Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Is Frontiers Media a Predatory Publisher?

Frontiers Media ( 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.


  1. Thanks for the post and eventhough it is old I want to comment on it.

    Frontiers section journals have a chief editor, associate editors and review editors. Hence the discrepancy between the stated number of editors (=all of them) and your number (only associate editors).

    Publications of editors are only listed if they show up in the journals own publication database (loop). This is awkward and annoying, but not really any major issue.

    I can only judge the section in which I am an associate editor, but my experience is very good. Articles have been carefully reviewed. Reviews usually go over more than just 1 or 2 review rounds and offer the opportunity for a discussion between authors and reviewers (under supervision of the associate editor). In a recent case, reviewers requested more data to validate key statments in a submitted manuscript. The authors asked mne to put the submission on hold, to be able to collect this data and then revise their manuscript accordingly. This is a very constructive and helpful process to improve the scientific quality.

    I also want to challenge critics, as I have experienced countless examples of illegitimate behaviours by "established" publishers and their editors. I was once asked (after acceptance of an article) by a chief editor of a Wiley journal to please make sure to cite my own paper at least 12 times over the next 2 years (sic!). I have also been invited by an editor of a Springer journal to review a paper of which I was a co-author. And what about the countless errata and corrigendum sections in Nature, is this not somewhat fishy?

  2. I have published over fifty articles in my career, including four in Frontiers (in Immunology and Microbiology). I did not especially feel that the reviews were worse than elsewhere. But I must admit that Frontiers generally leaves more opportunities for authors to defend their work, which is not a bad thing.

    Reviewers have, I think, less opportunity to reject an article without justification, which is also not a bad thing. I have had the opportunity several times to find that well-established journals tolerate authoritative arguments from reviewers, which is not very serious. But this is only my personal experience which is quite limited.