Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Frontiers's new blunder: firing editors who disagree with the company's editorial policy

The academic publisher Frontiers has summarily fired a group of editors because of their criticism of the editorial policy of the journals they were editing. Not bad for a company that claims to be a "community oriented"  publisher.

It is not the first time that "Frontiers" appears in the news for a blunder or another. Last year, I gave up with Frontiers on a row over their retraction of a perfectly good paper and, just two months ago, they made another big mistake with a paper dealing with HIV/AIDS. I am more and more convinced that I did the right thing. 

I guess that there is something basically wrong with the idea that a commercial publisher can handle academic papers in the "Open Access" format. For a profit oriented company, the obvious way to go is to maximize the number of papers published,but that is obviously in contrast with the goal of maximizing their quality. 

Open access publishing seemed to be a good idea, at the beginning. It is probably still a good idea, but the way it has been implemented is turning out to be a disaster. 

Here are some documents about Frontiers' latest blunder

From "Science Magazine" (emphasis added)

"Emotions are running high. The editors say Frontiers' publication practices are designed to maximize the company's profits, not the quality of papers, and that this could harm patients. Frederick Fenter, executive editor at Frontiers, says the company had no choice but to fire the entire group because they were holding up the publication of papers until their demands were met, which he likens to "extortion."

Read the whole article

Here is the abstract of the "Manifesto of Editorial Independence of Editors of Frontiers Medical Journals "

Much to our regret, repeated recent attempts of the medical Editors to discuss crucial issues regarding their position within Frontiers remained unanswered. Therefore Editors of the Frontiers Medical Journals felt urged to write the enclosed Manifesto of Editorial Independence.

The manifesto is submitted to Frontiers Media SA as the publisher and owner of the medical journals Frontiers in Medicine, Frontiers in Surgery, and Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine and signed by Editors from 14 countries.
The manifesto summarizes the Publisher’s continued interference with our editorial independence, documented transgressions, the unacceptable peer review procedures of medical article manuscripts, and the medical publishing regulations of the WAME, the ICMJE, and the COPE. The publisher is required to respond to the manifesto, to implement changes so that the international medical publishing standards are met, and full editorial independence established and warranted.

And, finally, the start of Frontiers' long rebuttal.

Frontiers today ended the engagement of several Specialty Chief Editors and the Field Chief Editors of Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine and Frontiers in Medicine. The Chief Editors wanted Frontiers to change its fundamental principle of distributed editorial decision-making during peer-review and the editors refused communication with Frontiers, some even blocking journal operations, until these demands were met.


  1. Does it even matter anymore Ugo? I mean science. Any findings that appear to challenge economic growth are opposed with full force and malice by the powerful ones and public who want their way of life to go on. Here in Canada they have simply gutted the science departments that whose findings and recommendations ran counter to the Harper gangs oil-gas-resource extraction corporate wealth dreams. What must young people who are just about to start their careers in science think? What's the message to them when they hear of the Frontiers or the muzzling of public science and scientists while at the same time corporate and Gov/MIC recruiters are making them offers of financial and career security. You were in their shoes once Ugo - just starting out for a life in science. What would you have done?

    1. You see, in French there is this concept of the "idiot-savant." Someone with a great skill in some specific field, but totally helpless in others. It defines well most scientists: great professionals, extremely skilled in their fields, but hopelessly naive when they face the real world of sharks and wolves.

      In this case, it is sad to see how scientists are treated like coal miners on strike by commercial publisher who make money out of their willingness of working for free. When we go into politics, then, it is true disaster. Scientists can't manage politicians, they are managed by them; exploited and then dumped when not needed. Most historical "purges," from McCarthyism to the Cultural Revolution in China have been directed against unruly scientists. I would not be surprised to see another one, starting soon, against climate scientists. The symptoms are all there.

      Despite all that, I am still amazed by what science can do. When a group of competent scientists get together to explore a new field, the result is often a complete new view of the universe. Look at what's happening right now with Earth Sciences, we are witness a true knowledge revolution. If I were a young scientist, I would start as an Earth scientist- it is a great field to be in!



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014). His most recent book is "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017)