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Frontiers’ journals saw large scale retractions—where does that leave the publisher’s reputation with researchers?

BMJ 2024; 384 doi: (Published 27 March 2024) Cite this as: BMJ 2024;384:q659
  1. Brian Owens, freelance journalist
  1. St Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada
  1. brian.lawrence.owen{at}

Frontiers, like other for-profit open access publishers, has struggled with a perception it has low editorial standards and weak peer review. But is that true? Brian Owens reports

In September 2023 Frontiers—one of the world’s largest open access scientific publishers, with a stable of 230 journals covering just about every field of science—retracted 38 papers.1 All had been linked to the “unethical practice of buying or selling authorship on research papers,” known as “authorship for sale,” in which authors, during the review process, sell coauthorship to people who have not contributed to the research.

In response to the scandal the company changed its policy on requests for changes to authorship after a paper has been accepted. The new policy states that requests for changes to the author list will be accepted only “under exceptional circumstances and after in-depth assessment by the Frontiers’ research integrity unit.” Frontiers also said it would maintain a record of all such requests to identify suspicious patterns and trends. And it pledged to monitor websites where authorships are known to be put up for sale for any mention of Frontiers content.

Anastasia Long, the company’s public relations manager, says that authorship for sale is an industry-wide problem, potentially affecting more than 10 000 papers. “As with all attempts to systematically breach codes of ethical conduct, publishers must work together to put a stop to this practice,” she tells The BMJ. “This is why we also share details of our investigations and the methods we use to identify authorship-for-sale papers, and ‘paper mill’ papers, with publishing organisations.”

Helen Macdonald, The BMJ’s publication ethics and content integrity editor, says: “When changes in authorship are requested we need to understand what change is being proposed and why. We also need to know that all of the other …

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