My request for publication of a Letter to the Editor:
January 18, 2002
James F. McCarthy
Senior Vice President, Editorial
48 South Service Road Melville, NY 11747
Dear Mr. McCarthy:
I am submitting the following text for consideration of publication as a Letter to the Editor in ONCOLOGY. - - - - - -
On December 6, 2000, the Editorial Director of ONCOLOGY sent me a letter, inviting me to prepare an article for ONCOLOGY on "The Current Status of Chemotherapy Sensitivity Assays." I was informed that the paper would be referred to one or two reviewers, who would write a commentary to be published alongside the paper. The commentary, I was told, might be "entirely laudatory, highly critical, or somewhere in between," and that "the result should be both lively and informative."
With the above as my guideline, I prepared and submitted the article, but, more than 4 months later, I received only a terse notice that the article would not be published. This led to an exchange of correspondence and a re-affirmation of ONCOLOGY's decision not to publish the article.
In an era of ever-increasing numbers of partially effective cancer therapeutics, there is an obvious need for technologies to better match treatment to patient. The field of "chemotherapy sensitivity assays" has been controversial, but there is a very substantial literature which has not been recently reviewed and with which the vast majority of clinical oncologists are not familiar. Additionally, approximately 10,000 individual patient specimens are currently being submitted for testing by more than a thousand clinical oncologists, surgeons, and pathologists annually in the USA. Not infrequently, the tests engender uninformed reactions and opinions from various clinicians within the referring medical centers.
In short, this is a timely and important topic for review, consideration, and debate. However, my manuscript was rejected with an initial explanation only stating that "the subject is just too controversial."
D.F. Horrobin published a commentary (1) on the peer review process which is very relevant to situations such as this:
"Peer review can be performed successfully only if those involved have a clear idea as to its fundamental purpose. Most authors of articles on the subject assume that the purpose of peer review is quality control. This is an inadequate answer....Peer review must therefore aim to facilitate the introduction into medicine of improved ways of curing, relieving, and comforting patients. The fulfillment of this aim requires both quality control and the encouragement of innovation. If an appropriate balance between the two is lost, then peer review will fail to fulfill its purpose."
I believe that I succeeded in preparing a complete and up-to-date review of an important and poorly-understood topic. The complete text of this review as originally submitted, along with the verbatim comments of the single reviewer, and all correspondence between ONCOLOGY and me are available to interested readers on the following website:
(1) Horrobin, D.F. (1990) The philosophical basis of peer review and the suppression of innovation. JAMA 263(10):1438-41.