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On 13th August 2013 I received the following email. I have cut and pasted it below. I haven't bothered to insert back any of the links, but can do so if anyone is interested. I would not normally post email received to a public forum, but this is obviously a form letter, one step up from spam.

At the time I dismissed it as one more attempt by a journal to get me to do something for nothing as usual, but then I got a followup from the same person on 12th February 2014. It is in my experience fairly unusual to get a followup to this kind of invitation.

I thought it would do no harm to ask people here what they thought. I haven't changed my mind on it. I don't see any advantage to the proposed work. They aren't offering any money of course. It is not a publication. It isn't an opportunity to get involved in a collaborative project. It looks like a opportunity to become some kind of unpaid new-fangled Web 2.0 type editor for some kind of new-fangled web research platform. It would probably be lots of work. So, I don't see anything in it for me. I'm not sure what is in it for the journal either.

So, to summarize my questions in a convenient fashion.

  1. Is there any reason anyone one can think of that I might want to be involved in something like this. Note - I'm by no stretch of the imagination a senior researcher. Such an invitation might make sense for a senior researcher, but I don't see why such a person could not simply create his own web site to showcase his research.

  2. Why is the journal trying to organize something like this? I don't quite see what is in it for them either. Perhaps just the opportunity to make money off submissions to an ersatz journal?

I came across[LINK][LINK] your “SNPpy--database management for SNP data from genome wide association studies.” published in “PloS one” and thought that it would be an excellent fit for the "Research Topics" initiative in Frontiers. We have recently partnered with the [LINK]Nature Publishing Group [goo.gl]  to expand our researcher-driven Open Science platform, and I would like for you to consider suggesting a consolidated topic of the latest research and perspectives from your field in a Frontiers journal. 

However please note that our invitation is not restricted to the subject of this work. You are free to propose a Research Topic of your choice.

This [LINK][LINK]short video [goo.gl] gives you a better overview on the potential of Frontiers Research Topics.

You may also want to browse on the [LINK][LINK]Research Topics homepage [goo.gl] and [LINK][LINK]here [goo.gl] to check the final format of a Frontiers Research Topic as an e-book.

Like in the example above, Frontiers will create a dedicated homepage for your Research Topic, where you can manage contributions and maintain an ongoing dialogue with post-publication feedback from the research community.

If you are interested in pursuing this project, all it takes to get started is:

 - A title and a short description of your Research Topic;

  • A list of contributors you plan to contact.

If you wanted to find detailed information on how to launch a Research Topic, please browse [LINK][LINK]here [goo.gl].

Please let me know if you are interested in organizing a Frontiers Research Topic, and do not hesitate to contact me by phone or email with any questions. I’m looking forward to your reply.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

As far as I can tell, a "Research Topic" is a collection of papers on a specialized topic. It's basically a special issue of one of their journals, although it's presented slightly differently, and they charge publication fees for the papers.

What really turns me off is the publisher's spamming practices. I've had exactly the same experience you have: they send what's pretty obviously a form letter (populated with your name and one publication title/journal, seemingly randomly selected) and then some months later send a passive-aggressive reminder asking for a reply. Maybe this is a coincidence, but I also got a follow-up message from them on February 12, so perhaps they sent out a whole wave of them on that day. In any case, the fact that they feel they have to advertise by spamming makes me suspicious, and the reminder messages are irritating.

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Hi, thanks for replying. "Frontiers will create a dedicated homepage for your Research Topic, where you can manage contributions and maintain an ongoing dialogue with post-publication feedback from the research community." sounds more like an ongoing project than a single issue, but you might be right. In any case, I assume you agree this is just a waste of time, then? Do you plan to reply (or have you replied) to the reminder letter? Just curious. –  Faheem Mitha Feb 15 at 15:02
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I get those about every year and classify it as spam. –  OBu Feb 15 at 15:29
    
@FaheemMitha: Yeah, it might be better to describe it as a special issue with a discussion forum. It doesn't sound valuable to me. I haven't replied to the reminder; I feel a little conflicted about that, since it would be rude not to reply if it were a personal message, but all the evidence suggests it's not, and I don't want to reply to spam. –  Anonymous Mathematician Feb 16 at 1:34
    
@AnonymousMathematician Great, thanks for the feedback. –  Faheem Mitha Feb 16 at 12:54
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This topic has received some discussion recently: at least some of these invitations appear to be revenue driven, with no specific reason related to the advancement of science per se. Read reports here of followup emails that received answers indicating an indiscriminate approach that would, in my book, qualify as SPAM.

http://scholarlyoa.com/2013/11/05/i-get-complaints-about-frontiers/

I think frontiers should be taken to task about these practices, and their wikipedia page edited accordingly. I opened a Talk on this here

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Frontiers_(publisher)

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Thanks for these links! My experience with Frontiers as a reviewer have been positive, in the sense that they asked me to review something that was entirely in my own field (both in terms of content and in terms of methods). I also find that they publish articles of interest to me every so often. But now I see that the review process is less stringent than I imagined, and that's really not good. –  Ana May 13 at 20:35
    
On the other hand, they do put the names of reviewers on the published papers, so that acts as a quality check of sorts. Overall, my impression is still that they're making some honest mistakes (and some annoying ones, such as spamming), but that they do attempt to put together a journal of decent quality. –  Ana May 13 at 20:41
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I would suggest a response such as:

Thank you for repeated offer to participate in a frontiers research topic. I decline your offer on grounds of not agreeing with this model wherein researchers are invited to produce articles seemingly with the sole purpose of publishing and get them to invite their peers to contribute as well. I am a vehement supporter of open acces publishing, but I do not support publishing ‘for the sake of publishing’, whereas I also feel that structures to stimulate collaboration between researchers should not be run primarily by commercial partners.

Frankly, the practice of actively recruiting researchers to provide articles is tempering my initial enthusiasm for Frontiers.

Best regards,

my name

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