Like organic food, open access publishing has shrouded itself in a cultural halo, but it's still a business. No one is pumping out 40,000 articles per year, most of them with just a few check boxes called 'editorial review', because the 40,000 best articles happened to show up in their Inboxes, they do it to keep the lights on.

Life is full of practical trade-offs. We carry annoying ads because the best site in the world with no money is a site everyone has forgotten in 3 months.  Open access companies know if they are going to keep signing the fronts of checks and their employees are going to keep signing the backs of them, they need to produce content on a consistent basis.

Open access Frontiers has gotten into a high-profile spat with editors at two of their publications; the editors say the company is just interested in making money and risking patients - which is the sort of hysterical claim we see in papers invoking "endocrine disruptors" in sketchy epidemiology papers - while the company says the editors are extorting them.

The editors wrote the manifesto making the claim because of a policy they don't like - authors can hand-pick an associate editor and if it passes two review editors, it can be published, without any oversight from the Chief Editors.

If that sounds a lot like Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, well, yeah, they pioneered it. And almost every open access company does the same thing. Peer review may have been flawed in the past but at a lot of places now it is just a fluid term. After being startled by a number of really stupid papers in PNAS last year (men don't take female hurricane names seriously, Facebook emotional manipulation, everything they do in social sciences) I noted that their lax standards for publication were not always harmless - over a decade ago a paper about frog toxicology got a whole EPA special panel convened despite the fact that it had no data and no one ever asked if the author was personal friends with the hand-picked reviewer and had an office next door. After I mentioned it in the Wall Street Journal, PNAS announced they were making some changes to the ability to hand-pick a friendly review.

What PNAS did not do is move articles from one editor to another to speed it along - at least not that we know about. If the reviewer was an Academy member it basically had no review, but that is a different issue than removing an article from one person and giving it to another. That looks like the most important thing is running the credit card.

Chief Editors are not without some blame here. I wouldn't usually single out any publisher, they all have good people and bad people, but the number of times any Chief Editor or Editor-In-Chief at any Frontiers publication has ever responded to an email from me is still sitting at zero, they are literally the only publisher who can never be bothered to respond to a query, and that is after 7 years in existence. So they have a cultural problem that success has masked. If the company isn't getting its emails returned by editors either, it certainly looks like editorial elitism. Regardless, Frontiers has been doing something right, they began in 2008 and now have 50 journals and success counts for a lot so they won't have any problem replacing disgruntled editors. Success matters.

If any academic claims that success and the prestige that comes with it are not the important factors, ask them if they'd rather be in Science or PLOS One.