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Editing or being an unwitting agent?

11 May 2022

Should you be a Special Issue editor for parasitic publishers?

Have you received an invitation from a journal published by Frontiers In or MDPI asking you to be an editor for aspecial issue? I know that I have received many such invitations over the past year or so, either to edit special issues or contribute papers to them. Why are these journals pushing so hard to have me (or you) edit for them? Although I don’t work at either publishing house, here are some of the issues that you should consider before responding to Frontiers or MDPI positively to their request:

  • These journals are exclusivelyGold Open Access. This means that anyone publishing in these journals needs to pay a fee or Article Processing Charge (APC) in order to publish there. The APCs are very high (USD 1000 to 3000 see here and here), considering that the actual costs are less than USD 100 per paper for the publisher. They are making massive profits even if you pay half.
  • When you agree to be an editor, you will effectively be an agent soliciting customers for the publisher. As an editor of a special issue, the onus to recruit contributing authors will be on you, and each author will (eventually) pay the publisher for their contribution. Be aware that the publishers will be making a good profit from your network and contacts, moreover they won’t need to pay you anything for this privilege (they may give you a discounted APC - but see below).
  • Some potential authors will be barred from contributing due to the massive APCs. Because many scientists from middle-income countries (and many more from high income countries) have no budget to pay for Open Access, they will not be able to contribute to your special issue. The publisher is very likely to offer a discount to contributors (they start at 10% and go up to 50% but it’s all profit in their purse), but if you have people who genuinely want to contribute but have no money, this will be a barrier to their participation. This means that your potential contributors have been effectively reduced by more than half of the planet.

When you consider the issues above, you should recognise that the massive privilege of being asked to edit a special issue, is now looking like you’re being exploited by a publisher to use your network to net them some cash.   

So does this mean that these journals are predatory?

The line between what can be considered a predatory publisher, and what not, is becoming increasingly blurred (seehere). The reason these publishers are no longer considered predatory (in the case of MDPI at least) is that their contributions are sent out to review. As a guest editor of course, this will be your job! So perhaps instead of predatory, perhaps we should use the term 'parasitic' for these publishers. 

Special Issues are valuable to your career

Of course, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to be the editor of a special issue. If all of your network are from wealthy institutions where APCs are not a problem, and you’ll be regarded in a positive light when putting together one such special issue, then go ahead. If you have any inkling that some of your network won’t be able to pay, then don’t be swayed by reassurances from these publishers that they have discounts. For most authors from middle-income countries, half of the APC is more money than they are taking home each month.

If you are tempted by one of these emails from MDPI or Frontiers then my best suggestion is to approach the editor of aDiamond Open Accessjournal, or failing that a society journal. Pitch your idea for the special issue and ask them whether they would consider doing this in the next 2 years (publishing schedules are longer for these journals). Good special issues take time to plan and curate. Make yours the best it can be and don't end up feeding a parasite.

Whatever your take on an editing role with these publishers, you should ask yourself whether or not you are prepared to work as an agent earning money for a publisher. 

Officials in Washington State get worried about Xenopus invasion

01 May 2022

Invasive population of African clawed frogs in Washington State 

We have known about the invasion of African clawed frogs in Washington State for some years, but a new online article  hints at some of the potential impacts that these invasions might have.

Individual African clawed frogs have been sighted at at least three sites in Issaquah, Lacey and Bothell. One of these sites has a full blown invasion that officials from US Fish & Wildlife have been attempting to exterminate for three years. But due to a mixture of inadequate funds and COVID, the efforts to date have been unsuccessful. 

Interestingly, many of these introductions appear to have occurred after a change in law that made it illegal to have these frogs as pets. The result was that owners appear to have released their pets into the local environment and when sufficient numbers were released, an invasion resulted. This teaches us an important lesson in how to communicate to the public about invasive species and the law.

I have no doubt that we'll see more about this population in years to come.

  Frogs  Lab  Xenopus

Visiting a newly established population in France

01 May 2022

Visiting a new invasion of Xenopus laevis near Lille

Over the years I have managed to visit quite a few of the invasive populations of African clawed frogs covering all 4 continents on which they are currently known (Measey et al 2012). When reviewing these invasions, we found that the pathways were mostly due to the release of animals from scientific laboratories, but in 2017 when I reviewed the sources of current trade in these same frogs (Measey 2017), I predicted that we would start to see an increase in populations introduced from the burgeoning pet trade. 

In September 2018, it was reported that a population of African clawed frogs was present in a pond of the small French town La Chapelle-d'Armentières, near Lille and close to the border with Belgium (van Doorn et al., 2022). Although we do not know much about the pathway of this introduction, it appears that the pond in question was renovated by the council around the same time as the discovery, making the pond both deeper and thereby permanent (using images from Google Earth). A swift survey of numerous water bodies on the Belgian side of the border suggested that this pond is currently the only location for this established population (van Doorn et al., 2022). 

As I was in northern France in late April 2022, I requested permission to trap at the pond and process samples for our ongoing work into native and invasive genetic diversity of this model species (see blog posts here and here). The pond had been partially drained and a sturdy drift fence was planted all around the perimeter in aid of the eradication of this species from the area (seeTechnical Reportfor more information).

I set 4 traps in the two remaining areas and the next morning found 21Xenopus laevis

Further Reading:

van Doorn, L., Speybroeck, J., Adriaens, T. & Brys, R. (2022). Environmental DNA sampling for African clawed frog in Flanders, Wallonia and France in 2020. Reports of the Research Institute for Nature and Forest 2022 (6). Research Institute for Nature and Forest , Brussels.

Technical Report on removal of Xenopus laevis

  Frogs  Lab  Xenopus

An interview on 'How to write a PhD'

15 April 2022

Interview with Daniel Shea from Scholarly Communication

Daniel contacted me some time back about doing an interview for his podcast on Scholarly Communication. I had a listen to excerpts of some of his previous interviews and wrote back with enthusiasm. I had a copy of How to Write a PhD in Biological Sciences  delivered to Daniel and we set a date for the interview. I had spent some time working on the next book (How to Publish in Biological Sciences) and so did a quick recap of the contents of How to Write a PhD in Biological Sciences  in the morning before the interview. Nevertheless, I was not feeling particularly well prepared when we started talking. Daniel explained that he would give a prepared introduction, and after this would launch into the interview.

It was quite a shock when Daniel gave a very lengthy introduction including reading a quote from the book. What struck me most was that he had actually read the book - apparently from cover to cover (not something that I'd advise for anyone wanting to use it!). His insights were eye opening. He had picked up on exactly why I wrote the book and that it is likely to be of use to people beyond only those writing PhDs in Biological Sciences. Moreover, Daniel had me thinking very hard on my feet about exactly why it is that we have built up a system with so much assumed knowledge. 

I should qualify the statement on assumed knowledge by adding that this may not be the case for all students (PhD, MSc or others). There are certainly some students who are well informed, and have all the knowledge on the system that they are working within prior to starting their PhDs. It's hard to know exactly where this came from and whether it was in the form of curricula based activities or that they had benefited from exceptionally good contacts. Evidently, the book is not needed by all students, but my experience, both as an uninitiated student and as an advisor, suggests that a great many would gain some benefit from the contents.

I was also very happy that Daniel was enthusiastic for the Bookdown approach. I may not have given a particularly useful explanation of what Bookdown is or why it's so great, but I would encourage you to go look at a product:

To listen to Daniel Shea's interview with me, visit:

  Lab  Writing

A checklist for Angolan herps

01 April 2022

A trip to Angola 13 years ago...

It seems like a long time ago when in January 2009 we set off up the N7 through Namibia to Angola to join a SANBI expedition to the southern highlands of Angola and Iona National Park. Our team on reptiles and amphibians consisted of Krystal Tolley and myself (then from SANBI) and Bill Branch and Werner Conradie (from BayWorld). We were just one component of many teams from different disciplines that joined forces to inventory the biodiversity of southern Angola.

As time has gone by, there have been many more trips to Angola with many more people involved. Together, all of this data represents an important resource, and has now been written up as an updated herpetofaunal inventory for Iona National Park by Javier Lobón-Rovira and colleagues, and published in the journal Check List.

With 5 amphibians (the park is essentially a desert) and 70 reptile species, the new check list records 40 of these for the first time in Iona National Park. This is a remarkable achievement.

Read the full paper Open Access here.

Lobón-Rovira J, Vaz Pinto P, S. Becker F, Tolley KA, Measey J, Bennet B, Boon B, de Sá S, Conradie W (2022) An updated herpetofaunal species inventory of Iona National Park in southwestern Angola. Check List 18(2): 289-321.

  Frogs  Lab
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