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Publishing Model

Frontiers Publishing Model in Brief

Frontiers was founded by scientists to ensure that the publisher cannot shape the direction of science, to make peer-review constructive, and to bring the best technology to the service of authors and researchers.

In Frontiers, all decisions on content are decided by an external Editorial Board that is not financially incentivized to accept articles. Staff employed by Frontiers have no authority to make editorial decisions. This builds a barrier between the responsibility of the Publisher to grow and promote the Frontiers journals and the responsibility of the external editors to shape the direction of research.

Frontiers distributes editorial responsibility to the entire Editorial Board. Review Editors are empowered by requiring unanimous decision making to accept or reject an article; Associate Editors are empowered to accept articles; Chief Editors are empowered to enhance the integrity of peer-review.

Frontiers has developed the most advanced IT platform for publishing in academic publishing. In particular, Frontiers provides the state of art Digital Editorial Office to all its Editors. Here they can perform all the operations required to run a Frontiers Journal, completely independently and at any time of the day or night.

The Frontiers publishing model is an advanced model that addresses many ails of academic publishing and guarantees editorial independence and distributed power for researchers to shape the direction of research. The model is based on profound principles around peer-review and evaluation of research and evolves with community feedback.

Community-run Journals

Journal Structure

Editorial Roles

Quality Control


Community-run Journals

At Frontiers we operate community-run journals. This means that we put our publishing platform into the hands of competent representatives of the academic community in the objective to publish articles that present sound and valid findings.

We take great care to appoint only leading experts in their fields and specialties according to strict criteria of excellence. Once appointed, researchers are empowered to take editorial decisions to accept or reject articles. Editorial power is distributed across the editorial boards, and focuses on the Associate Editors. We trust that these experts, selected according to strict criteria of excellence, can take acceptance decision and together with the reviewers can certify the soundness of the research presented in the articles with their names. Hence the distributed power in Frontiers comes with responsibility, accountability and recognition of services to the community.

Frontiers operates its programs based on a commitment to science and knowledge conducted in a collaborative spirit, openly shared, and assessed exclusively for its merit. These commitments guide us in defining our editorial policy and processes, which aim to be fair and constructive to authors, effective and efficient. Frontiers seeks technological solutions for many of the routine aspects of publishing process, for which our workflows have been defined – and continue to be revised and improved – with careful consideration of our open-access principles. Gaining efficiency through technology is a central part because it allows us to provide a cost-effective and high-quality service to many authors.

The Frontiers publishing model of community-run journals:

  • provides a clean separation of editorial responsibility by placing the decisions related to content solely in the hands of active researchers, in the spirit of full editorial independence; Frontiers staff of Program and Journal Managers support scientists and scholars in their daily responsibilities and promote the journals and their products, but do not take editorial decisions over content.

  • defines an objective threshold for article acceptance, based on unanimous consensus that the paper represents a sound contribution that the reviewers, who endorsed publication, and editor can publically validate with their name on the published article;

  • balances this responsibility across entire editorial boards, so that a broader group of leaders within any research community can shape the direction of science; the many thousands of Associate Editors at Frontiers are authorized to make the acceptance decision.

  • empowers Chief Editors with technology that allows them to oversee, intervene and otherwise advise throughout the peer-review process

  • encourages all involved to act ethically and responsibly through its policy of full transparency by publishing the names and affiliations of the reviewers and handling editor on accepted articles.

Transparency, distribution of editorial power across many leaders in a community, and the requirement for consensus are a fundamental part of the Frontiers principles to uphold integrity in academic publishing.

Keeping close to these principles has made Frontiers a recognized leader in publishing innovation. Frontiers brought open access publishing to new fields of research; developed a fully digital independent editorial office that is accessible anytime; introduced article-level metrics to the publishing world in 2008; designed and implemented a Collaborative Review Forum that focuses the review on objective issues and scientific soundness and makes the review process fair, transparent, collaborative, efficient and highly rigorous; pioneered the concept of reviewer recognition by creating the Review Editor role and publishing their names on each article; built Loop, the first open research network to make researchers and their work more discoverable; built a mechanism for the crowdsourcing of research impact based on article-level metrics; and even innovated in outreach by launching and supporting a not-for-profit journal for kids, Frontiers for Young Minds that makes science understandable to the entire world.


Journal Structure

The basic editorial unit at Frontiers is the Specialty Section. The Specialty Chief Editor is the editorial authority for the Section. He or she is responsible for establishing the Mission Statement for the Section, as well as for the nomination of a board of Associate Editors. As such, the Specialty Chief Editor is free to define the scope of content to be published in the specialty section, in consultation with the Field Chief Editor and the Frontiers Editorial Office, the latter who manages questions of coordination with other journals of our program. The nomination of adequate Associate Editors is of particular importance, because they handle the review process and have the power to accept manuscripts or recommend their rejection.

A Field Journal is a collection of core communities defined by the Specialty Sections. This tiered structure provides the basis for our journals program and, notably, allows for bridging across the limits of traditional discipline boundaries through the “crosslisting” of certain specialties under two or more relevant fields. This recognizes the importance of emerging fields and improves the discoverability of content across traditional domains.

Content is organized on an even more granular level with Frontiers Research Topics. These are collections of articles around a tightly defined and emerging area of research, allowing the community itself to define the direction of study. As the research landscape quickly evolves, it is becoming ever more important to offer this level of specialization, as the bigger “bins” of a traditional subject areas are no longer adequate. The Frontiers web environment provides a beautiful showcase for all Research Topics, for their participants and their articles, with article-level metrics and the possibility to download the content as an e-book; it also provides direct links to the researchers Loop profile.


Editorial Roles

Our Editorial Boards determine the suitability and quality of scientific and academic content within each discipline, while Frontiers policies ensure that the consistency of Frontiers model is maintained across all of our publications. This ensures that the editors operate in the spirit of full editorial independence.

The Review Editor

The primary role of the Review Editor is to provide an expert review of Frontiers articles in a collaborative, transparent and efficient manner. Frontiers acknowledges the role of the reviewer by naming the person to the editorial board and by publishing the name of the Review Editor on every published paper. Frontiers is a pioneer in reviewer recognition.

Publishing the name of the Review Editor ensures full transparency regarding any conflicts of interest and is a call to responsible conduct including disclosure of any conflicts of interest. Frontiers has in place processes to support the management of any conflicts of interest, both real and perceived including a conflicts of interest policy and checklists completed by reviewers before taking on assignments.

The Associate Editor

The primary role of the Associate Editor is to directly oversee the interaction between the Review Editors and Authors during the collaborative peer-review process at Frontiers. The role includes ensuring that the review is carried out according to the Frontiers peer-review guidelines, as well as coaching and assisting of the Review Editors to carry out their role. The Associate Editor makes the final acceptance decision by ensuring all quality, validity and ethical standards have been met and that at least two reviewers agree to the publication. They also can recommend rejection of a manuscript if reviewers judge that an article does not meet the standards required.

The Specialty Chief Editor

The Specialty Chief Editor has the ultimate responsibility for leading, guiding and supervising the activities related to his or her Section. The Specialty Chief Editor is expected to define the editorial scope and ambition of the Specialty Section and to maintain a strong board of Associate Editors (who handle the actual review process). The Specialty Chief Editor is fully empowered to act at all levels and at any stage of the peer-review process in a system of editorial "checks and balances."

The Field Chief Editor

The Field Chief Editor leads and supervises the Field Journal with the aim to build the community of researchers in the field, drive publications to fully represent the research activity of the community, and build the quality and reputation of the field. The primary task of the Field Chief Editor is to build, support and maintain a college of Specialty Chief Editors, who together provide comprehensive expertise across the Field and who are recognized and respected authorities in their area of interest. The Field Chief Editor is expected to define the editorial scope and ambition of the Field Journal through the preparation of a Mission Statement and the publication of a Field Challenge article. The Field Chief Editor leads the college of Specialty Chief Editors in the implementation of the Frontiers publishing model and collaborative review guidelines, monitoring their tasks, encouraging team spirit, and taking the lead on building the reputation of the journal.

Frontiers staff

Frontiers staff span a wide range of expertise from software engineers to scientists, which support the operations of the journals and research network. The Editorial Office includes dedicated Journal Managers, who are the main contacts for the Chief Editors at Frontiers. Together with their teams, the Journal Managers support the editors in using the platform and ensure that handling of manuscripts is carried out according to Frontiers guidelines and principles. The Editorial Office staff do not make any decisions on content, which is entirely in the hands of the editorial board. They help to develop the journals and promote Frontiers services and products to the community. The journal teams also offer guidance and advice to editors, as well as coordinate actions if needed for example to respond to ethical concerns.


Quality Control

Each Frontiers article strives for the highest quality, thanks to genuinely collaborative interactions between authors, editors and reviewers, who include many of the world's best scientists and scholars. Frontiers is well aware of the potential impact of published research both on future research and on society and, hence, does not support superficial review, light review or no-review publishing models. Research must be certified by peers before entering a stream of knowledge that may eventually reach the public - and shape society. Therefore, Frontiers only applies the most rigorous and unbiased reviews, established in the high standards of the Frontiers Review System. Furthermore, only the top certified research, evaluated objectively through quantitative online article level metrics, is disseminated to increasingly wider communities as it gradually climbs the tiers of the Frontiers Tiering System from specialized expert readership towards public understanding.

Frontiers has a number of procedures in place to support and ensure the quality of the research articles that are published:

Editorial Board Quality

1) Only leading experts and established members of the research community are appointed to the Frontiers Editorial Boards. Chief Editors, Associate Editors and Review Editors are all listed with their names and affiliations on the Journal pages and are encouraged to publicly list their publication credentials.

Associate Editor Assignment Quality

2) Associate Editors oversee the peer-review and take the final acceptance decision on manuscripts. Editorial decision power is distributed in Frontiers, because we believe that many experts within a community should be able to shape the direction of science for the benefit of society.

3) Submitting authors can choose a preferred Associate Editor to handle their manuscript, because they can judge well who would be an appropriate expert in editing their manuscript. There is no guarantee for this preference of choice, Associate Editors can decline invitations any time, and the handling Associate Editor can also be over-ridden by the Chief Editor before she/he is invited to edit the article or at any other stage.

4) Associate Editors are mandated to only accept to edit a manuscript if they have no conflicts of interest (as stated here and in their review invitation and assignment emails).

5) Should it become clear that the Associate Editor has a conflict of interest or is unable to perform the peer-review timely and adequately, a new Associate Editor can be assigned to the manuscript by the Chief Editor, who has full control to intervene in the peer-review process at any time.

6) The Associate Editor initially checks that the article meets basic quality standards and has no obvious objective errors.

Reviewer Assignment Quality

7) The Associate Editor can then personally choose and invite the most appropriate reviewers to handle the peer-review of the manuscript, including Review Editors from the board or external reviewers.

8) The Associate Editor is aided in this by the Frontiers Collaborative Review Forum software and interface, which suggests the most relevant Review Editors based on a match between their expertise and the topic of the manuscript. Associate Editors can however choose any reviewer they deem adequate.

9) After a certain time frame and if no reviewers have in the meantime been assigned to the manuscript, the Frontiers platform and algorithmic safety-net steps in and invites the most appropriate Review Editors based on constantly updated and improved algorithms that match reviewer expertise with the submitted manuscript.

10) Review Editors and reviewers are mandated to only accept to review a manuscript if they have no conflicts of interest (as stated here and in their review invitation and assignment emails).

11) Frontiers algorithms are constantly fine-tuned to better match Review Editors with manuscripts, and additional checks are being coded into the platform, for example regarding conflicts of interest.

12) Should it become clear that a particular reviewer has a conflict of interest or is unable to perform the peer-review timely and adequately, he or she shall be replaced with an alternative reviewer by the Associate Editor or the Chief Editor, who will be alerted and has full control to intervene into the peer-review at any time.

Independent Review Stage Quality

13) In the Independent Review Stage the assigned reviewers perform an in-depth review of the article independently of each other to safeguard complete freedom of opinion.

14) The reviewers are aided by an online standardized review questionnaire – adopted to article types – with the goal to facilitate rigorous evaluation according to objective criteria and the Frontiers Review Guidelines.

Interactive Review Stage Quality

15) The Associate Editor assesses the reviews and activates the “Interactive Review” – informing the authors of the extent of revisions that are required to address the reviewers’ comments, and starting the Interactive Discussion Forum where authors and also the reviewers get full access to all review reports.

16) Manuscript and review quality at this stage are enhanced by allowing authors and reviewers to discuss directly with each other in real-time until they reach consensus and a final version of the manuscript is endorsed by the reviewers.

17) Reviewer identity is protected at this stage to safeguard complete freedom of opinion.

18) Reviewers can recommend rejection at this stage if their requests to correct objective errors are not being met by the authors or if they deem the article overall of insufficient quality.

19) Should a dispute arise, authors or reviewers can trigger an arbitration and will alert the Associate Editor, who can assign more reviewers and/or bring the dispute to the attention of the Chief Editor. The Associate Editor can also weigh in on the discussion and is asked to mediate the process to ensure a constructive revision stage.

Decision Stage Quality

20) The decision to accept an article needs to be unanimous amongst all reviewers and the handling Associate Editor.

21) The names of the Associate Editor and reviewers are disclosed on published articles to encourage in depth and rigorous reviews, acknowledge work well done on the article and to bring transparency and accountability into peer-review.

22) Associate Editors can recommend the rejection of an article to the Chief Editor, who needs to check that the authors’ rights have been upheld during the peer-review process, and who can then ultimately reject the article if it is of insufficient quality, has objective errors or if the authors were unreasonably unwilling to address the points raised during the review.

23) Chief Editors can at any stage of the peer-review step in to comment on the review process, change assigned editors, assign themselves as a reviewer and even as the handling editor for the manuscript, and therefore have full authority and all the mechanisms to act independently in their online editorial office to ensure quality.

Safeguards against Financial Conflicts of Interest

24) Only leading researchers acting as Associate Editors, who are not part of Frontiers staff, can make acceptance decisions based on reviews performed by external experts acting as Review Editors or reviewers. None have a financial incentive to accept articles, i.e. they are not paid for their role to act as Associate or Review Editors, and any award scheme is not linked to acceptances of manuscripts.

25) Chief Editors receive an honorarium if their specialty section or field reaches certain submission levels. However, this honorarium is based on the total number of submitted articles during a calendar year, and not the number of accepted articles. Therefore they also have no financial incentive to accept manuscripts.

26) Paid employees of Frontiers (i.e. Program Manager, Journal Managers and their teams) have no authority whatsoever to make decisions on accepting or rejecting manuscripts.

Post-Publication Stage Quality

27) The Frontiers platform enables post-publication commenting and discussions on papers and hence the possibility to critically evaluate articles even after the peer-review process.

28) Frontiers has a community retraction protocol in place to retract papers where serious concerns have been raised and validated by the community that warrant retraction, including ethical concerns, honest errors or scientific misconduct.

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