Would you like to have your own edited paper collection?

One of the biggest problems in peer-reviewed science is editor-bias. So, my answer to Frontiers in Plant Science's nice invitation, even if I would still be in professional science, can only be no!

Editor-driven research is not necessarily bad, some very honest and very knowledgeable people work as editors of books etc. But it opens the door for heavily biased, poorly reviewed research. You decide who to invite and select the peers, make sure the papers are only reviewed in a very friendly way knowing and by colleagues who know what is right and what is wrong. A striking example of invited-editor-bias are the NECLIME special issues in Palaeo^3 and the Turkish Journal of Geosciences; just check the acknowledgements of the papers not authored by, for example, Torsten Utescher in these special issues and compare it to NECLIME's member list (see also my other posts regarding this pseudo-science and how it's covered up thanks to peer-review confidentiality: Business as usual, Trying to disperse the Impermeable Fog #2, Dispersing the Impermeable Fog #3, Miraculous reconstruction of palaeoaltitude and -temperature).

And the reason why many predatory publishers jumped onto the business of "edited" e-books (generally not reviewed like most of the papers published in those journals). And, like many others, I got more than one invitation to pay for an edited e-book or to put together a paper collection on a topic of "my choice". An example for how the business works in the grey zone between obviously predatory and potentially legit publishers can be found in this post.

Recently, and filed in my junk folder being sent not to my usual correspondence address but one I only use for ads, pages that want to sell things, knowing that they are frequently sold to spammers etc., I got a legit invitation to have my own "edited paper collection" to be published in Frontiers in Plant Sciences. FiPS is part of the Frontiers In family, a proliferate open access publisher which hosts, like any other publisher, high-quality research but also papers not reviewed by anyone only remotely competent in the topic of the paper. One notable difference to many other publishers that started with the same high goals (such as PLoS and BMC making science better and more transparent) is that Frontiers doesn't practise the fraud-prone single-blind review (The review process should be transparent not confidential): when you agree to review, you will be named and you will get a Loop-profile showing your contributions etc. Which facilitates digging out reasons why you step over a paper that has apparently not been properly reviewed, such as peer-review provincialism.

Here's the invitation mail.
Dear Dr. Grimm, [already this shows FiPS is a legit journal, predatory ones address you as "Esteemed Prof. ... we are hono(u)red to...]

My name is Kirsten Martin, and I lead the launch of article collections (Research Topics) for Frontiers, a scientific publisher whose mission is to increase the impact of your research [sorry, too late, already out-of-business].

I am contacting you to ask whether you would be interested in hosting your personalized editorial project, that is our unique version of article collections. Our goal is to give responsible access to reliable research data and published output. [Asking a drop-out, as obvious from my homepage ("Out of professional science since 1002 days"), to have his personally edited article collection may be detrimental towards that end.]

Your Research Topic would have its own webpage and upon completion we will publish your freely downloadable e-book [not mentioned here, somebody has to pay for the publication so everyone can freely download it, why it is called 'Gold Open Access']. By getting involved you will propose the scope and a team of co-editors [i.e. hand-pick them to suit my agenda?] with whom you will be working as handling editors.

Would you be available to discuss this further? My colleague working as a Research Topic Specialist for Frontiers in Plant Science would be happy to guide you through this project.

Thank you. I look forward to your reply [see below].

Best Regards, Kirsten Martin
Research Topics Manager

Frontiers in Plant Science has published several Research Topics to date, such as: Unravelling Plant–Microbe Interactions: from ecology to mechanisms, edited by Prof. Essaid Ait Barka of the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne and Dr. Brigitte Mauch-Mani of the University of Neuchâtel.

Impact Factor 4.106 ¦ CiteScore 4.47 [You don't tell me what it will cost, but what I get. But we are not talking about getting a new, too expensive car, are we?]

Avenue du Tribunal-Fédéral 34
1005, Lausanne Vaud
Switzerland  [tax-haven]
Office T +41 21 510 17 15

Here's my response to Kirsten, declining the tempting request (additional comments in []).

Dear Kirsten,

definitely no.

Despite being out of professional science, I don't endorse editor-driven/-filtered research. It's always biased, and opens the door for undermining the review process. I stepped already about one or two of the article collections hosted on Frontiers in Plant Science, which, unfortunately, proof my point. And, for the same reason, I refused years back to become an editor of NPG's [back then] newly launched Scientific Reports; one promised editor benefit [of NPG's – now part of Springer Nature – answer to the increasing success of open access, pay-to-publish journals] was that one could publish papers on the quick-lane, without even have to ask for reviews (something they obviously still do given the low quality of some papers published there) [The idea apparently was that, as editor, you are competent enough to do the review yourself and stand-alone judge the quality of the paper. There is a however a hook, if, I as editor, have less scientific reasons to publish a paper, e.g. being a buddy of one of the authors, or getting some benefits, free travel invitation etc., I can do so, too].

Take for instance this paper, which, already obvious from the abstract, has not been reviewed by anyone independent from the editor [Frontiers profile] or author. The editor is linked with the author via the NECLIME consortium, his edited research object is pretty reminiscent of a book published by Wiley just a bit earlier boosting exclusively authors of the same scientific syndicate. Attached a graphic [copied below] illustrating the selection of reviewers for this particular paper (I stepped over it while research for this post about scientific peer review provincialism. I find it laudable that Frontiers In has no anonymous peer review, which facilitates spotting dubious editor-reviewer connections but obviously some papers published in your journal underwent a much more intensive review process than others.

You may want to fix that, why not follow e.g. PeerJ's example and publish the reviewers' reports? [this won't eliminate poorly reviewed papers but at least the reader can see what the reviewers said and make up her/his own mind.]

Cheers, Guido

The attached graphic, from the post on peer-review provinciality. Who would you choose to review a review about Himalayas, plant distributions and palaeoclimate from a proliferate German professor?

Reviewing a review – a good practise for newbies.

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