Editor who published Andrulis paper tries to explain how it happened
The editor of a new journal that published a paper that has been met with disbelief by many in the blogoshpere — and those are the polite reactions — has posted a narrative about how the paper came to appear in his journal. Retraction Watch readers may recall that Case Western, home to the paper’s author, Erik Andrulis, retracted its press release about the work. Several of the journal’s editorial board members have resigned over it.
Life’s editor, Shu-Kun Lin, writes that there was a switch in editors:
So that our readership has as much information as I can divulge without violating the confidentiality of the review process, what follows is the background of these events. Professor Bassez had previously guest-edited a successful special issue titled “The Origin of Life” in another MDPI journal . Although Professor Bassez  had also planned to be the Guest Editor of the special issue “Origin of Life – Feature Papers” for Life , she was, for personal reasons, unable to do so. I therefore volunteered to take this responsibility on her behalf and to guest edit this special issue and supervise the editorial procedure for the papers. I made the decision of acceptance based on the peer review reports we received and their recommendation in support of publication.
Later he gives details of those reports:
the two reviewers were both faculty members of reputable universities different than the author’s and both went to considerable trouble presenting lengthy review reports. Dr. Andrulis revised his manuscript as requested, and the paper was subsequently published.
Derek Lowe of In the Pipeline, where we found news of the explanation, wasn’t very impressed with it. Neither were we, although we should say that we welcome any efforts to pull back the veil of peer review and increase transparency. This line sort of says it all:
I feel obliged to stress that although we will strive to guarantee the scientific standard of the papers published in this journal, all the responsibility for the ideas contained in the published articles rests entirely on their authors.
So, um, what value is the journal adding, exactly?
There’s one line in particular that we think is worthy of extra attention:
All papers are peer-reviewed, although it is often difficult to obtain expert reviewers for some of the interdisciplinary topics covered by this journal.
To us, that suggests an obvious question: Shouldn’t journals check whether there are really enough qualified peer reviewers before they launch a journal that promises quality peer review?
It’s one thing if publishers launch journals whose criteria for publication are a “sanity test,” as F1000 has done with F1000 Research. (Some have wondered whether this Life paper would have passed that test, but more literally than F1000 means it.) Such papers would be marked as unreviewed. But if there aren’t enough peer reviewers out there to staff peer-reviewed journals, should we really support publishers who launch endless numbers of them?