Killing the Cure

Killing the Cure – The Politics of Suppressing Cancer Research

In late 2017, a world-renowned cancer research journal known for its positive impact on the scientific community was given a prestigious award. The journal, Oncotarget, was named as a “Rising Star in Essential Science Indicators” by Clarivate Analytics, a major international corporation that manages the academic citation database Web of Science. At the same time, Oncotarget had once again been ranked in the top quartile of journals in its field for the seventh year in a row according to ScimagoJR rankings. Submissions to the journal were at an all-time high, and scientists across the world were relying on the journal as a vital resource for achieving breakthrough discoveries in cancer research. The Journal was quickly becoming a cornerstone in the academic community, as Nobel Prize winners and academic visionaries joined its editorial board. The authors who publish in Oncotarget were finally on the brink of putting together the final piece of humanity’s massive and perplexing cancer research puzzle. Oncotarget – and mankind’s mission to cure cancer – had never seen more success, until a librarian named Jeffrey Beall from Colorado had managed to put an abrupt stop to all of these milestones.

Jeffrey Beall and Oncotarget represent a major divide in academic publishing. Beall, an outspoken critic of open access publishing, embodies the traditional foundation of research journals. He is a librarian, a position that has held a high degree of power in the academic community for generations. In the old world, academic journals have always been on their hands and knees, begging librarians to include their journals in the library. The desire of these journals to be included in major libraries gave people like Beall a lot of influence over the direction of academic research.

Then there is Oncotarget, which utilizes an “open-access” model of publishing that essentially makes librarians like Beall obsolete. Open-access journals are free for the world to read. Instead of paying for a subscription, anybody in the world who wants to learn from other academics can go to Oncotarget’s website and download as many PDF’s as they want of any journal they have ever published. There is no paywall, and there is no librarian dictating how and when people get access to information.

            Naturally, this dichotomy between old and new has created immense tensions in the academic community. Beall has stated time and again that the “only truly successful model” of publishing “is the traditional model.” He has waged a political war against these open access journals, going as far as to spend years discrediting them on Wikipedia, creating websites to make the journals appear “predatory”, and even halting the growth of the journals by lobbying major corporations that control indexing platforms such as Web of Science.

            Clarivate, which was sold in 2016 for nearly $4 billion USD, manages the massive citation indexing platform Web of Science (WoS). Academics across the world rely on WoS for both scientific and career reasons. For example: In China (a country that is now leading the world on cancer research expenditures), degree-seeking students must publish their research papers in a journal that is included in the WoS indexing platform. Without accomplishing this requirement, the students cannot graduate with their degree. Naturally, this has never been a problem for a major journal like Oncotarget, until Jeffrey Beall’s campaign had finally convinced Web of Science to remove Oncotarget from their indexing service. Overnight, thousands of authors across the world were stuck in limbo – they had already submitted their articles to Oncotarget, yet Jeffrey Beall had simultaneously convinced Web of Science to drop Oncotarget from their database. Submissions to Oncotarget declined, and progress in the field of cancer research had come to an abrupt and unexplained halt overnight.

            The most perplexing component of this story is that Web of Science – the very service that dropped Oncotarget – awarded the same journal with a prestigious honor only a few months prior, saying that Oncotarget was a “Rising Star” in its field. It has been reported that Web of Science has given no tangible reasons in regards to the de-listing of Oncotarget. Clarivate Analytics, the parent company of WoS, has been dodgy in regards to this story, as they have been deflecting questions and giving vague statements to those who ask questions about the abrupt decision to remove Oncotarget as well.

            For those who follow academic news and are aware of the war against open-access publishing, it does not take a genius to connect the dots and realize that the decision to drop Oncotarget from WoS was a political decision motivated by Jeffrey Beall’s deceitful campaign. Beall represents the old way of doing things, and it is clear that he and his colleagues will stop at nothing to suppress open-access publishing – even if it means suppressing cancer research and killing the cure. For the sake of humanity and for progress in the field of cancer research, the right thing to do would be for Web of Science to realize that they made a mistake and to include Oncotarget in their index again. Jeffrey Beall needs to realize that his personal agenda – and his campaign to discredit a research model that contradicts the necessity of his profession – is nowhere near as important as finding a cure for cancer.


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April 1, 2018

Boston, Massachusetts

March 12, 1964

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