Academic Journals In Glass Houses… (Updated)

By Neuroskeptic | April 4, 2015 4:52 am

A psychiatry journal, the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease (JNMD), has just published a remarkable attack on another journal, Frontiers in Psychology. Here’s the piece: it’s by the JNMD’s own Statistics Editor. In it, he writes that:

To be perfectly candid, the reader needs to be informed that the journal that published the Lakens (2013) article, Frontiers in Psychology, is one of an increasing number of journals that charge exorbitant publication fees in exchange for free open access to published articles. Some of the author costs are used to pay reviewers, causing one to question whether the process is always unbiased, as is the desideratum. For further information, the reader is referred to the following Web site:

The back-story here is that a group of researchers wrote a letter to JNMD alleging several errors in a 2014 paper about psychotherapy for psychosis. One of the authors of the letter was psychologist Daniël Lakens, and these authors cited one of Lakens’ papers from 2013, which appeared in Frontiers in Psychology.

Now the Statistics Editor of the JNMD seems to be implying that Lakens effectively bought off the peer reviewers, and that this is why his paper was accepted. In fact, he questions the peer review standards of not only Frontiers, but all Open Access journals, saying that they pay their reviewers and suggesting that this makes them “biased”.

This is an odd statement for a number of reasons. First off, I was not aware that at Frontiers, or any publisher, “some of the author costs are used to pay reviewers”. Peer reviewers are almost never paid for their services. Not at Open Access journals and not elsewhere. Nothing on the Frontiers “Fees” page that the piece linked to mentions payment of reviewers, and I’ve found no reference to this online. I’ve emailed Frontiers for an official statement, but Lakens has said there’s “no basis” for the claim, and I think he’s right.

Secondly, for the JNMD to question the standards of Frontiers peer review process is a bit of a ‘in glass houses / throwing stones’ moment.


Neuroskeptic readers may remember that it was JNMD who one year ago published a paper about a mysterious device called the “quantum resonance spectrometer” (QRS). This paper claimed that QRS can detect a “special biological wave… released by the brain” and thus accurately diagnose schizophrenia and other mental disorders – via a sensor held in the patient’s hand. The article provided virtually no details of what the “QRS” device is, or how it works, or what the “special wave” it is supposed to measure is. Since then, I’ve done some more research and as far as I can establish, “QRS” is an entirely bogus technology.

If JNMD are going to level accusations at another journal, they ought to make sure that their own house is in order first.

Finally, the JNMD’s attack on Open Access journals is entirely gratuitous – it adds nothing to the discussion. Even supposing that Frontiers in Psychology did have flawed peer review, that still wouldn’t mean we ought to dismiss Lakens (2013). Lakens’ arguments should be judged on their own merits, not on the merits of the journal where they happen to have been published.

UPDATE 8th April 2015:

I asked Frontiers whether they pay peer reviewers, and whether they renumerate editors in such a way as that an editor could be financially incentivized to accept as opposed to reject manuscripts. The Frontiers Editorial Office told me:

We do not pay peer reviewers. All details regarding our fees are on the website. We sometimes have annual awards for our editors that work a lot with us, but these vary year on year and are not directly linked to a particular manuscript for example. There are no financial incentives to accept rather than reject manuscripts for our editors and reviewers.

ResearchBlogging.orgCicchetti DV (2015). Cognitive Behavioral Techniques for Psychosis: A Biostatistician’s Perspective. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 203 (4), 304-5 PMID: 25816048

  • D Samuel Schwarzkopf

    There is only one valid criticism of open access journals: people are trying to exploit it to cash in. The traditional publishers are doing it and it has clearly caused a proliferation of predatory (fraudulent) publishers. This is a problem but one that our community can deal with simply by raising awareness of it. If nobody submits to predatory journals, they will wither away again… The issue with OA charges from traditional publishers is a harder nut to crack but it’s not an insurmountable problem.

    Either way, in the long run these teething problems of OA are vastly outweighed by the benefits.

    • Neuroskeptic

      Right. There are many terrible, predatory OA journals – but that doesn’t mean that every OA journal is bad.

      • D Samuel Schwarzkopf

        The truth is there are (and were before OA) many terrible traditional journals and I saw none of these people complain about those 😉

        • storkchen

          No, but if one has to pay large amounts of money to even *read* a journal, cognitive dissonance reduction will prevent one from criticizing it.

        • Neuroskeptic

          I do think that OA has increased the number of bad journals – it is hard to read Jeffrey Beall’s blog and come to any other conclusion.

          But that’s not OA’s fault. It’s the fault of the scam-artists who start dodgy journals to make a quick buck.

          The good OA publishers are not in any way responsible for the abuses of the bad ones. And there are plenty of bad traditional journals too.

          • D Samuel Schwarzkopf

            Yeah exactly. I am still perplexed by the business model of those predatory journals as well. You can usually very easily tell apart real journals from the bad ones. Who submits to the predators?

          • Neuroskeptic

            As far as I can tell, a lot of them are academics from developing countries whose universities require them to publish a certain # of publications in “an international journal” (i.e. not a journal in their native language, however good that journal might be, but in English.)

            This is why so many predatory journals have “International” or “American” in the title.

            The journals also often pretend to have an impact factor – although generally a low one. Why would anyone pretend to have a low IF? Because in many countries you get credit for publishing in a journal “with an Impact Factor” (whatever it is).

            But often established academics are convinced to write for these journals, generally by contributing “invited expert reviews”. The journals don’t charge the authors for publishing these – but what they gain is that their journal looks more credible, because a major figure has published there.

            I believe some journals spam mailing lists of hundreds of researchers (maybe from the lists on conference websites) “inviting” people to write a review. It works, unfortunately.

          • D Samuel Schwarzkopf

            That makes sense. And it’s really bad :/

  • Uncle Al

    The psychology of peer review and publication desperately needs a journal to publish what psychology does best: nuanced debate about nuanced debate.

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  • johnwerneken

    LOL. Typical competitive businesses, or perhaps, business models. Yet another reason politics as well as science are utterly corrupt: they are conducted by human beings. LOL again.

    PS: link getting filed under “politics”, as with anything about the climate, not under “science”.

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  • Tim Smits

    For some more background on this particular Letter to the Editor by Cicchetti, see my blogpost

    More on the whole process of this publication string (Article – Commentary – Reply – Commentary – Reply), see two other blogposts:

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  • Stan Klein

    I have published and reviewed for Frontiers. Sadly, any payment escaped me (i.e., no offer — if they do, I wish I had known ,as I could use the cash). Their peer review process is rigorous and can go through many rounds prior to resolution.

    I avoid all pay journals but Frontiers (and, by the way, due to my destitute status, they have — on all 3 occasions in which I have published in one of their journals waived all payment costs).

    I think the accusations vis a vis this particular journal will need a good deal more than stipulated offense prior to attaining credibility.

    • smut clyde

      I have published and reviewed for Frontiers. Sadly, any payment escaped me

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Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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