Widely used U.S. government database delists cancer journal

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The U.S. government biomedical research database MEDLINE no longer includes a cancer journal with a storied past.

Starting August 2017, researchers looking up journals indexed in MEDLINE (which is accessed via PubMed) could no longer find new articles published by Oncotarget, once included on the now-defunct list of possibly predatory journals compiled by librarian Jeffrey Beall.

Joyce Backus, the National Library of Medicine’s Associate Director for Library Operations, declined to say why Oncotarget had been deselected from MEDLINE:

[Oncotarget has] the feedback from the review committee, and they can choose to share that or not…but we don’t share the scientific review by the experts.

However, Backus added, readers who are familiar with the guidelines MEDLINE follows when deselecting journals can draw their own conclusions.”

Here is some background information from MEDLINE:

Journals may be deselected from MEDLINE for various reasons including, but not limited to, extremely late publication patterns, major changes in the scientific quality or editorial process, and changes in ownership or publishers.

Backus added that since she’s worked with MEDLINE over the past few years, only “a handful” of journals have been removed from the index.

It’s not very many. It’s infrequent.

Oncotarget has been on our radar for some time. Besides a handful of retractions that we’ve covered, we’ve obtained emails that show an editor of the journal, Mikhail Blagosklonny, contacted colleagues of Jeffrey Beall at the University of Colorado Denver who had published in Oncotarget in 2015 after Beall added the journal to his (now inactive) list of possibly predatory publications. In a series of emails, Blagosklonny told the researchers that Beall had tipped him off that their work might be fabricated, and Oncotarget was going to have to retract their papers. Eventually, Blagosklonny withdrew his retraction threats.

PubMed vs PubMed Central

We contacted Oncotarget and received a reply from Ryan Jessup, the Director of External & Legal Affairs for Impact Journals, which publishes Oncotarget. Jessup asked us to email questions; we sent seven, including a question about the editor threatening to retract papers by colleagues of Jeffrey Beall.  We haven’t gotten a response from Jessup, but a spokesperson for the publisher told us:

As of August 2017 Oncotarget is not currently indexed in MEDLINE. However, all content from the launch of the first Oncotarget issue in May 2010 through Volume 8 Issue 30 remains.

Moreover, Oncotarget content continues to be indexed in PubMed and PubMed Central as well as ISI/Web of Science: Science Citation Index Expanded, Scopus, Biological Abstracts, BIOSIS Previews, and EMBASE. 

In addition, in cooperation with the National Library of Medicine, Oncotarget is working towards its goal to submit an entire issue with full text papers (not just abstracts) to PubMed just days after online publication.

We are right now in the process of understanding and addressing MEDLINE comments. Please note that overall MEDLINE comments about Oncotarget are very positive.

Quote: “This journal continues to play a major role in the publication of important basic science research papers. Editorial practices are consistently high. Ethical guidelines are consistently followed. This is an important research journal for the field.”

As we all, including  Retraction Watch, are working on making the publishing industry better and ready for the challenges of the 21st century, Oncotarget continues to make all efforts to meet the highest standards of the industry.

Note: If you’re confused about the difference between MEDLINE, PubMed, and PubMed Central, you’re not alone. Check out this handy guide from the National Library of Medicine, which explains that PubMed includes references from other databases besides MEDLINE, and PubMed Central is a repository for free full-text papers, such as from open-access journals like Oncotarget.

On September 5, a user on Wikipedia deleted the following line from the entry about Oncotarget:

Oncotarget is no longer indexed in MEDLINE, and the last volume to be included is volume 8 issue 30, 2017.

The entry notes:

The information is misleading as the journal is and will be indexed on PubMed. In general, Abstracting/Indexing category states indexes that cover the journal, not hundreds of indexes that do not. The previous statement was not cited.

Qcist.com, which also wrote about the MEDLINE deselection, corrected its original post to explicitly note that new issues of the journal will still be accessible on PubMed.

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