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Fresh off the press - out today!

29 July 2022

At last the wait is over

After what has seemed like an eternity, at last the day has come when "How to Publish in Biological Sciences" is itself published!

It's been a long time coming. I delivered the manuscript for this book (on time) back on 27th August 2021. Since then, there have been a lot of ups and downs, and sometimes I thought it might never happen. So yesterday, I arrived home and found a packet of books on the doorstep, and today the book is officially released.

Many of you will already be aware that this book has been available for a long time (certainly since mid-2021) Open Access and in Bookdown format at 

You may also know that this isn't the only book:

The other book came out last year, and also hit some painful times when it was later withdrawn from sale. Happily, it's back and available again to anyone who wants to buy it. Once again, it is also available Open Access and in Bookdown format at 

There are lots of people to acknowledge, and you can read their names here and here

I really hope that there will be lots of people who will use these books and learn from them. For me it's been an interesting journey, and somewhat different from publishing papers and chapters. But I've been greatly helped and supported by CRC Press, and I'd like to really thank Alice Oven from T&F for making sure that it all happened. 

  Lab  Writing

EU lists African clawed frogs as invasive species of concern

18 July 2022

Xenopus laevis gets listed by the EU as an invasive alien species of Union concern

Back in October 2018, I was invited to Brussels to referee the impact assessment for African clawed frogs by Riccardo Scalera and various contributors (see blog posthere). At this point, the assessment had already been going on for some time. 

This month, I was back in Brussels for another meeting (Conference on the management of vertebrate invasive alien species of Union concern). An announcement during that meeting was that the EU was about to sign a document stating that the species being reviewed in 2018 were about to come into effect. Thus, on 15 July 2022, Ursula Von der Leyen signed in an update to the list of invasive alien species of Union concern, includingXenopus laevis(seehere). This list will come into effect later in August, and in particular for the African clawed frog, research institutions are being allowed extra time to issue permits before their listing takes effect.

This is really exciting news. In the ~40 years sinceX. laevishas been invading France (and longer in the UK - although these regulations won’t affect the UK directly), many people refused to believe that this species had any significant impact. I remember contacting co-ordinators ofDAISIE(Delivering Alien Invasive Species Inventories for Europe), and being told that they had no interest. Similarly, despite my best efforts the ISSG refused to update their pages onX. laeviswith important evidence of impacts. So what tipped the balance?

The funding ofINVAXEN, and later theLIFE project CROAAwere both funded by the EU and provided plenty of extra evidence thatX. laeviswas an impacting invasive species. Once the EU had invested in the research, they were more interested in looking more closely. Now, some 4 years after the meeting in Brussels, we finally see that the EU is serious about this species. It is worth remembering that the procedure takes a lot of time for a reason, there is a process to be followed with plenty of steps (see below). Also within this period, at least two more invasions in the EU have occurred (Bordeaux and Lille) and the latter appears to be spreading.

It’s taken a long time, and there are plenty of people who have played an important role in getting the African clawed frog listed. I hope that this now means the species will no longer be available for sale as a pet (i.e. end of trade) and that EU member states will take extra measures when new populations are found.

Process followed to list species an invasive alien species of Union concern

  • European Commission or Member State propose a risk assessment + evidence that criteria for listing are met.
  • Drafts are public and open to comments (within deadline).
  • Scientific Forum checks scientific robustness of draft risk assessments: are they fit for purpose?
  • IAS Committee checks IAS for compliance with criteria listing (meetings in 2021). Commission internal consultation
  • Notification to WTO: notified on 27 October 2021, 60 days - No comments received
  • Public feedback: 5 weeks, 16 November - 14 December 2021. 43 comments received
  • IAS Committee checks IAS for compliance with criteria listing and votes (meeting 2022)
  • Submission for adoption by Commission (written procedure) - 12 July
  • Publication in OJ 
  • Entry into force - 20 days after publication (mid-August 2022)

  Frogs  Lab  meetings  Xenopus

News on the new Xenopus invasion in Armentieres

14 July 2022

An invasion starts by spreading from France to Belgium

Some weeks ago, I wrote about visiting an established African clawed frog population in La Chapelle-Armentières, France (see here). Today it has now been reported that animals from this population have spread from this pond and that the invasion is on the move (see here). As it happens,  La Chapelle-Armentières is very close to the French-Belgian border. Moreover, it borders an area that is split between two separate administrative regions of Belgium: Walloon and Flanders (see map below).

A quick response using eDNA did not report any evidence for the population spread into Belgium (see here), but it seems that the new reports of animals in Walloon are from an area not surveyed. Moreover, the animals have used a small river to move further along the border and are now present in drainage ditches.

This is an administrative nightmare as the three areas will now need a coordinated response in order to get the invasion under control. Let's hope that they can work across their differences for a common goal!

  Frogs  Lab  Xenopus

It's getting cold in Lesotho

08 July 2022

Logger reveals just how cold it gets in a pond at 3 300 m asl

In March 2021, the MeaseyLab visited the Lesotho highlands as the final stop in an altitudinal transect for Laurie's study of African clawed frog physiology (see blog post here). A year later, I went to retrieve the temperature loggers (see blog post here), but the Lesotho logger had disappeared in a flood. Happily, we have friends in Lesotho, and Bongani Ntloko agreed to deploy a logger in a pond where Xenopus laevis  occur in the highest areas of Lesotho. 

In this first picture, you can see the pond where the logger was deployed in March 2022. Note the string that snakes into the middle of the pond which has the logger on the end of it.

In the next picture, taken in July 2022, you can clearly see the ice on the pond and the snow on the hill. The skies are still very blue!


In the graph below you can see how the temperature of the water has decreased from March to July. We would not expect temperatures to go below zero, but the logger shows that it gets very close to freezing in this pond. In the height of summer, maximum temperatures are all below 18 C, and the pond returns to temperatures below 10 C at night. These temperatures are very different from those recorded at sea-level where the temperature did not go below 10 C (see here).

From October to march it appears as if the logger has dried out, but in fact this is when Lesotho receives its rains. The dramatic swings in temperature during this period are likely because of the addition of rainwater into the pool. This appears to allow a continuing trend to increase water temperature during the day but the addition of rainwater cools it right down. During this period the frogs need to be able to adapt to a 14° C change from 4 to 18°! Below you can see an image of the pond taken on 4 April 2023 soon after the logger was removed - looking much as it did in March 2022. 

Thanks very much to Bongani and his team for their help with obtaining this data. It will be invaluable together with Laurie's results in her work on the physiology of this population.

  Frogs  Lab  Xenopus

Frontiers In - another attempt to grab money?

08 July 2022

Frontiers In - a revolution in publishing or another attempt to grab cash?

Recently, I was asked to join the editorial board of a new Frontiers In title. The new publishing company is currently expanding the number of their titles, and these are becoming more niche to try to dig much deeper into a broader academic base, covering all topics. Frontiers In is aGold OAmodel, and my views on Gold OA publishers (especially the ‘no impact’ journals like those published by Frontiers In) are mixed. On the one hand, I acknowledge that they do remove some of the issues surrounding the filter required for journals preoccupied by their impact, and these are serious issues (seehereandherefor examples). On the other hand, they demand a heavy price for their services.Article Processing Charges(APCs) for their manuscripts currentlystart at $700 and go up to $2950

What exactly are you paying for? 

Like some otherGold OAjournals, Frontiers In are proud to tell you how they are investing your money (or the taxpayers that fund your publishing) into their company. They are certainly setting up lots of new titles in a bid to claim a bigger market share of the billion dollar publishing sector. In accordance withcOAlition S(part of the distinctly dodgy Plan S), they share the different ways in which the money is divided (here), but without telling us the % of APC to each area. Moreover, we cannot get access to their annual reports or public accounting via their website (unlikePLoS), and therefore cannot see what profit is being given to shareholders (or simply into the CEO’s pocket), or how much is available for waivers. All of this information is kept from you. Does that make you suspicious? 

Gold OA publishers and their APCs

Because I am already involved in 3Gold OAjournals, I responded to the invitation that I had reservations but would be pleased to meet and discuss the offer. I met with the Journal Launch Specialist and expressed my reservations about becoming an editor for Frontiers In, specifically that their APC pricing policy and lack of sufficient waivers meant that researchers in the Global South were effectively excluded from contributing to their titles without digging into their research funds or their personal pockets. I was assured that Frontiers In is constantly expanding their portfolio of journals in order to give more help to such people. I further explained that this was not my experience, and that my only experience of publishing with them (as a corresponding author) was particularly fraught with respect to the 100% fee waiver (that we did eventually receive, although only after a lot of correspondence). One of the issues with their waiver policy is that authors have to wait until their article is acceptedbeforetheir request for a full waiver is considered. This means that Frontiers In make sure that the authors have invested their manuscript, reviewers’ time and revision time prior to making their decision. I would contend that this effectively locks them in, and I am sure that many are persuaded to part with their own cash rather than pull an accepted manuscript and go through the entire peer review process again at another journal.

What about the fee waiver policy of Frontiers In? 

Sadly, it’s a completeblack boxthat the staff are not willing to provide any information on. What I was told is that on completion of a submitted form, the staff will investigate the authors and their previous form to see whether they publish Gold OA. They will also look at their institution to see whether they think it has an existing pot of OA cash. I explained that in fact, many researchers (like myself) are good at getting their papers into Gold OA journals without paying APCs (a complete smogersboard of tactics), and that institutions which claim to have pots of cash for OA often do not have it accessible to all authors, for the entire cost, or for all of the year. In short, Frontiers In are, like other Gold OA publishers, going to try to squeeze every cent that they can from authors to the point where you might be tempted to put in your own cash.

And what is expected of editors?

When I clicked through to look at the agreement that editors are required to sign in order to have the privilege of working to fill the coffers of Frontiers In, I found that you really will be signing up for an awful lot of work. Indeed, I would say that this policy is directly in line with you signing up to be contractually liable as an agent of Frontiers In - while of course you receive none of their cash (seehere).

Pestering Bots

Another issue that I have withGold OApublishers, and specifically with Frontiers In is that I receive so many inappropriate requests for reviews, and indeed to be an editor for special issues (see another blog entry on thishere). I was assured that part of the exorbitant APC that Frontiers In demands is put into their new AI system that is helping them save time and find new reviewers (a fact confirmed by their website). I was told that it really wasn’t possible that I’d receive review requests from areas that were not my speciality because every request was double checked before being sent out. It was very appropriate then that within 24 hours of the meeting, I received a request from Frontiers In Psychology to develop an article collection on a research topic of my choice. The next day I received a review invitation from the Frontiers In Public Health editorial office to review an article on Electronic Medical Records in Angola. I flagged these with Frontiers In, and have been told (very nicely) to ‘unsubscribe’ (who knew that I was subscribed?).  

I would contend that the evidence is that the AI bots at Frontiers In are not as good as they think they are, and that there are probably lots more researchers who receive inappropriate and unsolicited offers from their ‘pest bots’.

Bottom line

  • If you are tempted to submit to a Frontiers In journal and you will need a 100% APC waiver, then be prepared to pull your paper after acceptance. There is no guarantee that your 100% fee waiver will materialise, even with the best reasons.
  • If we want a publishing route for everyone, then models like Frontiers In are not it. What we need isDiamond OAjournals. These do exist, cost practically nothing and need your support. Unsurprisingly,Diamond OAjournals are not flashy and you won’t be getting lots of pestering emails from them.
  • If you support Frontiers In, then you are promoting a model that puts the majority of the world’s scientists at a disadvantage.  

Here are some of the requirements that Frontiers In expect of you so that you have the privilege of earning money for them:

  • Nominate at least 10-20 potential Review Editors
  • Co-edit article collections (Research Topics) - every 1-2 years
  • Manage the peer-review of 5-10 manuscripts per year
  • Accountability for acceptance of manuscripts
  • Each Frontiers Editorial Board member needs to complete his/her profile on the research network Loop - on a public setting
  • All Associate Editors attend annual Editorial Board teleconferences
  • By agreeing to become an Associate Editor of Frontiers, you are entering into a legal contract with Frontiers.
  Lab  Writing
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