A few months ago, I got an invitation to host a Research Topic at Frontiers, one of the (relatively) new wave of Open Access journals, where authors pay publication costs and readers can freely access articles. Apparently, my recent article would be an excellent fit for the Research Topics initiative! Research Topics are where a couple of editors get together and invite submissions on their pet topic – a bit like a special issue, or a conference symposium. I’ve seen some great examples of these on topics dear to my own heart, like VanRullen & Krieman’s The timing of visual object recognition, so you’d think being asked to host one would be pretty cool, no?
Now here’s the thing: I get plenty of spam. Invitations to random conferences, offers of monoclonal antibodies, invitations to enlarge various appendages. Every couple of months I get a letter from a vanity publishing press asking if I want to publish my thesis as a book. The common theme is that they’re rather impersonal. When I get what reads like a form email that makes only a cursory reference to me and my work and then tells me what a great opportunity it’s providing me, I get suspicious.
After a moment’s pause, I discounted the invitation as spam, as I have done the repeat invitations. And the pause was only because it was from Frontiers, a journal family I like. From a few conversations on Twitter, it feels like this is a pretty common reaction.
The attitude that Open Access is simply vanity publishing is one I clearly disagree with (published in both PLOS ONE and Frontiers), but it’s a long way from being a dead opinion yet. It’s not great if even supporters of the OA movement and Frontiers find these kind of invitations a bit spammy.
There are a couple of things at play here. I’m a junior researcher. Nobody asks me to host a symposium or edit a special issue. I once mentioned to a colleague that perhaps we could try setting up a research topic with Frontiers, and the reaction was “isn’t that really for more senior researchers?” If I start inviting people, I feel like the most likely reaction will be “Who are you, and how did you get my address?” This is something Frontiers have explicitly claimed they’re trying to address, opening up such paths to junior researchers, but it’s not a stated aim on their website or in the emails.
The article that formed the basis of my invitation has been cited once – by me – so if you want to tell me that this is an article that can form the keystone of a research topic, you need to do more than re-state the title. Tell me why it’s interesting and why it might fit. Otherwise, I don’t get the feeling you’ve even read the abstract, and I start to get the impression that these special issue Research Topics are perhaps not so special.
So in other words, if you want to appeal to us juniors, you have to overcome both our insecurity in our early career status and our doubts about your sincerity. If you want to reach out to us, make it feel like you’re interested in *us* and have some idea what our research area actually *is*. That’s if that’s what you really want to do.