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Comments and complaints policy

Frontiers has a highly interactive and transparent publishing model which was established, in part, to engage all the players in scholarly publishing to act responsibly and professionally. All papers are published with the names of the handling editor and the reviewers, who have publicly validated the academic validity of each article. However, our duty as a publisher includes correcting the literature whenever it is brought to our attention that an article contains scholarly errors or that authors have committed unethical or illegal acts in relation to their published work. The aim of our policy for comments and complaints is to reflect the founding principles of Frontiers by providing a mechanism that is community-driven through our editors, and that fosters scholarly debate. All complaints are handled in accordance with the guidelines published by the Committee on Publishing Ethics (COPE).

If errors are identified in an article, the authors have the possibility of publishing a correction or amendment as a corrigendum. If ethical, legal, or scholarly concerns are raised or identified after publication of a nature that could warrant further action, including retraction, Frontiers follows the steps outlined below to consult the editors and carry out their decisions.

Post-publication comments policy

Readers have the option of highlighting issues related to a specific article to the academic community by writing to the editorial office to raise their concern or submit a commentary on the article to further the scientific discourse.

Most expressions of post-publication comments or concerns can be legitimately expressed in this manner. General Commentaries on articles are peer reviewed. Please see our author guidelines for our policy on General Commentaries.

Frontiers reserves the right to edit or reject commentaries perceived to be derogatory and/or that do not contribute to a scholarly debate on the topic. Authors of the article in question are notified of commentaries. Authors of commentaries must use their real identity; pseudonyms are not allowed as Frontiers stands for accountability and transparency in academic discourse. Where Frontiers considers that authors of comments have not followed this policy, appropriate action will be taken, which may include rejection of their commentary.

Post-publication complaints procedure

Many complaints are subjective. Conflicts or accusations for which there can be no reasonable expectation of objective assessment by our boards of external editors will not be considered in the context of this policy. Frontiers will only act on official complaints made directly to the Chief Editors and the Frontiers Editorial Office.

Complainants should begin by contacting the corresponding author and attempting to resolve the issue directly, before sending their concerns to the journal. It is appropriate to involve the journal in cases where there are valid reasons for not contacting the authors, if the authors were unresponsive when contacted, or if the discussion in the first instance did not resolve the concerns. When contacting the journal, the following procedure should be followed:

1. A reader who would like to raise a concern or complaint regarding a published article in a Frontiers journal should email the relevant Frontiers editorial office with a letter addressed to the specialty chief editor outlining the complaint. The letter must contain the following information:

  • article [title, authors, journal, publication date, doi]

  • complainant [title, current affiliation and position, other proof of expertise]

  • complaint [academic/scientific validity, ethical or legal; summary of main points; adverse consequences anticipated]

  • details of the complainant’s previous contact with the author or authors of the article

  • statement that the complainant has no conflict of interest, or declaring any actual or potential conflict(s) of interest.

An annotated PDF of the article should be provided that clearly marks the passages concerned and the reasons why they are of concern.

2. Only complaints regarding the scientific/academic validity or ethical or legal aspects of the work or its review will be considered. Complaints will not be considered if they contain personal criticisms of the authors, inappropriate or derogatory language, or where the complainant has used a false or misleading identity. All complaints will be investigated, including anonymous complaints. However, unless a specific and valid reason can be provided for wishing to remain anonymous, Frontiers reserves the right not to update the complainant on the outcome of the investigation. Complainants can request Frontiers and the chief editors to handle their complaint confidentially to the extent that this can be accommodated by our internal protocols.

3. Complaints are brought in the first instance to the attention of the specialty chief editor.

3.1 The specialty chief editor, in consultation with the handling editor if they are available and/or with additional experts from the editorial board, decides whether there are sufficient grounds for the complaint to be considered further. If they feel that further investigation is warranted, then the authors and field chief editor(s) are informed of the complaint. In certain cases, the publisher or the editors may publish an Expression of Concern indicating that serious objections have been raised. They may also close the case as unsubstantiated at this stage. In this event the complainant is informed that no further action will be taken.

3.2 For complaints having legal implications, Frontiers will seek advice from its legal counsel, who might also contact the editors, the complainant, or the authors for further information. Frontiers reserves the right to retract articles that are, or are considered likely to be, in violation of applicable legal principles.

3.3 For ethical concerns, Frontiers will execute the decision of the editors, who will follow widely accepted guidelines such as those by COPE as closely as possible, including concerns around suspicions of data manipulation and data fabrication; if it appears probable that such falsification has taken place, the case can be referred to the authors' institutions for investigation.

4. If the complaint is upheld by the chief editor (as under 4.1), the resulting investigation can result in any of the outcomes detailed below as decided by the chief editors.

4.1 The complaint is deemed unsubstantiated – No further action is taken, and the complainant is informed that the case has been closed. Further communication by the complainant on the subject will only be considered if additional information to substantiate the concerns is brought forward.

4.2 Investigation into the complaint identifies errors that justify the publication of a corrigendum – The chief editors will detail to the authors the points needed to be addressed in the corrigendum. Frontiers will work with the authors to ensure a corrigendum is published that satisfactorily deals with the issues identified in the chief editors' decision. If the authors refuse, the chief editors will proceed without the authors' consent to correct the literature and/or may initiate retraction.

4.3 Investigation into the complaint reveals author bias on a contentious or controversial subject – The editors decide on the most appropriate action to address the concerns, which can range from retraction to, for example, inviting a commentary on the article providing a balanced and objective context. The chief editors will decide on the potential authors to be invited to write the commentary. The commentary will be peer reviewed by a handling editor and reviewers not associated with the original article.

4.4 Investigation into the complaint indicates that a retraction needs to be considered and further examined – An Expression of Concern may be published to notify readers of an ongoing investigation. The editors may consult further experts, or the institutions concerned to reach a decision and under exceptional circumstances may form a committee to ensure a broader representation of views.

4.5 Investigation into the complaint exposes an irrefutable reason for a retraction – The editors endeavor to work together with the authors to retract the article but can do so even without the authors’ consent. The COPE retraction guidelines will be followed where applicable. A retraction notice will be published detailing the reasons for retraction.

5. Complainants should note that investigations may take some time to conduct. Frontiers is under no obligation to divulge the status of the investigation until a decision has been reached by the editors. When a notice is published, it will be brought to the attention of the complainant; Frontiers has no obligation to provide the complainant with additional details concerning the decision. Furthermore, Frontiers reserves the right to cease communication with complainants who do not remain cordial in their contacts with Frontiers staff or editors.