Should there be an academic boycott of Russia, and if so, who or what would be boycotted?


Some Ukrainian researchers have called for an end to academic cooperation with Russian researchers and for them to be banned from journals and grant funding during Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Is this something the academic world should consider doing?

In an open letter, the Ukraine Young Scientists Council says, among other things:

The Russian academic community in the present circumstances actively assists the Russian regime in injecting a new arms race and the global promotion of Russia’s official imperial policy. In addition to sanctions against the aggressor state, it is significant to end all scientific and academic cooperation with Russian scientists (from grant funding to publication in international journals).

According to Holly Else in Nature:

Ukrainian scientists have issued the strongest calls for banning Russian researchers from journals. “Russian scientists have no moral right to retransmit any messages to the world scientific community,” says Olesia Vashchuk, the head of Ukraine’s Young Scientists Council at the Ministry of Education and Science, in two letters dated 1 March. The letters, to publisher Elsevier and citation database Clarivate, call for Russian journals to be removed from databases and for Russian scientists to be taken off journal editorial boards.

Few journals, according to Nature and Science, have banned submissions from Russian researchers (if you know of any philosophy journals that have done so, please mention that in the comments).

In an editorial, Nature expresses opposition to such a boycott:

Some scientists are calling for a comprehensive and worldwide boycott of all Russian research, and for scientific journals to refuse to consider papers by researchers from Russia. Given the horror of what is happening in Ukraine, such calls are understandable. But Nature, in common with many other journals, will continue to consider manuscripts from researchers anywhere in the world. That is because we think at this time that such a boycott would do more harm than good. It would divide the global research community and restrict the exchange of scholarly knowledge — both of which have the potential to damage the health and well-being of humanity and the planet. The world must keep generating the knowledge needed to deal with this and other crises. The ability to communicate research and scholarship freely across national borders has been foundational to science and international relations — and has endured during some of the world’s worst historical conflicts.

Jeffrey Brainard at Science notes:

Even if many journals were to embrace a boycott, the effect on the global number of scientific articles would still be small. Russian authors contributed to about 82,000 published articles in 2018, only about 3% of the global total and second lowest among 15 large countries… And peer attention to Russian papers has lagged. In 2019, the rate of citations to them was the lowest among papers from 10 large countries, STM reported. One reason is that many scientists publish in Russian-language journals, says Michael Gordin, a historian at Princeton University who has studied Russian science. The low citations also result from a dearth of international collaborations that include Russian scientists—which in part stems from U.S. limits on visas for them to visit, he says.

Readers are welcome to share their thoughts on how, if at all, the Russian attack on Ukraine should affect our interactions with, and the opportunities afforded to, Russian academics, as well as information about boycotts or other policies put into place.

In my view, types of boycotts like the ones floated here, in which one party pressures a “guilty” second party by harming an “innocent” third party (here, the international research community putting pressure on Putin to stop the attack by limiting the opportunities of Russian researchers), face significant justificatory burdens.

One of those burdens is to show that there is a reasonable expectation that the boycott would in fact help with the achievement of its aim. In this case, the question is whether there is a reasonable expectation that a boycott of Russian researchers from international publishing venues, funding sources, conferences, and other forms of cooperation would actually help, alongside a variety of other activities, to bring about an end to the Russian attack. I’m skeptical that such a boycott and its near downstream effects would have any efficacy in that regard.

“No one told him?” “Nope” “So what you’re saying is that what ended the invasion and possibly saved the planet from World War III is... overpublication in philosophy?”

(How the world was saved by. . .  overpublication in philosophy?)

The Steering Committee of the European Philosophy of Science Association (EPSA) issued a statement in support of both “the suffering people of Ukraine and their families and friends all over Europe and elsewhere” and their “Russian colleagues who oppose the war, often at great personal risk.” The statement implies that the organization will not be boycotting any scholars from Russia: “EPSA is currently working towards extending its Fellowship program to include researchers at any level of seniority who have been affected by the war.” According to one person affiliated with EPSA, the various relevant considerations are “difficult to navigate. We need political philosophers on the case!”

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Beau Madison Mount
2 months ago

This proposal is profoundly, and depressingly, illiberal.

In the Cold War, anyone who suggested that Soviet researchers should be banned from publishing in the West simply on the grounds of their government’s crimes would have been seen by the academic community, correctly, as an ideological fanatic.

In addition, things like the role of the Pugwash Conferences in both reducing nuclear tensions and in inspiring dissidents within the Soviet Union should cause us to be suspicious of claims that this sort of ostracism even has the first-order political effects that its proponents adduce as justification.

(For the record, participating in state-promoted Russian conferences is a completely different matter, and I think, for instance, that the International Mathematical Union’s decision to move the St Petersburg ICM was morally required.)Report

Joe Roussos
2 months ago

As a South African I think there’s something curious about Americans and Europeans who simultaneously pat themselves on the back for helping to end apartheid by participating in sanctions (which included cultural and academic boycotts) and who now say it is a great injustice, or Russophobic, to countenance a boycott of Russian academia.
Was it impermissible and bigoted to refuse to engage with white South African academics and universities in the 80s? Or is there something different about the structural role that people took academia to play in apartheid that is not replicated in modern Russia?
Worth noting is that many South Africans who opposed apartheid supported these boycotts, even where they themselves were harmed.Report

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Reply to  Joe Roussos
2 months ago

I wanted to make the same point, as another South African who remembers sanctions well.

Moreover, the direct purpose of an academic boycott is not to force Russia to end the war obviously. The direct purpose is to help define and calibrate the appropriate severity of international sanctions across the broadest possible range of social, economic, legal, and political domains, contexts, and modalities. In essence, it is to participate in a coherent, comprehensive, and uncompromising repudiation of an act of fascist aggression against a democratic state. If not academia, then why sport? And if not sport, then why trade? And if not trade, then why bother with anything? No one thing will succeed, so nothing should be done?

Ukrainians are resisting this crime against humanity with everything they’ve got—in some cases, armed with nothing but anger, courage, and solidarity. There is very little that outside academics can do to change the situation in Ukraine. But one thing we can do is actually get our fucking moral calibrations right before invoking the sanctity of liberal academic values as a convenient fig leaf for yet another perversity, futility, jeopardy excuse.Report

Beau Madison Mount
Reply to  Joe Roussos
2 months ago

During the South African boycott, were articles refused publication in journals solely because of the author’s nationality or institutional affiliation? I wasn’t aware of that, and I could not in good conscience support it.

(I should say I favour the blanket rule that non-article-related factors should not be considered in journal publication: if an article gets accepted on anonymous review, and you discover that the author is Ted Kaczynski, you should not hesitate to publish anyway. It’s just irrelevant.)

As I said, I think engaging with institutions is very different, and I certainly would have opposed attending conferences in South Africa or engaging in institutional collaboration with South African universities under apartheid.Report

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Reply to  Beau Madison Mount
2 months ago

The academic boycott of apartheid South Africa was not a single thing, uniformly accepted and applied everywhere. It grew, it developed, and was at all times a site of contestation. In some cases, there was a ban on accepting publications from academics at South African universities–e.g., Denmark imposed a publications boycott. In other cases, journals would accept submissions from South Africans without qualification.

No one is proposing banning Russian citizens, as such, from publishing in academic venues. No doubt there are many Russian citizens who oppose the Putin regime at universities around the world. Targeting them would clearly not be a way of targeting the regime itself. Moreover, every incentive should be given to Russian academics to vote with their feet.

But accepting a publication from an academic at a Russian institution (regardless of the person’s citizenship) *is* a way of engaging with that institution. Authoring publications (esp. in international venues) is a very important part of what the institution pays them to do. We should not pretend that collaboration with the institution only occurs at the moment a conference is held in Sochi or St. Petersburg.

It sucks for blameless zoologists at Novosibirsk State that they don’t get to publish somewhere prestigious. But then it also sucks for poor Luka Safronov that he doesn’t get to eat his Big Macs. In both cases, that’s just too bloody bad. There are far more important things at stake.Report

Derek Baker
Reply to  Joe Roussos
2 months ago

As a South African I think there’s something curious about Americans and Europeans who simultaneously pat themselves on the back for helping to end apartheid by participating in sanctions (which included cultural and academic boycotts) and who now say it is a great injustice, or Russophobic, to countenance a boycott of Russian academia.

I’m sure there are *some* academics whom this applies to, but the academic boycott of South Africa lasted from 1960 to 1990 (according to Wikipedia–I had to look it up). So it was over when I was still a child, and I am not young. Probably most of the the people debating the academic boycott of Russia now had little to nothing to do with the academic boycott of South Africa.

It’s of course an interesting question whether that boycott was correct or not, but I doubt many of the people engaged in the current discussion are guilty of any hypocrisy or inconsistency.Report

Mark Wilson
Reply to  Joe Roussos
2 months ago

> I think there’s something curious about Americans and Europeans who simultaneously pat themselves on the back for helping to end apartheid by participating in sanctions (which included cultural and academic boycotts) and who now say it is a great injustice, or Russophobic, to countenance a boycott of Russian academia.

I know approximately zero people who fit this description. Which specific list of people do you have in mind? I assume you can give many examples if you are making the claim above.Report

Dale Miller
Reply to  Joe Roussos
2 months ago

The anti-apartheid boycotts were before my academic career and I don’t have a hot take on a Russian academic boycott, so I don’t fit either part of this. But one relevant difference might be that white South African academics had a say in apartheid—they had a vote—whereas individual Russians effectively have no say.Report

Peter Cheyne
Reply to  Dale Miller
19 days ago

Not sure about this. Was there even an option to vote against apartheid in South Africa, before it was repealed in 1991? I don’t think any anti-apartheid parties could stand for election until the African National Congress won in South Africa’s first multi-ethnic elections, in 1994. Only whites could vote, until apartheid was repealed, but I don’t think there was actually a vote on that.Report

Dahmer Abravanel
Dahmer Abravanel
Reply to  Joe Roussos
2 months ago

I question whether there should have been a South African academic boycott. Why should academics suffer for the wrongs of a regime they live under?Report

Daniel
2 months ago

I find myself in a situation where I would also oppose — to some degree — such a proposition. I am not concerned about justificatory burdens Justin mentioned, or efficiency in conjunction with those; I rather question whether it is our (academia’s) (moral) duty to enact such a ban. I am sure I will be personally biased against that nation — more than I ever was over my eighteen years of growing up in Dnipro — for the duration of my life. However, institutionally — my view is that there is little reason to ban academics from submitting anything that goes through peer review. North Koreans still submit, mind you (just a fun fact, no particular bearing on this case).

I take it there are two kinds of intentions in this case: (i) to limit the connection with the outer world, to exclude, &c. and (ii) to prevent the spread of ideas by russian academics. I am not terribly concerned about either of them. With regard to (i), there is little limitation on access to outer world. I think a ban just doesn’t suit it’s intended purpose even from a consequential standpoint. With regard to (ii), the messages are filtered by peer review; and while I think that particularly close attention needs to be payed to submissions from countries in East Europe in journals that focus on political or moral philosophy, the peer review should take care of transmitting the messages. I am not aware of the volumes of submissions from russian academic by field, but I think a lot of it is math, and not a whole lot of it is Kant’s moral theory. Let them submit math.

With regard to the remark on “no moral right to retransmit the any messages”, I am not quite sure which paradigm advocates so. Anyway, though, making this decision (of what is and what is not their moral right) on behalf of academics that are being banned is a textbook case of taking away their moral agency which — even if they have misused and abused it — is still theirs to abuse. For some of the academics in that horrid country, this is Arendt’s (or Camu’s) case with the banality of evil and no evil intentions per se, and for some of them it’s fear. A no doubt, understandable — but not necessarily (rather, the opposite) morally justified case.

At the same time, was MIT right to break from Skolkovo project? Without a doubt. Would something like NSF in Europe be right to not fund research in russia? Also yes. The resources indeed should be limited that are lent to that part of academia. For all I know, some of those resources can be given to the military (I mean $$$), through taxation or some other implicit way. They’ll surely find a way.

All in all, russia will surely be first to ban their academics from submitting soon enough, not American or European journals. And nobody should submit to (most of) Elsevier anyway because of their draconic open access policy.Report

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Reply to  Daniel
2 months ago

Daniel – I hope that any family or friends of yours in Dnipro and elsewhere are safe.

You mention two purposes of an academic boycott: “I take it there are two kinds of intentions in this case: (i) to limit the connection with the outer world, to exclude, &c. and (ii) to prevent the spread of ideas by Russian academics.”

I think you are correct that neither purpose suffices, at least if the first is interpreted in terms of Russian academics’ access to the outside world. The second purpose is just nuts. But I think you are mistaken about these being the real purposes.

There are, as I see it, two justifications for a comprehensive academic boycott of all Russian academic institutions, inclusive of academics at those institutions. The first focuses on Russia itself. Every method should be employed to make it crystal clear, to the greatest extent possible, that this is not just a perfunctory sanctions regime that Russia can simply ride out until the world’s attention changes. Every slight inconvenience, every slight disappointment, every thorn and briar in their path will contribute to dissatisfaction with and opposition to the Putin regime. [“Oh but it will just make the average Russian citizen more supportive of Putin and hostile to the West!” — every time I hear this I think about the thousands of white South Africans, who would gladly have hanged Mandela in 1989, chanting his name at Ellis Park in 1995 once they got to see the Boks beat the All Blacks.]

The second–and more important–justification focuses on the international community. Every method should be employed to make it crystal clear to *our* politicians, to the greatest extent possible, that this cannot just be a perfunctory sanctions regime that Russia can simply ride out until the world’s attention changes. The primary vulnerability of any sanctions regime is that the political will to impose and maintain it fades very quickly: business as normal resumes under a thin veneer of opposition. An academic boycott provides a way for international academics–me, you, the editor of the journal, Reviewer #2, etc.–to participate in political opposition to the Putin regime and. more importantly, political opposition to appeasement of Russian aggression. This is a small but important part of co-opting ordinary citizens in all walks of civil society life to express as much political pressure as possible. If we are tepid now, our politicians will be indifferent next month. If our politicians are indifferent next month, the world will sleepwalk into an even worse military confrontation. Of all the lessons we should learn from the 1930s, here’s one: it’s never too late to be a premature anti-fascist.

What does Russia have to do to warrant an academic boycott? Nuke Oxford? Invade Poland? Violate the UN Charter? Create a crisis of millions of refugees? Massacre innocent civilians in their thousands? Everyone supposes there is some point when the extension of normal academic courtesies to Russian universities expresses toleration of the regime’s criminal acts, for all the tut-tutting that may go on. We’re now past that point.Report

Daniel
Reply to  SCM
2 months ago

This is rather difficult question, and were I free of any moral paradigms, I would call upon every school to ban teaching of russian language and literature from curriculum, and editors to exclude russians from the pool of potential submitters, &c. (yet where’s the fine line regarding what’s okay to do?). &c, &c. Yet, I cannot in good conscience do so. I think that perhaps the exclusion of the kind you describe in the first justification will be utile (or rather I am vacillant in this regard). I am even not opposed to the idea that the intentions that belie such exclusion is are good. I am rather confident they are. What I am not sure about is how moral such an exclusion would be.

Come to think of it, I am not opposed to individual journals and editorial boards refusing submission from russian academics if they are exercising their own agency, and perhaps some level of unanimity is requisite. I am not sure. The agency is a tricky thing, particularly when a system of journals is involved, and there’s pressure on one another, and reason is lost somewhere along the way.

I only want to mention the potential dissatisfaction you wrote of. I think Valeriya Novodvorskaya put her finger on it (back in 2014 or so, but much before that as well), as did some other dissidents: there is little, perhaps nothing (increasingly so) that can lead to dissatisfaction in that country. Novodvorskaya knew her people much better than I ever will or would, I trust her judgement on that. Zubarevich echoed the same recently I think (a person from an entirely different field, though). This has little bearing on the question of morality I am concerned with, but it does suggest that even utility is at least somewhat questionable (with regard to the first justification you mentioned).

And there’s the approach of let’s do what we can do. It’s an efficient approach, and at some point we will surely be able to find a spot which will force people to revolt. I am not sure when, or how, and what of its morality.

I am sure there’s some consensus on “limit[ing] academic courtesies”, and some of it — within individual agencies — is great and welcome. And so then utile. But exact steps to be taken are less clear. I would be surprised if many would agree to go to a conference in russia. Yes, absolutely. Those are individual decisions (or must be). And so forth. I am all for granularity.Report

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Reply to  Daniel
2 months ago

Banning the teaching of Russian language and literature would be crazy–and absurd given that many Ukrainians like Zelensky are Russian-speaking. What would you do with authors like Gogol? Is he Ukrainian enough, or too Tsarist?

On the question whether the Russian people could ever be sufficiently dissatisfied to effect political change, I think it would be a mistake to be pessimistic at the outset. No doubt there is a significant distance between widespread economic/social/cultural hardship and political results, much more so than in wealthy democratic societies. But no dictator can afford to be deaf to the grumblings of his people, tens of millions of whom have no memory of the Soviet Union or the Cold War. This is especially the case when the dictator has manifestly blundered his way into a national catastrophe. Putin is in a very tenuous position now because the political establishment around him is in an unexpected state of flux and disarray. The image of complete control is slowly coming undone. It’s quite possible that Putin will succeed in re-establishing that image before the end of the year, especially if he can disengage from Ukraine sooner rather than later. But this is clearly the biggest crisis in the Kremlin since 1991.Report

Tony Sandy
Tony Sandy
2 months ago

This war is an attempt to suppress free speech as well as freedom of movement. The only material that should be held back is equal censorship or justification for the war (you started this! You deserve to suffer!).

We must continue to support those who in turn support peaceful progress for all mankind, even in Russia and remember that not all Russians agree with Putin’s stance or naively accept the official stance of Russian government good, Ukraine bad.Report

Daniel
Reply to  Tony Sandy
2 months ago

Should implicit agreement count as agreement? Say, continuing to work in civil service of putin’s regime? Or in a state-owned university? Implicit agreement on the part of professors and administration of the kind described in the letter of resignation of an HSE professor recently posted here at Daily Nous. If these are indeed instances of acceptance or agreement with the regime (which I think they are), then I fear there might be very few left for us to support.Report

Kenneth Silver
Kenneth Silver
Reply to  Daniel
2 months ago

I’m not sure just keeping your job at a state-owned university should constitute agreement with the state’s actions. Many US academics work at state institutions while disagreeing deeply with the state’s politics. Key to the claim of implicit/tacit agreement is going to be just how easily our Russian colleagues could express disagreement by leaving. I know one person did it and was in a position to resign, but with a government that brutally punishing speaking out and an economy in free fall, I’m sure many Russian scholars are not in a position to leave their universities. In any case, given our relatively less dangerous governments and economies, I do not think we have the standing to blame them for not leaving, even if they should.Report

Athos Rache
Athos Rache
Reply to  Daniel
2 months ago

Any russian that uses a broom to clean anything is giving Putin his implicit agreement.
Is that what you are saying?

Did you apologize for your past implicit agreement to your government actions? Should I make a list?
I demand an apology or I’ll refuse to read your thoughts.

Changing the subject, is implicit agreement something real that we can actually see and touch. Can we smell it?Report

Daniel
Reply to  Athos Rache
2 months ago

I am sorry, but I am not sure I entirely understand your comment. In term of brooms, everyone who receives resources from the state, be it a broom (probably a bit too much) or funding for research, seems to be to be giving their implicit agreement.

To answer your second question directly, I have not apologized for my implicit agreement with my government’s actions. But I am not entirely sure what it was that I should be apologizing for. I explicitly disagreed with most of Ukrainian government’s positions in Janukovich period, and I disagreed with separate policies of Poroshenko period, and quite a few of Zelensky period before the war — but I do not think there was anything that I disagreed with that (a) I was aware of and (b) did not voice my concern publicly or contribute to efforts to counter government’s policy to some extent, be that on local level of city or region, or even within national professional communities (of teachers, which I was a member of and which I had access to). If I was aware of something and did not express my disagreement explicitly, it shall be my duty to apologize, and I’ll probably think less of my morality.

Also, come to think of this from the other side, I do not think I voiced any support for my government in quite some time. I tend to be very critical of them, particularly when I was there.

Lastly, I do not think we can smell implicit agreement. I think if we eliminate neutrality as an option — which seems rather reasonable to me in some cases — than we have one of the three: (a) explicit disagreement or (b) implicit agreement, (c) explicit agreement. No implicit disagreement there for those receiving resources from the state.Report

Chris
2 months ago

Boycott Russia!!! Intellects are so self-centered. It’s so simple…Report

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Reply to  Chris
2 months ago

And still don’t get that die Weltgeschichte ist kein Weltseminar.Report

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2 months ago

Filosofska Dumka (Philosophical Thought) is a philosophy journal edited by Anatolii Yermolenko and Serhii Yosypenko in Kyiv. I don’t know if Filosofska Dumka are currently refusing submissions from Russia. I mean, I expect they *probably* are because I bet they’re pretty steamed about the whole invasion thing, amirite?

The more I think about it, the more I realise that they’re probably right there, right now, at their computers, reviewing journal submissions *except* for any and all coming from Russia, thereby trampling on liberal values of free intellectual discourse and restricting the exchange of scholarly knowledge!

I bit they’re getting a bit of a kick out of that!

Don’t they know that academics and politics must be kept separate?

That they’ll just be making Putin even angrier with their Russophobia?

And what about those poor Russian academics who should not be unfairly affected by their government’s actions? Aren’t they the real victims here?

Perhaps someone who knows them should be good enough to contact Profs. Yermolenko and Yosypenko, if they haven’t been inconveniently killed or evacuated, and advise them to be reasonable and continue publishing philosophy as normal. I mean, we’re not over-reacting, so why should they?Report

Jason Brennan
2 months ago
  1. It’s wrong to harm innocent people in order to express your profound disapproval of what other people do, even if those innocent people are the same nationality as the wrongdoers. Collective punishment is ok only in the cases of actual collective action.
  2. It’s also wrong to disassociate from X because X is associated by nationality, race, ethnicity, or co-citizenship with Y, where Y is a wrongdoer.
  3. Banning Russian academics in these ways will have zero effect on stopping the war, so there’s no special “avoidance disaster” justification here either.

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toro toro
toro toro
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 months ago

Your regular reminder that libertarianism is not a moral theory, but an amoral one.Report

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
Reply to  toro toro
2 months ago

You are a genuinely terrible person and a coward.Report

toro toro
toro toro
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 months ago

I am undoubtedly a genuinely terrible person, though it is hard to square your confidence in that with the implied complaint about not knowing who I am.

As for “coward”, I suppose “libertarian is oblivious to professional power structures and own privileged status” isn’t a lot more surprising than “opponent of democracy opposes efforts to defend democracy”.Report

Daniel Weltman
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 months ago

I don’t think anyone reasonable is suggesting a boycott of Russian academics insofar as “Russian” picks out nationality, race, ethnicity, or co-citizenship. The suggestion is a boycott of academics employed at Russian universities.

I might be wrong, because I can only read the translation of the letter written by the Ukraine Young Scientists Council, and that translation ambiguously talks about “Russian” academics. But in the other linked piece, people are clearly talking about a boycott of people employed by Russian universities.Report

Maggie
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 months ago

I mostly agree, but I would go further and say that collective wrongdoing does not automatically yield collective liability to defense or punishment. Sometimes the right thing to do as an individual is to take part in collective wrongdoing.Report

Sam Duncan
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 months ago

Like a lot of stuff libertarians say this seems like a deep statement of grand principle until you think about it a bit and ask how it would apply to the real world. And when one does that one sees that 1-3 are all profoundly silly. 1. It would of course be wrong to deliberately harm innocent Russians just to express disapproval. But the question here is intention. If the intention is not to harm Professor Guyovich just because he’s Russian but instead to do whatever small thing we can to put pressure on the Putin regime even though doing so might deprive Prof Guyovich of a line on his CV, then it’s not obviously wrong. In fact, if one says that we can’t do things to put pressure on nasty regimes to change even though they will result in innocents being harmed then one is required to become a hardcore pacifist. 2. In times of war countries do all sorts of stuff to citizens of other countries. For instance, in World War II both the U.S. and Britain German nationals were treated differently than citizens or nationals of friendly powers. At the very least they were subjected to more scrutiny. This hardly seems absurd to me. In the same way we routinely deny people entry to the U.S. because they are citizens of hostile powers. If an Iranian can’t visit Dollywood because his citizenship then what’s so different about keeping a Russian academic from publishing in Nous? 3. This same thing could be said about any individual action up to and including Ukrainian soldiers shooting Russian soldiers. After all it’s not like one dead conscript will get Putin to suddenly change his mind. Each action individually has such a tiny effect as to have zero effect on stopping the war. Taken together they might. The question here is whether such boycotts have no effect or a tiny one. On this question I’m not sure. But it’s not silly to think they’ve a tiny effect rather than a nonexistent one. Academics have a very privileged place in society things that sway their behavior might have an effect. Moreover even thuggish regimes like Putin’s care about cultural cache. There’s a reason that the Soviets subsidized chess and tolerated dissident directors like Tarkovsky and that the Chinese Communist Party tries to give a Confucian veneer to their rule (and for that matter that libertarians invented a fictional “classical liberal tradition” out of whole cloth). Is there an effect to this and is it enough to justify the costs to Russian academics who may be relatively innocent? (I’m not sure that anyone who takes a position working for dictatorial state is entirely innocent) Those are open questions and will determine whether boycotts or bans are justified, but to think they might be is hardly stupid or bigoted.Report

Jason Brennan
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 months ago

You said what I said was silly, and then said things that demonstrated I’m not silly because it was so badly argued.

First, what these countries did to each other during WW2 and other wars was rather awful and evil.

Second, we should let random Iranians visit Dollywood. It’s rather evil that we don’t. Is this supposed to be a counterexample? Did Donald Trump write your post for you?

Third, boycotting Russian academics or Russian universities is going to–get this–have zero effect on stopping the war. Shooting a bunch of Russian soldiers in contrast is part of how you win a war.Report

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Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 months ago

Boycotting Russian universities and academics at those universities is—get this—part of how you help sustain a broad political movement that exerts pressure on the Russian government through comprehensive economic, social, cultural, etc. sanctions and, more importantly, domestic politicians to sustain those sanctions and continue providing military support to Ukrainian soldiers so that they can shoot Russian soldiers, in the knowledge that the world is on their side, in both tangible and intangible ways, so that they can win the war.

Wars are not won with bullets and Bayraktars alone. They need to be sustained *politically*, and that requires very broad mobilization across the widest range of sectors, involving trivial actions that, taken in isolation would seem to have zero effect, but together can create a powerful impetus.

You may as well say that a USO tour or Uncle Sam poster has zero effect on winning a war. Clearly an academic boycott would be more consequential than a song and dance routine or a token image on a dive bar wall. And yet governments fighting wars do not think it a waste of resources to spend money on those things.

The “collective punishment” claim is also bullshit. Innocent people, in Russia and elsewhere, will be harmed by economic sanctions because of the actions of the Putin regime. This is very sad, but unavoidable if the war is to be stopped. If the profound harm that will be caused by economic sanctions is justifiable, then the far less damaging harm caused by an academic boycott is not wrong because it inconveniences innocent Russian academics.Report

Beau Madison Mount
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 months ago

Academics have a very privileged place in society things that sway their behavior might have an effect.

This is a good point, as the extensive success of Western academics in getting Donald Trump removed from office, stopping Brexit, and putting us on the path to a sustainable climate policy illustrates. I’m sure that in a dictatorship with no meaningful free speech protections, their organizing will be even more effective.

If an Iranian can’t visit Dollywood because his citizenship then what’s so different about keeping a Russian academic from publishing in Nous?

Call me a starry-eyed idealist, but I was shooting for a little more than “not worse than the Trump travel ban” as a standard of justice for the profession to hold itself to.Report

Last edited 2 months ago by Beau Madison Mount
Sam Duncan
Reply to  Beau Madison Mount
2 months ago

Tucker Carlson can’t get Biden thrown out all on his own. Does that mean he’s not privileged and powerful? Heck the entirety of Fox News can’t but would you deny they’ve relatively a lot of power and privilege? If to your second point, it’s been practically impossible for most Iranians to travel to the US for some time now.Report

Garret Merriam
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 months ago

Your (1) and (2) seem like strawman. I doubt anyone has argued that Russian academics ‘deserve’ harm (either collectively or individually) like your (1) proposes, as I doubt anyone makes the patently racist/nationalist argument you critique in (2).

Only your (3) seems on point, and it hinges on the factual claim that “Banning Russian academics in these ways will have zero effect on stopping the war.” That might be true, of course, but I don’t think anyone can possibly claim to *know* it’s true (or false). This is a collective action issue. But given your thoughts on other collective action issues, like voting, I can see why you’re skeptical.

Perhaps it boils down to how optimistic one is about the possibility of small acts taken by disparate agents to affect large change.Report

Derek Baker
2 months ago

It’s not really clear why any sort of blanket ban like this is necessary. Obviously some Russian academics are complicit in various ways in what Putin is doing, but I think we can count on the academic community to cut ties with them on a case by case basis. Don’t invite the chair of Alexander Dugin Thought to your conference. But I don’t actually see what the point of shunning all Russian professors is supposed to be.Report

A quick reaction
2 months ago

I think this proposal of collective academic punishment is inappropriate in maybe nine out of ten aspects. When the US military attacked innocent citizens in Iraq, would it have been sensible for journals to ban publications from all American academics? You may argue that there are many differences there, but do those differences really make a difference? Of course, moral indignation towards Russian aggression is justified and perhaps obligatory, but I can’t help wondering whether such kind of proposals result from a lack of proper humane understanding of the nuance of Russian society that is also required by morality..Report

Laura Grams
Laura Grams
Reply to  A quick reaction
2 months ago

“When the US military attacked innocent citizens in Iraq, would it have been sensible for journals to ban publications from all American academics?”

I was wondering this very thing when you put the question into words. Serious question: would it not have been sensible? Even in situations like the pandemic where it’s important that research be made widely available, quickly, it’s not clear the ban would interfere with that.Report

Hunter
Reply to  Laura Grams
2 months ago

There is a significant difference in the US/allied forces unintentionally killing civilians and Russian forces deliberately targeting known civilian sites and evacuation cooridors. Let’s stop the equivocation here.Report

P D Van Pelt
2 months ago

This is tricky, for the reasons suggested in the questions about it. Or more. Russian academics are not any more likely to be supporting the attack on Ukraine than anyone else, seems to me. If they are in danger of persecution by leadership, that is a different story. If they work in jobs where there is no compromise, another. I don’t have a short answer. Not, I predict, does anyone else.Report

Jason Brennan
2 months ago

Here’s a nice article by Jessica Flanigan and Chris Freiman on which sanctions are good, which are bad, and which are pointless.

https://reason.com/2022/03/11/russian-sanctions-the-helpful-the-harmful-and-the-pointless/

I look forward to seeing the twin morons Sam Duncan and Toro Toro writing, a “Derp! Derp! Libertarians!” response.Report

Jason Brennan
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 months ago

Justin, you decided to post comments snotty comments from others calling me silly and amoral, so I’m not interested in hearing you tone-police me when I don’t sit and take it.Report

Rolida
Rolida
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 months ago

Wholly unsurprised to see Professor Brennan flubbing the difference between someone calling *claims he has made* silly and amoral vs. someone calling *him* silly and a moral.Report

Robert Gressis
Reply to  Rolida
2 months ago

“Your fundamental worldview is silly and awful”

Is ok, but

“You’re silly and awful”

Is not ok?

I get that one is worse than the other (arguably), but people are pretty invested in their beliefs; a lot of their identity is tied up with them, to the point where it’s hard to separate the one from the other. So, saying “everything you believe is evil, but you’re cool” is a little hard to maintain.Report

Jason Brennan
Reply to  Rolida
2 months ago

Yeah, I’m not surprised to see you collectivist authoritarians think that’s a difference that makes a damn bit of difference.

Here’s my deal, in case anyone wonders. I will by default treat everyone kindly and with respect. And when people unfairly try to bully me–for instance, by saying my ideology is immoral because, get this, I don’t want to hurt innocent Russia people in ways that will have no effect on stopping the war–I will respond as Ender responds in *Ender’s Game*. I’m wholly uninterested in being tone-policed by disingenuous ideologues.Report

Sam Duncan
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 months ago

Well my actual reply is that as far as I can tell neither of these people have backgrounds in foreign affairs, economics, or history or any special knowledge of Russian society or Putin’s motivations and ideology, and so neither has any more claim pontificate on what sanctions will be effective and what definitely won’t be than does your loudmouth uncle or the guy at the corner bar. And while I would never say “libertarians derp, derp,” since I find Nozick quite clever and stimulating though his policies do in fact have pretty silly results when you actually try to apply them to the real world. However, I will say I find the general sloppiness, reckless distortion of one’s opponents’ claims and views, and complete indifference to truth, if not deliberate dishonesty, on display here characteristic of the work of at least *some* prominent libertarians.Report

JP Messina
2 months ago

Some (more abstract) thoughts I wrote down last year for the APA blog. My sense in this particular case is that it is important to keep communication and collaboration between Russian academics and the rest of the world open. Poorly calibrated boycott might compromise this end, in addition to violating some of the deontic constraints people above are worried about. We should want to see a strong case for thinking that a particular strategy will be sufficiently effective before signing on.

https://blog.apaonline.org/2021/04/22/academic-boycott-a-qualified-defense/Report

Last edited 2 months ago by JP Messina
David Wallace
2 months ago

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

I think there is a very strong (and entirely understandable) desire to do something to help Ukraine, and for academics, a boycott is one of the few direct professional options they have. But I think the case for doing so is way too tenuous to justify the obvious first-order harm, both to general goals of academic enquiry and to specific Russian academics.

Contrast the economic sanctions. They are absolutely harming innocents; the case for doing so is that it’s an unavoidable price for inflicting devastating damage on Russia’s economy, which matters (i) because it may create significant domestic pressure for the Russian government and (ii) because it deprives Russia of the resources to fight the war.

Of these, (i) is debatable but there is at least a fairly strong case for it: we know governments care a lot about their economies, and we know that economic dissatisfication often leads to political pressure. There is a defensible counter-case that economic sanctions may rally the Russian population around the flag, but it’s at least a reasonable judgement call to accept (i). (ii) looks extremely solid: wars are really resource-expensive and modern wars depend on a lot of resources that Russia will struggle to manufacture domestically. If the war in Ukraine drags on for a long while (as looks unpleasantly likely) then robust sanctions will very plausibly constrain Russia’s ability to prosecute that war; more optimistically, the pressure of that may deter Russia from over-extending the war. 

So: economic sanctions inflict clear harms, but there is a pretty clear and highly plausible case that they have a positive effect. Does the good justify the bad? I think so, although again it’s a judgement call. (The direct constraint on Russia’s war effort is more compelling to me as a reason than the indirect pressure, fwiw.)

An academic boycott also inflicts clear harms to academics in Russia, many of whom will not support the war and very few of whom will have been causally responsible for it. It also harms the broader goal of academic enquiry, for obvious reasons; that goal isn’t sacrosanct, but it’s central enough to academic practice that we’d better have an overridingly good reason to set it aside.

I don’t think we have such a reason. The nearest we can get is a vague hunch that it will be one tiny component of a larger pressure on Russia’s leadership. I don’t think we have any really reliable reasons to think that’s true. My own hunch, for what little it’s worth, is that Putin doesn’t give a damn about Russian academics’ publication options (the Soviet Union cared a lot about academic excellence, but I don’t see any evidence the contemporary Russian government does) and would mildy welcome an academic boycott as a purely symbolic act of Western agression that won’t harm him concretely but can be put into a speech to rally Russians against the West. If your hunch is different, fine. But hunches, in either direction aren’t nearly sufficient here. We have nothing like as strong a case for efficacy as applies for economic sanctions.

(I know almost nothing about the South African boycotts – I was 14 when apartheid ended – but the impression I have was that the intended strategy was to induce long-term shame among the white population about what the rest of the world thought of them, so as to induce them to pressure their government. I don’t see that mechanism as terribly plausible in the current situation: certainly not sufficiently plausible to justify the concrete harms of a boycott.)Report

Fellow Hermeneut
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

I would not support barring Russian academics from publishing in Western academic journals, but I am somewhat optimistic that refusing to collaborate with Russian universities in other ways may have some positive effects. Even though Putin does not care about academic excellence, the Russian government relies on an educated class of Russians to get things done in the country. Thus far, university administrators have been reluctant to speak out against the war, but I suspect many well-informed Russians are frustrated with the regime. Putting pressure on these institutions may convince some to leave Russia, speak out, support the opposition or simply refuse to work for a system that they believe is corrupt. At some point, people will start to talkReport

Fellow Hermeneut
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

I was in the middle of writing my reply when it posted. Not sure what happened. I would just add that we shouldn’t assume that pressure from academics and other educated Russians won’t have any effect. While Putin appears to be all-powerful, he still relies on the support (or at least grudging respect) of many groups, including the academy. Some form of boycott might be effective in the long run.Report

Jason Brennan
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

Is someone going to come in here and say that in light of Wallace’s comments, this is a reminder that his ideology, like mine, is wholly amoral? No? No takers?

Ok, thanks, we now know you were unprincipled and insincere.Report

toro toro
toro toro
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 months ago

Certainly the only possible explanation.

Alternatives, such as “not knowing Wallace’s ideology” or “using ‘amoral’ to describe only those things I specifically think are amoral rather than just anything I happen to disagree with” are obviously ridiculous.Report

Robert A Gressis
Reply to  toro toro
2 months ago

toro toro’s first alternative (“not knowing Wallace’s ideology”) *does* seem ridiculous to me. Here’s why:

Imagine that Wallace and Brennan both endorsed Brennan’s 1-3, from his comment here.

It would be passing strange to think like this:

(a) He endorses 1-3 because of his libertarianism.
(b) 1-3 are amoral.
(c) Therefore, libertarianism is immoral.

while also thinking this:

(d) Wallace endorses 1-3.
(b) 1-3 are amoral.
(e) But I don’t know Wallace’s ideology.
(f) Therefore, I can’t say whether Wallace’s ideology is amoral.

This seems ridiculous (to me, at least!) because toro toro used the putative fact that 1-3 are amoral to justify the claim that the ideology that motivated 1-3 is amoral. But if that’s right, then it shouldn’t matter whether one knows Wallace’s ideology or not! [I’m guessing I have toro toro’s views wrong, but I don’t know what else their view could be, based on their few, short comments.]

I think the nub of the matter is whether Wallace endorses 1-3.

Near as I can tell (Wallace can correct me), Wallace is arguing as follows:

I. “economic sanctions inflict clear harms, but there is a pretty clear and highly plausible case that they have a positive effect.”
II. An academic boycott inflicts clear harms, but there is not a clear or plausible case that they have a positive effect.
III. Therefore, we shouldn’t engage in an academic boycott.

Recall what Brennan said:

  1. It’s wrong to harm innocent people in order to express your profound disapproval of what other people do, even if those innocent people are the same nationality as the wrongdoers. Collective punishment is ok only in the cases of actual collective action.
  2. It’s also wrong to disassociate from X because X is associated by nationality, race, ethnicity, or co-citizenship with Y, where Y is a wrongdoer.
  3. Banning Russian academics in these ways will have zero effect on stopping the war, so there’s no special “avoidance disaster” justification here either.

It seems to me that Brennan’s 1-3 isn’t significantly different from (my rendering of) Wallace’s I-III. Basically, Brennan’s point is that if you’re going to harm innocent people, you should have an avoidance disaster justification. But in this case we don’t, so it’s just wrong to do this. Doesn’t seem all that different from Wallace’s view, at least not to me.

What about toro toro’s second offered alternative, namely, that they use “‘amoral’ to describe only those things [they] specifically think are amoral rather than just anything [they] happen to disagree with”? Well, if Wallace’s and Brennan’s views are the same, it would be weird to call Wallace’s views morally licit but Brennan’s views amoral. Obviously, then, toro toro thinks that Wallace’s views are not the same as Brennan’s. More evidence that I have misconstrued toro toro’s argument. But what, then, is the big difference between their views that makes Wallace’s take morally reasonable, but Brennan’s so awful that it’s not even a morally motivated take at all?Report

David Wallace
Reply to  Robert A Gressis
2 months ago

I took the basic form of my argument to be more or less the same as Jason’s, fwiw.Report

David Wallace
Reply to  toro toro
2 months ago

I don’t think I have a very succinct ideology, but if I did, it would contain the principle ‘don’t hurt people if you don’t have fairly clear evidence that it has a reasonably good chance to do some good’, which I think is all I’m relying on here.Report

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Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

A couple points in response:

i. Last point first. Your impression about the South African sanctions seems to me to be quite odd. Those white South Africans who felt a sense of shame about apartheid did so because of apartheid itself, not because of international sanctions against apartheid. Sanctions and boycotts had the effect of depriving white South Africans of the opportunity of watching the Boks play the All Blacks, etc. They wanted to watch the Boks play the All Blacks, etc. Having that as an incentive improved the balance of considerations for ending apartheid. Your average Frikkie van Tonder could start to see that maybe life after white minority rule wouldn’t be all that bad after all.

ii. Even if part of the goal of sanctions is to induce a sense of shame in the Russian population, there is no reason to dismiss this as implausible. The Putin regime clearly feels the need to ramp up its propaganda efforts to induce a sense of patriotic pride—witness today’s bizarro event at the Luhzniki Stadium. They are going all out to repress anti-war protests, so some significant proportion of the Russian people already have grave doubts about the morality of the special military misadventure. Condemnations from foreign governments probably do very little to bolster those doubts. But unambiguous condemnations from foreign civil society are likely quite a bit more effective. Again, no one thinks that an academic boycott will topple the regime, but every little bit of incremental pressure is another bit of incremental pressure.

iii. Spartak Moscow have been booted from the Europa League. That imposes costs on innocent people—the players, staff, fans, etc., as well as people who earn their living in the football-adjacent economy. Does the Putin regime mildly welcome this event as a purely symbolic act of Western aggression that they can use to rally Russians against the West? Of course, they will suggest as much. But there is no doubt in my mind that they do not welcome it in the slightest. The 2018 World Cup was a huge propaganda win for them because demonstrated Russian importance on the world social/cultural stage. Losing the Europa League (not even the UCL!!) in 2022 negates, to a great extent, the triumph of 2018. It can’t be that whatever happens internationally is good for their propaganda, much as they will try to twist it that way.

iv. I suppose there may be some here who think Spartak Moscow should not have been booted from the Europa League because something something imposing costs on innocent parties, or blah blah liberal values of free cultural intercourse. I can only regard such people as utterly clueless and redouble my morning prayers to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that philosophers never be allowed anywhere near political decision making.

v. You ignore entirely the point that the primary value of an academic boycott would be its effect in the outside world, not in Russia itself. This would be to help sustain popular mobilization and support for resistance to Russian aggression.

vi. At the end of the day, suppose you are right that all we have to go on is a hunch that an academic boycott would be a tiny part of the pressure brought to bear on the Russian government. I think this is almost certainly wrong, but a blog post is not a very conducive venue for hashing it out. You say that a hunch is not nearly sufficient to justify the costs imposed by a boycott. I think is *entirely* wrong and reflects a failure amongst many outsiders to fully grasp the urgency of the crisis and the tremendous danger the world faces. The crime of Russian aggression, and the enormity of the massacre of civilians in Mariupol and elsewhere so utterly outweighs the microscopic costs imposed on Russian academics, that even a one in a million chance that an academic boycott could have some effect on ending the war would be more than sufficient justification.

vii. When all you have is a capacity to make distinctions and introduce further considerations, every issue looks like a conundrum. If Grad missiles were landing in our backyards, we would not wish to soothe ourselves with such nuance.Report

David Wallace
Reply to  SCM
2 months ago

(i)-(ii): As I say, I know virtually nothing about the South African boycotts, so I don’t give much weight to my speculations on them – hence the parentheses. I’m happy to drop the ‘sense of shame’ conjecture.

(iii) I think the case for sport boycotts having a positive effect is much stronger than for academic boycotts. I’m also inclined to think there is no very persuasive analog to the academic-norms issue in the sport case. And the ratio of plausible impact to people significantly harmed is much larger in the sports case due to the high visibility of international sports and the quite small number of people involved. But I’m enormously uninformed about sports, so I’m happy to fall back on ‘the sports community seems to think bans are a good idea, who am I to object given my lack of expertise’?

(iv) N/A, since I don’t oppose a sports ban.

(v) I ignored it entirely because I haven’t seen it stated before (it’s not in Justin’s original post, for instance). But fwiw I think the bar on inflicting significant harms just to signal resolve to third parties is substantially higher than the bar on inflicting significant harms to concretely alleviate a bad situation.

(vi) Recall that my hunch is that an academic boycott might cause more harm than good even without allowing for the concrete harm to academics. But in any case, this is dangerous medicine. Would interning all the Russian children currently in UK schools influence Russia for the better? Maybe, I guess. Who knows? And locking up a bunch of children for a few months is also a microscopic harm compared to what’s going on in Ukraine. But it’s still a significant harm to them, and you shouldn’t inflict significant harm on people unless you’ve got a reasonably solid case, not just a hunch, that it will have a sufficiently large effect to be worth it.

(vii) I don’t think I said or implied this a conundrum: that would suggest I think it’s a difficult problem with strong arguments on both sides. I don’t: I think it’s pretty clear (of course pending a strong counter-argument or relevant piece of evidence) that we shouldn’t have an academic boycott, and I’ve said why.Report

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Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

Let me say at the outset that you have a reputation for making very sensible and insightful comments here and elsewhere, without any inclination towards ad hominem attacks. I’d like to emulate that as much as possible, but I also do not wish to hide my sense of frustration with the cogency of the Against arguments in this thread. If my comments come across as unduly intemperate at any point, I do not mean them to be disrespectful.

In order:

(ii) I should have been clearer–I think the “sense of shame” conjecture is an inaccurate take on sanctions in the case of South Africa. This is because they were directed at a deeply racist population, over a long period of time, with the goal of effecting fundamental political change over a matter of years if not decades. In essence, apartheid was not deeply at odds with the general moral views of most white South Africans, so hoping for a mass Damascene conversion there was quixotic. The present case is arguably different. The goal of comprehensive sanctions/boycotts is not to effect fundamental political change in Russia on the scale of the democratic revolution in South Africa. Even a regime change would not be so dramatic (although, of course, the nuclear stakes would be much higher). The timeframe here is weeks and months, not years and decades. Moreover, I do not think that the Ukrainian war is so central to general Russian moral and political views as apartheid was to white South Africans. Many of them, no doubt, are revanchist Russian nationalists, seeking to recreate “Soviet power in fascist form.” But many will also, I expect, have a sense that it is wrong to bomb their literal and metaphorical Slavic cousins, who can’t all really be Nazis, can they? Of course, we outsiders have little grounds to come to firm conclusions about the currents of Russian moral and political views. No doubt Russians themselves should not have many certainties. But the protests we have seen so far, on the streets and in the television stations, suggest there is quite a bit of room for fomenting moral outrage. Whether that outrage will have much impact inside Russia is an open question. Certainly it will not be sufficient for any real change. But I expect it may well be necessary. In which case, we should be open to a broad range of creative measures to induce it, to the extent we can.

Cont. …Report

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Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

(iii) I agree that the case for thinking a sports boycott will have good effects is much stronger than the case for an academic boycott. This is because I understand the relative standing of soccer and philosophy, etc., in the cultural pecking order. You may also be right that the ratio of benefit to harm is greater. However, I do not understand what you mean when you say there is “no persuasive analog to the academic norms issue in the sports case.” There are very important norms in sports: the value of free and open fair play in the international arena, the Olympic ideal, etc. These cannot be set aside willy-nilly. But they can be set aside when one country is committing crimes against humanity.

Boycotting the Boks would have been morally wrong were it not for apartheid. Boycotting philosophers at St. Petersburg State University would be wrong were it not for the crime of Russian aggression. In both cases, we have defeasible deontic norms that are trumped by a moral imperative stemming from the political domain. It sucks for the people who won’t get to publish their papers this year or maybe next. But then it sucked for Graeme Pollock (and cricket fans around the world!), that he only played 23 test matches.

Cont. …Report

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Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

(v) I have tried to state case, albeit very briefly, in some other comments in this thread. In essence, economic sanctions are obviously key. But to sustain economic sanctions over the months ahead requires political will. To sustain political will requires the involvement of people across civil society in uncompromising opposition to Russian aggression. An academic boycott is a small but not insignificant part of that opposition. We need to be invested in this, otherwise our politicians will be all too happy to flit to some other issue.

The phrase “signal resolve” is ambiguous. It could mean something *purely* expressive, as when one signals opposition to a policy purely as a matter of principle, with no expectation of any effect other than illocutionary uptake. It is generally wrong to use harmful means to merely express one’s state of mind, especially when it is innocents who are harmed.

But “signaling resolve” can also be causally efficacious, sometimes in profound ways. This is especially the case in politics, which operates on the basis of complicated networks of inter-agential signals. Politicians give speeches, diplomats send démarches, protestors hold placards, Buddhist monks douse themselves in gasoline, etc. All of these are signals of one thing or another, and all of them can have very important consequences, even as many do not.

On the morning of 21 December, Nicolae Ceausescu was, perhaps, a little nervous. He gave a speech that day during which many people in the crowd started to signal their hostility, contempt, anger, or suchlike. By the evening of 25 December, Ceausescu was dead. The signals from the people in the crowd that day had momentous consequences.

Of course, booing does not harm anyone, at least immediately, whereas boycotts do, at least eventually. But that is not the point. The point, rather, is that signaling resolve very often *is* part of concretely alleviating a bad situation. To think it is not is to have an oddly naive view about how politics works, how collective action is coordinated and sustained, how politicians assess their incentives and opportunities, and so on. Thus, there is no difference, in principle, that would justify a higher bar in the case of signaling actions than in concretely alleviating actions, whatever the latter may be exactly. They are all part of the same comprehensive mechanism.Report

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Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

(vi) A consequentialist case for an academic boycott is not also a consequentialist case for torturing babies until Putin gives in. There are deontic moral constraints. Some are absolute, some are close to absolute, some are middling, and some relatively easy to override. A claim that deontic constraints at the lower end of the scale are overridden in some circumstance is not carte blanche for unbridled act utilitarianism.

Interning all Russian children in the UK would (a) violate the human rights of those children and (b) target them for their nationality. An academic boycott of Russian institutions, inclusive of the faculty at those institutions, (a) violates no one’s human rights and (b) targets no one for their nationality. The justificatory bar is therefore much, much, much lower.

Moreover, interning all Russian children in the UK would (c) horrify most of the good British people who now want to help Ukraine in any way they can (where “any” here is implicitly constrained by some or other deontic parameters). It would be both a crime and a blunder, the full Talleyrand Double-Whammy. In contrast, an academic boycott would horrify very few people. It is far more likely, rather, that our reluctance to suspend normal academic courtesies with Russian universities would horrify, anger, and/or demoralize the broader public, who already view us as out-of-touch navel-gazers, stuck in our ivory towers, indifferent to events in the real world, clutching our ethereal pearls.

Other than the inconveniences imposed on academics in Russia, and the slightly negative effect on global scholarly inquiry, I don’t know what reason there is to worry that an academic boycott would have more negative consequences than positive. I’m open to a serious counter-argument, but do not see that any does not simply cycle through knee-jerk perversity, futility, jeopardy complaints, or implicitly assume that the case for the boycott is just another instance of irresponsible moral grandstanding on the outrage du jour.

(vii) My conundrum comment was a general remark, not one directed at you in particular, just as your hammer comment was not directed at anyone in particular. I am sorry that you think it’s pretty clear that we shouldn’t have an academic boycott. I think it is pretty clear that we should, and believe, with a great deal of frustration, that people on this thread advancing Against arguments are failing to give the idea the sympathetic consideration that the present abysmal circumstances warrant.Report

David Wallace
Reply to  SCM
2 months ago

I’ll make a few quick comments in response but I won’t reply at length – we’re probably reaching diminishing returns but also I’d like to take a bit of time to reflect on the points you make.

Quick comments:
– as I say, I know nothing about sport. Happy to concede that there are indeed comparable principles there. (But we agree in any case about a sport boycott.)
– It looks as if you’re committed to ‘don’t violate people’s human rights unless there’s a clear chance of a good consequence clearly large enough to justify it’. I want the stronger principle ‘don’t harm people at all unless there’s a clear chance of a good consequence clearly large enough to justify it’, and in general I’m skeptical of human rights as a bright line here – I’m not sure our economic warfare is harming any Russian citizens’ human rights, but it’s certainly harming those citizens, and will do so more and more over time; I’d be strongly opposed to that economic warfare absent the strong case that it will have significantly good effects. (And I’d turn on a dime to support an academic boycott if I saw even a moderately-strong case that it would have significantly good effects.)
– As a last observation: as I said, I don’t know much about South African boycotts, but I know a bit about US-Soviet academic relations during the Cold War, and what I know inclines me to think that it was good rather than bad that those relations continued (albeit in a strained way) through the Cold War, even while the USSR occupied and oppressed Eastern Europe, Ukraine, Afghanistan and more. We will need strategic patience, delicacy, various routes into Russian society, and frankly, intelligence sources, if we are going to have a sustained period of conflict with a nuclear-armed Russia again; in the Cold War, academic links probably furthered those goals.

Thank you for a thoughtful reply, though (and for the kind words at the start).Report

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SCM
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

I don’t know much about US-Soviet academic relations at all, but my sense is that I agree with you that they were a good thing. I would also agree that if Russia is still occupying Ukraine in five years time, the broader sanctions regime has failed, and we’re looking at another extended Cold War, then an academic boycott would likely be quite unwise.

My support for an academic boycott is that it is better to go for a quick, comprehensive, uncompromising, demoralizing sanctions regime, one dialed up all the way to eleven, this year, and hopefully only this year, than to put a half-hearted set of economic sanctions on the slow boil for many years. The latter approach will likely be far more damaging in the long run and far less effective.Report

David Wallace
Reply to  SCM
2 months ago

That’s interesting, and makes me see more where you’re coming from. I read the geopolitics differently. (For what little my take on geopolitics is worth!) I think the war *might* end really quite quickly (say with a peace deal in a couple of weeks), in which case I don’t think we need to worry about Western resolve fading on the relevant timescales. But if not, I fear it is quite likely to drag on for years. In that case I would want the sanctions regime to be maintained, mostly because it will increasingly bleed Russia’s ability to prosecute the war. But there will be increasing pressure to relax it as it brings economic pain to the west as well. So I’m really not keen on sanctions that we don’t think can or should be maintained in the long term. (Put it this way: if boycotting Russian academics sends a signal that we are committed to opposing the invasion, then walking back that boycott in due course will presumably send the signal that we are accepting and normalizing the invasion.)Report

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SCM
2 months ago

Two other points that I would like to add in support of an academic boycott are:

i. Exceptions can be made for research that has important humanitarian value. Presumably there are some Russian scientists working on Covid-19 vaccines and treatments–there’s no need to restrict that.

ii. For philosophy, outreach to those philosophers in Russia who wish to oppose the war can obviously occur in less formal/institutional ways. I believe a philosopher by the name of Liberman at Kazan University wrote an open letter in opposition to the war, and is now under criminal investigation for that. I don’t know what to do about this case, or in general, but clever and creative people can surely come up with clever and creative suggestions.

Ending business as usual with Russian universities does not mean leaving anti-war philosophers at those universities in the lurch, even as they will no doubt be inconvenienced. Support for those philosophers as individuals, many of whom may be threatened by the regime for following the Socratic imperative to be a gadfly.Report

Laura Grams
Laura Grams
Reply to  SCM
2 months ago

I don’t know the veracity of the info I’m finding, but apparently our fellow philosopher Kazan now has a criminal investigation against him, and we can guess how that’s going to go. In the above comments I see a lot of concern for harm against innocents, which is good, but people like Kazan are the innocents I’m worried about now. We are measuring concerns about the effect of sports boycotts on innocent athletes against a situation where athlete Brittney Griner has been effectively taken hostage. I’m not saying the one justifies the other; I’m saying we should evaluate choices based on a clearer understanding of which innocents are being punished by whom. Most boycotts could affect innocents but “affect” isn’t the same thing as “punish unjustly” or even “punish”. Griner can’t tell us how she feels about sport boycotts right now, but is it wrong to boycott the athletes of a country that just might seize and imprison innocent athletes?Report

Mate Penava
2 months ago

As many russian scholars have already expressed their condemnation of the invasion so it would be largely unfair to ban them access to all the relevant sources and journals. I think Jaspers’s point on collective guilt is on point here, they cannot be blamed fro the invasion.Report

Gabriel
2 months ago

Should the rest of the world boycott American academics? The wars of America are more numerous, more deadly, and at least as unjustified as those of Russia.Report

NdeV
NdeV
Reply to  Gabriel
2 months ago

Yes!Report

Yael Peled
2 months ago

A symposium on the ethics of boycotting was published at the Journal of Applied Philosophy recently-ish (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/14685930/2019/36/4). Some of the discussions and considerations it offers might be of interest to contributors to this discussion thread (disclosure: I was one of the two guest editors).Report

Elena CdJ
2 months ago

I find it striking, if not at all surprising given past experience of American academia, that no mention has been made of what is arguably the most prominent and longstanding current call for an academic boycott: namely against Israeli universities.

Setting aside the much-commented on (at least in certain circles…) question of a double standard what strikes me as most significant and perhaps useful for the present set of questions is that the long-standing guidelines for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions are designed precisely to differentiate between individual and institutional boycott. A glance at the readily available BDS principles for academic boycott — regardless of how they are represented — make this clear:

“Our academic boycott targets institutions, not individuals. The only exception is when an individual academic is an official representative of, not merely affiliated to, her/his complicit Israeli academic institution. An individual academic, Israeli or otherwise, however, cannot be exempt from being subject to “common sense” boycotts (beyond the scope of the PACBI institutional boycott criteria) that conscientious citizens around the world may call for in response to egregious individual complicity in, responsibility for, or advocacy of war crimes or other grave human rights violations; incitement to violence; etc. At this level, Israeli academics should be treated like all other offenders in the same category, not better or worse.”

Concretely: no funding from Israeli grant agencies, jointly-organized conferences, visits to Israeli universities, and so on. But no prohibition on academics employed at Israeli institutions publishing in international journals, attending conferences, and so on…

Details:
https://bdsmovement.net/academic-boycottReport

Jonathan Westphal
2 months ago

At the beginning of World War II my mother married a German-speaking lecturer in Southern African Languages. Her reason was, she said later, to work on one German, just one, and that would be her contribution. It didn’t go very well, though. I wonder whether we shouldn’t be making an effort to make friends with Russian counterparts and to engage them in a conversation about Ukraine, send them written materials, videos, etc. On the other hand it is clear that all the sanctions contributed to 1994 in South Africa.Report

Francesco
1 month ago

Please read my recent article on this issue. Boycotting academics is very wrong, not sustainable, and does not achieve anything. I tried to send this letter to many scientific journals but they have rejected it. Feel free to share it. We need to stand united with our colleagues, it doesn’t matter their nationality or their government decisions. Science is based on neutrality, if we invalidate the concept of Neutrality we are attacking the scientific method.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/ethical-dilemma-boycotting-russian-scientists-francesco-elia-marino/?trackingId=M3Ez21zftF2%2FtDr0n5ZIyg%3D%3DReport

Jon blundy
1 month ago

Invading sovereign nations under the guise of national security is never a justified course of action and should be met with the universal opprobrium it deserves. The same ban should be levied against Russian academics as that imposed against American and british academics following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.Report