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News Feature: Guest Editing for Frontiers

November 22, 2022, #22

Serge Horbach, Michael Ochsner, and Wolfgang Kaltenbrunner wrote for a blog from the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) at Leiden University: “The idea for this blog post emerged in the context of a special issue with the online journal Frontiers in Research Metrics and Analytics.”¹ The authors admitted to some initial uneasiness because of “previous criticism of Frontiers’ approach to scholarly publishing“.¹ In the end the opportunity outweighed their concerns and they went ahead. Anyone who has been an academic editor knows that managing the peer reviewer process is hard for non-standard topics. Frontiers has its own required process for peer review: “Reviewers are selected by an internal artificial intelligence algorithm on the basis of keywords automatically attributed by the algorithm based on the content of the submitted manuscript and matched with a database of potential reviewers, a technique somewhat similar to the one used for reviewer databases of other big publishers.”¹ The authors discovered that the process resulted in unqualified reviewers, and the fast-pace of the standard review process meant that reviews were due in seven days, though the deadline could be extended to up to 21 days on request. The goal of quick review and quick publication matches the wishes of many authors who feel pressured to publish. One of the ways Frontiers has of speeding up the review process is that “editors are encouraged to accept manuscripts as soon as they receive two recommendations for publication by reviewers (regardless of how many other reviewers recommend rejection).”¹ Exceptions to the rules were possible, but discussing exceptions apparently meant onerous email discussions. When the issue was ready, the three editors prepared an editorial for the issue that contained their own critical reflections on the reviewing process. When they submitted it, they “received a message informing us that our text was not in accordance with the guidelines of Frontiers.”¹ Frontiers promised to find a solution to allow their comments, but after Frontiers failed for months to respond to messages, the authors turned to an official university blog, Leiden Madtrics to share their experiences in the hope that their “blog post can trigger the open scholarly debate”.¹


1: Horbach, Serge, Michael Ochsner, and Wolfgang Kaltenbrunner. 2022. ‘Reflections on Guest Editing a Frontiers Journal’. 31 October 2022.


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