Springer Agrees To China’s Demand To Censor Its Journals


Springer Nature, possibly the world’s largest academic publisher, has agreed to demands from the Chinese government to block access in China to more than a thousand articles, according to reports at Financial Times and The New York Times.

Springer Nature includes among its imprints Palgrave MacMillan and Nature, as well as Springer, which publishes over 60 philosophy journals, such as Philosophical StudiesEthical Theory and Moral Practice, ErkenntnisSyntheseand many others, including, ahem, the Journal of Business Ethics.

The Financial Times reports that all of the articles that have been blocked so far “contained keywords deemed politically sensitive by the Chinese authorities, including ‘Taiwan’, ‘Tibet’ and ‘Cultural Revolution.'”

It’s not known at this time whether any articles by philosophers have been blocked. If you know of any, please share them in the comments.

Springer is not the only publishing concern to have complied with China’s requests. Just a few months ago, says FT, “Cambridge University Press acceded to similar pressures from Beijing, before reversing course after an intense backlash against its surrender of academic freedom… LexisNexis, which runs a database of news cuttings, withdrew some of its products from China in March after authorities asked it to remove some stories about China. In July, Apple removed from its Chinese app store applications that enable users to bypass China’s “Great Firewall”, in a move that developers condemned as ‘censorship’.”

(Thanks to several readers for suggesting this post.)

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Immanuel
Immanuel
3 years ago

I find the backlash to be very out of touch. I have lived in a country like that, and at least from my experience. getting access to all of Springer’s content minus 1,000 articles is a GREAT improvement. The alternative is having no access, or having illegal access from a university computer that can get you in trouble. Report

TechnicalSolution
TechnicalSolution
Reply to  Immanuel
3 years ago

Perhaps a third, better alternative: Uncensored access.Report

Immanuel
Immanuel
Reply to  TechnicalSolution
3 years ago

That’s only a alternative we can write about on our blogs. That is not a third option that is available to Springer’s management. Since there’s nothing surprising about how the Chinese government is behaving, I thought people are mad at Springer’s management. Report

TechnicalSolution
TechnicalSolution
3 years ago

So, we have the keywords to find the censored articles. There are certainly ways (yay encryption!) to get this stuff to China. Sounds like a problem we can solve?Report

Nan Chen
Nan Chen
3 years ago

Not a huge issue. What I have issues with is governments like Israel who try to censor citizens OUTSIDE of their country such as in the US, Canada and in the European Union. It’s easy to bypass China’s firewall with a VPN but what Israel wants is to jail anyone that’s publically critical of their policies which goes far more than the firewalling of academic articles.Report

M
M
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

[Since my reply can plausibly be construed as part of a derailing of the conversation in the off-topic direction, I would be happy for Justin to delete it. However, in that case, the original comment that started the derailing should go too.]

You write “what Israel wants is to jail anyone that’s publically critical of their policies”. This statement is so obviously and provably false that it boggles my mind how anyone could take it seriously, much less assert it. This really should be beyond anyone taking part in a rational discussion of any subject. And now back to China…
Report

Paul Whitfield
Paul Whitfield
3 years ago

This is very troubling. Regardless of how ‘great’ it makes working with what the censors allow, or how easy it is to get around the censor, or how troubling other censors are by comparison, this is censorship and is very troubling. It’s not as if this isn’t a problem.Report

beauvoir’s baby
beauvoir’s baby
3 years ago

It is easy for us as outside observers to point to ways to get around China’s censorship. But for Chinese people who are stuck inside the intellectual “Matrix” that the Chinese government are creating it will be much harder. Most people will just go along with the norms and common knowledge of their local social environment. Only a certain kind of person seeks out this kind of hidden information, and when they do, they find themselves in an inhospitable social environment in regards to sharing it.Report

TechnicalSolution
TechnicalSolution
Reply to  beauvoir’s baby
3 years ago

Most people, sure, but most of the population that would read academic journals in the first place?Report

beauvoir's baby
beauvoir's baby
Reply to  TechnicalSolution
3 years ago

Yes, even most of the people who read academic journals in the first place. I’ve noticed that in philosophy, even without threat of government interference, most people are highly conformist. And it’s probably even less conformist than a lot of other disciplines. Report

Nan Chen
Nan Chen
3 years ago

Before judging them, their government may justify their censorship the same way that facebook, twitter and google are now censoring “fake news”, ie., as foreign interference. Before anyone says “Bbbut, our censorship is due to foreign government interference and we’re being censored by corporations, not our own government.”

However it should be noted that the CIA has a long history of recruiting academics to do their bidding and has great influence within the private corporations. This is public record and they are well aware of this. Report

TechnicalSolution
TechnicalSolution
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

I harshly condemn those companies and the CIA for their censorship. If that’s the line China is taking, it’s even easier to condemn them in light of it.Report

Nan Chen
Nan Chen
Reply to  TechnicalSolution
3 years ago

I completely agree regarding these companies. However take note how you look to them when demanding they change their laws when our population roughly splits into two groups: those who don’t know or don’t care and those who demand this kind of “Russian” “fake” news hysteria. It’s only a handful of Libertarians, Greens and socialists who are stalwarts against this corporate censorship. Don’t you think that looks a little hypocritical and won’t convince them of the merits of your viewpoint?Report

TechnicalSolution
TechnicalSolution
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

I hardly see the hypocrisy. If my parents were abusive, it seems I would still be right to condemn other people’s parents for being abusive. And likewise, if the institutions in the country I’m in are doing bad things (that I don’t play a role in bringing about), I’m still right to condemn institutions in other countries doing bad things. Report

beauvoir's baby
beauvoir's baby
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

“Our censorship” is not due to “foreign interference”. It’s to do with applying some journalistic standards to social media, because our democracy depends on it. It’s about more truth, not less, which is the opposite of the Chinese government’s motivation for censorship. Report

Nan Chen
Nan Chen
Reply to  beauvoir's baby
3 years ago

‘Our censorship” is not due to “foreign interference”. It’s to do with applying some journalistic standards to social media, because our democracy depends on it.’

Wow, that’s astonishing, just astonishing.Report

beauvoir's baby
beauvoir's baby
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

Your astonishment is not persuasive.Report

Nan Chen
Nan Chen
Reply to  beauvoir's baby
3 years ago

Let me get this straight, are you saying that the health of our democracy depends, in part, on corporate censorship? That would indeed be astonishing.Report

beauvoir's baby
beauvoir's baby
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

No, I’m saying that we need to view social media as a kind of journalism and hold it to account accordingly. Democracy does depend on journalism. Report

Nan Chen
Nan Chen
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

That’s awesome but I wasn’t talking about holding “journalism” to “account” whatever that means. I was talking about corporate censorship or are you saying that these companies don’t censor certain information they deem harmful?Report

beauvoir's baby
beauvoir's baby
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

They should be considered in the same light as a publishing company. Influential publishing companies should apply standards to what they publish. Calling that practice “corporate censorship” is misleading and tendentious.
Report

Nan Chen
Nan Chen
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

That’s not very convincing. What you deem “standards” is vague and sounds exactly like censorship by another name. That’s what I imagine their or any totalitarian government’s response would be. It doesn’t comport to their views of truth, their official version. Why do you trust Facebook and Twitter to judge what those standards ought to be? It’s sounds just like a no true Scotsman, it’s only censorship when other people are doing it but when our corporations do it it’s for our own good.Report

beauvoir's baby
beauvoir's baby
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

Are you saying that editorial standards are a form of censorship? That’s undergrad level nonsense. Report

Nan Chen
Nan Chen
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

Btw, your (vague) claims that Facebook has our democracy’s best interests in mind and applies competent journalistic “standards'” is denied by Facebook’s own general legal council who explicitly says Facebook is not an “arbiter of truth” but censors based on whether the source is foreign and they judge to have “malicious intent”.

https://youtu.be/9HM07-aJMls

You might want to engage in some basic research before going any further with me. Perhaps this level of discourse is not what you’re used to but I suggest you rise to these “standards”.Report

beauvoir's baby
beauvoir's baby
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

I am making normative claims, not descriptive ones.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with a social media company employing standards of publishing such that disinformation and fake news (disinformation masquerading as journalism) is excluded. I also don’t think there is anything wrong with a country prohibiting foreign interference in the form of disinformation campaigns in domestic elections.

At bottom, I rely on a notion of truth, which you can see from my original comment. The Chinese government’s censorship is aimed at making truth less accessible, whereas asking social media companies to not provide a platform for the spread of disinformation and fake news is aimed at making truth more accessible.Report

Nan Chen
Nan Chen
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

“I also don’t think there is anything wrong with a country prohibiting foreign interference in the form of disinformation campaigns …”

That’s exactly how the Chinese and many countries feel. The difference is that the US has interfered in over 80 elections in over 40 countries. China doesn’t have presidential elections but it does rightly feel that the CIA is trying to interfere in its domestic affairs and international relations with misinformation.

You say you “rely on a notion of truth” and yet you cite facebook’s standards when I have already shown that their own policies has nothing to do with “truth” or “accuracy” but with whether the source is deemed foreign and the intent is judged to be “malicious”. Of course you will ignore that. It’s convenient to ignore the truth.Report

beauvoir's baby
beauvoir's baby
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

No, China is interested in preventing the spread of information (about particular things), not disinformation. That in itself could be construed as a form of disinformation.

And it’s not just whether the source is foreign and malicious, it is also whether it is considered disinformation. If content is deceptively presented as journalism (much fake news produced during the 2016 US election was presented as articles from non existent newspapers) then already it’s disinformation.Report

Nan Chen
Nan Chen
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

“The idea is that good journalistic practices are more likely to capture the truth”

That’s only if they’re applying the correct standards. You’re assuming Facebook does that without even looking at their actual statements on what they do. You keep ignoring the facts and replacing it with your own imaginary “journalistic standards” whatever those are.Report

Nan Chen
Nan Chen
Reply to  beauvoir's baby
3 years ago

No, I don’t even trust most journalist with competent journalistic standards. Why do you think Facebook would do a good job and why is it their job (and not actual journalists) to do it? Are you saying they need to do a journalist job for them? And why should Americans be subject to Facebook’s standards of journalism?Report

beauvoir's baby
beauvoir's baby
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

I think Facebook can at least tell the difference between actual media sites and fake ones. Report

Nan Chen
Nan Chen
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

“I think Facebook can at least tell the difference between actual media sites and fake ones.”

First you say that the criteria is “truth” and now you say it’s whether it’s “actual” or “fake” sites. Even assuming that facebook does a good job of telling the difference between the later, that doesn’t imply that they do a good job of telling apart the former. Indeed, by their own admission, they don’t even bother checking if it is true or false or even “accurate”. Report

beauvoir's baby
beauvoir's baby
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

The idea is that good journalistic practices are more likely to capture the truth. A fake site cannot be a source of good journalistic practice: it is already deliberately engaged in deception and that is the opposite of good journalistic practice. Report

Nan Chen
Nan Chen
Reply to  Nan Chen
3 years ago

“And it’s not just whether the source is foreign and malicious, it is also whether it is considered disinformation”

Again, how do you decide if it’s “misinformation” if you don’t judge its truth and accuracy (according to Facebook)? Why do you keep ignoring Facebook’s own general council’s testimony?

The answer is pretty obvious. You’re not applying “normative” standards of “truth”!Report

ajkreider
ajkreider
3 years ago

Nan Chen,

I confess to not understanding your line of thought here. For one, I don’t know what you mean by “foreign interference”, at least as it is supposed to apply to the “Facebook” and “Springer” cases. Let’s leave aside for the moment the worthiness of the social media censorship, about which I have reservations.

The supposed foreign interference at issue in the Facebook case is that a foreign government or their agents attempted to use the social media sites to influence an election. What exactly is being claimed in the case of the Springer journals – that a foreign government or their agents has planted articles in these journals to influence an election in China? That doesn’t seem plausible at all.

Given the “keywords” involved: “Taiwan”, “Tibet”, “Cultural Revolution” – it looks rather, that the Chinese authorities are interested in restricting access to material which may cast doubt on the wisdom of certain Chinese (current or historical) government actions/positions. Maybe casting such doubt makes it harder for the Chinese government to govern – and so constitutes foreign interference. But this in nothing at all like is at issue in the social media case. People from outside the U.S. regularly criticize U.S. government action – in print and online. Such books, journal articles, etc. are widely distributed and things which just about everyone has access. And no one is calling for censorship of that.

Further, your view would be more plausible if the “foreign” bit were doing some of the work. But it isn’t. The Chinese government is famous for heading off internal critiques of Taiwan or Tibetan policy – let alone critique of Mao or the Chinese project in general. (I’m happily wrong, if this mischaracterizes China policy.) So these restrictions do not seem about foreign interference at all, but are rather about ensuring that certain critiques of China policy are not available to people in China – whether they are foreign or domestic. There is nothing in any of the calls for social media censorship in the U.S. that is remotely comparable.

Again, this isn’t a justification of the social media censorship – I think foreigners should be able to say whatever they want about candidates in the U.S. Though, I think they should do it transparently. And I think the objection part here was not the critique, but the surreptitiousness of it. Report

Nan Chen
Nan Chen
Reply to  ajkreider
3 years ago

“I confess to not understanding your line of thought here. For one, I don’t know what you mean by “foreign interference”, at least as it is supposed to apply to the “Facebook” and “Springer” cases.”

It’s been all over the news.

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/10/30/technology/facebook-google-russia.htmlReport

Nan Chen
Nan Chen
Reply to  ajkreider
3 years ago

“There is nothing in any of the calls for social media censorship in the U.S. that is remotely comparable.”

That’s right, it’s much worse. It goes much further in the US case than mere academic censorship. It’s msss political censorship using Facebook, Twitter and Google to influence mass thinking and is based on unsupported russophobic hysteria.

https://theintercept.com/2017/09/28/yet-another-major-russia-story-falls-apart-is-skepticism-permissible-yet/Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  ajkreider
3 years ago

If only a few thousand articles are affected, I would be surprised if they’re targeting *everything* with the keywords “Tibet”, “Taiwan” or “Cultural Revolution”. There might be some sort of claim that the particular articles or journals they are targeting are somehow foreign attempts to influence domestic policy, rather than all articles about these topics. (I don’t actually believe that such a claim would be true, but it’s at least a bit more subtle of an issue than you might think just from the idea that they might have been blocking everything involving certain keywords.)Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
3 years ago

I’d like to express my intellectual, though not moral, admiration for the speed and efficiency with which “Nan Chen”, a poster who has never previously appeared on DailyNous under that name so far as I can tell, has managed to derail any constructive engagement with the specifics of Springer’s action by a series of non sequiturs and provocative comparisons.Report

beauvoir’s baby
beauvoir’s baby
Reply to  David Wallace
3 years ago

Thanks for the chuckle, David. Report

TechnicalSolution
TechnicalSolution
Reply to  David Wallace
3 years ago

I’m disappointed that “BUT THE US ALSO HAS BAD THINGS” was able to derail the discussion.

That said, I’m not sure how much discussion there is to be had about the values here. Springer is shameful for folding instantly. China is shameful for censoring. Does anyone think this is a good move? The important question here seems how we are to thwart the Chinese government’s efforts.Report

Immanuel
Immanuel
Reply to  TechnicalSolution
3 years ago

I thought I explained above why I think this is a good move on Springer’s side. They’re making it so that ordinary Chinese scholars and students to have access to millions of articles they wouldn’t have easy access to otherwise. It would have been ideal if they could make the remaining one thousand or so articles available, too. But they’re not in the position to change longstanding policies of the Chinese government. Boycotting China all together will only have the result that we will feel good about ourselves, nothing about the Chinese policy will change, and students and scholars in China will have to risk using illegal means to get access to many articles and papers. Report

TechnicalSolution
TechnicalSolution
Reply to  Immanuel
3 years ago

Yes, that they made these articles available is good. That they didn’t make the rest available is not good. That China is even making it a problem is worse.

I’m not clear who’s advocating a boycott of China. If the goal is to make information available, making it unavailable seems wholly antithetical to that end.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  TechnicalSolution
3 years ago

But which are they doing with this move – making information available (by keeping the rest of their journals online in China) or making information unavailable (by censoring a thousand or so articles)? It really isn’t clear at all whether the move by Springer is supportive or antithetical to the end of making information available. It’s got clear elements of both.Report

TechnicalSolution
TechnicalSolution
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
3 years ago

They’re clearly doing both. I don’t see why you would insist on it being fully one or fully the other.Report

Gongsun Yang
Gongsun Yang
Reply to  TechnicalSolution
3 years ago

The episode with Cambridge University Press shows the way forward. Academics show solidarity, and the publisher reverses course. China might still censor some CUP articles but (a) that is different from CUP’s self-censoring, and (b) there’s no sign so far that other CUP articles are made unavailable.

(NYT coverage: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/21/world/asia/china-quarterly-cambridge-university-press-censorship-publisher-reverses-decision-to-bow-to-chinas-censors.html )

So far, there has been complete silence from Springer philosophy journal editors and editorial board members about this censorship. Do they agree with it? If not, what are they going to do about it?Report

Mike
Mike
3 years ago

This is shameful of Springer Nature (SP)—and even more so of China. But as another commentator wisely wrote, this outcome (G) is, I think, much better than (T) SN righteously not complying with the demand and thereby being blocked completely. Possibly, SN’s righteous non-compliance could create a third, and even better, outcome (F); but F, which is hard for me to even imagine, is, I think, so improbable that SN is more rational to just comply and avoid complete censorship. And I think Chinese scholars, if asked to vote, would strongly prefer to have access to the vast majority of SN rather than to none of it.Report