The Open Access (OA) journal Oncotarget went mad. Utterly and completely bonkers. Its owners namely decided to threaten me with lawyers because I do not bring their outlet enough respect, presumably by constantly publishing articles about various dishonest cancer researchers who seem to have discovered Oncotarget at their fraud-to-Gold OA outlet of choice, for a fee of $3,400. This Woncotarget is run by two Editors-in-Chief, Mikhail (Misha) Blagosklonny and Andrei Gudkov, both from Roswell Park Cancer Institute, in Buffalo, NY, and Blagosklonny’s former lab colleague and now Impact Journals Executive Manager, Zoya Demidenko. The lawyer they released upon me is interestingly yet another Soviet emigree, Arkady Bukh, who is registered in New York and specialises in criminal law. I publish his letter in full below, and here is the original I received by email.
Now the real irony is not that I also am a native Russian-speaking Soviet emigree, but the fact that Blagosklonny and Demidenko have offered me a job with Oncotarget as research integrity expert, in December 2016. The reason was, as Blagosklonny explained several times during several unpaid Skype consultations in Russian, was Oncotarget‘s placing on the Beall’s List. The list, as we all know, was dissolved in January 2017 (due to the pressure by another OA publisher, Frontiers), and my services were apparently not needed even before I could offer any.
Apparently even with Beall’s List gone, Oncotarget‘s reputation is still not as high as desired. The journal was delisted first by MedLine, and then by Clarivate, the company which issues the sacred Journal Impact Factor. Must be particularly painful if you call yourself Impact Journals. I don’t know if these also received cease and desist letter from Bukh the lawyer, or maybe I am a special case. What did I do? Well, is it really my fault that these questionable cancer researchers repeatedly published fabricated data in Oncotarget, without much consequences so far: Giorgio Zauli, Karin Dahlman-Wright , Li Jia, Guoqiang Zhao, and others, and there are many more featuring on PubPeer (you can’t search by journal anymore because PubPeer wishes to sell this service).
Another case Oncotarget is angry at me for is: I prevented a truly deranged retraction of a paper whose author merely asked for his name to be written correctly, in an Oncotarget paper already published online. The author was the Spaniard Antonio Herrera-Merchan, coauthor and later whistleblower in the case of the Madrid fraudster Susana Gonzalez. His new employer tried to shorten the name to just Herrera in order to hide the unpleasant Gonzalez connection, the postdoc however insisted to remain Herrera-Merchan. That was reported by Retraction Watch, who also asked Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) to provide an authoritative opinion what Antonio’s real name is, unironically. Then Oncotarget began “investigating” and retracted the paper. After I called them out, Blagosklonny ordered me to “Write to legal department 9 to 5”, then I received some weird emails from Ryan James Jessup, Oncotarget‘s legal affairs person, and eventually the paper disappeared completely. But here are the online archive backups of the “Publisher initiated withdrawal” and the hair-raising “Publisher statement” where Oncotarget declared Herrera-Merchan needs permission from all of his coauthors to use the name written in his passport.
What else did I do? I questioned the scientific integrity of the current editorial board members and founding fathers of Oncotarget (yes, fathers, just 2 out of 51 are women), simply because, well just look at their PubPeer records:
- Carlo Croce of Ohio State University, whose dishonesty even made to front page in New York Times, whom he unsuccessfully tried to sue. Staggerring 82 papers on PubPeer, and a related article of mine.
- Ronald DePinho, former president of MD Anderson Cancer Center. 25 papers on PubPeer, and a related article of mine.
- Michael Karin of University of California, whose lab’s lack of research integrity was discussed in detail in this anonymous blogpost, and who has 43 papers on PubPeer.
- Guido Kroemer of INSERM in Paris. 37 papers on PubPeer, and a relevant article of mine.
- Arnold Levine of Princeton, with 15 papers on PebPeer.
- Michael Lisanti of University of Salford, with 30 papers on PubPeer.
- Pier Paolo Pandolfi of Harvard Medical School, with 23 papers on PubPeer
- Carol Prives of Columbia University, Gonzalez collaborator with 7 papers on PubPeer, and a relevant article of mine. She is just one of 2 women on a 51-head-strong editorial board, and the large advisory board has a similar gender ratio.
- Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins University, who is admittedly a God-like figure in cancer research, but still, 13 papers on PubPeer, all showing a problematic attitude.
- Paul Workman, President of ICR London, with 15 papers on PubPeer, and a relevant article of mine.
These are just the most egregious names which rang a bell with me when I looked at the Oncotarget’s virile editorial board. And let us not forget Blagosklonny himself who as scientist apparently has little concept of gel image integrity, as his 13 papers on PubPeer prove. Look at this pathetic hack job, in Demidenko & Blagoosklonny, Cancer Research 2004.
Or how about this, don’t these bands look strangely too similar, in Kolosova et al Aging 2013:
But now, over to Bukh the lawyer who orders me on behalf of Blagosklonny and Demidenko, to love Oncotarget, or else.
Via email and FedEx Delivery
RE: IMPACT JOURNALS, LLC and ONCOTARGET
Bukh Law Firm, PLLC has been retained by Impact Journals, LLC (“Impact”) regarding your defamation of one of its journals, Oncotarget (a primarily oncology-focused, peer-reviewed, open access, weekly journal) and the damages it has sustained as a result thereof. The purpose of this communication is to provide notice that you have been publishing blatantly false and defamatory statements concerning our client; and to direct you to immediately CEASE AND DESIST PUBLISHING, IN WRITING OR IN SPEECH, THE DESCRIBED BELOW DEFAMATORY CONTENT AFFECTING IMPACT JOURNALS, LLC AND ONE ITS JOURNAL, ONCOTARGET. CEASE AND DESIST ATTACKING MY CLIENTS’ CHARACTER AND REPUTATION. PLEASE ALSO CEASE AND DESIST FROM DIRECTING OTHERS ON YOUR BEHALF TO PUBLISH THE DESCRIBED DEFAMATORY CONTENT.
Our retention by Impact has been necessitated consequent to your negligent statements and writings released to third parties wherein you have falsely and irresponsibly asserted, among other things, that Oncotarget’s editorial board is “Who is who of cancer research fraud.” Our client fervently denies such accusations and maintains that said allegations are false and inaccurate. Despite the inaccuracies of these statements, you have published written communications and engaged in open discussions asserting these falsehoods. In so doing, you have maligned our client and have already caused irreparable injury, harm and damage to Impact and its valued reputation, both professionally and economically.
You have defamed our client and Impact has suffered injury as a result thereof. To our client, words cannot convey and numbers cannot calculate exactly how much damage these false accusation have caused and will continue to cause in the future. Our client’s reputation is invaluable. The statements made by you have smeared our client’s good reputation and have caused our client to suffer economic loss.
These false accusations have the capacity to interfere with the mission of Impact. Our client is adamant that these referenced accusations regarding its peer review and editorial board be retracted and cease immediately, and anything related thereto, be completely cleared and destroyed and devoided of the false allegation. This includes text messages, emails, blogs, and social media.
Under New York law, it is unlawful to engage in defamation of another’s character and reputation. Defamation consists of
(1) a statement that tends to injure reputation; (2) communicated to another; and (3) that the speaker knew or should have known was false.
Defamation is the making of a false statement which tends to “expose the plaintiff to public contempt, ridicule, aversion or disgrace, or induce an evil opinion of him in the minds of right thinking persons.” Rinaldi v. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Inc., 42 N.Y.2d 369, 379, 366 N.E.2d 1299, 397 N.Y.S.2d 943 (1977). Libel is the publication in writing of a statement about an individual that is both false and defamatory. Brian v. Richardson, 87 N.Y.2d 46, 51, 660 N.E.2d 1126, 637 N.Y.S.2d 347 (1995).
In New York, the elements of defamation include (1) the publishing of a false statement to a third party; (2) without authorization or privilege; (3) fault, judged at a minimum by a negligence standard; and (4) injury to the Plaintiff. Dillon v City of New York, 261 AD2d 34 (1999); Weldy v. Piedmont Airlines, Inc., 985 F.2d 57 (2d Cir, 1993).
In addition to this cause of action, as a subset of defamation, our client has also been the victim of defamation per se. Defamation per se is limited to four categories of false statements that either (1) accuse a person of committing a serious crime; (2) injure or damage a person’s business, trade, or profession; (3) allege that a person has a loathsome disease (such as Herpes or AIDS); or (4) imputes unchastity. Where a statement qualifies as defamation per se, the law presumes that damages will result, avoiding the necessity of proving them separately. Schindler v. Mejias, 100 A.D.3d 1315, 1316 (N.Y. App.Div. 2012). Also it is clear that the statements made by you caused damages to Impact and its journal Oncotarget, and as such is actionable under libel per ser. Patton v. Egan, 12 Civ. 2500 (LGS) (United States District, S.D. New York 2014); Davis v. Ross, 754 F.2d 80 (2d Cir. 1985).
As a result of your negligence, damages and special damages are available to our client. Such special damages come as a result of our client’s loss of something having economic or pecuniary value which must flow directly from the injury to reputation caused by the defamation. Celle v. Filipino Reporter Enters., Inc., 209 F.3d 163 (2d. Cir. 2000).
Accordingly, we demand that you, or any third parties acting in your behalf, immediately cease and desist publishing (written or spoken) the described content and provide us with written assurance that you will no longer communicate similar defamatory content and communications which are designed to defame Impact or Oncotarget in the future. Said written assurance must be received by Bukh Law Firm, PLLC on or before August 12, 2019. Mr. Schneider if you do not comply with this cease and desist demand immediately, our client will seek judicial intervention to redress its concerns and to recover its damages. It would, among other things, initiate a pre-action disclosure petition under CPLR 3102(c), would seek injunctive relief and then proceed with formal litigation. As you know, the cost of litigation will be substantial and in order to avoid this unwanted result, our client agrees to postpone initiating the lawsuit to give you an opportunity to consider an alternative avenue to resolve this dispute.
Our client has authorized us to seek any and all remedies allowed it per the laws of the State of not limited to additional penalties and damages and sanctions. Such sanctions include a recovery of attorney’s fees and costs incurred in this matter, which will only grow substantially if our client is compelled to proceed foreward with litigation.
This letter is sent without prejudice to our client’s rights and claims or those belonging to other parties, all of which are expressly reserved. I am sending you a copy of this letter by regular first class mail in case you refuse to accept the certified mail, return receipt requested version of this letter
If you have any questions regarding this matter please direct all inquiries to our office. Please note that we cannot provide you with legal advice and that we represent the interests of our client. If you obtain an attorney please direct your counsel to contact our office.
Please govern yourself accordingly and respond by the above stated deadline of August 12, 2019.
BUKH LAW FIRM, PLLC
Chris C. Rogers Attorneys for Impact Journals, LLC
Email from Oncotarget Editor-in-Chief Blagosklonny today:
” I did not know about the lawyer letter and your tweets until yesterday. I become aware about this yesterday evening. I actually have not read any tweets and social media about oncotarget for a long time and only do purely editorial tasks. I also do not know who exactly work in our legal team and what they are doing. Just want to let you know. “
If you are interested to support my work, you can leave here a small tip of $5. Or several of small tips, just increase the amount as you like (2x=€10; 5x=€25). Your generous patronage of my journalism will be most appreciated!
It makes me remember a couple of letters I also received before. Big desillusion! All this scientists they all inspired me in the past… it’s a shame once more to conclude research misconduct is so widely spread. If there’s evidence these scientists have a misconduct track they cannot sue anyone violating the principles of democracy and transparency
Attorney is not authorized to tell you what you can write on your blog. Oncotarget can hire an attorney to represent it at a court, which should determine whether you have defamed them, and whether you should retract your statements on your blog, and pay a fee or alike. You should send your lawyer to them to clarify if they have such process in effect. Otherwise it is just a threat. Besides, the letter does not state that they are hired by Oncotarget, since when, you have the right to see that document etc. It is rather a joke, so maybe check the veracity of this letter first.
From ORI (2012)
that Oncotarget’s editorial board is “Who is who of cancer research fraud.”
This seems to be where Bukh comes closest to making a specific complaint.
I am not sure how it works to sue someone for defaming a third party, namely Carlo Croce. Who just failed in suing NYT.
Carlo Croce documented extensively here: https://retractionwatch.com/search/+Carlo+Croce/
Agreed. The rest is a lot of blah blah blah.
I find it surprising that a journal of such stellar repute would choose a criminal law firm rather than their corporate attorney. Perhaps someone on their board already was acquainted with their work? /s
I don’t know how it works in legal ethical circles, but warning potential defendents that “court proceedings are expensive, and even if you’re in the right you can still be bankrupted, so settle up now” sounds like they’re saying the quiet part loud about this being a shake-down. “Barratry”, it used to be called.
Two PIs from Germany and Austria, with many discussed Western blots (https://forbetterscience.com/2017/10/18/on-western-blot-loading-controls-lessons-from-richard-moriggl-lab/ and https://forbetterscience.com/2018/12/06/western-blot-loading-control-libraries-and-beyond/) have built career by series of publications in Oncotarget. These paper would deserve some attention, e.g. sample numbers, stats, ghost authorship beyond the often odd Western blots shown.
Have mercy! The poor journal is already dying:
Year: No. of items published
2017: 10333 (not in WOS any longer)
2019 (1st half): 437
Clinical and translational oncology give me the reasson.
Next steps: Oncotarget papers.
It is odd that the co-authors dispute the name of another author.
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“you can’t search by journal anymore because PubPeer wishes to sell this service”
I didn’t get it. It still works on pubpeer to search by journal title such as Oncotarget.
Anyone who closely read the Oncotarget editorial when they got delisted already knows the editor is a narcissist. None of this surprises me.
The one thing I have to say though, about this article, is the use of “# of paper on Pubpeer” as some kind of measurement on fraud or corruption. it is exactly a measurement of nothing. Plenty are entries with overzealous people who think they see something when nothing is there, and plenty are actually ended with people agreeing that nothing wrong was done. And big labs are going to have more papers on Pubpeer, especially controversial people! So please don’t use that metric anymore, no matter how useful Pubpeer has been!
Hi, yes, obviously the number of PubPeer entries is not a metric. I myself have 2 or 3 papers on Pubpeer, one discussed at length together with my PhD thesis.
In this case however, the number of papers on PubPeer is always hyperlinked and meant as invitation for readers to have a look for themselves, after I checked the entries and found them sufficiently worrisome.
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