Why I do not trust Frontiers journals, especially not @FrontDigitalHum

In which a favour for a colleague leads to being associated with un-scholarly peer review practices, un-collegiate behaviour, and predatory open access publishing mechanisms. My advice? Stay away from Frontiers.

1. Poor Peer Review Practices

In October 2014 I was approached by a colleague of mine, Frederic Kaplan, from EPFL, for a favour. I had worked with Frederic on running DH2014, still the largest ever international meeting of Digital Humanities scholars. Frederic was setting up a new, online, open access, peer reviewed journal in Digital Humanities. Would I help him out in being a reviewer? Of course, I said. Our community needs more venues to publish in, Digital Humanities has a commitment to open access, and having helped set up an online, peer reviewed, open access, Digital Humanities journal myself, I know how difficult it is to get any established scholars to support you in the early days. I was happy to help: I do try to be helpful. But now I have to be helpful to the wider online community to discuss what happens when you lend your name to a Frontiers publication.

I dealt with the Frontiers editorial team, not Frederic, for the new journal: Frontiers in Digital Humanities. I was surprised when they sent me the journal article to review – given it was written by Frederic alone. I probably should have said “conflict of interest” there, but the Digital Humanities community is so small, we often are asked to review things by people we know, and I think I can take an objective stance, so I undertook a careful review. On the 12th November 2014 I returned the article with my detailed peer review (which I would be happy to share if anyone is interested – it is very constructive). I believe I rejected the article, stating that it needed a complete rewrite before resubmission, and provided guidance in order for that to happen, including the need for adequate referencing and examples, and pointing out where I just plain disagreed with the paper. In March 2015 the resubmitted paper was returned to me, and I pointed out a whole list of minor typographical corrections which still needed to be made before it could be accepted, but agreed that the “Journal Coordinator” Yaelle Bochatay could check these typos before publication.

I remember feeling they had me over a barrel at that point, given they kept asking if the changes had been made – I had asked for certain corrections to be made, they were now made, which should now make it publishable, right? See how this is a professional development opportunity I wasn’t expecting: in retrospect, I now realise that if I’ve rejected a paper for complete rewrite, it should really go to others for peer review afterwards to get another opinion, but I didn’t make that stance at the time and felt pressurised by Frontiers in DH with their many emails. I agreed that the changes I had asked for had been made, and up my name goes on the website saying I’ve reviewed the article, which technically, I did.

Screenshot from Frontiers in DH showing Melissa Terras as a reviewer
A screenshot from the Frontiers in DH paper http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fdigh.2015.00001/full indicating how the paper was reviewed – except all is not quite what it seems.

There’s a few things to say about this. Firstly, why is it ok to only have one peer reviewer on an article? Now, the history of peer review is complex, and its difficult to know what is enough, but one peer reviewer? One? I had assumed, naively, there would be more than one – I didn’t think to check, given I’ve never been in a peer review situation before where I would be the only reviewer, without that being made explicitly clear to me. Frontiers had not mentioned that I was the only peer reviewer (it was made clear to me that my name was going to be online, and at the time, I was happy with that: I stand by my work). But one? Uh-oh. They werent asking me for a peer review. They were asking me to associate my name with the journal, so they could point to me.

But the other problem is, this isn’t transparent. It doesn’t list the fact that I rejected the paper for full rewrite given its poor quality, nor when it was resubmitted after rewrite. Congratulations, you are now the peer reviewer in a substandard peer review process which isn’t all as it seems, with its claims for transparency and claims for revolutionising publishing – the whole thing seemed like a predatory rush job. I hadn’t been able to check out the journal before getting involved in the peer review process – there was nothing to check out, given there was nothing online, and I had trusted Frederic. I felt duped: the whole thing feels icky. But I was prepared to let the whole thing go, and chalk it up to experience (given I had indeed undertaken the peer review for them, and I did accept that the changes had been made to the journal article making it a much stronger paper than originally submitted), although I was decided I would not review for them ever again. However, that was until the opening scenes of the DH2015 conference…

2. Why are all the Senior Editors in Frontiers in DH male?

Over to DH2015, and the international meeting of Digital Humanities scholars in Sydney, Australia. Sitting in the audience, waiting for the first plenary speaker in the opening ceremony, I open the conference bag, and lo! there’s the launch material for Frontiers in DH. I’ll pass this over to a fantastic tweet by Matthew Lincoln, also sitting in the audience, which summed up the shock a lot of us felt. (Screenshot included here in case the tweet disappears, but seriously, thanks Matthew for sending this tweet out).

Shot of leaflet showing Frederic Kaplan as chief editor, and 9 male senior editors
The Frontiers in Digital Humanities senior editorial board. You dont have to have a penis to be a chief editor for Frontiers in DH, but it helps!

Wait, you dont understand why this is problematic? When 46% of the 500+ attendees to DH2015 audience were women? When DH is has plenty of knowledgeable women around, when four out of the last 5 program chairs of the DH conferences have been women (myself included), when… I could go on and on, but Women In Digital Humanities Are Not Hard To Find, Okay? When there are lots of women around being very helpful, and here, in 2015, we have a new journal launched that can only find men to put in senior positions. Right-oh. Let’s just pause for a minute and congratulate them on that, shall we?

Screenshot from congrats you have an all male panel, featuring frontiers in DH
Congratulations, open access journal Frontiers in Digital Humanities! You have an all male senior editorial board. Featured over at Congratulations you have an all male panel.

So what do I do? First, of course, I take to the twitter (as do others):

Screenshot of tweets asking Frederic to readdress the gender balance
A twitter conversation erupts re Frontiers in DH. There’s much more online if you want to dig, but this just isnt about the twitter argument, so I’ll move on.

Then I email Frederic and ask him to remove my name from the journal, as I can no longer give it my support. And in the break I find him, and talk to him in person. He said “it wasn’t deliberate” – I explain that systemic misogyny rarely is. He asks for my help to sort it out: I explain that I have my own journals to look after, and my own work to do, and he has to own this and he has to sort it out himself. I explain I’m not going to be the mummy that comes in and rescues him: its part of being an adult, an academic leader, to recognise that this is an issue, and that you need to put in the work yourself to remedy things when you mess up. We chat, and he agrees that he understands why I should remove my name from supporting the journal. I stress that when his senior editorial board reaches gender parity, we can revisit this, and I would be happy to support him and his work on this, if he can find women for his senior editorial board. I stress that sexism in academia is an important issue for me, and I have to take a stand against such blatant exclusion of women from the academic commons. He agrees.

And then, in later email conversations, which involve higher and higher members of staff from the Frontiers journal office, he denies I ever rejected his paper with major corrections, and my name does not come down from Frontiers in DH, despite many polite requests from me. He asks me again and again and again to find women for him. But he does nothing to support my escalating requests to remove my name from his journal until the gender balance issue is addressed by him. Nothing.


In case there is any doubt, I no longer support Frontiers in Digital Humanities in protest at the fact that they only have men on their senior editorial board. And Frontiers in Digital Humanities are refusing to take my name off their website. I had trusted Frederic. I had felt that the peer review process was less than satisfactory: but the whole thing feels more than icky now. It feels predatory.

3. Why wont Frontiers remove my name when I ask?

Shall I show you some of the responses I got from the Frontier Journals editorial team? Oh go on let me show you some of them. Explaining why they wont remove my name from Frontiers in Digital Humanities, Frederick Fenter, Executive Editor of Frontiers, said: “To remove it would… cause damage to the author of that article. We look forward to hearing from your lawyers.” Responding to criticism regarding the gender issue of the Frontiers in DH board, Fenter said “Our CEO is a woman, 80% of our editorial office employees are women”. You’ve heard it here first – the lowly editorial assistants are women, the senior editors are men. BINDERS FULL OF WOMEN, I tell you. They maintain I signed an agreement with Frontiers to have my name associated with them forever: I never signed any agreement. I asked them for a copy of the agreement they claim to have: they do not respond. It goes on and on. They will not remove my name.

I get an email from Dr Kamila Markram, CEO & Co-Founder on Frontiers, on the 16th July 2015, trying to persuade me that Frontiers “are of course extremely sensitive about the representation on our external editorial boards” stating:

we work hard to be demographically representative.  We find that women, for whatever reason, are many times less likely to accept an editorial appointment, given comparable career advancement – much to my personal disappointment… because we are sensitive to the gender bias within academia and publishing, we do make an extra effort to seek out and approach women who will become part of the solution, become active editors in our journals and help change the field. I always felt the best way to shift the balance is to be a part of the change by setting a positive example of achievement.

The Digital Humanities journal is only a few months old with only a handful of articles published, but I was excited to launch this journal as it has so much potential to showcase the incredible research the scientists in digital humanities are accomplishing.  A number of women have been approached for positions at all levels from Specialty Chief Editors to Associate Editors to Reviewers, and we are waiting for responses. Already we have a number of female Associate Editors on board including Nadia Bianchi-Berhouze, Jeannette Franziska Frey, and Eleanor Selfridge-Field.  Eleanor was recently chosen as one of our Science Heroes. She was interviewed by our team in June to showcase her amazing work and her pioneering spirit. We have also interviewed female scientists in other fields such as Molecular Bioscientist Annalisa Pastore and have a number of others in the works.  We are hoping that our Science Hero profiles will help inspire others to join the field and inform the general public and media of the great research that is being done.
Everything I’ve been doing at Frontiers to help improve gender equality which might seem tiny to you, but believe me, the awareness is there and so is the effort. I’d be very happy to hearing your ideas on how we can reach the desired gender balance with more of the top female scientists in the world and get them to become active editors.  A fresh and constructive perspective is always most welcome.

She also states

 Frontiers is all about fixing the many problems in scientific publishing.  We have improved peer review by making it impact-neutral, collaborative and transparent.

I respond by asking many questions:

1). Please can you tell me why you think having one peer reviewer per article is adequate?
2). Please can you tell me if Frederic Kaplan (or any other senior editor) is paid a fee for editing one of your journals?
3). Please can you tell me why you don’t state if an article has been rejected and requires full revision, given your publishing model is supposed to be more transparent?
4). Please can you tell me why you wont respect an academic’s wishes in having their association removed from your journals, and website, when they make that polite request?
5). Please can you tell me what checks on make up of an editorial board regarding gender (and racial diversity) you make prior to launching a new journal? Who in the Frontiers family checks off a new journal, and double checks that any concerns about gender equality and diversity have been adequately addressed?

And I make constructive points:

Do you realise that only appointing men to senior editorial positions (which is categorically what you have done with Frontiers in DH), and women to more junior positions (I hear 80% of your copy-editors are women! well done!) represents the inherently sexist models in the publishing industry? You, personally, allowed this to happen.

If I were you, I’d be refusing to launch new journals in any field unless there were at least 30% female senior editors already appointed. (50% in an ideal world, but lets go for realistic). I would be setting up a checking stage for gender equality before launch, and rigorously policing it. (There are other issues regarding diversity, such as race and disability, which you should also be looking out for, btw – but gender is the one I feel I can most constructively tackle).

I’d also be having Frederic apologise to me, and removing my name and institutional association from any Frontiers in DH web pages, immediately. As I stated to him in person, I’d be happy to revisit this when you have actioned gender parity, but not before. As it stands, you are trading on my name and my institution’s name, when I have politely, and publicly removed support for your publication in protest for the problematic gender representation on the board of Frontiers in DH.

I’d then be finding the women in DH who are so visible, and often excluded: excluded because men like Frederic can’t or don’t look past their own old boys’ networks, and excluded from journal boards – even by companies run by a woman – because those companies don’t actively encourage or check that there is gender equality in a way which is constructive and practical (refusal to launch a journal if there is not apposite gender representation) rather than fluffy and patronising (Science Heroes! Bless, how lovely).

The CEO does not respond. I leave these emails to speak for themselves.

4. Advice for others considering publishing in Frontiers in Digital Humanities

I dont mean this to come across as an attack on one particular person. I’m frustrated – sure I’m frustrated – but I think, really, this is about the Frontiers model of publishing. Frederic hasn’t said to me himself, but I’m presuming his silence means that he has tried to have dialogue with Frontiers – but it is them who are stopping my name coming off the website, given all emails refusing my request are coming from them (although, Hi Frederic! let me know if that is the case! Really would be lovely to hear from you!) In case you think this is a hatchet job, I’ve been telling Frederic and the journal editors for two weeks now that I intend to talk about it publicly if we cannot get it sorted out: they have had every opportunity to act in a collegiate manner, but I dont believe they have. So let’s now look at the Frontiers mode of publishing.

Its expensive to publish with them. This is a profit making venture (which isn’t bad within itself). But there are other open access journals around in Digital Humanities which are more established, that don’t charge these fees, and have the scholarly support of the community (disclaimer: I’m on the editorial board of one, but there are others). One has to wonder why you would publish in Frontiers in Digital Humanities, really, given the costs, never mind the problematic peer review and gender issues. But hey! don’t worry! If you are lucky you can win the cost of publishing a journal article with them! That’s right! you can WIN THE COST OF PUBLISHING AN ARTICLE WITH THEM. If that doesn’t set alarm bells ringing, I don’t know what will.

screenshot of tweet showing competition to win costs of publishing with frontiers in DH
Roll up, roll up, your academic career starts with a raffle.

The full editorial board (not just the senior editorial board) has 496 people on it. Wait. 496 people? (I haven’t done an exact count but it looks to me that the majority of them are men, btw). But at time of writing there are only 3 papers in the journal? Uh-oh. Something isn’t right here. I ask around. A colleague tells me she has had more than 14 emails in the past few months asking her to be listed on the (low level, not the senior) editorial board. That she feels pressured into getting involved. Uh-oh.

I’ve already detailed, above, how the peer review process left me feeling it was inadequate. I wouldn’t publish in this journal, as it stands, as the peer review process is so lax and untrustworthy (and I state that as a peer reviewer!), never mind this additional stuff about refusing to remove someone’s name from a webpage.

A journal called Frontiers in Bioscience is listed over at Beall’s list of Potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers [however – paragraph updated 26/07/2015 – a comment left below states that this has nothing to do with the Frontiers family of journals we are talking about here – instead of deleting this sentence I’m keeping it in with an explanation as I think its important that the distinction is made for others looking at Beall’s list: None of the Frontiers journals from Frontiers Media occur, or have ever occurred, on Mr Beall’s list. I’m happy to make the correction here].

Let’s take a look at the criteria for determining predatory publishers which puts journals on Beall’s list, shall we? Its a long list, available in a PDF, but there are things on that list which Frontiers in Digital Humanities is definitely coming up trumphs with (I quote here from Criteria for Determining Predatory Open-Access Publishers, but the highlighting is all my own):

  • The journals have an insufficient number of board members , (e.g., 2 or 3 members), have concocted editorial boards (made up names), name scholars on their editorial board without their knowledge or permission or have board members who are prominent researchers but exempt them from any contributions to the journal except the use of their names and/or photographs.
  • The editorial board engages in gender bias (i.e., exclusion of any female members).
  • The publisher begins operations with a large fleet of journals, often using a common template to quickly create each journal’s home page.
  • The publisher engages in excessive use of spam email to solicit manuscripts or editorial board memberships.
  • Evidence exists showing that the publisher does not really conduct a bona fide peer review.

etc etc etc. Uh-oh.

All this to say: I wouldn’t like anyone to think that just because my name is on the Frontiers in Digital Humanities website that I support this effort or this publishing house. I did undertake a peer review for them once, in good faith. I have asked for my name to be removed in protest for gender balance issues in their senior editorial board appointments,  but “To remove it would… cause damage to the author of that article”. As a result I’m left recommending that others in Digital Humanities do not go anywhere near Frontiers in Digital Humanities, to prevent any damage to themselves, or their own scholarly reputation.

But then again, I’m always happy to be transparent when it comes to academic publishing.

Update: 28th July 2015

A week has gone by since my original post, and I haven’t had any official contact from Frontiers. I’ve been contacted by many in the Digital Humanities who confirm the spamming emails they’ve had from Frontiers, and many of you have turned Secret Squirrel, sharing what you know.

Turns out I’m not the first to draw attention to the problematic peer review and publishing model of Frontiers. You can read into other such public postings, especially this post from @deevybee on “My collapse of confidence in Frontiers journals”, posted just a few weeks ago. Professor Bishop covers more about the history of the platform and other recent public statements made by academics over how they view it – it’s worth a read, so I won’t cover this ground again here, but it shows that this isn’t just a paranoid rant from me: those considering publishing in this venue should be very careful.

Regarding their publishing model – I was right in surmising that “Frontiers awards annual honoraria to chief editors at threshold levels of success of their journals” … what would success look like? Well, it turns out there’s a set of public facing guidelines for Speciality Chief Editors, hilariously titled “Equal Opportunity Research Publishing” (given the fact that Equal Ops regarding gender doesn’t come into the equation). It’s clearly a franchise model, fair enough. Now, these guidelines makes for very interesting reading, and there are numerous stages where Frontiers in DH didn’t follow the rules – only one peer review, instead of two (despite the hundreds of editors!), the peer review wasn’t blind – Frederic specifically asked for me to review his paper. I didn’t undertake the review as part of the interactive system – it was all done over email, etc etc. So here we have a franchise that just didn’t follow the rules, which is probably the source of my ill-feeling about the Frontiers in DH peer review process. I therefore suggest that anyone considering publishing with Frontiers or being asked to join the review board looks at these guidelines, and people should double check that they are happy with this approach, and that when they are involved, the rules are followed.

I will repeat my call regarding gender and the make up of editorial boards: these Equal Opportunity Research Publishing guidelines should have some consideration for the constituency of the boards, including gender representation, and it wouldn’t be hard for them to insert a clause about this on page 9 if they truly were invested in supporting women in academia. Just check that you haven’t excluded women – it would go a long way to making sure that people don’t “forget” about this, given the issues of systemic misogyny within the academy.

I think I’ve said all I have to say, for now, on this – I’m still disappointed in how all this unfolded, but I have work to do. Next time I’m approached to review for a new journal, I’ll be a tonne more skeptical, and, sadly, less trusting. Be careful out there, folks.

20 thoughts on “Why I do not trust Frontiers journals, especially not @FrontDigitalHum

  1. Question for clarification: when you are requesting your name/affiliation to be removed from the FinDH website do you mean from the web version of the paper/pdf (stating you were the peer reviewer)? Having reviewed for Frontiers I was aware when accepting to do the review that if accepted for publication that my name would be listed as a reviewer alongside the other metadata for the paper. By accepting to do the review you are agreeing to this; at least that’s how it worked when I did it.

    Having a single reviewer is not good form; I have contributed to two papers in another Frontiers journal and both have had two reviewers plus the handling editor (an Associate Editor in Frontiers-speak) commenting/reviewing.

    The large editorial board is an artefact of two features of Frontiers journals. i) they have a “journal” – Frontiers in Foo – and that has sections. Each of those sections is more like a traditional journal with a few/several Associate Editors, hence the larger than normal list of those people. ii) the editorial board as listed on the journal website is trumped up by the inclusion of guest editors that are on board for special issues, plus what Frontiers calls Review Editors. Those review editors are, at least to the best of my knowledge, are “retained” to provide a reviewer pool. You could view this as highlighting the good work reviewers do anonymously as part of a reviewer pool for other journals, just being more open about it. It is a fine line though between open and seedy or exploitative.

    Full disclosure: I’ve just been approached to be an associate editor for a different frontiers journal so I have been looking into the journal and publisher practices. Your experience has been useful as I weigh up whether to accept or not.


    1. Thanks, v helpful. The issue about agreement is that there was no agreement – all the reviewing, etc was done over email, so I didn’t sign an agreement, and didn’t use the online platform. I’ve come to the conclusion that the rules (see update below) were just not followed, and it really is dependent on following those rules for any academic credibility. Then when I spoke up about it, I find my name is locked into this now (which is probably unenforceable in legal terms, but I’m not going to pursue this). And despite all the bluster, they are just not bothered about gender issues – which is the subject close to my heart. All very icky, and seems like this instance of the franchise just didn’t think things through, when we need academic publishing to think things through!


  2. Wow, I am quite literally astounded by your display of maturity…i.e. if your maturity was measured by your height, you’d have to look up at a rat’s arse. The important thing to note though…and I’m being entirely sarcastic here (just in case you aren’t able to pick that up)…is that twitter is definitely the digital place to host an adult confrontation because it really is a true display or maturity and respectability. You discredited yourself, and in fact your reputation, the moment you thought it wise to write this piece of biased crap and take it to social media. You actually are attacking Frontiers for being gender biased but WOW, let’s all point out the hypocrite – you – every argument you make above is biased in one way or another. And for the record, I do take to Twitter and all these other social media places because I’m not claiming to be a respectable scientist in digital humanities. You on the other hand are claiming that, but really shouldn’t, because it makes you appear rather ridiculous.


  3. As the Editor-in-Chief of Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences, a journal that is part of the publisher Frontiers, I feel compelled to correct an error in this blog post. Frontiers in Bioscience is a completely distinct journal from other Frontiers journals such as Frontiers in MOLECULAR BIOSCIENCES published by Frontiers Media, Lausanne, Switzerland. The overlap in names is unfortunate but should not be misleading. None of the Frontiers journals from Frontiers Media occur, or have ever occurred, on Mr Beall’s list. This allegation should be removed from the blog post.

    Annalisa Pastore
    Professor in Molecular Basis of Neurodegeneration
    Department of Basic and Clinical Neuroscience
    King’s College London
    Field Chief Editor of Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences


  4. Have updated. Instead of deleting I made the distinction, as others may see it on Beall’s list and draw the same conclusion.


  5. Is it possible that this in itself is a conflict of interest? You mention that you’re on another DH journal editorial board…is it possible that you are threatened by the success of other Frontiers journals and are subconsciously (or even consciously) concerned that the success will extend to Frontiers in DH and thus, undermine your efforts with your own journal? Given the small community of DH researchers (again you mention this) and thus, an already limited stream of publications, it seems likely that if Frontiers is as successful with Frontiers in DH as it has been with their other journals, that your journal may lose some of its own success? I’m just wondering if this is why a senior (usually respectable) academic would post something like this, which in my humble opinion appears to be rather below a UCL researcher.


    1. Thanks – important points – but I don’t believe they hold truck in this case. I’ve reviewed for many other journals, both in DH and beyond, and am happy to see other journals flourish (DHQ isn’t for profit, and we’re snowed under!) I do care about quality, though, and I care about gender issues greatly – so I had to speak up about this, given they expected me to go away. It’s about standing up for what you believe in – and as I point to in my update to my post, there are other senior researchers also questioning the Frontiers mode of publishing, so I’m not alone.


  6. I think it’s important to note here though that you are dooming the entirety of the Frontiers mode of publishing and its reputation across all of its journals by applying your experience with one of the their very young journals based on certain criticisms (eg gender bias, inadequate peer review, etc etc). Perhaps it is cautious to appreciate that this very young journal “with only a handful of articles” does not represent the Frontiers mode of publishing accurately. If I take a look at their other journals, and in fact, their other articles within their other journals, I cannot find a paper yet that has not been reviewed by at least 2 people. Many aspects of the Frontiers publishing model are very good – for example, I like that the peer review isn’t blind. This ensures accountability and thus, reviewers will take their review much more seriously. Additionally, I quite like their online, real-time way of working through the review process – being able to speak directly to the reviewers in real-time is a very interesting concept and I can appreciate that it would make their peer review process much more timely. I think many researchers all over the world will complain in some way or another about the peer review process regardless of which journal or which exact process- every journal has its peer review pitfalls for someone, in your case with Frontiers, being the sole reviewer (but this does not seem to be the norm for frontiers journals anyway). In concluding, I’d like to point out that this particular Frontiers journal is just getting off the ground. Like all new things, it needs time to iron out the creases. And given that Frontiers is a great avenue to publish for many researchers worldwide, depriving your very small community of another publishing platform (that has a proven record in other fields with credible impact factors) is rather unfortunate. Even more unfortunately, this blog piece comes across, as being driven by a personal reason (which has little place in science discussion) rather than a professional one.


    1. Thanks, yes, you are right in some ways, I have had a bad experience with one Frontiers journal – but then a really ridiculous experience when talking to Frontiers central about it. There is a story to be told here, and I have told it from a personal point of view, but I’m not the only person to have noted issues with Frontiers, please see this blog post from Professor Bishop http://deevybee.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/my-collapse-of-confidence-in-frontiers.html which goes over the issues. The fact of the matter is that I did try to talk about these matters with Frontiers before I wrote this blog post but they didn’t want to know – and that is an issue. I’m with Professor Bishop in saying “the combined evidence is that Frontiers has allowed the profit motive to dominate” – which is what we see here. People make mistakes, sure (I certainly do) – but when people don’t want to own their mistakes, or try to change, then we have an issue. Frontiers were not open to discussion and Frontiers in DH, as it currently is operating, is not following basic academic practice. I’d be more than happy if they brushed up their act and behaved more professionally, although I wont be doing any more work for them (for free!). I leave others to make up their own mind, but my professional opinion is – I don’t trust this model of publishing or the way they are treating others in the field.


      1. Thanks for the reply. If you read into the comments section of that post, the author herself, points out that the shortfalls of Frontiers are common across many many journals and “has led to a revelation that all publishers are as bad as each other..” Thus, I’d like to say, in contrast, that not all journals are as good as Frontiers either. They have ups and downs, like all journals, but they really appear to be consistently attempting to make good science open to the world via a innovative platform. You also state that Frontiers will not ‘own’ their mistakes but this is also a contradiction because in the CEOs email to you, she actively tries to engage with you in a polite manner, and she certainly does make it clear that they are aware of the issue and trying to find solutions (even from you). But what does ‘owning’ the mistake mean to you? Because they are clearly trying to fix the problem. And in all honesty, it is somewhat understandable that they will not remove your name from the publication. I’m fairly certain there was some sort of agreement that your name would be published as a reviewer? Is it standard practice then that reviewers who agree to this are just allowed to change their minds and expect the original agreement to be discarded? The fact remains, you did review that paper. And you did say that the paper should be accepted after your review. Was it not, first and foremost, your error to consent to being the reviewer (regardless of the process that ensued) and your second error to allow the paper to be accepted if you had major qualms with it? It seems that because you cannot have your way, you want Frontiers in DH to smoulder into ashes for ever having dared refuse your possibly unreasonable request? While, I do understand your viewpoint that perhaps the journal shouldn’t have launched without appropriate female Editorial representation, it really is bizarre that you label Frontiers as a whole as a gender biased publishing house – afterall, the CEO (the top top top position in Frontiers is a woman). They are clearly not opposed to having female representation – they are trying to get it but didn’t have it at the time of launch for whatever reason. This, in my mind, is not reason enough to doom Frontiers. Lastly, you require them to behave more professionally but if we look at the little email exchange between you and the CEO, and your subsequent twitter remarks…the only who can be accused of being professional is the CEO. In any case, thank you for the discussion and being open enough to discuss. Take care.


  7. I do not agree that gender bias is not reason enough to doom Fontiers. Recently I was invited to be a review editor. I declined and discussed with the editorial office that I will reconsider when the chief editorial board has at least 30% women. The editorial office claimed they take these concerns extremely seriously and are actively working on the gender balance of their editorial board, which is a priority for them. I think “actively working” is not good enough. Just appoint women, it’s not very difficult…… I think pressure like this (boycot junior functions) is needed to change these practices.


    1. Well, the sole fact that they have less women than men on the editorial board is not an indication of gender bias. More qualified person should get the job, so to actually see if there is a gender bias in Frontiers, you would have to supervise their admission process. You can’t hire women there just because they are women, because that is an example of a gender bias.

      I agree with the rest of the article though. This poor peer-review process is completely disgusting. And I have met couple of people who had the same issue with requesting to be removed from the editorial board and never getting a reply.


  8. Dear Melissa, your blogpost has just been read among the commentators at Beall’s blog right here:


    It seems some commentators are using your entry to take a hack at Frontiers while others are taking the other side… One commentator suggested your experience could be just the way scientific publishing works even without any malicious input from anybody’s side and she/he implied that you unintentionally delayed the said paper for 7 months with the potential of prolonging further by requesting to remove your name as reviewer, hence “cause damage to the author of that article”. It’s not my intention to disturb you especially now that you may have left this business behind. At the same time I strongly feel that you have the right to know what’s going on. I’m sorry if this revelation makes you uncomfortable in any way…


    1. Hi! thanks. There are numerous flaws in the arguments of those taking a pop at me – I didn’t take 7 months to review the paper, etc, so have left a comment over there. Thanks for letting me know! I agree that starting up a journal is a tricky task, but there were guidelines to follow that were ignored here.


  9. Reblogged this on chiarabernardi and commented:
    This is an interesting post. As a feminist, I had the hurtful feeling that she is USING the issue of gender representation within the editorial board is a lame excuse to personally attack a man…Am I the only one to ‘feel’ this?

    Liked by 1 person

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