“Journal of Controversial Ideas” with Pseudonymous Authors to Launch Next Year
A new interdisciplinary journal in the works will publish pseudonymously-authored peer-reviewed articles in an attempt to protect its contributors from the negative repercussions of arguing for or discussing controversial ideas.
The Journal of Controversial Ideas, floated by Peter Singer (Princeton) last year, and discussed in a recent BBC documentary by Jeff McMahan (Oxford), is intended to counter a “culture of fear and self-censorship” regarding the discussion of “sensitive topics.”
It 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… The need for more open discussion is really very acute. There’s greater inhibition on university campuses about taking certain positions for fear of what will happen. The fear comes from opposition both on the left and the right. The threats from outside the university tend to be more from the right. The threats to free speech and academic freedom that come from within the university tend to be more from the left… I think all of us will be very happy if, and when, the need for such a journal disappears, and the sooner the better. But right now in current conditions something like this is needed.
The journal will have an “intellectually diverse international editorial board,” the BBC reports. Three philosophers—Singer, McMahan, and Francesca Minerva (Ghent), are part of the journal’s core team.
No evidence was cited to support the claim that “a culture of fear and self-censorship” is preventing articles that would pass a review process “as rigorous as those for other academic journals” from being written, owing to the lack of pseudonymous-authoring options at established journals.
Nor was any argument given to allay what seems to be a reasonable concern that the creation of such a journal will foster more of “a culture of fear and self-censorship” compared to other options, or that it plays into and reinforces expertise-undermining misconceptions about academia bandied about in popular media that may have negative effects.
Perhaps these lacunae are owed to the brevity of the article in which the journal’s creation was reported. Given that the founding team is comprised of people noted for views that emphasize empirical facts and consequences, one might reasonably hope for a public discussion of such evidence and arguments.
UPDATE 1: The BBC program is available here. McMahan is first interviewed about 10 minutes in and the segment concerning the journal begins just before the 25 minute mark.
UPDATE 2: I found this comment by Caligula’s Goat particularly good. An excerpt:
Is a trained social and political philosopher, someone who wrote their dissertation defending fascism (for example) going to refuse, out of fear, to publish articles that are critical of democracy? Not if they were able to get a committee from a reputable department to pass on a thesis that does it. Would someone whose research (at least their thesis) interacted critically with contemporary philosophers who write on abortion somehow STOP writing about these critical views once the thesis has been defended successfully purely out of fear that they’ll upset others? Again, I doubt it.
I’ll tell a quick story here that I think illustrates my point. I was once thinking about writing a paper about Body Integrity Identity Disorder and trans-rights arguments. After the Tuvel incident, I decided that such a paper was not worth pursuing. Is this a case of silencing that now merits the creation of a JOURNAL OF CONTROVERSIAL IDEAS? I don’t think it is. The reason I don’t think so is because what I took away from that incident wasn’t that I *couldn’t* write about trans persons (I do not identify as trans) but because to do a GOOD job with such a paper would require me to do a lot more work than I felt I was ready to do – so I abandoned it. The Tuvel incident taught me that I knew a lot less about trans identity than I thought I did and that I better have my ducks in a row (as I should for ANY paper I write) if I wanted to write about it.
Note: it was brought to my attention that my endorsement of this comment could be read as an implicit criticism of Rebecca Tuvel in regards to her article on transracialism and the controversy surrounding its publication, namely, that she did not have her “ducks in a row.” I don’t know if Caligula’s Goat intended that interpretation—I don’t know who Caligula’s Goat is—but I did not. I’m sorry that that was not clear.
What a strange hobby.Report
Also, what’s wrong with 4chan? Or r/pol? We already have plenty of venues for this sort of thing.Report
Why publish in Phil Review or Mind etc when you can post on r/philosophy on reddit?Report
I can’t quite tell your tone over web, but the main two benefits I see to journal publishing are CV lines and visibility. I imagine the former doesn’t quite work with pseudonymity. (Unless one reveals oneself to the institution. I could see some people being fine with the relatively small institutional circle knowing they authored a paper that they don’t want everyone to know. Particularly given some of the online backlashes to some articles.) Visibility seems like something public venues online do better, at least for the arguments/ideas. Am I missing something?Report
‘Also, what’s wrong with 4chan? Or r/pol? We already have plenty of venues for this sort of thing.’
Straw man, much? I agree that a journal like this is likely to mostly become a venue for right-leaning ideas, but that doesn’t make it the equivalent of some sewer of abusive Nazis with no intellectual content whatsoever.Report
(Not an expression of support for the journal. I don’t have a strong opinion on the project either way. I certainly don’t think it’s a vital necessity or anything like that.)Report
Wow, controversial stuff! Sounds like the journal proposal should publish itself. Just make sure the editorial policy isn’t that the journal only publishes articles written by people who don’t publish themselves. Then we’ll have a paradox…
(Note: this controversial comment has been published anonymously.)Report
I normally don’t allow commenters to use “anonymous” and the like in their handles, but given this comment’s controversial content, I’ll make an exception.Report
‘No evidence was cited to support the claim that “a culture of fear and self-censorship” is preventing articles that would pass a review process “as rigorous as those for other academic journals” from being written.’
To demand evidence for something perfectly obvious is not a trait that sits well in a lover of wisdom.Report
But to call a thesis that has been repeatedly questioned by those in a position to know facts relevant to its truth “perfectly obvious” is a trait that sits well in a lover of wisdom?Report
I don’t know what to say, Justin. Who are these people who are in such a position? Do we completely throw out standpoint epistemology here, and say that everyone claiming that academic culture (or political culture) has a chilling effect on their research is just flat out lying? I could understand it if you were saying that, in fact, there is no DANGER. That seems false to me, but it’s at least a claim worth investigating. But to claim that there is no FEAR that causes self-censorship? I do not understand how you could hold that position.
The most charitable way of reading your comment, in fact, seems to involve believing that you meant that all articles not written because of self-censorship would simply not meet rigorous standards. But that interpretation is pretty harsh on views that diverge from the groupthink, no?Report
Slight edit: “But to claim that there is no FEAR” should read “But to claim that there is no culture of FEAR”.Report
I mean, one other obvious way to interpret what Justin is saying is that people *should* feel fear of saying some things, not that they don’t feel it.Report
Of course if you are one of those many philosophers who only play safe and only publish politically correct stuff, you would not understand why this journal is needed. Otherwise, the need for this is pretty obvious. Anyway, as the article explains, this is an excerpt from a longer interview that will broadcasted tonight. It would have been better to wait for the longer interview to be out before commentingReport
Alberto I’m a fan of your work, please let me know if you publish any articles pseudonymously so I can take credit for them 🙂Report
Justin, if you’re legitimately on the fence about the fear-and-anxiety hypothesis, I invite you to require that people here use their real names. Discussion here would almost vanish. Also, haven’t you yourself hosted several guest posts where the authors have been called hateful or ____-ist or ____-phobic for their views? Weren’t we just talking here about people targeted with hate or threats from the right-wing outrage machine? I’m kind of surprised by this request for evidence because I would have thought that no website is a better repository of evidence for the hypothesis than Daily Nous!
I’m also a little concerned that the repeated testimony of comparatively less powerful philosophers is being ignored or forgotten, here. The fear-and-anxiety hypothesis is something close to received wisdom amongst those folks, something you don’t even have to discuss because everyone knows to be afraid of their own online/social media activity and to direct their own scholarly output towards ideas and messages that are acceptable. For example, this is something that (almost) any grad student will tell you if you ask. While I understand that you just want evidence for something that is in principle contestable, I suggest we should go to the testimony of those who are most affected by fear and anxiety.Report
First, that people use pseudonyms when making comments on a website, or testify about being cautious on social media, doesn’t tell us much of anything about whether people are not writing academic articles for lack of pseudonymous publishing options. People make all sorts of evidenceless and controversial claims well outside their research areas in blog comments for which they may want the cover of a false name. They rarely do the same in articles they are submitting to peer-reviewed publications.
Second, there is a question about whether the fear is justified. As I have noted a few times before, there have been very few cases in which people have faced negative consequences for publishing “controversial” research. Perhaps this is owed to self-censorship of more controversial research. Perhaps. I’m skeptical, but open to being proved wrong. I just don’t think we learn much about the possible squelching of research from surveys in which we learn people feel they have to be, for example, careful about what they say for fear of being called racist or transphobic or whatever.Report
Apropos the second point: Do we learn anything from women’s testimony of what it feels like, to them, to be a woman in philosophy about what it really is like to be a woman in philosophy? Maybe all their feelings of ostracism and microaggressions aren’t justified!Report
On the one hand, we have complaints about sexism and misogyny in philosophy from people who are able to supply us with plenty of real world examples of harassment, assault, disparate treatment, and the like. On the other hand, we have complaints from largely pseudonymous blog commenters who are imagining being unable to publish their hypothetically brilliant arguments for the elimination of all cultural differences. I don’t think skepticism about the latter implies skepticism about the former.Report
I am genuinely surprised by this series of replies. I did not at all see this coming from someone who has been so careful and wise on this issue in the past, someone who has provided safe spaces for controversial posts of all types and who has “plenty of real world examples” of silencing and abusive language right here on this blog. And far more in the “non-approved comments” section of the blog, I’d wager. This is, of course, silencing and abuse directed at arguments that are nothing like the comically ridiculous argument you’ve just mentioned… arguments by Kathleen Stock and Rebecca Tuvel, for example. I simply don’t know what conception of “evidence” one could be working with which would require that the untenured need more evidence to be reasonably afraid, especially given the potentially extraordinary cost of getting a bad reputation. I don’t know how one couldn’t see that someone afraid to say something privately to their 200 friends on Facebook would quite reasonably be far more afraid to say it in a public academic article that will be auto-indexed to their name forever. Has someone hacked this blog?Report
Justin writes: “No evidence was cited to support the claim that “a culture of fear and self-censorship” is preventing articles that would pass a review process “as rigorous as those for other academic journals” from being written, owing to the lack of pseudonymous-authoring options at established journals.”
This is from a recent op-ed by Samuel Abrams:
In a 2017 national survey of faculty, 71 percent of faculty agreed with the statement, ‘[I] feel comfortable sharing my opinion on my college campus’ [with other faculty members]. This number drops to 60 percent for those who identify as conservative and jumps to 82 percent for those who are liberal. When asked, ‘Are you reluctant to express your political beliefs to your colleagues for fear of negative consequences?’ 93 percent of liberal faculty had no issue expressing their political beliefs to their colleagues compared to two-thirds of conservative professors.
Faculty were also asked, ‘How often, if at all, have you avoided expressing a particular point of view on an issue because you expected a negative reaction from other students or faculty?’ Two-thirds of conservative professors stated that they simply avoided sharing their opinions because of negative reactions compared to just one-third of liberals.
Now, this evidence does not bear directly on Justin’s point–and it could be that this survey has serious flaws (I haven’t examined the survey itself). But it seems like relevant evidence. If some professors are afraid of speaking up to their colleagues, it’s plausible at least that some professors are reluctant to publish their controversial views in journal articles.Report
So, you do not want to stand behind this survey, and – I imagine – you do not want any of us to confuse this survey which you do not trust with ‘evidence.’ Nonetheless, you have presented it here.Report
I don’t follow how “the creation of such a journal [could] foster more of “a culture of fear and self-censorship.”” Are you saying that the mere appearance of “controversial ideas” would trigger fear? Or what?
My only worry about the journal, not a major one, is that it might become a Journal of Trial Balloons—ideas written up by clever people who don’t want to avow them because they don’t fully believe them. Anyway, I wish them all success, and hope that they encourage lots of discussion (also refereed).Report
The existence of the journal becomes a piece of “evidence” subsequently used to show that academia can be dangerous for people with the “wrong” ideas.Report
Meh, you could try to disqualify any type of evidence in that way.
But another thing – a number of people in this thread disagree with you on the claim that there is a culture of fear of publishing about controversial claims. And it seems that a lot of people reading the thread agree with them, moreso than with you (yes, readers overlap with commenters, but probably not perfectly).
Would you consider that as evidence for the claim that there is a culture of fear of publishing about controversial topics?Report
Re: the “no evidence was given” claim in the post:
1) We should expect that such evidence would be partly, if not largely, anecdotal anyway. It’s really hard to prove, in any robust way, the existence of chilling effects. So, just ask people if they feel less inclined to write on these topics due to fear. That should be sufficient.
2) Doesn’t the Tuvel Affair prove that some ideas that some portion of us think are interesting philosophical topics are seen as beyond the pale by others? And while it did pass peer-review, the calls for its retraction and the massive career-threatening hostility the author faced were enough to terrify anyone who writes on controversial topics.Report
Just to (attempt to) allay some suspicions that this culture does not exist, here are just a few topics I’ve discussed with colleagues privately that we would never even publicly entertain, let alone endorse, because of potential professional blowback:
Killing newborn babies (recall the controversial journal of Medical Ethics article whose publication editors had to publish a defense of).
Questioning or contesting expanded notions of affirmative action.
Anti- standpoint epistemology (particularly when it comes to racial or feminist issues)
The possibility of feminist non-analytic approaches to “power” being fallacious of sophistical.
Anti-full voting rights (ie limited democracy)
Note also that there may be some who have written about these without a Tuvellian response, or who have written about these and still attained tenure, and my fear may still be justified. My concerns aren’t that, if I published this kind of stuff, I would be *guaranteed never to get a job or tenure.* They’re probabilistic—publishing on these topics would non-trivially mar my job or tenure applications at many schools.
I appreciate that certain interlocutors who disagree with me on these topics, and even question my epistemic authority on some of them especially as a white cishet male, might still respect any published, quality work I were to do if they were on my tenure committee. But, first, the existence of people like that don’t address my concerns which are probabilistic in nature. And, second, I’m so very skeptical that their magnanimity will shine through when push comes to shove: especially if, on a hiring committee, they have the option of hiring someone of comparable competence, but more norm-abiding views.Report
I think it’s interesting that it is both very bad to publish in favor of infanticide and to publish against abortion. Two opposite ends of the spectrum are viewed quite negatively.Report
And yet one of those positions is almost certainly correct!Report
Arguments in favor of killing (some newborns) have no doubt led to protests, but as far as I can tell Singer, McMahan, and Minerva, among others, have not seen their careers stalled because they published these ideas (maybe I’m wrong, but I’m skeptical). These ideas are being publicly entertained and discussed in some major peer-reviewed venues. While they could be more, even Singer might agree it’s best, from a consequentialist perspective, that we don’t entertain them publicly too much. Surely the thought cannot be that it’s a pressing social issue that we don’t have enough folks around arguing for infanticide. But I wonder: Is publishing in the Journal of Medical Ethics (arguably one of the best journals in the field) evidence of self-censorship? Surely no. Editors published a defense of it. This shows the ideas were controversial (who would deny they were?). This doesn’t show these are not ideas one cannot entertain.
I initially thought I would only comment on infanticide but now I realize it wouldn’t take me long to find names of authors who have publicly defended nearly all of the other views you mention. Of course, it may still be true that there are strong disincentives to endorse, sometimes even entertain, some of these ideas. I’m inclined to agree to some extent, and I agree it’s bad that authors self-censor when (they, correctly or not, believe that) their *worthwhile* ideas are deemed too controversial. But the question is whether this justifies creating this new journal, thus making it seem like it’s impossible to debate these ideas otherwise (when it’s not). What we would need is evidence of referee or editor reports rejecting submissions on the ground that they are too controversial (or rejecting them on other grounds that would indirectly support the inference). Or evidence that journals only publish non-controversial stuff. But even a cursory look at random issues of, say, the Journal of Applied Philosophy, or even online venues like Quillette and Areo suggest otherwise to me at least.
Now, with all that being said, it could be that the journal will turn out to publish provocative, interesting (hopefully not morally abhorrent) work. I certainly hope it does and wish the editors the best.
Given the tenor of comments on this thread, I feel like I’m almost being controversial, but I’ll stick to my real name.Report
Just to address your first point: Singer and McMahan began their careers decades ago, in a period when controversial ideas were more welcome (or at least that is my sense).Report
Sure, although one could argue that Singer faced more serious uproar in the 1980s and 90s than he does now. Whether controversial ideas were more welcome then than now, honestly I don’t know.Report
Thank you for your thoughtful reply. The only thing I wanted to point out is the reason I made the final statement in my original post– I know Singer, McMahan, and other prominent authors have published on these topics. I find it wrongheaded, though, to point to a few people who have made careers on this stuff and conclude that this fact demonstrates there is no significant disadvantage to arguing about these topics. The same goes for that fact that there have been prominent journal publications on one of more of these topics.
Generally, to invoke Miranda Fricker, to say that the testimony of many of us who do feel this bias is not evidence may be an injustice in and of itself.Report
Agreed, Singer, McMahan and others only provide partial and defeasible evidence that one can argue about these topics without more backlash than benefits. But that’s the evidence we have. And, if anything, their success should signal that it’s possible, if surely not easy.
As for testimony, of course. I’m happy to take self-reports of experienced bias as evidence of *some* form of bias––i.e., here, something about the incentive structure leads people to have those experiences, which leads them to self-censor. All I meant to say is this is not itself evidence of a structural bias against controversial ideas. Wouldn’t we be happy to learn that controversial ideas are in fact more welcome than is typically assumed?Report
I’m an undergrad, and I fully admit I’m not familiar with the publishing process, but would it be possible for mainstream journals to allow pseudonymous submissions? My concern is that this new journal is marginalizing itself through this branding; it’ll be easy for those who want to dismiss it to just ignore it.Report
For people worried about incentive structures in publishing it’s kind of a cool idea to experiment with, assuming you get a lot less credit in various ways for publishing anonymously. As for whether there’s a need for it, this will probably just be answered by the rate of submissions and their quality.Report
In addition to changing incentive structures, there are all kinds of other potential uses I feel like philosophers should be eager to try out here, such as opportunities for researchers to publish working in authoritarian countries, and space for drawing on intensely personal experiences related to social or feminist philosophy anonymously. Since philosophy is so example driven, it’s really plausible that work on, say, oppression, or patriarchy, or sexual identity would benefit from using real-world examples of people experiencing those things they may be strongly disinclined to share under their name.Report
Justin: Your head is so far in the sand on this topic it will soon reach the centre of the earth.Report
What can I say, Tom? I guess I’m not afraid of staking out unpopular positions.Report
Except that it’s not unpopular at all to put your head in the sand in this caseReport
Uh, it certainly is if the relevant population is the commenters/voters in this thread.Report
But probably a different story if we are talking about senior philosophers at top US Universities. And this seems to be the relevant population as this is where the professional power and influence lies.Report
You’re not wrong! I’m also rather happy that you’re not wrong in virtue of how epistemically impoverished senior philosophers would be were they just those who happened to receive the most upvotes in this thread.Report
That’s easy to say when your personal beliefs largely agree with popular positions.Report
I think that it’s inevitable that such a journal was going to be created, and given that, it appears that it could be in far worse hands. Call the journal itself an experiment. Perhaps it will publish only a few papers a year, which might be evidence that in fact very few ideas are too controversial for mainstream journals. Also, keep in mind that the people who feel a need for such a journal today may not be the people who feel a need for it tomorrow.Report
I agree that the most favorable way to interpret the journal’s creation is as an experiment, as Dale and Wesley suggest. I wonder what it will tell us.
I also appreciate the remark a friend of mine sent to me, which is—appropriately—charitable to the journal’s creators: “I think Jeff McMahan is in for the surprise of his life when the submissions start coming in.”Report
Verdict: We are sorry to say that your paper has been rejected because your argument and conclusion are too acceptable.Report
Justin, haven’t you posted on things that would contribute to there being a “culture of fear and censorship”?
I wonder: were we to ask anyone on that list whether, if they could do it again, knowing what they now know, they would publish their research pseudonymously given the chance, how many would say yes. I don’t think it would be many at all.Report
Not yet. 🙁Report
But is that the relevant class of folks to wonder about? Rather, shouldn’t we wonder how many people have avoided publishing on particular topics precisely because they didn’t want to risk ending up on that list?
I don’t mean to suggest that the list is even anything like decisive evidence in favor of there being the kind of culture at issue here. I only point to it as some evidence in favor of thinking there is such a culture, and evidence to which you yourself have pointed.Report
Maybe there were 15 out and proud gay people in Topeka, in 1950. Suppose none of them regretted coming out. Does that mean that attitudes toward gay people in Topeka were not oppressive?Report
I can now admit that all of the articles published in the first year are by me. I await the offer of tenure.Report
I think you are being too dismissive of the motivation for this journal Let me offer one suggestion of what it might serve for: I for one had to submit multiple diversity statements for job applications this year. Assume now, that I am actually believing that diversity of cultures should not be valued and that unifying all cultures under one set of social norms would be the right way for moral progress. Assume that I would argue that there should be only one universal human culture and all cultural differences that require deep tolerance rather than being able to be subsumed in this universal culture should be faded out in the long run.
Whether or not this position is right, I would think it worthy of philosophical consideration, a position that could be reasonably argued. Of course, I would not publish such an article under my actual name! It would undermine my diversity statement for any job that requires such a statement. If you were on the job market, would you publish such a paper, Justin? Do you think there should be no place for such a paper?Report
What evidence should convince someone that there is a culture of fear and self-censorship in academia? What evidence should convince someone that there isn’t?Report
What would be evidence for a climate of fear and self-censorship?
a) the testimony of many that they feel fearful and have either self-censored or considered self-censorship;
b) the testimony of others (such as myself ) that they have met many people who have testified to them that they have felt fearful and have either self-censored or considered self-censorship;
c) the existence of episodes in which those who expressed unpopular but well-reasoned opinions were met with vicious hostility;
d) anonymized surveys of academic opinion in which a substantial proportion of those surveyed report fear and either self-censoring or considering self-censorship
What would be evidence against?
e) The absence or rarity of the kinds of testimony described at a) and b);
f) the absence or extreme rarity of the kinds of episodes described at c)
g) anonymized surveys of academic opinion in which hardly any of those surveyed report fear, self-censoring or considering self-censorship.
Now it seems to me that we have got a), b) and c) but not d), e), f) or g). Thus we have evidence for a climate of fear and self-censorship and none against, but not, as yet, the kind of decisive evidence (in the form of anonymized surveys) that would prove the point beyond all reasonable doubt. Time for a well-conducted survey perhaps?
One other point. There could be quite few people who do not self-censor and still be a *climate* of fear and self censorship. Suppose you have an idea for paper on a topic of pith and moment that might expose you to public hostility. You hesitate for a while but eventually go ahead, fortifying yourself with the reflection that you got into this business to be a servant of truth, not to be in with the ideological in-crowd (whoever they maybe) . That period of hesitation is evidence of a climate of fear. The evidence would be even stronger if we could establish that those who hesitated to publish the controversial paper but went ahead anyway were more well-established than those who decided to give it a miss.Report
As a couple commenters above, I suspect the proof (one way or another) will be in the pudding. And I’m not sure why it should be any other way—my sense is that journals rarely justify their indispensability, or even their positive utility, with rigorous empirical arguments before they launch. They just have some vague idea, and then they launch, and then they see if the results are any good.
Unfortunately, I suspect that there’s a bit of a catch 22 here. The people who need a secret venue most are junior people who fear that saying something viewed as obnoxious will sink their odds at a permanent position. But in the credit economy it makes no sense for a person living under employment uncertainty to take the amount of time and effort to write a genuinely good article for which they will get no credit. Perhaps for articles that are well received, the author can reveal themselves later? Or maybe selectively in tenure review? Idk. I also wonder about the practical details for how lots of psuedononymous articles will interact with scholarly norms on citation and engagement.
In any case, it will be very interesting to see the inaugural issue. I am not sure if it will be any good, but I hope it is, and even if it’s a trash fire that will, in itself, be kind of fun to watch unfold.Report
This is almost certainly some sort of Monty Pyhton-style performance art troll.
“Journal of Controversial Ideas”? They are joking with that name, yes?
Perhaps in response, I shall start a journal called, “Journal of Silly Ideas” or maybe go for broke and edit TWO journals, one called “Journal of Subtly Different Views” and the other called “Journal of Tremendously Unusual Arguments for Familiar Positions”.
Oh the humanity for all the tenured profs who cannot bear to post their ‘controversial’ dribble on Quillette.Report
”Oh the humanity for all the tenured profs who cannot bear to post their ‘controversial’ dribble on Quillette.”
Not all people who have controversial views have tenure.Report
I think it may be worth independently objecting to the journal’s name. I don’t think it’s obvious whether we should have a pseudonymous journal, and I’m open to the idea that it’s worth a try. But I’m having trouble seeing the value in leadingly labeling all of its content as controversial, or highlighting censorship fears as its singular motivation when there are other reasons one might want a pseudonymous journal to exist.Report
As a thought experiment this is a pretty interesting one, because it forces us to think about the many impacts of requiring authors’ to use their real names in peer reviewed journals. The editors are focusing primarily on the impact that negative publicity may keep people from adopting controversial stances on controversial issues. But publicizing author names has a number of other effects.
Authors who publish under their own name allow the institutions who employ authors to hold them accountable for violations of academic integrity. What will happen in this journal if an article is found to be plagiarized or relying on fabricated claims? Would the editors be required to reveal the authors name to their employer? To the public, so people can reconsider their other publications?
Authors who publish under their own name have both the incentive and the ability to improve the quality of their work. A scholar who publishes anonymously gets no professional credit. The toughest battle of any new journal is to attract high-quality submissions, so differentiating in some way makes sense. But I really wonder whether promising a complete absence of professional success is going to attract good work. Anonymous scholars also have limited ability to get feedback on their work. A secret shared is not secret for long. So maybe you can send the paper out to a very close friend, but no workshops, conference presentations, or discussions over drinks.
I find myself wondering how I would review work of an author who plans to conceal their identity forever (not just from me temporarily to allow blind review). They may well be operating in bad faith, forcing me and the editors to be left holding the bag they were unwilling to hold themselves. I will also have to do all the work colleagues didn’t do in pre-submission workshopping and commenting.
Finally, let’s consider the editor’s position. If they know the authors’ identity, what are the repercussions if they reveal it, intentionally or by accident? Legal liability? If they don’t know the authors’ identity, they are exposing themselves to all sorts of misconduct
Experiments take a lot of planning. I hope these editors are doing theirs!Report
This was, I think, a very thoughtful set of objections to the idea. Thank you.Report
Lamenting the lack of evidence cited by the BBC article seems a bit premature. Seems like listening to the documentary first might be advisable. Maybe you can publish an article in the journal arguing that it need not exist!Report
”Maybe you can publish an article in the journal arguing that it need not exist!”
They might not consider that idea controversial enoughReport
And as someone who disagrees profoundly with Singer, Mcmahan and Minerva on almost everything, I can vouch for their claims that they receive plenty of hatred and ostracism (and yes, no-platforming) for their views. It seems profoundly unreasonable to doubt that.Report
Finally a place to publish my papers on infinitism without being bullied by other epistemologists.Report
How will the journal editors proceed if a published article is later found to be the product of plagiarism or some other form of research misconduct? Pseudonyms do not promote author accountability (and for that reason are almost always disallowed for scientific research articles).Report
It’s weird because I know a lot of academics who, speaking about their own political and moral views, sometimes feel like they their ideas are “too controversial” to air in public but they’re also usually not scholars of social, political, or moral philosophy and so don’t publish on that stuff.
When I look at actual scholarship on this stuff, I have a much harder time seeing anyone hold back on different positions (from racial realism to transracialism to infanticide to calling Catholic hospital policies tantamount to murder to antinatalism to theodicies to error theory).
Since this is an academic journal, it’s not the place to publish your “TOTALLY NOT PC” thoughts on academia, the kids today, or liberals and if you’re already an expert on whatever topic you’re working on, you probably have the writing chops to publish your crazy ideas in more traditional journals. However, let a thousand flowers bloom and whatnot. I’m ready to read Professor Fuhrer’s stunning new defenses of Fascism, professor Chipotle’s intriguing opus on Men’s Rights, and professor Rob Thomas Aquinas’ new proof of the existence of the Christian God. Should be fun.Report
Self-selection in the choice of field might be at play as well as self-censorship. I’m a student. I have a strong interest in moral and political philosophy but hesitate to go in that direction because of the risks to career and am working on aesthetics instead. I’d be interested in submitting to JCI.
And the fact that *some* people don’t self-censor to the extent of not publishing their thoughts at all doesn’t imply that self-censorship isn’t widespread.Report
Publish an article defending race and IQ, identitarianism, or Kevin MacDonald’s view of group evolutionary strategy, then, if there’s no culture of fear.Report
Two options here:
1. Those are just bad positions for which it is difficult to provide actually good arguments for (your first maybe more so than the second).
2. People HAVE published on exactly the things you’re asking for
Real talk, MB: what are the criteria for a culture of fear hindering publishing? It can’t be so weak that it’s vacuous. For example, I have all sorts of thoughts on politics, race, gender, metaphysics, language, time, personal identity, fascism and so on that I don’t have formal training in. I also *fear* that it would take years to develop the competence to publish something in those areas without looking like someone who is completely untethered. This keeps me from investing the time and energy to do it. But this isn’t a culture of fear keeping people from publishing (people who ARE experts in these areas publish on all sorts of topics). When I read the literature on these and other topics, I’m actually really impressed (genuinely, truly) at the variety of positions being worked on.
My worry with you, MB, and with the other commentators on this blog is that we have a blog full of amateur philosophers of race, gender, and feminist philosophy who really hate the stuff without having the relevant expertise to make a contribution to that field or to understand the fields they hate so much. They also do not want to gain the relevant competencies because gaining competency is time consuming and our time is important to us.
I would hope that the Journal of Controversial Ideas wouldn’t publish the work of angry amateur philosophers and I wonder who they will get to review articles that are critical of things like standpoint epistemology. A journal like this also seems especially ripe for the sort of silly hoaxing that academics with too much time on their hands like to do.Report
(See comment by A. Pleskach)Report
I published a *refutation* of Kevin MacDonald’s theory about Judaism, and I got attacked because, as one journalist put it, “even a respectful critique [has] the effect of legitimizing it as part of mainstream discourse.” One commentator on Twitter wrote that “Cofnas engages with neo-Nazis like [MacDonald] on their level, so they love him for it.”
(For the record, neo-Nazis do not love me: https://dailystormer.name/academic-bloodsports-slippery-jew-nathan-cofnas-vs-the-legendary-k-mac/ )Report
Like this? https://twitter.com/TOOEdit/status/1062045677243400192Report
I am surprised by all of the pushback. For those who have controversial ideas but who are afraid to publish them, this provides them with a venue for putting forth their arguments. For those who are opposed to these controversial ideas, the fact that they will be published (in what one can reasonably assume will be a high-profile venue) gives people the chance to openly and forcefully criticize the ideas in print. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as they say. The journal would only be problematic if it insisted upon anonymity while at the same time refusing to publish response pieces. But so long as folks will have the chance to criticize the controversial views in their own name and voice, what’s the problem? One could think that some controversial ideas simply don’t merit the attention this journal will afford them. I don’t have much patience for this kind of academic de-platforming and policing. Instead, I think the best strategy is for controversial ideas to receive the open criticism they deserve. This journal will presumably provide a venue for precisely this kind of exchange of ideas–an exchange that is presumably not taking place as often as could otherwise be the case. This doesn’t mean that I support or defend controversial views–especially the ones that I find morally problematic or pernicious–but it does mean that I think these views should be part of the marketplace of ideas. If you are opposed to infanticide, so-called “positive” eugenics, objections to feminism, trans-philosophy, and the like–this journal should provide you with grist for your philosophical mill. What’s wrong with that? It seems this will only sharpen people’s objections to controversial views. Or so it seems to me.Report
>If you are opposed to infanticide, so-called “positive” eugenics, objections to feminism, trans-philosophy, and the like–this journal should provide you with grist for your philosophical mill. What’s wrong with that?
I’m not opposed to the existence of this journal. I think it’s silly, if I’m being honest, but it takes a lot to make be oppose the mere existence of something.
My main concern, and this is a practical one not an existential one, with the journal is that it is going to take a lot of work, much more so than it would with a journal whose name isn’t “The Journal of Controversial Ideas” to find good referees.
The self-selection pressures here are enormous both for and against. Those who have some kind of gripe or complaint (justified or not) against mainstream feminism, philosophy of race, analytic philosophy, and so on are thus more likely to opt-in as reviewers. Secondly, and here we’ll have to invest initial trust and goodwill on the editors, the editors must ensure that they send papers off to good reviewers (a paper criticizing standpoint epistemology should hopefully be sent to at least one reviewer who holds the position).
After all, if what you want are controversial ideas, you don’t want your journal to create the exact same kind of ideological echo chamber that some accuse feminist philosophy journals of creating.
A connected concern here is something we can borrow from the social sciences. The focus on CONTROVERSY!!! is, like the focus on novelty in the sciences, not obviously a route to progress.
In a world where people can argue, using their real names in an academic journal, that we would be better off not existing, that the poor deserve to be poor, that infants are not moral persons deserving of rights, that democracy is a bad form of government, that race and gender are real, that race and gender are social constructs, and that torture is sometimes morally permissible…I wouldn’t say that we want for controversial ideas.Report
Thanks for your comment, Thomas. In my case, my concerns about the journal are not with its publishing adequately defended controversial views but with what the creation of a journal built on the idea of pseudonymous publishing says about academia, and what its effects may be.
I think it’s largely false that there is significant amount of good academic articles out there just waiting to be written but for the availability of a venue in which they could be published under a fake name, and that actions which suggest otherwise reinforce anti-intellectual, anti-expertise, anti-higher education attitudes.
I’m also concerned that the journal could make what is barely a problem now into more of one by legitimating the fears cited by those who self-censor: “It’s gotten to the point where they actually had to create a journal in which researchers could publish work under fake names!” Better to make well-informed but radical disagreement so commonplace that people realize they don’t have to fear taking part, and so that saying something controversial isn’t all that… controversial. No?Report
I agree with what you said at the end: We should try to make philosophy/academia a place where radical disagreements can happen safely and constructively.
You worry that the existence of this journal could be used by those who self-censor to justify their fears. If anything, it would do the opposite.
If the journal were created without pushback, you’d be able to say: “Hey! You were claiming that certain ideas are being suppressed. So you decided to make a ‘journal of controversial ideas.’ And guess what happened? The rest of us shrugged and said ‘sure, go ahead.'”
Interestingly, that isn’t what has happened.Report
This is you in 2016:
Justin Weinberg, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina who is editor of Daily Nous, a website about philosophy issues, said the APA statement addresses a real problem that makes some scholars in the discipline unwilling to participate in public discussion for fear of online abuse. “Some philosophers are worried they will be personally attacked elsewhere on the Internet, and so refrain from speaking out,” he said. “The stronger this worry, the fewer people speak out, and each who does is more likely to be a target.” In turn, he said, this pattern “increases the perceived cost to speaking up, and so the cycle of intimidation continues, choking discussion. It is a classic collective action problem.”
Do you no longer believe this?Report
Oliver, it is precisely because I believe this (well, really an analog of it that is appropriate for journal publishing) that I have concerns about a pseudonymous journal that reinforces the impression that there is something to fear from publishing controversial ideas.Report
But, Justin, in 2016 you seemed to believe that that impression was *correct*. Why be concerned about reinforcing a *correct* impression?Report
Oh, you were referring to the “some philosophers are worried they will be personally attacked elsewhere on the Internet” part of that. I thought that worry was overblown then, both in terms of the likelihood of such an attack and its reaching a level of significance—though of course there are a few cases in which people were the victims of sustained and massive attacks. I think the worry is overblown now, too.
I think that you and I agree in broad strokes that academia should welcome the publication of well-defended controversial views. There is disagreement on the extent to which academia currently does this and on the effects of various measures to change the status quo.
I suppose one way to put my worry with the new journal is that it seems counterproductive. It is a response to a phenomena (self-censorship of good controversial research out of fear of professional ramifications for being associated with unpopular ideas) that I do not believe is prevalent, that both encourages people to believe something that will cause them to self-censor and suggests that the best response to the possibility of controversy is for authors to hide, rather than for more people to stand by a greater number of controversial ideas, and for the rest of us to stand up for them doing so.Report
Would you count, for instance, a dozen or so senior(-ish) philosophers (including some contributors to this blog) creating a Facebook thread to mock a presentation given by graduate students and/or postdocs, calling them terrible philosophers, bad people, etc. as the sort of event that might count as both a personal attack online and as an instance of professional ramifications that might lead to self-censorship?Report
That’s reassuring – thank you. May I gently suggest that getting your friends to stop doing that would be at least as good a way to reduce the *impression* that speaking out is dangerous as refusing to publish people anonymously or pseudonymously, and that it would have the additional side benefit of reducing the *actual* danger of speaking out?Report
I assume, in the spirit of charity, that whoever said I have no talent must have meant that I have no Biblical units of gold, which of course is true.Report
I think this is a wonderful idea. It is a dangerous time to dissent.Report
Thanks to all those who have commented on our proposed new journal, whether for or against. I agree with those who regard it as an experiment — let’s see what kind of submissions we get. Because we don’t know if we will get enough submissions of sufficient quality to get past our referees, we are planning to start slowly, with only one issue a year, and work up from there if the demand justifies it.
Some comments appear to assume that all articles published in the journal will be pseudonymous. That is not our intention. We will welcome authors willing to attach their names to their artiicles. Publishing anonymously is an option, not a requirement. If authors wish to publish anonymously but at some future date would like their authorship to be known to some people, for example a selection committee or tenure review committee, the journal will act on that request, although of course we can then no longer be responsible if the authorship becomes more widely known.Report
Thanks for the further information about the journal, Peter.Report
Hi Peter. I’m just curious: Suppose that someone submits a strong paper but one that’s no more controversial than any run of the mill philosophy paper. Might the paper be rejected for not being provocative enough?Report
Thank you for the further information Peter. if I may, I would like to try to convince you to reverse this policy: “If authors wish to publish anonymously but at some future date would like their authorship to be known to some people, for example a selection committee or tenure review committee, the journal will act on that request…”
I think this provides exactly the wrong incentive structure for a journal of this sort. It encourages people to float potentially harmful trial balloons, safe in the knowledge that they face no personal risks if bad things happen, yet still able to swoop in and receive rewards if it all works out. This is very close to the incentives bankers had to confect esoteric financial instruments before 2008: the risks are socialized, but the rewards are privatized.
If the justification for pseudonymous publication is that some ideas just *need* to be out in public, then this should be strongly divorced from motives of personal advancement. The journal’s policy ought to be that pseudonymous publication is not revocable by the author. The journal should refuse to officially confirm or deny the true identity of any pseudonym for the duration of the author’s lifetime. That’s the only way to ensure the incentives really are about truth rather than reputational economy arbitrage.Report
“reputational economy arbitrage” <3 <3 <3Report
“It encourages people to float potentially harmful trial balloons, safe in the knowledge that they face no personal risks if bad things happen, yet still able to swoop in and receive rewards if it all works out.”
I assume the editorial board is there to weed out the mere “trial balloons” from the seriously researched, logically sound proposals that have ideas which merit further philosophical investigation.
I don’t think the idea of a space that keeps you safe from negative repercussions while allowing you to reap benefits is such a horrible one, frankly. Especially since I don’t see how others could get hurt in the process.Report
I’m sure the editors and their referees will weed out most unserious things. But every editor I know concedes that the process is fallible. Sometimes undeserving stuff gets through to publication. At a normal journal, the author’s own concern for their reputation provides the most important check against publishing bad work. That won’t exist for pseudonymous publication in this journal, so all we’ll have is the refereeing/editorial system that everyone agrees is fallible.
You don’t see how others can be hurt by the publication of “controversial” material? I would think history provides many examples. Say, the publication of arguments for the scientifically eugenic sterilization of undesirables?
Maybe you think academic journals are causally inert in social/political terms. In that case, I don’t see the point of this journal. If nothing we publish in journals has any effect on the outside world, why bother? Is it just an intellectual game? This seems like a self-defeating position.
If you concede that journals *can* causally affect the social/political world, then you must either concede that they are capable of causing harm, or claim that something about their causal influence ratchets in only a positive direction. But why would the latter be true? Is the path of the academic universe gloriously foreordained? I think that, if it really is your position that academic journals are capable of causing only good in the world, the burden of proof is on you. Otherwise, you should concede that there is a risk of harm to others, and my original point regarding incentive structures stands.Report
Regina, I think you’re making a lot of unwarranted assumptions here.
I do not believe that those who devote their careers to the discipline are in general the kind of people who would want to publish articles in bad faith, even if their reputations could remain untarnished. There may be a few, but it’s certainly not the norm.
The process for journals in picking out articles may be fallible, but how fallible is it really? The recent controversy about some articles of bad faith getting through and being published happened in part because editors tend to expect all submissions to be in good faith. The fact that this happened, and because of the nature of the JCI, I assume means these editors will be more aware of this possibility and therefore not be so easily duped.
Thus, I think the chance that a bad faith article would 1) be submitted and 2) be published, is rather small.
To your second point: I don’t necessarily appreciate your setting me up as a strawperson, since I never said that the discipline has no impact on society, but I will still answer your concern.
I think academics, and especially philosophers should be (and generally are) humble/realistic about the impact of their work on the non-academic world. How many people do you seriously think read any of these journals? How many of those find themselves radically changed as a result?
One article in one journal is not likely to bring about some sort of social moral decline in any major fashion. It may lead to more people talking about an issue, dissecting it, analyzing it’s merits, but that result can only occur if many serious, thoughtful philosophers can be won over by the argument. Even then, what is the impact on the world?
Just take Peter SInger. Clearly one of our biggest living celebrities, and yet how many non-academics have even heard of him? His work has contributed to the larger animal rights movement in important ways, but that was because of a long-term dedication to a cause with much more invested than one anonymous article. And still, the people convinced by his arguments remain relatively few.
So, yes, I think the possible negative social/cultural impact of one improbable bad faith article is almost negligibly small. I concede it exists, but not in any serious way.
Finally, I do think that we publish our thoughts and research for more than just fortune, fame, or even the ever-gleaming hope of changing the world. There are the practical needs to get hired and tenure, as well as the more realistic desire to make a name for ourselves within our own circles. Most importantly, however, as the title implies, philosophers are lovers of knowledge/wisdom. There is something we find inherently worthwhile in the search for truth. I do believe that is why we bother.Report
I’m confused by the appearance of “bad faith” in this thread. I did not take myself, or you, to be previously discussing things written in bad faith. I am talking about work that (a) undeservedly slips past editorial control and (b) imposes a risk of harm on others. I think it is entirely possible to write such an article in good faith.
I am sorry you perceived my comment as setting you up as a strawperson. That was not my intent. I surveyed the logical options available to your position, and I don’t think I implied knowledge of which you prefer. If you read my comment otherwise, I apologize.
You’ve switched from saying you “don’t see how others could get hurt” to conceding there is an “almost negligibly small” chance of that happening. To which, I repeat the prior set of questions. Do you also think there is only an almost negligibly small chance of doing social *good* through journal publication? If so, why bother publishing? If not, then what is the argument for thinking that the causal powers of journal publication align to make good outcomes likely and harmful outcomes negligible?Report
Nicole, Regina literally quoted what you wrote (“I don’t see how others could get hurt”) and then suggested that *maybe* you think academia has no impact on society. I wouldn’t call it setting you up as a strawperson. But Regina’s point is a disjunction. One of the premises of the Journal is that ideas do have a social impact. Either you think it’s true, but then why assume anonymous publications cannot do more harm than good? Or you think it’s true, but then you lose one rationale for launching the journal. McMahan is pretty clear in his response to Quartz (here:
https://qz.com/1460071/the-journal-of-controversial-ideas-is-already-controversial/) that ideas do have a serious impact:
“It should make no difference who the author is.” He says that anonymity is optional, and reversible, and that it exists only to “enable people to … publish ideas and arguments about issues that matter to them without fear of death threats, threats to their families, to their livelihood, and to their reputation.” That, he explains, is what “accountability” has come to mean today: “accountability may mean suffering endless vilification by people on the Internet, receiving death threats, having one’s job prospects and so on threatened, all because it has now become … permissible to go after persons rather than ideas.”
Why believe these serious consequences are real but assume that anonymous controversial ideas could not do harm?Report
EDIT: “Or you think it’s NOT true”. Dang.Report
“Why believe these serious consequences are real but assume that anonymous controversial ideas could not do harm?”
The consequences you cite are not the sort of consequences Regina and I are discussing when we talk about the impact of a paper. Our concern is whether it will be good or bad if people take even controversial ideas seriously–that is very different from people taking offense at an article and starting what amounts to a virtual mob.
I think if a controversial article were published anonymously, those who otherwise would resort to such things as sending death threats may actually be forced to create and publish a sound, well-researched counter-paper of their own, thus actually contributing to the conversation and possibly disproving the original theory. Maybe it’s just me, but I always thought that was the ideal way to stop bad ideas, rather than silencing them and hoping they disappear on their own.Report
Nicole, I’m aware these are different things. But you were suggesting papers have little if any impact. That’s just not true if they lead to death threats. Whether or not the ‘mobs’ are wrong, they are evidence of papers having a serious impact on people. Of course no one is condoning mobs here. The question is who should bear the social cost of publishing a defense of coercive, race-based eugenics, which we can safely assume would be frowned upon by at least a few folks.Report
“publishing a defense of coercive, race-based eugenics”
People frown upon that because it’s obviously wrong, there is no evidence to support it, and the underlying arguments are incoherent and based on false premises…i.e., exactly the sort of thing that would be tossed in the rubbish upon arrival.
Please find a less absurd example of a theory that could do harm and actually be published by serious philosophers in this day and age.Report
Nicole, sadly I’m not so sure it’s that absurd. I intentionally tweaked the example to make it sound over the top but it’s not a huge stretch compared to what I and others presume folks will try to get through the door. Remove the coercion and you have it: defenses of eugenics, directly or indirectly related to race or ability, already being published—non-anonymously btw—in respectable venues. Do you disagree that such defenses could have an impact? Do you disagree they could get past peer review in the JCI? I don’t know, but since we don’t know we just can’t assume that no harm will ensue and that, if it does, the costs should not be borne by the authors.Report
So, what I hear you saying is that a person can write an article in good faith, have all the research and logic in the world to back him or her up, but if the results turn south we should enact some sort of punishment on this person? For having a bad idea?
You say you don’t condone mobs, but if there is no anonymous place to publish controversial articles, then you are either condemning some people to silence or to be subject to such abuse.
I’d be interested in seeing these race-based eugenics articles you’ve mentioned though.Report
Nicole, it would best for you to also avoid setting me up as a straw person. I was simply echoing Regina’s question about the externalization of the social costs of publishing harmful ideas, which anonymity allows for. We’re talking about an incentive structure. Anything else you suggest I’m endorsing is inaccurate. Nowhere did I suggest any form of punishment whatsoever.
Since I don’t want to be piled on and I’m not benefiting from the cover of a pseudonym, I am not going to name particular authors here. But some bioethics journals do publish work in the vicinity. Note that I’m not even condemning their publication. I’m actually praising them for not externalizing the potential costs of their work through a pseudonym. FWIW, if they then become the victims of a ‘mob’, that’s not the sort of costs I think they deserve.Report
” The question is who should bear the social cost”
“I don’t know, but since we don’t know we just can’t assume that no harm will ensue and that, if it does, the costs should not be borne by the authors.”
What is this “cost” you think they should bear and how is it different from a punishment? And again, you disapprove of the mobs, but your disapproval doesn’t make them go away. They are the actual cost of some instances of free speech nowadays.
I’m not sure why you fear repercussions for posting links to those who according to you so openly attach their names to defenses of eugenics. But I do think it is clear that it’s a dead end in the conversation, as I can clearly not comment on papers I’m not even sure exist and if they do, I have no idea what the details are of their arguments…Report
Nicole. Again, it’s about incentives. If one has nothing to fear but can only gain from publishing pseudonymously, the system there is no risk in trying to get harmful stuff through the door. That’s not fair. Your use of the mobs is a red herring. There’s a spectrum of social responses authors could legitimately face that are not violent or mob like in any way.
I can’t convince you that there are trolls and aggressive voices on all sides of most issues, but you should at least trust me if I tell you I don’t want to say everything under my own name here. After all, you seem to believe the JCI is needed. It’s really easy to find these articles if you want to.Report
There’s certainly a risk of harm to others. But allowing pseudonymous authors to publicize their identities has a benefit, too: producing work for which one will be unable to claim credit comes at the opportunity cost of producing work that could help one get a job or tenure. So, your proposal would strongly disincentive the untenured from producing potentially good and important, but politically risky work.
Why think the risk outweighs the benefit?Report
Right, I acknowledged such a benefit at the start – this is my point about the incentive structure. Just as in finance, we should not offer people an incentive structure where their own personal outcome ranges only from zero to positive while the social outcome spectrum includes negative values. That’s a recipe for irresponsible practice, just as in finance.
From a social perspective, the benefits at issue here are very small: a few career boosts to a few philosophers. By simple numbers, that would certainly be swamped by whatever broader social effects (positive or negative) come about. The same is true in finance: a ‘privatize the gains, socialize the losses’ incentive structure goes provide gains to some individuals, but those are negligible compared to overall social effects.Report
Ah, I apology for the unclarity! I was only thinking of the broader social effects! Compare:
(a) the positive social effects of having more good and important (but politically risky) ideas out there, versus
(b) the negative social effects of having more harmful ideas out there.
Allowing revocably pseudonymous publications yields an incentive structure that promotes (a) at the cost of (b). Disallowing revocably pseudonymous publications yields an incentive structure that prevents (b) at the cost of (a). I agree that in the finance case, the second, conservative option is clearly the way to go. However, this is because I think *in that particular case*, the expected social costs clearly outweigh the benefits.
Like other commenters, I doubt the same is true in the controversial ideas case. To be convinced, I’d need to hear more either about why the costs of (b) can clearly be expected to outweigh the benefits of (a), or about why there is some special reason to be risk-averse in this case.Report
Okay, let’s grant that the publication of some articles will be really bad. They’ll literally kill some people. That doesn’t entail that it’s precisely the poorly-researched articles that get submitted because pseudonymity makes people less concerned about potential reputational damage that will be the ones killing people.
It seems like you’re equivocating between two kinds of “arbitrage.” One is publishing your article, crossing your fingers and hoping nobody dies, and then if your article turns out to have generated a bunch of QALYs, revealing your identity. The other is publishing your article, crossing your fingers and hoping it doesn’t get completely ignored, then if your article turns out to get a bunch of citations and praise, revealing your identity. I do not see why people doing the latter thing are going to be any more likely to produce articles that make really bad things happen. It’s not like half-baked ideas are especially lethal.Report
Half-baked ideas in formal logic aren’t especially likely to be dangerous. But I think it’s pretty obvious that this journal will be primarily focused on publishing things other than formal logic. Half-baked ideas about social equality, minority rights, the justifications for violence? Yes, on *those* topics, half-baked ideas *are* especially dangerous.
I don’t see any informative sense in which I have equivocated. It doesn’t matter to my argument whether people are incentivized toward caution out of fear of being blamed for harm or fear of being ignored. So long as they have *some* incentive toward caution, that is an improvement.
I haven’t argued that we can never publish socially risky work. I haven’t objected to the basic idea of this journal, including its permission for pseudonymity. All I have said is this: people should not be incentivized to impose risk on others at no risk to themselves. Do you object to that general principle?Report
So one example of someone who said something controversial about social equality, minority rights, and the justifications for violence is Tommy Curry. Do you think it’s good that he faced repercussions for his philosophical views? Do you think the deterrent effect it might have on people with similar views is salutary?Report
Oliver: I don’t think it would be productive for me to publicly opine about the details of a specific case that I do not remember very well.Report
That principle seems plausible enough to me. But I don’t think we have a case here of people being incentivized to impose risk on others. We agree that we have a case of people being incentivized to float out ideas they haven’t rigorously worked through. You think those ideas are especially risky. But it’s still not clear to me why you think that.
I agree that there are certain topics where ideas are more likely to be dangerous than others, and that this journal would have lots of papers on those topics. But I don’t see the reason for thinking it’s the *half-baked* ideas in this journal that will be the especially dangerous ones. Why couldn’t a well-researched, carefully argued article be dangerous? Marx spent a lot of time in the library.
Is your thought something like this? There are some very dangerous ideas that will only be promoted by people who have not looked into things at length. If journals only let in submissions from people who *have* looked into things at length, then none of those very dangerous ideas will get out there.
If that’s what you’re thinking, it seems like a bold prediction about the way danger is distributed across ideas. Why do you think it’s true?Report
Fair enough – sorry to put you on the spot!Report
Philodorus: “half-baked” was your term, not mine, which I echoed in order to be conversationally cooperative.
My point does not depend simply on how thoroughly baked an idea is. A person who chooses to publish on a dangerous topic must make a judgment weighing among the scholarly merits of their article, its potential social harms, and whatever personal gain they might make from the article’s professional success. Under traditional publishing, where one puts one’s name to one’s ideas, the author can expect to be held accountable if they have mismanaged this balance. This accountability expectation provides a salutary incentive toward caution in risking social harm.
I am on the fence regarding whether pseudonymous scholarly publication is a good idea at all. I am open to being persuaded that the benefit of open debate can sometimes make up for the danger of removing accountability expectations. But I think it is very clear that authors should *not* be provided with personal incentives that points *only* in favor of publishing, as would be the case under revocable pseudonymity. Perhaps publishing dangerous ideas is sometimes a social good – just like esoteric financial instruments can sometimes lead to social good. But both are risky, and we shouldn’t uni-directionally incentivize taking risks with others’ finances or lives.Report
Here’s how I understand what you’re saying now: publishing controversial ideas is a very risky thing. We had better not incentivize people to do anything that would lead to their doing that.
I fail to see how this version of the thought is compatible with the idea that pseudonymous publication is valuable at all. It seems like, on this interpretation, it would be just as bad if Peter Singer paid me 50 bucks to publish in the journal as if he allowed me to revoke my pseudonymity. He’s incentivizing me to do this risky thing either way. But if that’s the idea, then even having this journal at all is illicit incentivization, isn’t it? If Singer were convinced by your arguments for making pseudonymity permanent, why wouldn’t he be convinced by an argument that he should make publishing in the journal cost 50 bucks, to further disincentivize it?
I thought your idea was that some papers will get incentivized by revocable pseudonymity that are *especially* dangerous, compared to the papers that would ordinarily be in a pseudonymous journal. I think that’s false, but it would explain why someone in favor of pseudonymous publication in general might go for your policy. Without that, it seems like you are just denying from the get-go that pseudonymous publication of controversial ideas is a net good to society. Maybe true, but not very convincing to the editorial staff of the pseudonymous Journal of Controversial Ideas.
It’s risky for other people’s lives to let me drive. But I don’t see how there is a coherent position according to which it’s wrong to *incentivize* me to drive, while allowing that it’s okay for me to drive in the first place. How could that be, unless the incentives led to some especially risky behavior? What kind of miracle would it have to be for allowing something, but neither incentivizing nor disincentivizing it to any degree, to be exactly the right level of risk to impose on society?Report
Philodorus: Your latest comment involves an uncharitable over-simplification of my point, to an extent that I now suspect willful mis-representation edging into mild trolling. My standards for spending my time engaging with anonymous interlocutors are higher than those for engaging with transparent interlocutors, and you are no longer meeting those standards. Thank you for the earlier part of this exchange, which was more constructive.Report
Oh, I wasn’t trying to misrepresent your view. I genuinely thought that was the best way to interpret your claims, e.g. “But I think it is very clear that authors should *not* be provided with personal incentives that points *only* in favor of publishing” and “people should not be incentivized to impose risk on others at no risk to themselves.” It seemed to me that reputational incentives weren’t interestingly different than monetary ones from your point of view.
Anyway, thanks for the discussion.Report
Thank you for clarifying what you meant to do.
I use the term “bad faith,” because otherwise it seems to me that the whole question of anonymity or not is besides the point. If someone has a well-thought out and researched paper in good faith, then any journal should be open to publishing it. The anonymity is merely allowing for persons who fear nasty repercussions like the author of the Hypatia piece about trans-racialism received.
Further, I don’t know what exact theories you think are so harmful that one journal article will result in so much damage, but where the consequences thereof are somehow elusive to a panel of highly intelligent and qualified editors?
As to your question of why we publish if not to invoke change (good or bad), I already answered that in my previous post.Report
A person can sincerely believe their paper is well-thought-out and well-researched and be wrong about this. A journal run by good editors can sometimes accidentally publish work that it should not (again, every editor I know concedes this point).
I’m not understanding your response to my questions. I’ll repeat. What is the argument for thinking that the causal powers of journal publication align to make good outcomes likely and harmful outcomes negligible?
If the point of journal publication really is just to discuss ideas, then there’s no need for pseudonymity to be revocable. The value of ideas can be discussed whether or not we learn their author.Report
You’re pushing points I already answered: I already changed my answer from “can’t happen” to “highly unlikely”.
Since philosophers tend to be a kind of thoughtful crowd, it seems to me more likely that positive ideas would be taken seriously than negative ones. Thus they would have a bigger impact.
As for revoking your anonymity… I don’t begrudge anyone the chance to reap what little fame and prosperity that could perchance come from an article gaining traction within the field. I also don’t assume that people’s lives are static. If people publish pre-tenure or pre-employment, I can understand why they would then like to have their names attached to their work when the repercussions may not be so damaging to their livelihoods.Report
This feels like a fairly theoretical discussion. In practice, if someone publishes a paper pseudonymously it’s not going to be difficult for them to later prove to reasonable people’s satisfaction that they wrote it.Report
If we’re imagining a tribunal set up to adjudicate authorship claims, then you are right. But in less formal contexts, it seems less clear. People are already unsure how to include non-traditional materials in application materials, and search committees are already wary of CV-padding. Without official confirmation from the journal or the guarantee of an opportunity to present documentary evidence, I think cautious credential-wielders will hold back.
If you are right, however, then this looks to me like an argument for not permitting pseudonymous publication at all.Report
If the complaint is that (some of) the pieces will be anonymous, then the solution is to direct more attention to the kind of social-media and backchannel piling on that happens around controversial topics. For that’s what pushes people to suppress what the mob deems to be Thought Crime, whether the mobbing comes from the political right or the political left.
Until that pushback happens, the existence of a journal like this may make it harder for the fanatics to act like fanaticism is the only acceptable point of view. And in the course of making it easier to stand up to fanaticism it will be easier to talk openly about controversial topics, with the result that the felt need for anonymity may subside.Report
I’m surprised no one has pointed out the greatest side benefit of this proposal: Now that things have progressed to the point where controversial issues can’t be discussed except under pseudonym, and we will soon have this kind of venue for such material, surely the cost and inflexibility of tenure protection far outweighs any remaining benefits to intellectual freedom. If the tenured don’t feel free to be controversial in this environment then tenure just amounts to an employment guarantee arbitrarily (and hence unfairly) granted to one job category, which can and should be dispensed with.Report
I am surprised that I am the first person to note that this foreshadows the death of the author (which is already nigh, I suppose). Wouldn’t it be better to encourage pseudonymous publication — in the tradition of Mark Twain, or George Eliot, or George Orwell? Authorship is a real privilege — to be able to own ideas, to have them belong to the person putting them forward. Without that ownership it is not clear how to think about the disagreement and debate that is at the core of reason-giving. (And for those who never read anything but analytic philosophy, Roland Barthes has an essay ‘The Death of the Author’ worth reading in this context. Michel Foucault’s ‘What is an Author?’ is also appropriate. They each provide a sketch of where this is headed. Personally, I embrace the idea of authorship, with all its risks. Pseudonymity is a way of mitigating risk.)Report
I realize now my comment was not completely clear. The proposal is framed in terms of pseudonymous authorship, but in the comments there is a slide from pseudonymous to anonymous attribution. I see from Peter Singer’s replies that this slide is not simply with the comments. It doesn’t seem the founding editors have thought through the important differences between pseudonymous and anonymous authorship. My original comment meant to highlight that there is a difference between them, and to suggest that pseudonymity is far preferable to anonymity. We would all do well to think a bit more carefully about what it means to be an author, and to have a proper name associated with that claim to authority.Report
It is, after all, a Journal of Controversial Ideas, and by that we don’t mean that the ideas are controversial only among a small group of academic specialists in the precise area of the paper. So if we receive what you describe as a “run of the mill philosophy paper” we will not be sending it out to referees.Report
What will your policy be regarding violations of academic integrity. As I wrote above,
To me, much of this discussion serves as yet another reminder of the following lesson. To put it in the language of social justice activism: Not having unpopular views on politically and emotionally charged topics within the profession is a form of privilege, and, like other forms of privilege, it can blind one to the realities faced by those who don’t have it. One assumes that those who speak out are just being hypersensitive–“After all, *I* never feel in danger when putting forth *my* ideas, so why should they?” Or, better yet, one marginalizes them yet further by assuming that there must be something morally defective about them, that the ideas they say are being chilled must be akin to being pro-slavery or a Nazi or what have you. One can then just safely dismiss them as angry white men who don’t deserve to be listened to. All this while, in other contexts (which specific ones are too obvious to need mentioning), we’re told to “listen and believe” when others claim their collective experience has revealed a certain kind of injustice to be a serious problem. I’m not the first to point out the irony here, but it’s an irony that bears repeating.Report
To put it in the language of social justice activism: Not having unpopular views on politically and emotionally charged topics within the profession is a form of privilege… we’re told to “listen and believe” when others claim their collective experience has revealed a certain kind of injustice to be a serious problem.
I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on the literature concerning oppression or epistemic injustice, but I know a little bit off it, and I’m not sure these claims (and similar invocations of standpoint epistemology etc. elsewhere in this thread) would actually be supported by most of the best-developed theories of oppression and epistemic injustice.Report
The space of such beliefs that would prevent one from being privileged as such is much larger. Presumably we shouldn’t set out to create a forum for the trisectors, flat-earthers, climate deniers, and other conspiracy theorists. Sure, non-trisectors are privileged in that they’re taken more seriously than trisectors, but this isn’t a privilege we ought correct for.
You understand that others have publicly opposed the naive ‘listen and believe’ narrative, no? Elizabeth Barnes counts among them.Report
This is also what I was getting at–looking at what philosophers actually say about things like privilege and epistemic injustice doesn’t support Gray’s conception of the conservative experience, or at least considerable argument is required to show that not having unpopular views is a form of privilege (for example). Being slightly familiar with the literature whose terms you’re using and using those terms properly isn’t a form of privilege, even if people who don’t do it tend to get marginalized and dismissed.Report
Wow, this is brilliant.Report
I too will place my bet that the submissions will be defenses of traditional hierarchies- the same arguments we have all heard already (I remember there was data when I was told girls were just biologically unable to do math as well as boys). It is not as if these views aren’t known and it is not as if these arguments have gone away. (I am always surprised when they are updated at all.) Trump is President. Sean Hannity’s radio show is the most popular. Jordan Peterson is selling out theaters, and gets gushing compliments from media and (surprisingly influential) columnists. Pro-market views often result in trade books that sell great. I did not know of one of the author’s mentioned above (Kevin MacDonald) as someone who might get uptake in an anonymous philosophy journal, but I googled and there are pages and pages on his work. So the difference would be that “non-white men are so stupid” views will be put in analytic form. I can imagine this not working out so well for the anonymous “anti- PC” writers for a few reasons. One has to be that it takes a bit more work to make an argument rather than dangle some tantalizing insults about (imagine what Peterson would lose if he determined to just write up his ideas for peer review). The insults have a ready-made fan base and we know how they like their ideas delivered (Fox news, radio, podcasts, trade books). Unlikely that dry analytic philosophy could possibly seem as attractive. And even if the writers are not interested in gaining fans, in the form anti-PC views are already presented (including by Trump), it seems to be in a way that is perfectly suited for dismissing all of academia as irrational and lost which is, I suppose, the really fun part. So I will be curious to see why someone bothers. And very glad to admit I was wrong if the papers published have targets that are not the same old ones we’ve always had.Report
Dr. Chipotle, you predict: “So the difference would be that “non-white men are so stupid” views will be put in analytic form.”
Really. The only sorts of views you can imagine anyone having that are controversial in philosophy today could get people seriously hated and put the rest of your career under threat are views like “Non-white men are so stupid.”
And, having considered the views of people like Peter Singer and Jeff McMahan are likely to have put the journal together so that they can publish papers that argue for that conclusion.
I wish you’d let us know who you are. I have a very large bet I’d like to make with you, if you’re willing.Report
Sorry for the typos. I meant to say, “The only sorts of views you can imagine anyone having that are controversial in philosophy today and could get people seriously hated and threaten their careers are…” and “And, having considered the views of people like Peter Singer and Jeff McMahan, you think they are likely…”
But I really would like to make a wager with you. That’s no typo.Report
If you’re claiming that only someone with such views could have reason to wish to use a pseudonym, then does that mean that your last name really is Chipotle?Report
There are so many reasons to use a pseudonym online, I would never think to criticize anyone for doing that. I’d have had 1% of the useful conversations I have had online without the freedom they give interlocutors.Report
Two possible benefits I haven’t seen others mention (I apologize if someone else already said this!):
1. Much of philosophy is written in dry prose because we’re all trying to cover our asses. I’d like to see what philosophers *really* think when not couched in traditional, boring academic language. I bet some are afraid to write like this because they don’t want to arouse people’s (powerful or otherwise) ire.
2. In my opinion, there’s a big problem with book-reviewing in the philosophy profession. Here’s the deal: a lot of books are written in subfields with about ten people, total, in them. So, the book, written by one of those ten, gets sent out to another member of those ten, each of whom knows each other, and each of whom will see each other over and over in public venues. I fear that there is a lot of game-playing in book reviewing; indeed: conflicts of interest. There are people reviewing each other’s books who are good friends with each other, and that’s not disclosed. There are also people who don’t like each other personally, and that’s not disclosed too. Finally, there may be some norms shared upon by those ten (or those thirty, or those 100) that seem to (and may actually) be patent bullshit to people outside of that field. It could sometimes be nice to have someone come in with fresh eyes.
I think a pseudonymous journal could help with 1. Not sure it would help with 2, but it might.Report
While the Journal might be pointless, what I find really upsetting here is the public reaction of Dailynous: an overt and utter denial of the problem that motivated this experiment. As an early career researcher, I am constantly worried about the consequences of voicing my opinion (be it on social media or in real-life discussion with other academics) and I always end up staying silent. This isn’t because I tend to be inflammatory, nor because my opinions are offensive or lean to the right (quite the contrary!). The problem is that intellectual discussion is more and more a matter of ‘us’ and ‘them’, and early careers are indirectly pressured to mitigate or censor their opinion whenever there is a *risk* of being labelled (fairly or not) as ‘them’. Note that you don’t need to be a white supremacist or even a republican to feel this kind of threat: you just need to hold ANY opinion on a political issue on which there is disagreement also on the left, such as trans rights. In other words, there are several cases in which you should be scared to speak, whether you believe p or not-p.
DailyNous is one of the few spaces where I participate to discussions, and that is because I *can* do it under a pseudonym. Without anonymity, I wouldn’t have posted this, because you never know, people might read it as a defence of more freedom of speech for white-supremacists, or whatnot.
I can see Justin’s point when he stresses that we don’t want to feed right-wing media more reasons to label academics as “illiberal liberals”. But in order to achieve this I think that we should work to improve our environment (just like we do with, say, more pressing problems like workplace discrimination), rather than denying or hiding the problem, as repeatedly suggested by Justin in the comments.Report
I think it’s wise that we separate two sorts of silencing:
1). Silencing our controversial personal views (on social media, at department meetings, in public) because of the fear of receiving backlash from those we presume are in the majority
2) Silencing our academic theories (by not submitting to traditional peer-reviewed journals) because of the fear of having those theories rejected for publication
I don’t have too much of a problem with #1. I think we really should all be much more careful about how we use social media and about the kinds of assumptions we make when we think we can air “controversial” (but decidedly non-academic, non peer-reviewed) positions. In other words, if you’re not speaking as an expert in X, then self-silencing your public (non-academic) speech about X is not the sort of problem that this journal is aiming to solve nor, arguably, is it a problem at all.
I have a much harder time believing that instances of #2 happen. For example, is a trained social and political philosopher, someone who wrote their dissertation defending fascism (for example) going to refuse, out of fear, to publish articles that are critical of democracy? Not if they were able to get a committee from a reputable department to pass on a thesis that does it. Would someone whose research (at least their thesis) interacted critically with contemporary philosophers who write on abortion somehow STOP writing about these critical views once the thesis has been defended successfully purely out of fear that they’ll upset others? Again, I doubt it.
I’ll tell a quick story here that I think illustrates my point. I was once thinking about writing a paper about Body Integrity Identity Disorder and trans-rights arguments. After the Tuvel incident, I decided that such a paper was not worth pursuing. Is this a case of silencing that now merits the creation of a JOURNAL OF CONTROVERSIAL IDEAS? I don’t think it is. The reason I don’t think so is because what I took away from that incident wasn’t that I *couldn’t* write about trans persons (I do not identify as trans) but because to do a GOOD job with such a paper would require me to do a lot more work than I felt I was ready to do – so I abandoned it. The Tuvel incident taught me that I knew a lot less about trans identity than I thought I did and that I better have my ducks in a row (as I should for ANY paper I write) if I wanted to write about it.
I actually think that the paper I was thinking of writing might be exactly the kind of paper that might be good for the JCI and yet, I’m glad I didn’t write it because I don’t trust that journal to do a good job of actually getting the right people to review for it.Report
Thanks for this comment. I think the points it makes—both about the unlikelihood of trained experts on a subject refusing out of fear to publish an academic article on it, and about how writing a well-researched and well-argued academic article on a controversial topic is likely to be more formidable a task than one might first imagine when the idea of it pops into one’s head—are both useful to keep in mind when assessing the degree to which academics are deterred by controversy.Report
While I agree that most of us would do well to shut our mouths when it comes to issues on which we are not an expert, it’s not clear to me that it’s a good thing if that norm of shutting up falls primarily on people with unusual or controversial opinions. Assume for the moment that the academy was still majority Christian. Would it be a good thing that non-Christians—out of fear of social and professional repercussions—felt they couldn’t be forthright about their non-expert views on e.g. theism? I can’t imagine that it would be. More academics should show intellectual humility, but “minority views shut up” doesn’t really strike me as a good manifestation of that humility.
Not every paper I’ve written came, even indirectly, out of my dissertation. I have multiple projects which have very little to do with anything I have “officially” done in grad school. So I’m not sure why (2) is going to be the only other relevant kind of silencing.
Fortunately, none of my side projects are in a controversial area like those mentioned in the comments, but part of the reason I would not even bother doing research on those controversial subjects is precisely the burn-the-witch reaction that pieces like Tuvel’s got. Trying to publish good work is challenging enough without having to worry that dozens of your colleagues will sign mendacious letters denouncing you and encouraging the public to join in the harassment.Report
Yes, this hand-waving about expertise in very specific, fine-grained subdisciplines doesn’t seem sensible to me. First, there’s no guarantee that the subdiscipline has gotten things right; in fact, it’s quite common for philosophers to launch very insightful attacks at whole subdisciplines and their animating assumptions, in a way that is characteristic of philosophy such that philosophy would not be the same without it. Second, different subdisciplines, and even different disciplines entirely (take biology, psychology, and sociology, for instance!), deal with the same questions, but in different ways, and since there are “experts” on both sides expertise obviously cannot explain this phenomenon. Third, fetishizing subdisciplinary boundaries to this degree represents a bureaucratic approach that I think is simply out of place in a genuinely intellectual humanities field.
I also think “gee, it turns out I didn’t know much about topic X because of this blowback incident, and so I decided not to write about topic X, but the blowback itself had no direct causal force in this” is pretty difficult to believe on its face.Report
The argument about #2, which Justin quotes as “particularly good,” is bizarre. If there’s silencing it’s presumably not going to operate only after people have written their PhD dissertations, so it only affects whether they submit material from their dissertations to journals. It will also affect their choice of dissertation topic, e.g. they won’t write a dissertation defending fascism (a straw-man example, but whatever) because they know it will be harder to publish material from, will be harder to get hired with, will attract abuse on the internet, etc. It’s not as if silencing, when it’s real, operates only on after the PhD. It’s often pre-PhD people who feel it most.
A similar point holds about the proposed journal. I have no idea whether it will have much or any effect, but one possible effect is this: because certain ideas have appeared in print, in a journal with a serious refereeing process, it becomes harder for people in informal fora like this one to just reject them as racist, reactionary, or whatever. A journal’s effects too need not be confined to its own narrow sphere.
Finally: Justin repeatedly asks for evidence (hard evidence!) of silencing and then links, apparently approvingly, to a Facebook comment by A. Pleskach confidently predicting *before any article has appeared in the journal or been submitted or even written* that within 3 issues it will be an archive of racial IQ research. So on the one side there’s a demand for evidence; on the other there’s approval of, and linking to, entirely evidence-free speculation. I would have thought Pleskach’s comment, and others like it in this thread, are themselves evidence of what Singer, McMahan, and Minerva are worried about.Report
CG: “I’ll tell a quick story here that I think illustrates my point. I was once thinking about writing a paper about Body Integrity Identity Disorder and trans-rights arguments. After the Tuvel incident, I decided that such a paper was not worth pursuing… what I took away from that incident wasn’t that I *couldn’t* write about trans persons (I do not identify as trans) but because to do a GOOD job with such a paper would require me to do a lot more work than I felt I was ready to do – so I abandoned it. The Tuvel incident taught me that I knew a lot less about trans identity than I thought…”
In giving this self-description I do hope Caligula’s Goat has borne in mind one of the principal findings of modern psychology, namely, that people are quite unreliable when it comes to understanding their own motivating reasons. I don’t know who they are, so I can’t say, but if I heard this from someone I knew I would (gently) suggest: “This sounds like it could be a post-hoc rationalization of a basic fear-and-avoidance emotional strategy. You’ve repeatedly witnessed non-trans philosophers who write about gender being pilloried and accused of various -isms and -phobias. You’re probably very averse to this happening to you, but since no-one likes to admit that they’ve been cowed, perhaps you’re telling yourself a story about your own scholarly ignorance to explain why you dropped the paper.” As a purely statistical matter, this is going to be true of a WHOLE lot of people like CG. So let’s not simply take these self-descriptions at face value, especially when they fly in the face of various truisms about human psychology (i.e. people fear public shame, ridicule or moral criticism, tenuously employed academics even more so).Report
You know, Avalonian, people are even worse at understanding the motivations and reasons of others and yet this new journal exists because of a massive series of inferences about the motivations and reasons of reviewers who reject articles. WEIRD right?Report
Totally legitimate question. So then the question is of the interpretive evidence we all have. YOUR evidence for YOUR interpretive claim is: “I’ve introspected and found that my reasons were scholarly ignorance.” Our evidence for our interpretive claim is: the mountain of responses provided by philosophers to people like Tuvel and Stock (and, I might add, Bettcher, Yancy and Case… etc.) ,responses which use words that express anger, disgust or moral outrage in the English language. Even if I’m wrong about the motives and emotional states of 50% of those responses, there is still solid reason to worry.
I also don’t know how this conversation has been derailed away from a central point: people aren’t just afraid *to be rejected*. They’re afraid *to get papers accepted*. How are people missing this? It’s extremely obvious. There is zero chance that I’m going to my tenure committee or a job interview having published a paper on how sometimes the oppressed lack good insight into the nature of their own oppression, or a paper on how violence against white people might be necessary to end Black oppression. That’s just not happening, no matter how many tenured people tell me to “be brave”.Report
Hopefully this won’t end up being more fuel for the Quillette conspiracy theorists and others who believe ‘cultural marxists/postmodernists are taking over the world.’Report
Hopefully, entire subfields of what has now been accepted as legitimate philosophy won’t end up promoting nutjob conspiracy theories like The Patriarchy, Rape Culture, and the endless, uncritical promotion of debunked pseudoscience about implicit bias.
Calling ‘The Patriarchy’ and ‘Rape Culture’ ‘nutjob conspiracy’ theories is a strong claim, one which you no doubt have strong reasons and evidence in support of, so I’ll ask, why In your expert opinion (I assume you are an expert on these topics given the boldness of your claim. After all, noone would make claims about matters which they are unlearned) do you think ‘The Patriarchy’ and ‘Rape Culture’ are ‘nutjob conspiracy’ theories? Could you provide a non -question-begging answer to the question of where the literature on these topics goes so wrong as to relegate it all to the label of ‘nutjob conspiracy’?Report
Justin suggests that the existence of such a journal will be a net negative because: (1) the problem it attempts to address is not a genuine one and (2) its existence will be used by right-wing media to further an ‘illiberal liberalism’ narrative.
Most commentators have focused on (1). I share many of their concerns, however, I want to challenge (2). McMahan says that the journal will publish ideas that would get the author in trouble with either the left or the right. There are many ideas I can think of that academics (especially junior, untenured, or otherwise vulnerable) might be reluctant to publish because they could provoke the ire of the right-wing. Here are some examples:
– Challenging the virtue of military personal because of their commitment to engage in combat on command without first personally assessing whether the cause is just. Suggesting that in most cases military service should earn one disrespect rather than respect.
– Arguing that certain conservative opinions are best explained by low-intelligence, racism, misogyny, etc.
– Arguing that all religious instruction and schooling of children violates their autonomy and should be banned.
– Arguing for epistocracy and pointing out that this would make it harder for conservatives to win elections.
– Arguing gender is a prison that we need to escape (this one is hated by both the left and the right).
– Arguing that many elections are illegitimate because of anti-democratic gerrymandering and voter suppression. Advocating a popular democratic revolution that rejects the political and moral authority of anyone elected in such circumstances.
– Criticizing the national culture as debased, superficial, and inferior to other cultures.
– Arguing that because of a strong correlation between sociopathy and political/corporate leadership, there should be compulsory testing for sociopathy of all political/corporate leaders.
If several articles defending these views were published in the proposed journal then right-wing media could not say with any kind of intellectual honesty that the existence of the journal shows that there is a special problem with left-wing intolerance. They would have to either admit that it was a problem with both the left and the right, argue that there is no problem at all and that the anonymous authors are just being oversensitive, or ignore the journal altogether. Of course, they could be intellectually dishonest, saying on the one hand that when views unpopular with the left are published anonymously it shows a problem with left-wing intolerance and when views unpopular with the right are published anonymously (such as those above) it either shows that the authors are oversensitive and not willing to face fair public criticism, or that they have unacceptably radical and immoral views that have no place in any public debate.
Now, maybe they are most likely to react in the intellectually dishonest way. But if this is how we are thinking of things then Justin’s concern no longer seems serious to me. Yes, the right-wing media will twist the existence of this journal to fit their narrative. But only in the hyper-partisan way that they will twist pretty much everything to fit their narrative. This kind of partisanship doesn’t make any significant difference to society because it only preaches to the converted. People in the middle who have not fully made up their mind on this issue are not going to be convinced by such intellectual dishonesty that there is a special problem with intolerance on the left.
Finally, even if you could make the case that some hyper-partisan, intellectually dishonest spin will have significant negative effects, it is not clear that the threat of this spin is a good countervailing reason against acting, as this opens one up to a kind of moral blackmail. Once a partisan sees that her opponent refrains from certain actions in order to avoid the unfair partisan spin that would result, she is emboldened and her spinning becomes more tenuous and pernicious.Report
“right-wing media could not say with any kind of intellectual honesty…”
But as well all know, this is no barrier to such things being said on right-wing media in this country because – however a high opinion we may have of our conservative colleagues in academia – we all know the right-wing media has no interest in maintain intellectual honesty. To see this one need only notice that our current President frequently engages in version of “Criticizing the national culture as debased, superficial, and inferior to other cultures” without coming under serious fire from such media.Report
Right, this is the premise of the paragraph that follows what you have quoted.Report
This could go a couple different ways:
1. A bunch of old white guys pissing into the wind about ‘SJWs’ in print. Poorly argued attacks on standpoint epistemology, feminist philosophy, trans-rights, etc.
2. The editors, realizing that they’re risking printing bad work, uphold a high editorial standard for rigour, and we get a couple papers that go “Abortion -> Infanticide, Abortion, therefore Infanticide” (Singer-style) (or maybe “Abortion -> Infanticide, Not Infanticide, therefore not Abortion”) and “Democracy -> Bad Things, Not bad things, therefore not Democracy” (Brennan-style), all published without pseudonym since of course these are cliche-controversial although controversial still, and none of the ‘anti-SJW’ BS gets through.
If the former occurs, it will embolden a lot of annoying people I think, and will give the impression that it is okay to have poorly-thought-out opinions if the topic is feminist philosophy. If the latter occurs, the right-wing gets a talking point, and we get a few articles that could have just as easily been published in a mainstream journal, considering some of the strange things I read from mainstream journals.
Maybe there’s some ‘happy medium’ where we get high quality conservative scholarship. If so, I expect it might be mildly beneficial for conservative scholarship, and strongly detrimental to academia as a whole given that it will be used by talking heads to say that academia is unfriendly to conservatism.
The comments if anything seem to indicate that philosophy has not gone off a leftist deep end, reaffirming my belief that it is actually relatively right-wing for a humanities discipline.Report
Wow, I wonder how anyone could ever have gotten the impression that feminist philosophy is a good place for opinions that are not well-thought-out. Has there been a recent hoax that took in a prominent feminist philosophy journal that one year ago was embroiled in a scandal where prominent feminists accused it of publishing an article that was not well-thought-out, in ways that everyone else agreed were not well-thought-out? I feel like I would have heard about such a thing.Report
I think the point is it’s not okay to express poorly-thought-out opinions *about* feminist philosophy. But of course you knew that.Report
I did not know that and do not think that’s the idea. My charitable assumption is that the problem with “poorly-thought-out ideas about feminist philosophy” is precisely that they’re poorly-thought-out, not that they’re about feminist philosophy, and that this opposition stems from a general opposition to poorly-thought-out ideas and not from some special status feminist philosophy has. But, by all means, if feminist philosophy requires special protections from poorly-thought-out ideas that are required neither within feminist philosophy nor for other subdisciplines, I think you should make that fact as well-known as you can.Report
The second line of William’s comment includes: “Poorly argued attacks on standpoint epistemology, feminist philosophy, trans-rights, etc.” That’s the first possible outcome according to William. Later he goes on to write, “If [this] occurs, it will embolden a lot of annoying people I think, and will give the impression that it is okay to have poorly-thought-out opinions if the topic is feminist philosophy.”
Don’t you think it’s reasonable to interpret William as saying that the Journal of Controversial Ideas could make it look okay to express poorly-thought ideas about feminist philosophy, among other things? The problem, as you write, is of course that they’re poorly-thought-out, not that they’re about feminist philosophy. Feminist philosophy is just one example William took of a probable target of “controversial ideas”. That’s the idea. You then chose to focus on feminist philosophy, implying either that it was a place for poorly-thought-out ideas or that it caused and deserved poorly-thought-out ideas about itself.
Let me know if I’m missing something, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to presume that a bunch of anti-feminist papers are going to be submitted. William suggests, as is reasonable, that the journal will not let bad work get through the cracks and so the focus may end up elsewhere. But the bad work at stake here is not feminist philosophy.Report
I don’t understand. Why would there be a higher standard for attacks on a subdiscipline than for work inside that subdiscipline? If what people are opposed to is *low-quality work*, then you don’t seem to be disputing that there are many, many potential targets they could go after. But of course – as your last sentence makes clear – many people seem to be opposed not to low-quality work but to work of a certain type: the nasty, ugly ideas characterized by William above. It’s that nastiness and ugliness that, in your words, is “at stake here”. Well, that’s precisely why the Journal of Controversial Ideas is perceived to be needed: because people cannot broach these ideas, with the same level of rigor exhibited by the ideas they’re arguing against, without garnering this sort of reaction.Report
Nobody’s called for higher double standards. You were zeroing in on feminist philosophy as a place for low quality work. But you can’t simply assume that or infer it from the alleged hoax. And even if that were the case, would it make it acceptable to publish low quality work against it? Of course not. Finally, no, this is not what my last sentence says. William suggested the journal may simply, initially at least, attract bad work. I’m not sure about what exactly we’re disagreeing here; I just don’t think your sweeping comment on feminist philosophy was called for or even relevant to the conversation. What you can’t deny is that there seems to be a strong urge among people claiming to have ‘controversial ideas’ to argue against feminist philosophy.Report
Yes. It’s controversial to argue against feminist philosophy. And at the same time, it isn’t controversial to argue against, say, metaphysics, ethics, the idea of meaning, the idea of truth, etc. Thank you for making this point, which is, by the way, precisely the reason the Journal of Controversial Ideas seems attractive to people. You’re right – we aren’t in disagreement. Enjoy your afternoon!Report
All good. You too! Looking forward to reading your pseudonymous work in JCI without knowing it’s yours 😉Report
All of my most controversial views are already very easy to find, unfortunately!Report
People who submit to this journal better be damned ashamed of themselves if they ever called anybody a “snowflake”.Report
At the very least, we’ll have somewhere to thrash out that old ethics of pineapple on pizza chestnut.Report
1) I don’t think there is cause to worry that this journal will cause political damage. The right-of-center attacks on academia for bias and suppressing ideas rely on (i) a critical mass of academics who are prepared to go on record as saying academia has a problem of bias and suppressing ideas, and (ii) a continued trickle of clear violations of academic freedom by adminstrators, students or faculty. You can reasonably (though in my view wrongly) think that the academics in (i) are wrong, and/or that (ii) is just a collection of isolated examples. But you’re only going to stop people complaining publicly if you persuade them that bias and idea-suppression in academia isn’t actually a problem. They already know the right weaponizes their complaints; they’ve already made the decision that it’s an acceptable price to pay for taking the issue seriously.
2) ‘Caligula’s goat’ and others argue that it is easier to get controversial articles accepted in peer-reviewed journals than to get away with saying them casually in non-peer-reviewed spaces. I agree. But I don’t think it captures the whole of the dynamic. (Even leaving aside the question of journal capture, which I don’t feel confident enough to comment on.) In any subfield of philosophy there is a certain sense of what ideas are mainstream and what aren’t, and publishing non-mainstream ideas has a higher bar. (For a totally non-political example: it was much harder to publish work on the Many-Worlds Interpretation 15 years ago than it is now, because there is now much less obligation to establish the reasonableness of your basic starting point.) That’s not necessarily a bad thing, even if it can often go overboard. But shifting the basic framework of what’s mainstream is way harder when (i) missteps lead to public dogpiling and moral objections, not just article rejection and critical responses; (ii) informal conversations about the subject’s foundations are moralised. I think the Tuvel affair and the recent controversy around Kathleen Stock’s writing demonstrates that fairly strongly.
3) I’m in favor of this proposal in the minimal senses that I think (a) the political consequences are overblown; (b) the problem it seeks to address is real; (c) experimentation is good. But I’m skeptical that it will really make much difference, because academia is much too socially structured. Ideas published in a vacuum, without the signal-boosting that comes from networking, giving talks and connecting to the author’s other work, aren’t likely to have much impact unless the ideas are truly stunning, and junior academics (those least able to risk opprobrium) need to have publications on their CV on a fast timescale, and need to build their reputation.Report
The main reason controversial work doesn’t get published is because it gets blocked by peer reviewers, not because people aren’t willing to submit it to traditional journals. Hopefully the review process at the Journal of Controversial Ideas will make it possible for papers defending genuinely unpopular views to get a fair shake (and not just papers defending extreme liberal views about after-birth abortion).Report
Nathan, thank you for the work you’ve done on Kevin B. MacDonald’s group evolutionary strategyReport
I’d like to see some evidence of this Nathan. Gut reactions won’t cut it. Anecdotes won’t cut it.Report
“Anecdotes won’t cut it.” Then what “evidence” would you accept? All I can say is that I sometimes write on controversial topics, and I know other philosophers who do so as well. I can see for myself that controversial work is treated very differently in peer review.Report
Anecdotes won’t cut it because anecdotes prove everything. There are anecdotes for every occasion. Your claim was so general that, as a philosopher, I would hope that you had better evidence on offer than “me and my self-selecting friends online all believe that it’s true.”Report
Seems like classic confirmation bias to me. As a philosopher, I would expect us to do better in terms of matching evidence to claim types. A general claim like “The main reason controversial work doesn’t get published is because it gets blocked by peer reviewers” is crazy strong. So strong that I think you know you’ll need some good evidence to support it.
Your guts are terrible evidence because your guts don’t track truth very well. Anecdotes are terrible evidence because anecdotes can prove anything (everyone has an anecdote for x and for ~x). For a claim like yours, anecdotes won’t cut it, and you know better than that Nathan.Report
You didn’t answer my question: “What evidence would you accept?”
You say that “everyone has an anecdote for x and for ~x.” I don’t believe that’s correct in this case. Who has an anecdote about peer reviewers objecting to a paper just because the conclusion was politically correct? No one.Report
I think we can easily find anecdotes of people who have received reports saying the paper was not original, bold, provocative, or controversial enough. Certainly more than zero.Report
Oh good! I’ve a couple of rather controversial ideas about the set-theoretic universe and the size of the set of the real numbers.Report
FWIW, Breitbart already has a story up about the journal. That didn’t take long.
Probably the most inoffensive and accurate Breitbart article I’ve ever read. It even includes some criticism of the journal. If this is what folks are going to point to as evidence that this journal will cause some sort of harm, or that the right wing will latch onto it to advance some sort of “narrative” or whatever (a true one, of course, but apparently that’s not the point), then, well, that’s pretty weak sauce.Report
I’m sorry to go all Harry Frankfurt here** but the whole “publishing dangerous ideas” concern is fundamentally mockable ivory-tower self-referential hubristic bullshit.
Nobody here can possibly stand up and say “I have the ability to predict that the publication of an article espousing a viewpoint is going to have ____ material consequence.” Nobody. Hell, we don’t even do very successful predictions for laws and policies, which are designed to have immediate and material effects, and you want to bleat about dangerous opinions?
No. That is ludicrous. The fact that activists will picket your office screaming about the risks of your speech does not, in fact, mean that there ARE risks of your speech. “If you don’t stifle this viewpoint, someone may DIE” is not an argument: it requires, among other things, that the viewpoint isn’t out there already; that it won’t get out there anyway, absent you; that people will believe you; that they’ll do things they wouldn’t otherwise do; that your view won’t spur superior counter-arguments which raise a net positive effect, and so on.
Did all of you forget our history, in which everyone was often trying to stifle the many “dangerous” ideas which we now think are actually not dangerous at all, while espousing the “non-dangerous” ideas which we now view as terribly problematic? Does the hubris also extend to you thinking that you have special skills unlike every human in history, to accurately predict future events?
Watch, I’ll show you how it works:
“If this sort of thing is not promoted, and anonymous opinions are stifled, this will unduly effect freedom of speech and communication. Those have been, and remain, the main ways for people to gain additional freedoms from themselves and from despotic governments. The progressive arguments against this are making things more likely that we will enter a realm of oppression like the world has never seen, which means that PEOPLE MAY DIE!!!!!“
Making things up! It’s fun!
But then how can we predict that some ideas are too controversial to be published under one’s own name?Report
The ideas are not themselves controversial, the term merely reflects that they are viewed as controversial by a substantial segment of society. We want to hear both sides of the Federalist Papers, not just the side which appears to be currently socially acceptable.
There is nothing inherently conservative or liberal here, it’s just an artifact of context. The main culture in academia is liberal so of course the counterculture is not. At different times the controversy would have been aimed at those who supported communism, or Japanese rights, or pacifism.Report
I have some questions about how this would work.
1. Can authors submit things using multiple identities? If so, can they publish shedloads of responses to their own work? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could respond to some single author’s multiple works? I think it would be, but then there would need to be some way of tracking the identities of authors across time and I’m curious to know whether there’s an easy way to make this work (e.g., will the shy Nazis be happy to let Singer et al know and track their identities?);
2. Often p’s being controversial means that ~p is not controversial. Will pieces that defend ~p in response to the p-favoring arguments be rejected for being insufficiently controversial? Do the arguments for ~p require the prior publication of a case for p? I think it would be a shame that some good arguments might be rejected for being insufficiently controversial in the way that might merit the use of a pseudonym.Report
I’m assuming the editors know the authors’ identities, but they haven’t been clear on this yet.Report
Good questions above. I would also like to know if the public is going to get to respond to these pieces. So often “controversial” views are really protected, in various ways, from public response. I remember seeing a philosopher argue that he had used no bias but only logic in suggesting “poor black women” not vote– and it was not until the author got on twitter that I saw anything critical from Black women about this “controversial” view. I do not remember any doxxing or abuse. As I recall the author was being asked for explanations (and a bit of disbelief that this was really a view). Instead of giving explanations he immediately left twitter. This is a way of hiding from controversy, which might be what authors want or need. But if these essays are anonymous, I would hope one benefit could be that we could actually hear back from others, allow ourselves to see what non-philosophers think, like we were starting to in this case.Report
Why think readers wouldn’t be able to respond to the pieces? I’ve seen this line of suspicion elsewhere, but nothing in the announcement suggests why anyone thinks this won’t be permitted.Report
Respond to them how? The idea is that a commitment to controversial ideas is incompatible with taking all of the usual efforts to keep the public from being able to respond directly. Tyler Cowen has the same worry–“with open comments you have to wonder whether a prestige publisher will take on the associated libel and reputational risks, and how high status the journal actually will be. It would not be practical to referee the comments, but that may mean the truly open internet, with its free-for-all atmosphere, will remain the dominant source for controversial ideas. “Controversial for me but not for thee” hardly seems like a winning slogan for such a revisionist enterprise.” https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2018/11/need-journal-controversial-ideas.htmlReport
Hi, Professor Chipotle. McMahan, Minerva and Singer reply to some related speculative concerns here.
Here’s why you might want a pseudonymous journal *not* under the banner of “controversial ideas.” A resident of China might want to publish a critique of Marxism or a defense of some Christian dogma. It seems to me that neither paper would be a good fit for the “Journal of Controversial Ideas,” as neither paper is controversial by western standards. But providing a platform for people living in difficult political regimes to publish pseudonymously would still serve the two functions of the journal that are (arguably) the noblest: (1) protecting vulnerable authors from professional blowback (or worse), and (2) separating the arguments from the social identity of the author.Report
Presumably this new journal will feature articles that argue positions repugnant to the right. It is therefore noteworthy that the opposition seems to be coming entirely from the left. I think this just reflects the fact that they are in power in the academy. I don’t doubt if the boot were on the other foot, you’d see the resistance coming from the right. It’s worth emphasizing, however, because it is the left that constantly insists that they are on the side of the underdog, of the powerless. Not when it comes to challenges to their own power.Report
Hi Spencer – I like where you’re coming from. But I’m not sure the left vs. right dichotomy is carving close enough to the social joint anymore. It’s probably there in the species in some form or another, but in the U.S. and parts of Europe the relevant divide today seems to be between urban globalism and non-urban nationalism. That’s not surprising. Given the way cities accumulate intellectual and industrial capital, together with shifting population rates and the incentive structures we face, it’s to be expected that we separate ourselves into globalist urban enclaves and those seeking regional livelihoods outside the influence of urbanization. Nevertheless, I suspect you’re right. There are jackboot tendencies that would not be felt if the shoe were on the other foot.
Civic nationalism seems one way of seeking reintegration, at least in the United States. But that would take a concerted effort on our part to figure out just what we want it to mean to be an American today. It would also require us to rethink the role we’d like to have in globalization, and we aren’t anywhere near having that conversation right now. We would probably also need another great awakening. Here’s hoping.Report
Yeah I think we’re on the same page. The left-right distinction isn’t really important here. I think probably *any* dominant political group can be expected to take steps to curtail dissent eventually.Report
I find it fascinating how different the comments and likes on this thread are compared to the Facebook thread. It would be deliciously ironic if this was *because* this thread allows anonymity.Report
If that’s even a reasonable possibility, then it’s a good argument in favor of having at least one journal that allows for anonymous publication. Let a hundred flowers blossom, to quote one of my least favorite people in history.Report
I suspect there are many explanations that, at this point, we should accept as viable. Still, I think some are better than others and I’m not convinced that anonymity (or pseudonymity) explains why comments and on facebook differ.
I’m not on facebook, but my guess is that one explanation for the difference in what you see here and what you see there is that on facebook people can curate their friendgroup and speak in the comfort of their intellectual bubbles. Here they’d have to speak in the open, or take refuge in anonymity/pseudonymity. When allowed to do so, it turns out things aren’t what they seem when you’re inside the bubble.
So to the extent that anonymity is an explanation of differences in the comment structure here and on facebook, I suspect it’s the indirect result of the ability of the facebook crowd to cocoon itself inside a safe space there where open debate isn’t at issue, and their inability to do so here.
Prove me wrong!Report
How likely is it that a paper arguing for an offensive or socially unacceptable conclusion (e.g., a defense of anti-natalism or the permissibility of infanticide or the intrinsic goodness of martial prowess or that the life of a scientist is intrinsically more valuable than that of a janitor) will be rejected on that basis alone, regardless of the quality of its argument? Given my experience with ethicists my suspicion is that the probability is rather high. If one is rationally permitted to tollens any ethical conclusion one doesn’t like without argument then ethics is quite obviously not a valid form of intellectual inquiry and thus there should not be *any* journals devoted to it. Those who oppose the journal should be careful lest they commit themselves to this conclusion.Report
A longer interview with McMahan regarding the journal