Take it all in

February 11, 2016

In the article on how higher selectivity of research papers fails to increase impact, Pascal Rocha da Silva, process strategy manager at open access publisher Frontiers, writes that a rejection rate of up to 30 per cent is justifiable, to “ensure only sound research is published” (“High rejection rates by journals ‘pointless’”, News, 28 January).

So far, Frontiers has not made its own rejection rate official. In a recent interview with Richard Poynder, CEO Kamila Markram stated a rejection rate of “around 19 per cent”. She insists that editors act independently from publisher’s interference. My information, however, shows that they are highly constrained by rules and editorial contracts at Frontiers, which make manuscript rejections rather cumbersome.

Frontiers’ publishing process is streamlined towards accepting as many submissions as possible. Authors of a submitted manuscript are free to choose the handling associate editor themselves, who is then automatically assigned. As a result, editors and reviewers are occasionally admitted who are total outsiders from the field, lack academic qualifications or stand in a conflict of interest with authors. On the other hand, associate editors complain of being worn down by recurrent rounds of revisions, during which they feel pressured to cave in and click “accept”. Only the chief editor is entitled to reject a submission or to revoke an inappropriate handling editor at a Frontiers journal. It seems, however, that some chief editors are often either unaware of their own editorial processes or are not interested in preventing papers of questionable scientific quality from being published. This is why Frontiers has accepted articles on the supernatural and parapsychology, and a certain nonsense paper that they still refuse to retract. Finally, after the mass sacking of the medical chief editors, the journal Frontiers in Medicine has been operating without an editor-in-chief for many months. It nevertheless published a number of papers while there was officially hardly anyone in the position to reject manuscripts.

Leonid Schneider
Independent science journalist

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