that meets some methodological criteria will be published? What about those that do not meet these criteria? How many of the 65,000 papers published in the profusion of journals are not only incorrect, but reflect poorly conceived or executed research?

Wikipedia lists various controversies about Frontiers articles and resignations of editors. Individuals have complained about the shallowness of the review process (e.g., 1, 2) and allegedly heavy-handed or unscrupulous tactics by Frontiers to shut down Beall's list of predatory journals (e.g., 3, 4). One Frontier editor wrote an interesting description of "How to create a top journal by accepting (almost) everything" (5).

So what is the verdict on the Frontiers collection of articles? I am not prepared to pin the label "predatory" on them, but given the nonscientific polling and anecdotal reports that abound (6), it seems doubtful that publishing in these journals would be regarded as a coup.

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