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The Cancer Journal - Volume 11, Number 1 (January-February 1998)


Independence, interdependence and staying power

Absolute independence does not exist in our society. Thus we are speaking here about relative independence and, more particularly, that of our Journal. The Cancer Journal was created 12 years ago, in May 1986. At this time at least fifty international journals dealing with the study of cancer were already in existence, and since then their number has continued to increase. One of them even decided to try and take our name; the powerful believe that everything is permitted. This proves how intense the competition is. Like every self-respecting scientific publication, we have adhered to the basic rules: peer review of all submitted articles, quick and accurate editorial work, publication exactly on time. There is nothing revolutionary about this. It would not have been necessary to start up another journal if we had not wanted to emphasize our difference: that is, our fiercely guarded independence. The Cancer Journal is not owned, directly or indirectly, by any part of the medical industrial complex. It belongs solely to its authors and its readers. It is not a profit-making enterprise. Its editorial policy is not subject to any open or hidden pressure. This is both a strength and a weakness. Our financial reserves are limited, coming only from subscriptions and page charges paid by the authors. These charges have remained stable, compared to the value of the French franc, since the Journal was launched.

At the end of this year I shall retire. Over the last year I have been trying to find a way for the Journal to continue while holding on to its independence. It is not yet certain that this will be possible. The CNRS, which paid my salary and provided the premises (without asking for any measure of control over the Journal in exchange), has decided not to continue this support. The other public research organizations do not wish to become involved. It seems that a small, independent publication does not have the weight necessary to influence the administration. The European publishing houses which I have contacted might take on the Journal, but would insist on controlling it. They would not wish to risk a difference of opinion between the editors and their advertisers, which could quickly become a conflict of interests. In fact, advertisers can exert pressure on all the products of a publishing house, and not just those publications in which they advertise. The Journal is not linked to any scientific society, nor does it organize meetings giving rise to published proceedings, which are an important source of income for a number of journals. Even if we wanted to, we would not be able to do this regularly. Until recently, the Journal's financial situation did not appear as a problem, but simply as the price to pay for our cherished independence.

On the other hand, as often as possible, we have published papers which would not have appeared elsewhere, either because they dealt with unfashionable subjects or because they expressed minority viewpoints, rejected by conventional thinking. Our readers have understood this. We are known to be "marginal". This does not mean that most of the articles appearing in The Cancer Journal are not "main-stream", but simply that we offer the possibility of presenting an alternative viewpoint and, since each issue contains one or two papers which would not otherwise have been published, our open-minded reputation is established. We have conducted a survey among our authors, asking them whether their articles in our Journal had as much impact as those which they published in other journals. They told us that they were satisfied with the number of reprint requests.

Our growing reputation has been enhanced by the publication of a considerable number of general review articles, both in the printed edition and on the web (http://www.infobiogen.fr/agora/cancer/homepage.htm). The frequency of consultation of our website, both for the texts and for the services offered: meeting announcements, e-mail addresses of correspondents, internet addresses of organizations, is a healthy sign. However, we must think seriously about the future. In the light of an imminent change of editor, we have deliberately not renewed the editorial board recently. This will be one of the first tasks of my successor. I will almost certainly play a minor part in the new team, for as long as is necessary for an effective transmission of know-how.

If some of you are as concerned as we are about the independence of the Journal with respect to the medical industrial complex, and would like to help it survive, do not hesitate to contact us by post or by e-mail (salomon@infobiogen.fr) with your ideas. It is now that the fate of the Journal is being decided. Be assured that the medical industrial complex is not imaginary. It is probably now bigger that the military lobby castigated by President Eisenhower at the end of the 1950s. Mergers and take-overs are concentrating the pharmaceutical industry, and a similar process is occurring with the scientific press, which is confined to an ever-decreasing number of companies. In this context, taking into account the importance of publications in the career of scientists, academic freedom is fast disappearing. The future development of therapeutics is also worrying, since most clinical research is financed by industry. One should not complain about this, but it is noticeably difficult to do research into therapeutic procedures with no market value. In theory, there is nothing against it, but nobody wants to support it. Market forces also affect work in public laboratories and hospitals, albeit more indirectly. Together with the influence of fashions in research, this means that resources are concentrated on a small number of "profitable" subjects. Never mind that stagnation is the rule and progress the exception as far as results in the clinic are concerned.

Thus, there is still a long way to go, and the Cancer Journal still has a "raison d'être".

Jean-Claude Salomon

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