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A little awareness can help make us immune to cancer scams.
I've written before about the nonsense of cancer's "miracle cures," the wonder drugs available on the black market and the so-called secret government conspiracies to cover up the real cure for cancer in order to keep the drug markets in business. I've personally seen the hucksters and scoundrels in action since my face-to-face introduction to cancer care in 1994, the year my wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. And as a cancer activist and advocate, this stuff makes my blood boil.
Having worked on stage as a professional magician for 35 years, I thought I'd learned every trick in the book when it comes to fooling folks. A good understanding of human psychology is a mandatory skill for those of us who perform magical illusions, but in my case (and I can honestly say it's also true for all of the performers I've worked with) the art of fooling someone through a magic trick is an honest and kindhearted sort of manipulation. The magician and his audience both know that there is trickery at work, and together they share in the fun of exploring the secrets involved.
That is not so in the world of cancer. Lives are at stake here. Emotions are raw, and hearts are vulnerable. There is simply no excuse for anyone misleading — either in public or in private – and of us who have cancer or another life-threatening disease. But the magnitude of some of these swindles may surprise you.
I've been lucky and grateful to have the opportunity to share thoughts about my own expedition through cancer in print, and I make my living by speaking to various groups about cancer, while preforming a little bit of that stage magic I mentioned earlier.
So, when I was first contacted to write a guest piece about male breast cancer for a "scientific journal" and speak at their convention, I was willing to look at the proposal. I wrote a letter to the organizing committee reminding them that I was not a doctor and I had no medical training or interests beyond supporting cancer survivors, and my essays and speaking programs were always first-person accounts about my own thoughts and experiences, often peppered with a bit of humor where I could find it.
They wrote back immediately to reassure me that my input was both "appropriate and very important" for their many, many readers.
Here's what they said. (By the way, I won't identify any of these bogus organizations by name here or give links to them as I don't want to propagate their deceptions, but I will share a list of many of them at the end of this story).
"Hello Dr. Khevin,
We have gone through your profile and feel you are an eminent in the field of oncology, so we are inviting you to join our convention as a speaker. Good wishes of the day. It's our honor and pleasure to own a conversation with you once again.
We here by declaring about our exclusive offer that we specially want to give for eminent authors as discounts who have already submitted their inventive work to our journal with the sum of contribution."
RED FLAG #1
Are you kidding me? "Dr. Khevin?" "Eminent?" Come on, I'm just an old guy surviving breast cancer.
I was quick to pull out of this suspicious event, but I had unwittingly been caught in the spam trap. Almost weekly from that moment on, poorly written offers to speak at conventions in Germany, Japan and Denmark began to arrive, all with the dubious greeting of "Dear Dr. Khevin." Those that come from English-speaking countries are more convincing, but the scam is always the same. And of course, you are required to pay a ridiculous fee to attend the deceptive event in order to have your manuscript printed.
So I began to Google the names of these conferences and found words like "scam" and "hoax," "predatory open access journals" and "vanity conferences." attached to them. These fraudulent events appeal to a writer's vanity by inviting anyone with a pen to create a great, academic dissertation as an "eminent" author.
In the real world of academia, researchers must present evidence that their work has attained national and international reputation. Credible scientific conferences will invite researchers to present because of the caliber and validity of their work as judged by the candidate's peers. And, good golly, shouldn't someone have asked "Dr. Khevin" about his background?
RED FLAG #2
The persistence with which these conferences continued to contact me was not only unprofessional, but downright alarming. And perhaps the worst news may be in the numbers of predatory journals and conferences that are actually out there luring in unsuspecting participants. And most troubling of all is the fact that this phony writing and speaking is circulating nonsense and false information to the folks who need it most: cancer survivors.
Here are four indicators that a conference or journal is bogus:
So, while most of us will never be courted nor coerced by any of these fraudulent programs, I see this as a great reminder that the world of cancer can be fraught with insincerity and we must remain vigilant. After all, there are plenty of legitimate cancer organizations, conventions, conferences and journals for us to benefit from. Usually a bit of common sense is all we need to find our way through the nonsense.
And finally, the internet has come through again with some great, public information to protect the unwary. University of Colorado librarian Jeffrey Beall created "Beall's List," a record of predatory open-access publishers who did not perform real peer review, effectively publishing any article as long as the authors payed the open access fee. Although no longer published by Beall, here's a disturbingly long list of some of the counterfeits from 2017: https://clinicallibrarian.wordpress.com/2017/01/23/bealls-list-of-predatory-publishers/