Academic Journals In Glass Houses... (Updated)

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticApr 4, 2015 1:52 PM


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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: http://www.frontiersin.org/Psychology/fees.

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.

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

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