Feature Story | 12-Dec-2023

Frontiers' Research Topic Publishing Program: pioneering the future of scientific publishing


“Frontiers: at the frontier of scientific publishing” 

The Frontiers' publishing program was developed twenty years ago in anticipation of the evolving publishing needs of 21st century science. Frontiers recognizes the need to bring together mission, tradition, quality, and innovation to scientific publishing to empower research communities to direct and shape scientific publishing. 

The Frontiers Research Topics (RTs) program is a testament to our commitment to innovation, adaptability, and community-centered approaches in a rapidly evolving academic landscape.  

We are very proud of how our RTs shape communities and help them communicate their research openly and more efficiently. To witness this innovative approach to publishing firsthand, explore the ten most viewed RTs of 2023

Why Research Topics?  

“A Paradigm Shift in Publishing”

The exponential development of informatics and the online exchange of scientific research over the past thirty years is rapidly making the organization of knowledge into discreet scientific journals obsolete. Research Topics emerged to prepare for the 21st-century pivot in science towards spontaneous academic collaborations, multifaceted global partnerships, the intricate dependencies of multidisciplinary research, and growing spectrum of technologies and expertise needed to generate new science. Our Research Topics program is a dynamic response to the rigid academic taxonomies of traditional journals that constrain how science can progress.  

“In a race against time, we cannot afford to be held back by outdated and rigid publishing programs – we need innovative, open, responsive, quality, and transparent programs that meet the needs of newly forming cross- and multi-disciplinary research communities.” 

Recognizing the importance of evolving scientific focuses, Frontiers introduced RTs as a flexible, adaptive, and vibrant publishing venue that caters to dynamically self-organizing research communities. RTs are not what are traditionally known as "special issues." They are collaborative hubs, led by pioneers with a scope defined by leaders of newly emerging research fields, open to submissions from all those who identify with the new multidisciplinary community. Some leading researchers are invited by the editors, but the vast majority of authors join the project spontaneously, drawn by the amplified impact and visibility gained with the RT project that will shape their field. The lead researchers driving the area serve as a Topic Editor in close collaboration with the journal’s Editor-in-Chief. There is no “special” treatment for submitted articles; they must undergo Frontiers’ rigorous and constructive peer review process by appointed editors and community of reviewers empowered by AI, which is far ahead of any other publisher. The quality of Frontiers' peer review speaks for itself: papers published by Frontiers receive the third-highest number of citations per paper among the top 20 largest publishers in the world, surpassing century-old legacy publishers in just 16 years.  

The proof that RTs are the innovative game-changer in science lies in the fact that papers published in RTs see more citations per paper. Research Topics help researchers achieve the full impact that their article deserves. 

While Research Topics are intrinsic to Frontiers’ journals, not an add-on as is the case with special issues, they are optional on our partner journal platform. Submissions here must still undergo the same rigorous Frontiers peer review processes. Nevertheless, they can be shaped by the learned society that operates their own journal, allowing the addition of unique features and a more specific adaptation to their community. 

“Frontiers Research Topics provide a new model for research dissemination that moves as fast as science itself evolves. They put the power back into the hands of the research community, where it belongs.” 

The message to scientific publishing is that “the world has changed and is set to change even faster as science comes under pressure to deliver a growing number of solutions to global challenges such as climate change and pandemics in a much shorter time scale than ever before.” Fred Fenter, Frontiers Chief Executive Editor.  

How do Research Topics fit into the Frontiers Publishing Program? 

The goal of the Frontiers' publishing program is to empower research communities to actively steer the course of scientific publishing. Our program was implemented as a three-part unit with fixed field journals, flexible specialty sections, and dynamically emerging research topics, connecting communities of different sizes.  

Field journals bring together broad and well-established research communities, that are already firmly entrenched within academic taxonomy. Specialty sections bring together specialized communities within the field to focus their expertise on the quality and integrity of research, while embracing innovation. Research Topics bring together frontier researcher communities around contemporary themes, while placing them in the context of specialty and field communities. Together, they offer a comprehensive and highly impactful publishing platform to meet the evolving demands of 21st century science.  

Key Features of Frontiers' Research Topics 

  1. Community-Centric Approach: Each RT forms around an emerging or established community that propels research activity within a topical area capable of advancing the field. These areas swiftly progress, achieving notable milestones in rapidly advancing research. 
  2. Inclusivity and Collaboration: Spearheaded by pioneering researchers, RTs are open to all, fostering serendipitous and novel contributions, transforming into hubs of spontaneous academic collaboration within and across disciplines. 
  3. Flexibility in Evolution: RTs are living entities with open and close dates, yet they can adapt according to community demand. Certain RTs expand across multiple journals and sections as their reach evolves. 
  4. Uncompromised Quality: Every article undergoes exactly the same rigorous and constructive peer review, ensuring the same quality standards as all Frontiers publications. 
  5. Maximized Impact: Articles within RTs typically have higher citation rates, resonating with the community's current focus within the framework of a fixed academic taxonomy. 
  6. From Topics to Journals: Some RTs have such an impact that the community demands a new specialty section within a fixed field journal, paving the way for evolving science to advance in the academic taxonomy. 
  7. Leaders: RTs are led by the pioneers of science, allowing these breakthrough researchers to be recognized by the community.  

At its core, Frontiers' Research Topics program is a model for modern scientific publishing: community-driven, flexible, and impactful. Research Topics extend scientific publishing by supporting the rapid evolution of the scientific process, accelerating collaboration, and consequently accelerating scientific advancements.  

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