Stand up and be counted if you want to start a debate

Nov 18, 2018 by

Controversial ideas are fine, but don’t do it anonymously|

Kenan Malik –

Do academics need a journal that allows them to publish papers anonymously? The proposed Journal of Controversial Ideas “would enable people whose ideas might get them in trouble either with the left or with the right or with their own university administration, to publish under a pseudonym,” suggested Jeff McMahan, professor of moral philosophy at Oxford University and a driving force behind the project.

There are certainly a growing number of controversies over academic papers. When the journal Hypatia published philosopher Rebecca Tuvel’s In Defense of Transracialism, critics attacked its supposed transphobia and demanded its retraction. The journal apologised and the editors resigned.

A paper by political scientist Bruce Gilley on The Case for Colonialism, published in Third World Quarterly, created similar controversy; the publishers eventually removed the paper from the journal.

Such cases, McMahan suggests, show why “something like this [journal] is needed”. The idea of a journal of anonymously written “controversial” papers should, however, be anathema to anyone who cherishes free speech and academic debate.

Ideas do not stand on their own. They have to be discussed, debated, shaped and changed. This requires individuals to be accountable for their ideas, willing to defend them in public, able to take criticism, even disparagement. Of course, anonymous ideas can be debated in public, too. But without authors taking responsibility for their ideas, this can be debate without consequence.

Ideas become “controversial” only in a social context. Not because they are published in a journal that calls itself “controversial”. The papers may be peer-reviewed. But “look at me, I’m controversial” is not a helpful starting point for meaningful debate.

Source: Stand up and be counted if you want to start a debate | Kenan Malik | Opinion | The Guardian

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