Four cancer experts — a physicist/biologist, a pathologist, a clinical oncologist and a patient advocate — are launching a new type of academic journal this month: one that reflects science’s shift toward solving big problems by joining forces across disciplines.
While the current generation of scientists embraces collaboration, the academic publishing world by and large still reflects the older model of ever-increasing specialization.
Convergent Science Physical Oncology, a new peer-reviewed academic journal published by IOP Publishing, will be a space for multidisciplinary cancer research and one that will serve interested members of the general public as well as the academic and clinical communities.
On April 19, IOP hosed a launch party for the journal at the annul meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting in Philadelphia.
Two USC doctors — an MD and a Ph.D. — are among the journal’s four founding editors who will review submitted research.
Pernille Hammelsoe, publishing manager for IOP, said that while there are other interdisciplinary journals in academic publishing, it’s “beyond unusual to have editors from such different fields collaborating like this — not just splitting the workload according to their specialties but indeed jointly reviewing.”
However, she sees it as a sign of changing attitudes in the world of research publications.
We haven’t seen anything like this journal yet.
“We haven’t seen anything like this journal yet,” Hammelsoe said. “But you’ll see more coming soon.”
A fresh perspective
Physical oncology provides a framework for a new perspective on cancer using physical, life and engineering sciences. As a multidisciplinary approach, scientists trying to publish physical oncology articles often found themselves trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
“Typically, editors would just ask you to take out the parts that didn’t deal with their journal’s main subject matter and publish it elsewhere, which undercuts the point of doing interdisciplinary research in the first place,” said Peter Kuhn, founding editor and Dean’s Professor of Biological Sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
“As a clinician, I’ve found that our articles are often poorly understood by traditional journal editors with a reductionist vision for their audience. We have a difficult time finding appropriate publications that understand the mathematical models and clinical implications of our research,” said Jorge Nieva, editor, medical oncologist and associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
A new wrinkle
Convergent Science Physical Oncology will deal with cancer at every stage and every level, showcasing discoveries from the molecular to the human scale and offering insight into how the research could impact treatments and patients, as well as highlighting what it will take to achieve that impact.
Perhaps unique for an academic journal is the inclusion of a patient advocate as an editor, providing input on every article.
Carole Baas, who has a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, became a patient advocate following a breast cancer diagnosis in 2004 and now volunteers with the National Cancer Institute.
Baas will publish a patient’s perspective called “Outcomes” on submitted research articles, making the articles relevant for a wider audience and answering the general reader’s question, “How will this research help me?”
From its inception, we thought that patients should have a central voice in the journal.
“From its inception, we thought that patients should have a central voice in the journal,” Baas said.
Though the format is still being hammered out, one possibility is that each article’s abstract will be accompanied by a description explaining the findings without jargon — aimed at academics from other disciplines and non-academics.
“I want to break down the barriers between the scientific community and the public,” said Baas, adding that she hopes the ability to reach a wider and nontraditional audience will drive public awareness of cutting-edge cancer research and in turn boost funding for researchers.
A welcome outlet
Kelly Bethel, an editor and doctor specializing in anatomic and clinical pathology at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, said the journal represents a welcome outlet for collaboration that is already going on in the scientific world and with which scientific publishing is just now catching up.
“I think that a lot of people in both the research world and the clinical world have begun thinking and working this way. Now this journal gives that work a voice,” Bethel said.
The latest generation of scientists has been taught to tackle problems collaboratively and to interactively use each other’s knowledge bases in order to do problem-focused research, she said.
“In order to really do convergent science, you need a team — as opposed to a group,” Nieva said. “That’s true for conducting the research as well as publishing it.”
Convergent Science Physical Oncology will be published online. Access will be free initially.