Tumor Biology is an open access cancer-related journal owned by the International Society of Oncology and BioMarkers (ISOBM) (1) and published by IOS Press (2). It describes itself as “a peer reviewed, international journal” whose papers “are subject to rigorous peer review and are selected on the basis of whether the research is sound and deserves publication” (1, 2). Tumor Biology was published by Karger Publishers until 2009; by Springer Science+Business Media from 2010 to 2016, achieving a 2016 Clarivate impact factor (IF) of 3.650 (3); by SAGE Publications from 2017 to 2020; and by IOS Press since January 2021. A 2018 editorial by editor-in-chief Magdalena Chechlińska (Maria Sklodowska-Curie National Research Institute of Oncology, Poland) conveys optimism and hope. The first issue of volume 43, published in 2021, notably lacks an editorial and also includes seven errata and one retraction notice to 15 papers (4).
The lack of a positivity-laced editorial in the first issue with a new publisher, an issue that is also marked with multiple errata, is a red flag in academic publishing. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) website reveals that neither IOP Press nor Tumor Biology are current COPE members (5), though Tumor Biology was a member when it was published by Springer Science+Business Media and SAGE Publications. There were a total of five corrections and two retractions during its publication by SAGE Publications. Those two retractions (6, 7) have several hallmarks of paper mill-derived papers (8). In fact, the journal's reputation had already suffered a terrible bruising in 2017, with three near-fatal blows: revelations that famed scientists had been added to the editorial board without their approval or knowledge, including a scientist who had died 4 years earlier (9); the retraction of 107 papers—all with Chinese authors and affiliations—due to fake peer review, all under the watch of then-editor-in-chief Torgny Stigbrand ; and delisting from Web of Science, thereby causing the loss of their IF (11). A similar fate befell another PubMed/ Medline-indexed cancer journal, Oncotarget (12). In fact, the pain caused to Tumor Biology by the loss of its IF in 2017, and thus revenue in the form of open access article processing fees, currently US$1500 or US$2000, translated into reduced submissions (and published papers), with PubMed statistics showing 707 published papers in 2017 versus 66 in 2018 and 30 in 2021 (13).
Fake elements in publishing, including fake peer reviews and paper mill-derived research (14), threaten the integrity of the entire publishing landscape because journals are linked to each other through citations; some editors occupy editorial positions across competing journals that, if undeclared, are in essence hidden conflicts of interest (15); and the constant pressure to get published, even more so in journals that carry a rank (like the IF) or are indexed in places such as PubMed/Medline, Scopus, Web of Science, DOAJ, etc., drives a sector of the academic population to cheat and commit fraud (16).
The author is of the opinion that a combination of ill fate, bad editorial management, and excessive self-praise in superficial metrics such as IF is leading to Tumor Biology's near collapse. Crippled by mass retractions and reputationally wounded over the past few years, Tumor Biology may face intellectual or financial collapse or closure as it struggles to compete against a mass of cancer research journals, many of which pride themselves on scholarly conduct. A recent retraction notice at the end of 2021 indicates that an additional 15 papers, published between 2014 and 2016 while Tumor Biology was under the management of Springer Science+Business Media, have been retracted due to their association with papermills (17).
A similar fate is now testing other ranked and indexed cancer journals, triggering a crisis of trust (18, 19). Other cancer journals should heed the Tumor Biology case and learn from its mistakes. It is unhelpful that Tumor Biology currently has one potentially discriminatory exclusionary policy for submission: “The journal does not accept submissions from authors using nondescript, anonymous, email addresses (e.g., yahoo. com, gmail.com, 163.com, rediffmail.com, sina.com, 126.com, hotmail.com, etc.).” It is also disappointing that the society that owns Tumor Biology, ISOBM, fails to recognize any of these failures as an integral part of its history (20).
Tumor Biology editors did not respond to email queries sent in October 2021.
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