Frontiers Collaborative Peer Review: criteria to accept and reject manuscripts

by Gearóid Ó Faoleán, Frontiersin.org

Frontiers’ mission is to empower researchers in the publishing process, and we distribute editorial responsibility to our Editorial Boards to which we appoint leading experts according to strict criteria of excellence.

We trust that these experts can take acceptance and rejection decisions and can certify the rigour 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.

The Frontiers Collaborative Review was designed to ensure a constructive interaction between authors, reviewers and editors and improve the manuscript if necessary. The review mandate is focused on evaluating the validity, rigor and correctness of the presented work.

How are decisions on manuscripts made at Frontiers?

Associate Editors are responsible for overseeing the review process. They have the responsibility for inviting reviewers – members of our standing Review Editorial Board or external experts – to assess the reviewer reports and mediate during the collaborative review process.

Once the handling editor has chosen the reviewers, they in turn have considerable autonomy during the review process. Reviewers can interact with the authors throughout the review process, requesting clarifications and additions as well as questioning aspects of the manuscript.

Reviewers can also directly contact the handling editor or editorial office to raise concerns as needed. To finalize their involvement, reviewers can endorse the manuscript for publication, withdraw from the process or recommend the manuscript for rejection to the handling editor.

Accepting a manuscript

At Frontiers, Associate Editors accept manuscripts for full-length articles when two reviewers have endorsed the submission for publication; this requirement is actually hard-coded into the system.

Once the interactive review forum is activated reviewers can at any time endorse the manuscript for publication. With this, they agree to be named on the published article, publicly validating its content.

The criteria for acceptance are:

  • Valid research question and hypothesis
  • Correct methodology including study design, data collection and analysis
  • Sufficiently referenced and grounded in existing literature
  • Editorial and ethical policies were adhered to
  • Clear presentation and adequate language level

Withdrawing from review

Further, at any stage of the review, reviewers can withdraw from the process, thereby remaining anonymous to the authors. Their reports remain visible in the collaborative review forum, though the discussion is closed. When withdrawing, reviewers can select one of the following reasons:

  • I do not have the time right now
  • There is a conflict of interest
  • I do not want to be named on the final publication if accepted
  • Alternative reason with an accompanying text-box allows for clarification

Rejecting a manuscript

Furthermore at any stage of the review process, reviewers can recommend manuscript rejection. They then choose from one of the following reasons:

  • The manuscript contains fundamental errors that cannot be rectified through author revisions
  • There are serious concerns about ethical issues in the manuscript that cannot be rectified through author revisions
  • The authors are unwilling or unable to address my concerns sufficiently to make this manuscript suitable for publication
  • Other with an accompanying text-box allows for clarification

Ethical issues can include a lack of sufficient oversight and approval from relevant ethics committees and deceptive practises during research on the part of authors. The “Other” option allows for reviewers recommend rejection for reasons including manuscripts being out of scope, pseudoscientific content, faith-based content and the singling out of persons or organisations for attack. Such content may be considered for retraction if passed through peer-review.

Should a reviewer withdraw from the review process, they retain their anonymity. Only reviewers who have endorsed a manuscript for acceptance are named upon publication. The handling editor is alerted whenever a reviewer withdraws or recommends rejection. The authors only see that a reviewer has “withdrawn”.

Associate Editors can recommend rejection of the manuscript to the Speciality Chief Editor either before initiating peer review or after the authors had a first chance of a rebuttal to the reviewer reports when the interactive review forum is activated.

Chief Editors are asked to verify that the rejection has been recommended for one of the reasons listed below. They also check that the authors have received a fair review process or, where the rejection recommendation happens before peer review, provide a second opinion on the submission before a final reject decision is made.

With this peer review model in place Frontiers has published over 33,000 articles since January 2014. In the same period, editors rejected over 7,750 to uphold the quality standards of Frontiers journals.

And our model works: our journals produce high quality articles at scale, yield amongst the highest citation rates and also high satisfaction amongst our authors and reviewers.