What It’s Like to Be a Philosopher with Unpopular Views on a Controversial Subject (multiple updates)


[Originally posted on April 18, 2023]

“A couple of weeks later, I heard that OUP would not be publishing Trouble with Gender… for the sole reason that ‘the book does not treat the subject in a sufficiently serious and respectful way.’ No errors in the manuscript were identified and… no revisions were allowed.”

That’s Alex Byrne, professor of philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in an essay describing his experiences writing about transgender issues. He continues:

The (unsubstantiated) allegation of unseriousness was particularly galling, since the draft [totaling over 100,000 words] had 16,000 words of endnotes and a massive bibliography. To excuse the large number of citations, I had earlier written to OUP, “a persistent criticism of people not hewing to the party line is that we haven’t ‘read the literature,’ so it’s probably a good idea if I demonstrate that I have in fact read the literature.”

Regardless of one’s positions on various questions regarding gender, sex, and trans issues, those acquainted with book publishing in philosophy will recognize this as a very unusual way to handle a contracted manuscript.

[See OUP editor’s reply in Update 1.]

Byrne did not contest OUP’s decision about his book manuscript, he says, because of a recent experience regarding his invited chapter on pronouns for the Oxford Handbook of Applied Philosophy of Language. The chapter’s eventual rejection (itself somewhat unusual, given the normal way these volumes are put together) was telegraphed publicly on Twitter by one of the editors of the volume.

His book will be published with Polity. A version of his handbook chapter is forthcoming in The Journal of Controversial Ideas.

Byrne takes his recent experiences to support the view that trans issues are a subject on which a reigning political orthodoxy within academic institutions is stifling legitimate inquiry.

*  *  *  *  *

Here’s one way of characterizing all of this: a philosopher whose subpar work in an area he is relatively new to is bitterly and unjustifiably blaming the powerful forces of political correctness for his deserved rejections and ill treatment by editors and publishers.

I think leaping to that characterization would be a mistake.

I haven’t read Byrne’s handbook chapter or his book manuscript. Maybe they are quite terrible, and so the rejections were warranted. But how likely is it that they were so unsalvageably bad that the unusual deviations from standard publishing protocols, and even the lack of substantive explanations for the rejections, were warranted? Isn’t the answer much closer to the “not likely” end of the spectrum? (And if so, shouldn’t we be curious for more details?)

Let me state that while I don’t know Byrne personally, nor am I familiar with all of his views on the myriad questions that arise in regard to “trans issues,” I think he and I would disagree about them quite a bit.

Also, as I’ve said before, we should take seriously just how difficult existing discourse about transgender issues can be for our trans colleagues and students—in academia and also in the broader discriminatory culture. Recent legal developments in the United States have made things even worse for them.

Still, even if one thinks that Byrne is seriously mistaken, and perhaps insufficiently sensitive to the difficulties trans persons face, one can still think that his testimony about his experiences describes actions (and omissions) by editors and publishers that are concerning. Just think of yourself undergoing them. Think of an untenured professor with views you like undergoing them.

You may recall our discussion of “t philosopher,” the trans philosopher who found philosophy too transphobic to stay in it. Here’s a part of that post I’d like to share again:

The more I have learned about the philosophical and policy arguments regarding transgender issues, and in particular trans women, the closer I have come to a fairly strong trans-inclusive view. Like most philosophers, I’m not the kind of person who, on controversial matters, just takes others’ words for it. I want to hold the view of the matter that I believe is most justified, and to do that I need to understand the issues and to be moved by reasons and arguments, and to do that well, I need to make sure I’m getting a good accounting of the relevant considerations and opposing arguments. How can I do that? By engaging with the best work those with competing views have to offer.

If the institutions of philosophy prohibit the defense of trans-exclusionary views, what then? Do the views disappear? No. Rather, their best defenses go elsewhere, to less reliable, less seriously-vetted venues… where argumentative errors, rhetorical nudges, strategic omissions, and polemical sleights-of-hand are more likely.

Furthermore, the absence of trans-exclusionary views from academic venues under such conditions does not thereby signal their weakness to philosophers who’ve yet to form considered opinions on the matter. It signals instead a kind of dogmatism that threatens to alienate allies. The very love of philosophy that is central to t philosopher’s identity, and which contributes to the awfulness of what has happened to her, is also what makes so many in our community uneasy with prohibiting the expression of views on matters they think involve a lot of interesting and unresolved philosophical questions.

In short, if your interest is in more philosophers coming to reject trans-exclusionary views, then we have to talk about trans-exclusionary views, and to do that well, we have to let those with trans-exclusionary views talk to us through the institutions we’ve found valuable for pursuing the truth. This argument doesn’t depend on prioritizing philosophical questioning above all else, or on the idea that as philosophers we question everything. It is based on a confidence in the justifiability of a more trans-inclusive view, and a belief that Millian considerations regarding the expression of ideas are not unrealistic for the philosophical community.

Additionally, to say that we have to let those with trans-exclusionary views talk to us is not to say that everything goes.

(See also: disagreeing with Kathleen Stock but arguing against her disinvitation from a conference and criticizing Holly Lawford-Smith’s anti-trans website but defending her right to make it, for example.)

In Byrne’s case, we have just one side of the story, and most readers will not have read the relevant works by him (nor, some might add, know enough about the subject to assess them in a worthwhile way). I think this favors caution and tentativeness in any discussion of that case.

Especially welcome, though, would be constructive suggestions for how to best think about, promote, and protect academic freedom in ways that adequately acknowledge its potential for tension with other values worth promoting and protecting, too.

UPDATE 1 (4/19/23): In a comment below, David Wallace reproduces the text of a letter he sent Oxford University Press philosophy editor Peter Momtchiloff expressing his concern about Alex Byrne’s account of his treatment by OUP. Momtchiloff replied today. According to Momtchiloff, Byrne’s book manuscript “underwent peer review, and Alex was given comments on the manuscript from me and from four expert readers.”

Here is Momtchiloff’s reply to Wallace in its entirety:

Dear David 

Thank you for your message, and for your kind words about OUP.

You will understand that I can’t discuss the details of a specific review process, as this is a confidential matter.  I can confirm, however, that the decision not to proceed with Alex’s book manuscript was editorial in nature.  By way of clarification, let me assure you that the manuscript underwent peer review, and Alex was given comments on the manuscript from me and from four expert readers.  On the basis of these assessments, my judgement was indeed that the work was not appropriate for publication by OUP.   And Alex’s submission for the Handbook also went through a process of review by expert readers.

Feel free to share this reply if you wish.  I just ask that, if so, you share all of it.

Best wishes

Peter

Byrne, in Quillette, had said:

A couple of weeks later, I heard that OUP would not be publishing Trouble with Gender either, for the sole reason that “the book does not treat the subject in a sufficiently serious and respectful way.” No errors in the manuscript were identified and, as with the pronouns chapter, no revisions were allowed. 

Apparently, all that the four expert readers and Peter Momtchiloff told Byrne is that “the book does not treat the subject in a sufficiently serious and respectful way.” Is that logically possible? Sure. How likely is it? Isn’t the answer much closer to the “not likely” end of the spectrum?

Perhaps Professor Byrne will share the comments he received on his book manuscript in their entirety.

UPDATE 2 (4/20/23): Byrne replies in the comments below.

UPDATE 3 (4/20/23): David Wallace makes a Freedom of Information Request to Oxford University Press requesting correspondence pertaining to publication decisions regarding Byrne’s book and handbook chapter, a book and an edited collection by Holly Lawford-Smith, and a volume of essays on women philosophers proposed by Richard Marshall. (Edited to add: the request explicitly asks that any identifying information about the reviewers and OUP’s non-editorial staff be excluded from the produced materials.) See his comment here for details.

UPDATE 4 (4/21/23): Comments on this thread are now closed.

UPDATE 5 (5/2/23): A pseudonymous commenter writes about this post (and this related one) at Quillette.


Thinker Analytix

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Richard Y Chappell
10 months ago

At a minimum, I hope we can all agree that editorial decisions should not be made or communicated via Twitter.

Bradley Hobbs
Bradley Hobbs
Reply to  Richard Y Chappell
10 months ago

Live by the sword, die by the sword. Like it or not.

Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
10 months ago

I think anytime a piece of philosohy that was invited or accepted for publishing is not published because of the perceived effects that publication is meant to have that we’ve harmed ourselves as a discpline. That sort of “bad philosohy” (i.e., when perceived harm or offense of academic work is taken as a reason not to publish it) does more harm to us and our shared profession than any amount of salami-sliced analytic articles will do.

I’m not saying that this happened in Byrne’s case (I haven’t been following it at all) but if there’s evidence that his work has been pulled for these reasons then I think we’ve all been done a disservice.

This doesn’t mean that [Identity] supremacist articles should be welcome or encouraged but if, as happened with Tuvel’s article on transracialism, an article goes through the peer-review process (or the invted editorial process) and is accepted for publication then that should be the end of the story. The right response to legitimate but wrong positions should be reasons. When socio-political power, and not argument, guides the publishing process I would say that we’ve stopped doing philosophy and started doing something else, propoganda maybe, instead.

Bryan Frances
10 months ago

It certainly would be helpful to hear from the relevant OUP editors. I hope they step up. Perhaps someone with the right connections might invite them?

Peter Gerdes
10 months ago

I think one of the reasons this has become a sticking point in philosophy is because the social meaning and literal meaning of claims about gender have come apart.

I think most people who have strong views about the existence (or non-existence) of non-traditional genders primarily care about how we treat people who identify in certain ways (eg do we demand people use birth gender or one of male/female on certain forms). But at a literal level that’s often very different than statements such as “there are more than 2 genders” or claims about the nature of gender.

For instance, you might believe (as I tentatively lean towards) that in American culture there are only 2 genders (w/ maybe N/A) because a gender is something like a cultural stereotype/norms that play a similar role to ‘male/female’s (while other cultures may have more) but that we should work to change our culture to recognize more genders. OTOH you could accept that as a linguistic/conceptual matter there are hundreds of genders but believe we should try to squealch them.

Unfortunately, this mismatch tends to mean that most philosophers (or others) who are supportive of trans individuals are reluctant to challenge (even tentatively) claims that are associated with support for trans individuals. After all, such arguments might be misused to harm trans individuals or be misinterpreted. And that danger is real.

However, this leads to a harmful spiral in which it’s mostly people who aren’t sympathetic to trans issues who raise concerns about various literal claims thereby making the inference from raising concerns about the literal meaning to bad motives ever stronger. And can create the impression that only the anti-trans advocates are willing to seriously address issues.

Unfortunately, I think in the long run this harms both philosophy and trans rights. I believe it would help convince people if we could give a more robust account of what a gender is (but only if that account is willing to bite bullets like any other view) and if we had more people who were clearly not anti-trans willing to ask and press hard questions about the nature of gender I think philosophy could both help learn truth and give trans advocates more robust answers to criticism.

In other words to avoid constantly having this kind of problem we need more people publishing criticism of philosophical claims associated with trans issues that are unimpeachably not anti-trans.

Aubergine
Aubergine
Reply to  Peter Gerdes
10 months ago

“In other words to avoid constantly having this kind of problem we need more people publishing criticism of philosophical claims associated with trans issues that are unimpeachably not anti-trans.”

This is very reasonable and sensible, just like Justin’s request for constructive suggestions for ways to promote academic freedom while acknowledging other values, which is exactly why it won’t work.

One of the striking things about trans activism in and around academia is the intensity of its antagonism to its most moderate critics. I remember when Kathleen Stock was saying, essentially, that we can accept that trans women are women and trans men are men for many purposes, but there are some areas where sex remains important – and the reaction to this very mild form of gender criticism was, I think it’s fair to say, deranged. Apart from the demands that she be sacked, silenced and deplatformed, and the harassment and threats directed at her personally, it was made clear that anyone else who even appeared at the same event as her risked receiving the same treatment. She became an “eliminationist”, an agent of “genocide”. Stock is only one example of this.

(I think her views have evolved since then, unsurprisingly.)

These days, trans activism is taking on a kind of religious intensity: the culture of purity in thought and action, the identification of disagreement as blasphemy, the contamination by association, the catastrophisation, the persecution complex, the rejection of the flesh, the endless search for witches, etc etc.

There’s no possibility of compromise. Moderation is just another word for apostasy. You’re either with them or you’re against them.

Ray V.
Ray V.
Reply to  Aubergine
10 months ago

It’s kind of wild that you would call people demented and fanatical while claiming criticism of their social group is mild.

The objections to the professor were primarily around political activism to limit the rights of transgender people.

The professor was not fired. However, students objected to the political activism, and called for firing as this professor as part of a movement seeking to characterize transgender people as dangerous and harmful and limit rights and freedoms they previously had..

The belief of this gender critical movement is that not only are transgender people demented and fanatical, and their identity somehow like a religion, as you say, but that they are also a threat to good people, and should not have the rights they previously enjoyed.

Academic freedom did protect the professor’s job, as it is meant to. A strong statement by the union that did not mention Professor Stock but claimed transgender students should be respected in their rights was seen by Professor Stock as an attack on her, and she stated she decided to quit her position as a result.

Students should not call for firing of people for speech and political activity, but generally if you work in a movement intending limits on rights and freedoms for a social group, its members and supporters inevitably make a demand of this kind.

It’s not specific to transgender people to object to the loss of legal and social status, so it seems a bit hasty to make so much of their reaction.

John Collins
10 months ago

1. I don’t see how it is the responsibility of a philosopher (or any other academic) to pay heed to the affect their work might have on a putatively marginalised population. The question is just irrelevant to any intellectual pursuit. One should perhaps avoid giving gratuitous offence, but even that is mostly tolerated and Alex has received his fair share with good grace.
2. The question of the quality of Alex’s work has a certain irony. At any rate, it is perfectly legitimate for one to wade into an area and claim that most of what people say is confused. Philosophers do this all the time. Sometimes, they might be right. Sometimes, they are not, but light is shed on issues; other times, it is a simple matter to point out the flaws in the naïve claims. Nothing of the latter sort has done vis-à-vis Alex’s contribution to the issue of gender. On the contrary, he has been abused and now ‘blacklisted’ (albeit from one publisher). Chomsky once said that the only disciplines where credentials are not asked for are mathematics and philosophy. It is a grim pass that this great compliment to philosophy no long holds, at least not where gender is at issue. We might add that the strength of the demand for credentials is inversely proportional to the quality of a field.

Joshua Blanchard
Reply to  John Collins
10 months ago

“I don’t see how it is the responsibility of a philosopher (or any other academic) to pay heed to the affect their work might have on a putatively marginalised population. The question is just irrelevant to any intellectual pursuit. One should perhaps avoid giving gratuitous offence, but even that is mostly tolerated and Alex has received his fair share with good grace.”

Insofar as engaging in research, inviting or publishing a contribution, etc. are actions, why wouldn’t they be governed by the same moral principles as the rest of our actions? If I think my essay on some question is correct as far as the content goes but in the political context will contribute to some terrible thing if I publish it, why wouldn’t ordinary moral concerns at least count against me publishing it? I wonder if you mean to express something more narrow than what you said in the comment, but in any case I’m curious how you would answer these questions.

John Collins
Reply to  Joshua Blanchard
10 months ago

It is an interesting issue. I’d certainly not suggest that, qua human, we ought not to care less about predictable consequences of our research. I just think that if all else is equal (the research being sound and otherwise interesting), then political/moral constraints ought not to be in play as academic norms, not least because consequences are rarely clear, although an individual is free to make her decisions on such matters. The problem with the current case is that potential harm is often cited against ‘gender critical’ work without any kind of clear evidence or even an attempt to provide such, as if all research is supposed to be moral or contributory to the social good. The whole ameliorative conception has badly warped a lot of people’s thinking. I actually think, though, there are some pretty clear cases where research should not be done regardless of the truth of the matter, such as with ‘race’ and IQ. Yet here I just can’t see any value in the research and am hard pressed not to see it as just racism with stats.  One can consider other such cases. So, in general, as humans we can make our decisions with all due consideration and caution; I am only against the relevant considerations being elevated to intellectual norms.    

Joshua Blanchard
Reply to  John Collins
10 months ago

Ok, thanks for the reply! I will just register that I suspect some of the people who object to publishing Byrne and others may be happy to say the norms they are appealing to are just moral or political ones that apply to us as humans rather than intellectual norms per se.

John Collins
Reply to  Joshua Blanchard
10 months ago

Maybe, but being immoral can’t be an argument for effective censorship. I’d suggest that the people read Spinoza, Milton, Voltaire,… As I said, ameliorative thinking has turned a lot of people a bit daft.

Joshua Blanchard
Reply to  John Collins
10 months ago

When you said an academic shouldn’t “pay heed to the effect their work might have on a putatively marginalised population,” did “paying heed” just refer to potentially censoring? And if so, does an editor or whomever deciding not to publish a book or article on moral grounds constitute censorship? I’m a bit confused about your position especially given what you said about the case of race and IQ!

Last edited 10 months ago by Joshua Blanchard
John Collins
Reply to  Joshua Blanchard
10 months ago

I take it as given that editors are not moral arbiters. That’s not the job.

Joshua Blanchard
Reply to  John Collins
10 months ago

Well, it could be that a particular press has as part of its mission a set of values – for example, in the case of OUP, that might be to “inspire progress and realize human potential” (https://global.oup.com/about/?cc=us). That said, I agree with the spirit of what I take you to mean in saying editors are not “moral arbiters.” They are, however, human beings, and as such they might take moral norms into account when they perform actions like publishing something.

John Collins
Reply to  Joshua Blanchard
10 months ago

I honestly think this is all academic, for I seriously doubt that anyone is being moral hereabouts. Alex just wants his stuff out and to be treated with respect. The publishers want to protect reputation and produce a marketable text, while keeping all stakeholders happy, and the people who apparently spiked Alex appear to be animated by some odd ideology that permits them to act in horrible ways.

On The Market
Reply to  John Collins
10 months ago

It must be pleasant to have such a cushy existence that the worst thing imaginable, the greatest conceivable injustice, the mere suggestion of which really stirs the moral emotion — is the possibility that one’s work might be assessed on its moral merits.

Truly, a horrible act to do this to another human being, the only explanation for such moral depravity being some reprehensible ideology.

Get a grip, John.

JTD
JTD
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

It must be pleasant to have such a cushy existence that the worst thing imaginable, the greatest conceivable injustice, the mere suggestion of which really stirs the moral emotion — is the possibility that one’s work might be assessed on its moral merits.

Why be snarky like this and misrepresent the arguments of your opponents? The point is that philosophers have all kinds of views about the moral merits of various pieces of normative philosophy. Some moral realists think that moral anti-realism is a deeply immoral position to take that poses a danger to society. Some conservatives hate Jeff McMahan’s argument that soldiers who fight for their country are generally not heroes but rather morally blameworthy because of their failure to ensure that a war is just before they participate in it. If there was a norm that editors can use these kinds of personal moral judgements to reject work then philosophy would be doomed. How would you like it if a editor sympathetic to the position of gender critical feminism consistently rejected philosophical work that defends trans activist positions on the grounds that this view is immoral and harms society? I would think that this was terrible. Perhaps your view is predicated on the hope that people with your moral and political outlook will soon have completed a take over of all the major academic institutions so that only the views that you find immoral are rejected on these grounds and none of the views that you favour are. However, this is a foolishly shortsighted view. A complete takeover is unlikely to happen. If it did happen, infighting would soon emerge among the woke elite controlling these academic institutions and they would start to morally censure each others views, despite their broad agreement. Eventually, some of those who you initially thought of as “on your side” would end up censuring as “immoral” views that you accept. All of this would also trash the reputation of academia and it would become more and more irrelevant. Meanwhile, it would be likely that at some point, your political opponents would win back control of the key institutions and use the norm you want established against the moral outlooks you favour.

Laura
Reply to  John Collins
10 months ago

“The question is just irrelevant to any intellectual pursuit.” I confess this baffles me. How could it be an irrelevant question? At least this claim is far too strong: it’s obviously relevant to some intellectual pursuits, and the question is whether it’s relevant to intellectual pursuits related to gender identity and associated issues in the use of language. I would say yes. This doesn’t mean anyone’s academic freedom to say what they think is true should be restricted. The discourse doesn’t happen in a vacuum and it’s ethical to acknowledge this, regardless of the views for which one argues.

John Collins
Reply to  Laura
10 months ago

Laura: My initial statement concerned ‘putatively marginalised populations’. Of course, ethical considerations arise constantly for humans, and are sometimes codified in medicine, experimental research, etc. I happily grant that, as I did above. My point concerned social justice, broadly speaking, being a constraint on academic work. One can and should have the greatest concern for truly marginalised people (women in many parts of the world, those who suffer from mental health problems, those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, many indigenous populations, etc.), but I see such concerns as wholly disconnected from intellectual work. You are probably right, though, that there is some pursuit my generalisation runs foul of.

Laura
Reply to  John Collins
10 months ago

Thank you for clarifying – I was responding to the general idea that philosophers don’t have a “responsibility … to heed” the effects of their work on other people. I believe we do generally have that responsibility and I don’t see it as a negative constraint. It’s good to be ethical, and being ethical includes taking responsibility for the effects of implications your work might have. This is particularly true when you’re talking about the lives and experiences of others, and people are suffering some bad things.

John Collins
Reply to  Laura
10 months ago

Laura: I can recognise that as an ideal. It is good to be good, and no-one should be reckless. Still, I have trouble seeing how one might arrive at something like a norm that could guide or interdict research. I mean, the potential consequences are just to nebulous – it would be crippling to consider them, and one might get things wrong anyhow. I am a Kantian when it comes to morality, and the problem with judging research hereabouts ethically is that it is all consequential ( is one doing harm?), the truth not being moral or not. The common appeal to the plight of this or that marginalised group might be very real, but we have no algebra to deal with it. The injunction to be kind becomes a club. So it seems to me.

Gordon
Gordon
Reply to  John Collins
10 months ago

Isn’t recognizing a personal responsibility to consider the consequences of publishing X quite different from coming. up with general norms for everyone. Lots of people engage in genuine practical reasoning without even considering the broader theoretical question, except perhaps as a source for implicit defeaters. Personally I think there is an extremely strong presumption that one should publish as long as one is sincerely presenting an argument that they believe is good or at least interesting and provocative. As JS Mill said, it is important to be challenged and forced to rationally defend one’s view and also reflect on the meaning of whatever view one holds..

not a phil professional
not a phil professional
Reply to  John Collins
10 months ago

“I don’t see how it is the responsibility of a philosopher (or any other academic) to pay heed to the affect their work might have on a putatively marginalised population. The question is just irrelevant to any intellectual pursuit.”

You’ve never had to submit an IRB for work involving real people, have you?

John Collins
Reply to  not a phil professional
10 months ago

I addressed that issue in my previous comment. Since I have never done medical research in the US, the answer is trivially ‘No’.

not a phil professional
not a phil professional
Reply to  John Collins
10 months ago

Plenty of social-sciences work requires one too. I have written IRBs for anthropology proposals and you absolutely do address the question “will this work with a marginalized population potentially harm that population?” in the IRB. If you don’t, the university won’t give you money. So this isn’t some exotic concept limited to medical research; other academics do and have paid heed to this for a while.

Meme
Meme
Reply to  not a phil professional
10 months ago

I am a philosopher, but I’ve had to submit IRB proposals/deal with IRB issues more generally. I just want to suggest that, perhaps, there are important differences between philosophy (especially ethics) and the sciences, such that review boards are more appropriate to the latter than to the former. One such reason is precisely that ethicists defend or object to moral claims, give and assess moral reasons, etc. The risk, essentially, is that an IRB-style board could beg the question against some ethicists, closing off legitimate lines of inquiry on exactly the grounds under dispute. I do not claim, however, that philosophers should be insensitive to the broader consequences of their work.

John Collins
Reply to  not a phil professional
10 months ago

I’m not an American and have never done research in the US, but thanks for the information. We have something similar in the UK (EU as was), which covers ethical impact of all kinds of research. None of this is relevant to my initial point which, in the context, concerned assessment of impact on populations who are not the subject of the work in any sense at all. Obviously, a whole range of issues arise when a study is invasive, as it were.

Lewis Powell
Reply to  John Collins
10 months ago

I think the reason someone brought up IRB is because your initial claim, perhaps unintentionally, suggests that IRB/ethics review boards should not impede or constrain the “intellectual pursuits” of “a philosopher (or any other academic)”, and so, one might reasonably take you, in that remark, to be against the concept of these sorts of ethical limitations tout court (since that is what your remark entails); rather than that IRB or ethics review boards would apply in this specific case.

Put another way, your initial remark suggests that the very concept of professional ethics for intellectual research is a sort of category mistake, which IRB is a handy concrete example of how that is not so.

not a phil professional
not a phil professional
Reply to  Lewis Powell
10 months ago

Thank you; this was my intention.

John Collins
Reply to  Lewis Powell
10 months ago

I see, yes. No such implication was intended. Sometimes, context and intention do not suffice for communication.

Lewis Powell
Reply to  John Collins
10 months ago

But, given that you do not intend to claim the total irrelevance of ethical considerations to the scope of intellectual pursuit, it becomes a question of how to set the boundaries, as it were.

Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
Reply to  Lewis Powell
10 months ago

How about this?

Actual studies use actual human or animal subjects and so may produce tangible, direct, harms on those subjects throughout the course of an experiment. Thus, those subjects (and not others who are not part of the study itself) need to be protected. IRBs are necessary for that purpose.

Ressearch that consists purely in the creation and exchange of ideas work very differently. Ideas don’t harm people and so publishing them doesn’t require IRB oversight.

Marcus Arvan
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
10 months ago

“Ideas don’t harm people…”

Ideas can very much cause harm, and authors can be culpable for it:

https://philpapers.org/rec/ARVWAA

Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
Reply to  Marcus Arvan
10 months ago

Marcus,

I respectfully disagree though if you manage to convince the IRB at your university to start screening all research for potentially harmful ideas, I may change my mind.

Marcus Arvan
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
10 months ago

@Caligula: whether authors can be culpable for causing harm is one question. Whether philosophical research should have to pass an IRB is another question. An IRB process could be all too easily abused by those in power (whomever they may be) to inappropriately censor research. Hence why I quoted only the first part of the sentence, not the latter.

My only point here is that we shouldn’t pretend that published ideas can’t cause harm and that authors are never responsible for it. Whether formal bodies (such as an IRB) should enforce judgments about these matters is a different question.

John Collins
Reply to  Lewis Powell
10 months ago

That is not a question with an answer, I fear. One can tow an absolutist line, which is what I intended, that unless a population is the direct object of the research, then there are no implications to consider as intellectual norms, although individuals might make their own decisions. This might be inconsistent with other values, but values conflict, here as elsewhere.

Lewis Powell
Reply to  John Collins
10 months ago

Presumably you would take issue with me publishing a paper or hosting a conference on the topic Should John Collins be ostracized entirely from polite society and forever after addressed only as “dirt”.

Maybe if it were just me, you would laugh it off. But if I had a group of friends who wanted to go to that conference, I imagine you’d be concerned, whether or not there was hands on research that required IRB approval. If you add a specification that I cannot target you personally, please pre-emptively assume that I have the wherewithal to find some set of qualities you somewhat uniquely possess to replace your name in the paper with “people who have such-and-such qualities”.

To be clear, this is not the claim that Byrne has done this (though I am sure I find his work more objectionably transphobic and hostile to trans people than you do), it is to point out that your absolutism may be less tenable than you think against a hostile and determined scholar who wishes to advance their hostility against a group.

I do not intend to try to settle the question of how to draw the line here with you. My point is simply that if you think the questions are simple and the lines are easy to draw, I think you should reconsider. They are not.

John Collins
Reply to  Lewis Powell
10 months ago

I said the contrary. There are no lines to be drawn where values conflict, only piecemeal judgements. My point, however, was that such conflict does not preclude taking an absolutist line on a given value. That is how I see things. I don’t do analogies and seminar games, so excuse me if I neglect the rest.

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  not a phil professional
10 months ago

IRBs are tasked by the federal government to protect human research subjects. They apply federal regulations using vocabulary provided by those regulations, including definitions of what counts as “research,” who counts as a “subject” and so on. These regulations are wholly inapplicable to the sort of work under discussion in this thread.

MrMister
MrMister
Reply to  Moti Gorin
10 months ago

Yes. The most relevant things to know about IRBs are:

1) The title of the section of the US code of Federal regulations that establishes and empowers IRBs is “Protection of Human Subjects.” Their purview is human subjects research that’s funded by a set group of federal agencies. The rules do not apply if you are not doing human subjects research.

2) Human subjects research is defined as research which generates data through intervening on or interacting with an individual or which uses identifiable private information.

3) The US federal regulations were written in response to biomedical scandals, specifically Tuskegee, and with biomedical research in mind. Arguably, they are not even a particularly good fit with social scientific research that uses human subjects, let alone philosophical research which does not use human subjects at all.

In my own judgment, extending current review processes to cover all research qua research would be a disaster; but, regardless, the fact is that current practices simply do not apply to Byrne writing a book that reports no original human subjects research.

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
10 months ago

It is probably difficult for people not working in these areas or who haven’t otherwise followed them closely to understand just how stifling the intellectual environment is in academia right now, at least with respect to sex and gender. Byrne’s testimony about his and other philosophers’ experiences generalizes to other areas of the academy, including academic medicine, and also to areas outside the academy such as clinical medicine and mainstream journalism. Publishers worry about the blowback they will inevitably face if they publish the wrong ideas–plenty of examples can be adduced to support these worries (Byrne provides a few); emails targeting individual scholars, casually and groundlessly accusing them of bigotry, are sent to university administrators; faculty face complaints and must face DEI administrators for using the “wrong” words (and I don’t mean slurs or anything approaching slurs).

One solution is for the gatekeepers to grow a spine. Another is for members of the relevant professions–including professional philosophy–to speak out against this sort of censorious and anti-intellectual behavior and to insist that disagreements be addressed via free and open discussion and debate.

(One minor qualification I’d add to Justin’s headline: Byrne’s views are only “unpopular” relative to a fairly narrow range of elite and highly politicized opinion–the one that matters with respect to academic publishing.)

transgradstudent
transgradstudent
Reply to  Moti Gorin
10 months ago

Maybe those who are self-gatekeeping could also grow a spine?

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Moti Gorin
10 months ago

What does it mean to “grow a spine”? I hear “spinelessness” used as a criticism in many cases, but in some cases (including this one) it seems to me to be used with the precise opposite meaning of what I would imagine! (A “spineless” person presumably doesn’t stick up for things they care about and just lets other people get their way, is my interpretation.)

Meme
Meme
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
10 months ago

Without affirming or denying this view, presumably the commenter meant:

The gatekeepers are the publishers. They don’t stick up for the academic freedom to publish controversial ideas, for fear of backlash. Hence, they are spineless. Hence also, growing a spine means having the courage to stick up for that freedom, even at the risk of backlash.

Molly Gardner
Reply to  Meme
10 months ago

I am not endorsing or rejecting this view, either, but I interpreted the commenter to be taking issue with those who self-censor. The thought seemed to be that if you have something you want to say, you should say it and not worry about the backlash.

Meme
Meme
Reply to  Molly Gardner
10 months ago

Ah, that could be, too. I read “gatekeeper” as someone other than the self-censorer, because it appeared right after the publishers/administrators/DEI comment, and was distinguished from the option concerning professional philosophers (who I assumed were the self-censorers, in many cases).

Then again, I’m still not sure I understand Kenny Easwaran’s question in either case. If it’s the publishers, then the claim is that they are spineless and hence should grow a spine and stick up for academic freedom; if it’s the self-censorers, then (as you say) they are spineless and hence should grow a spine and stick up for their own beliefs. I guess I don’t see how “spineless” is being used with the opposite meaning here.

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  Meme
10 months ago

I was referring to publishers, editors, and other professional gatekeepers. Someone then replied to my comment about self-censorship, which is a related but separate issue, ie if the gatekeepers grew a spine, there would be less self-censorship.

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Meme
10 months ago

I had interpreted “gatekeepers” as the people who were objecting to the work! If you interpret it as the publishers, and think that the publishers do not themselves object to the work, then I can see how this interpretation makes sense.

I don't want to lose my career, thanks
10 months ago

I know people with very liberal, CNN approved views on trans issues (philosophers far, far to the left of Byrne) who have abandoned writing on gender and feminism because the peer review situation in these areas is so bad. What is and isn’t acceptable to say moves rapidly fast, and getting it wrong means potentially get screamed at in a referee report, and I think these people just got sick of dealing with the unprofessionalism in the area.. It’s really like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Yes peer review in all areas of philosophy is problematic, but feminism and especially trans stuff seems pretty next level. If you haven’t encountered it first personally, it’s almost hard to believe.

If the subfield wants to be take seriously by the rest of the field, it needs to clean up its act.

transgradstudent
transgradstudent

If the sub-field wants to be taken seriously…

outoftouchphilosophy.jpg
I don't want to lose my career, thanks
Reply to  transgradstudent
10 months ago

Thanks for making my point for me.

Some of the people I know who have stopped publishing in this subfield are marginalized along multiple axes of oppression and were writing what they saw as trans affirming philosophy. This is the kind of knee jerk snideness that made them (and me) just peace out of the subfield.

Justin Kalef
Reply to  transgradstudent
10 months ago

The rhetorical move of this cartoon depends on a crucial question whose answer is assumed here:

Did the people who spent decade critiquing the norms of the profession, etc. etc., develop the beliefs they now take for granted by subjecting their views to the rigorous philosophical criticism of those who do not share their assumptions? Did they win the day by responding to criticisms fairly and effectively, in an environment in which reasoned discussion was prized rather while character assassination against their interlocutors was frowned upon?

If the answer to that question is no, then obviously(?) the mere fact that people of a certain viewpoint have been saying the same thing for decades really doesn’t count for anything. It’s very easy to keep insisting on the same claims, over and over again, if one doesn’t have to respond effectively to criticisms.

On the other hand, if the answer to that question is yes, then those who wish to exclude all other viewpoints as illegitimate should not damage their credibility by merely pointing to the fact that their side has been saying something for a long time. That gives the strong impression that they’ve really got no good reply. Instead, it would be far more persuasive for them to present the knock-down arguments and objections they’ve supposedly honed for decades now.

Isn’t that especially evident in this case, where the whole discussion arose because some editors apparently used underhanded tactics to block publication of arguments they wished to suppress? (Talk about philosophers being ‘marginalized’!). Again: if the referees, or whoever, had found poor reasoning or other errors in the submitted manuscripts, why wouldn’t they have just shown that there were errors?

We see this over and over again. If there’s something wrong with the criticisms of Byrne, Stock, and the few others who have dared to raise questions on this topic, it would really enhance the credibility of the mainstream view if they responded with clear arguments rather than bullying, intimidation, and the suppression of publications. The longer this goes on, the worse it looks.

transgradstudent
transgradstudent
Reply to  Justin Kalef
10 months ago

We have. Over and over and over again. At this point if you’re not aware of those arguments yet have a genuine interest in the debate, maybe the issue isn’t on us?

Another Philosopher
Another Philosopher
Reply to  transgradstudent
10 months ago

But it is on you—if you want to convince people of your viewpoint or further a cause, the work of doing that is always on you. That’s true for any cause.

Nobody is going to convince themselves for you. It’s not human nature, and possibly even irrational.

The “it’s not my job to educate you” argument you see all the time on social media may be well-motivated (after all, I understand that it is tiring to say the same things again and again when you already feel marginalized and oppressed).

But there really isn’t an alternative—convincing people is hard work. To someone that isn’t already convinced hearing this sounds dismissive, and arrogant and makes them less likely to want to engage in the debate. It has done, I think, a lot of damage to progressive causes.

Kris Rhodes
Kris Rhodes
Reply to  Another Philosopher
10 months ago

//if you want to convince people of your viewpoint or further a cause, the work of doing that is always on you.//

There are responsibilities on all sides here. There’s a responsibility to be ready to give your case. But there’s also a responsibility to be informed and open. When both sides are upholding their responsibility, it helps the other do even better with theirs. When one is not keeping up their end of the bargain, it makes it impossible for the other to uphold theirs.

Another Philosopher
Another Philosopher
Reply to  Kris Rhodes
10 months ago

I absolutely agree with that.

On The Market
Reply to  Another Philosopher
10 months ago

Mhm yes, and if you find convincing people too hard, you can just go to Quilette and complain that nobody is listening to you.

Another Philosopher
Another Philosopher
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

Or you can just snark online.

Justin Kalef
Reply to  transgradstudent
10 months ago

“We have. Over and over and over again.”

You have… produced arguments that clearly demonstrate, to any neutral and reasonable observer who listens to those arguments, that all the main positions and arguments and objections Byrne, Stock, and every other seemingly competent philosopher who dares to disagree with you makes is wrong — and in fact, so clearly wrong that there is no good reason even to examine the argumentative moves they make in any philosophical forum, because they have been so decisively refuted by these miraculous refutations?

And there’s no basis for concern that people with your convictions on the issue could be overestimating the strength of these amazing would-be refutations because you reached a conclusion on the issues independently of hearing these airtight arguments? The philosophical merits of the moves you are making are just so overwhelmingly clear to any neutral and informed observer that, once such observers become aware of these moves of your side, they all see that what your interlocutors have to say is just not worth anyone’s consideration?

And yet, somehow, these incredible moves on your side of the issue are just being overlooked or forgotten again and again, even though your side has presented them “over and over and over again” for years now, in the usual venues?

In that case, it seems best for you and others in possession of these amazingly decisive arguments to just create some resource — say, a public website — in which you enumerate the incredible arguments and respond to the objections you’ve supposedly dealt with hundreds of times. This would require everyone on your side of the issues, collectively, to write this up just once more.

Thereafter, whenever another Byrne rises up to make arguments that have already been easily refuted, you could just settle the issue by saying, “Ah, but that’s just a repetition of Bad Argument 17 on our website, which we have utterly refuted as you can see by following this link.” It would take almost no time to say that, and all those who wanted to verify whether your side had really refuted the opposing argument would be able to see with their own eyes that the matter had been settled beyond any plausible response. And after we had gone through this process so many times, seeing every time that your arguments are so rock-solid that they preclude any reasonable philosophical doubt, it would be acknowledged at last that the amazing work of the philosophers who agree with you have sewn the matter up so neatly that Byrne comes off as an uninformed novice.

But instead, for some reason, I have never once heard people on your side presenting or referring people to these supposedly decisive arguments. Instead, it’s always, “Well, you see, there’s this vast literature that you don’t know anything about — the complete corpus of these eleven philosophers, is a good place to start — such that if you were to read it all and understand it, you would discover, somewhere or other something that decisively refutes what you’re saying. And I know exactly what that argument is — I’ve had to repeat it at least a hundred times now — but I’m not going to tell you, because it’s your job to immerse yourself in this literature and discover the secret and decisive argument for yourself.” Either that, or just things that look like dogmatic claims that everyone must accept on pain of being denounced as ignorant and hateful, and all the while nobody ever seems to summarize a single one of the amazing arguments that show how absurdly simple it is when you truly understand.

It seems easy enough to create such a resource to preserve these incredible arguments you should all know very well by now if you’ve repeated them hundreds of times. Otherwise, it seems fair for the rest of us to carry on thinking that Byrne and others should be given room to make their cases.

If you choose not to present the refutations you claim to know, or to find some way of directing us to a summary of the refutations, you can’t expect us not to doubt whether the refutations exist.

J. Bogart
J. Bogart
Reply to  Justin Kalef
10 months ago

Better without the sarcasm.

Kris Rhodes
Kris Rhodes
Reply to  Justin Kalef
10 months ago

There are a lot of propositions in this area, what is one that you are interested in seeing a knock-down argument for?

Not worth it
10 months ago

“What is disturbing about this affair is that it illustrates how a small vocal clique can bend an academic discipline to its will, relying on the unwillingness of the majority to push back. Academics—as is sometimes observed—are selected for conformity. (I used to think that philosophy was an exception to this rule, but not anymore.) Brazen unprofessionalism is permitted, even encouraged—provided it’s from those with the “correct” opinions. Junior academics and graduate students soon learn what they are not allowed to say.”

Byrne here is too restrictive when he references junior members of the profession. Just one anecdote, but I’m a senior member (middle aged, tenured and promoted to full professor, and feeling very secure, at a job I like). Nevertheless, my own academic speech on this topic has been chilled by these controversies, including but not limited to the reception Byrne and Tuvel received…even though I do not share their views.

I mean that my speech has been chilled in the most basic sense: I cut from now-published work an entire subsection that explored how gendered language works. As far as I could tell, nothing that I was saying in those passages could reasonably generate a negative reaction from the usual contestants about gender. In particular, my claims were compatible with either the inclusive or the exclusive view of gender, my personal views lean against the views of someone like Byrne and towards those of his opponents, and I had the section vetted by colleagues. But I still pulled that subsection because I concluded that, in our current environment, I could not trust that my claims would be read fairly–or even read at all–before somebody got an idea to shame or cancel my speech (or worse, me as a person or me as a member of the profession) simply because I decided to write words about gender. Even when it is inoffensive, approaching these topics just isn’t worth it anymore, even if avoiding the topics will result in setbacks to our acquisition of knowledge…or even setbacks to the progressive march toward social justice.

This is no longer just about contentious speech, or offensive speech, or unpopular speech, or the speech of the professionally vulnerable. Speech on the entire topic has been chilled, even for people like me, because of how people with views opposed to mine are being treated by some people with views similar to mine.

Caia
Caia
Reply to  Not worth it
10 months ago

I’m just a plebeian at-will employee myself, so I’m not out as trans at work because I reasonably fear loss of my livelihood. Your comment inspires me to wonder exactly what potential repercussions you face that could be so awful a tenured full professor who feels “very secure” in their job would sacrifice production of knowledge and social justice to avoid. I thought tenure was intended to protect academics in exactly this sort of situation- your speech can’t be cancelled. Perhaps I misunderstand academic privileges. Tuvel and Byrne are both still professors, even after they’ve been subject to shaming speech. Having slurs shouted at me on the street has certainly calloused me, but I stride onwards because I have no other choice. I hope you develop a similar fortitude.

JTD
JTD
Reply to  Caia
10 months ago

I am sorry that you face such discrimination. There should be employment laws, and anti-harassment laws that protect you against such treatment. In Australia, Canada, NZ, and the UK, there are such laws that would protect someone like you and a police culture that would work to protect you. But in the US (which is clearly a less civilized country) there often isn’t.

While I am sympathetic to your plight, I don’t think that your comparison is fair. The injustice that you face does not mean that academics (especially those from Australia, Canada, NZ, and the UK) should be embarrassed to complain about the professional threats they face that are used to enforce ideological conformity. Clearly the threats that you face, in your society, are much worse, but that does not mean that everyone else from other parts of the world must not complain about things that are lessor threats. By analogy, imagine if a philosopher in the UK faced credible threats of professional backlash, blacklisting, etc., if they were to argue that abortion is immoral. This would be unjust and legitimate to complain about. The fact that, in El Salvador, a woman can be jailed for life because of (often flimsy) evidence that she caused her pregnancy to abort can hardly be held up to the UK philosopher as a reason why her complaint is weak and she should be embarrassed about it.

Where I do agree with you is that “Not worth it” is being a bit cowardly here. There may indeed be significant professional backlash, but if you have tenure then your livelihood is not threatened. So, if you have integrity you must standup to that backlash and speak from your conscience. If this means that several woke colleagues will be nasty to you, that you will miss out on many professional invitations and accolades, and that some philosophers will say means things about you, so be it. Personal integrity is more important than these professional courtesies and perks.

Notworthit
Notworthit
Reply to  JTD
10 months ago

Original “Not Worth It” here (just failed to save my original credentials–sorry JW!).

I cop to my behavior being cowardly. I have no problem with that assessment. I’m a sub-optimal person. (Just like everyone else here, I expect including JTD and Caia.)

At the same time, JTD is right: there are lots of consequences here besides losing my job. That said, I work at a university some parts of which have been captured by the same forces many of us are bemoaning here. So while I currently feel safe and secure in my job, I do not trust that this security would continue if the mob came after me–not even if it did so for demonstrably false reasons. And while Tuvel and Byrne are still employed, not everyone who has been targeted by the forces of cancellation is. It would be naive to ignore those consequences.

I have a request: please don’t presume to know me. While I am being cowardly, I also suffer from a fairly debilitating form of social anxiety disorder, which many times and for many reasons has left me feeling like it might be prudent of me to leave this profession that I love (and am pretty good at, I think) for less rewarding work in a back office, factory, or farm somewhere where I don’t have to deal with anyone at all, ever. For someone like me (who also cares about trans people and the oppression they face), being at the middle of a gender-related scandal could have led to disastrous consequences. Even a local, small-beans scandal with me at the center would set me back years or decades in my ongoing struggles to keep my grip on my chosen profession. Relatedly, I don’t know Tuvel personally, but I imagine what that experience was like was very difficult. (For me, it would have been an unmitigated disaster.) Not everyone who has interesting things to say and publishes those thoughts relishes the limelight, being the center of a newscycle, or the temptation of intellectual stardom. Many of us just want to do our work and go back to our lives.

With all that in mind, is it rational (all things considered, not just morally rational, so let’s not get too hung up on how courageous or cowardly many of us are) for me to write about gender? No. It’s not worth it, even though other people face much worse challenges elsewhere.

What would be worth it–what I thought was worth it when I wrote the now-chilled speech–would be to talk about difficult, controversial topics in an environment where I can rationally conclude that I could write words about gender without potentially being forced to wear a scarlet G all over town.

Esa Diaz-Leon
10 months ago

I’m not sure we have sufficient reasons to say the rejection is unjustified . First, it seems unlikely that the sentence “the book does not treat the subject in a sufficiently serious and respectful way“ is the only objection the manuscript got. Probably this was further substantiated but not the the author’s satisfaction . I think the fact that the manuscript has a very long reference list does not imply that the manuscript treats the subject in a sufficiently serious and respectful manner. There are values that are constitutive of good research and the referees might justifiably believe that this manuscript does not satisfy those values. Many manuscripts are rejected all the time. Also, OUP has published other books defending so-called “gender critical feminism”. So there is no general opposition to publish works defending those views.

David Wallace
10 months ago

I have written to Peter Momtchiloff, OUP’s (UK) Philosophy editor, about this – text below. I would encourage other OUP authors, especially those with enough seniority not to worry too much where they publish, to do likewise. I have a lot of respect for Peter and I’m hopeful he will listen to civil feedback on this matter.

Dear Peter,

I’m writing to express my very grave concern about the recent article by Alex Byrne (published in Quillette, linked to on Justin Weinberg’s and Brian Leiter’s blogs) about his recent experience with OUP, especially (but not only) the abrupt cancellation, apparently with essentially no explanation, of his contracted book, “Trouble with Gender”. (I won’t try to summarize further: the details are easy to find online and you probably know them already.)

Perhaps there is another side to the story. But at face value it is very hard to avoid the conclusion that OUP cancelled Byrne’s contracted book, outside the normal process of peer review and iterated feedback, because for whatever reason it does not want to be associated with a certain constellation of views on one side of the very heated debate on trans issues and trans rights.

I don’t think this is an academically defensible position for any university press to take, especially one as preeminent as OUP. I don’t think anyone in academia or academic publishing, whatever their position on the first-order issues, could think that the way Byrne (and, by his account, other authors) was treated is appropriate or acceptable. I don’t think progress on these difficult political-moral questions is well served by censorship, and I don’t think an academic press should countenance censorship even if it did serve some political goal.

I would be delighted to learn that this is some pure misunderstanding, or some transitory error of judgement that is now being put right. I have enormous respect as an author, reader, and partisan of Oxford for the service OUP provides for the academic community and especially for philosophy – but right now, and I really regret having to say this, I have serious doubts about continuing to publish with OUP.

Best wishes
David

PS I have made the text of this letter public, since I think it’s important that senior academics make public the strength of their feelings on the need to protect academic freedom. However, I will treat any reply you make as confidential.

Ned Hall
Ned Hall
Reply to  David Wallace
10 months ago

**Thanks** for taking this step, David. I’ve written to Peter as well, letting him know that I endorse your concerns and that I hope OUP can at least be transparent about what happened.

Lewis Powell
Reply to  David Wallace
10 months ago

If you have a lot of respect for Peter, why do you take at face value the report that he canceled the publication of the book with no explanation? Before encouraging others to engage in this letter writing campaign, did you do anything to attempt to substantiate the claim that the feedback matched his description of it? I don’t want to suggest that on a heated topic where one feels strongly one might not read negative referee reports of one’s book maximally charitably, but, there is, after all, a chance that the referees at OUP did have some reason not to publish his book, and you just aren’t privy to the evidence that would license that judgment, right?

Meme
Meme
Reply to  Lewis Powell
10 months ago

“Perhaps there is another side to the story.”

“I would be delighted to learn that this is some pure misunderstanding, or some transitory error of judgement that is now being put right.”

It’s a chapter in a handbook, that everyone now knows will now not be published in that handbook, after a Twitter comment by an editor, and there is (at the very least) considerable confusion about why (and at most, one party claims that there is no good reason at all). Given this, and the lines I’ve quoted above, David Wallace’s letter seems perfectly respectful.

Lewis Powell
Reply to  Meme
10 months ago

Sorry, to clarify, this is not about a chapter in a handbook, but about the book contract being terminated due to referee reports. David Wallace is encouraging a letter writing campaign about an editorial decision on the part of OUP, based on the background knowledge that the topic is controversial, and Alex Byrne’s self-report of the contents of the referee report. It would be one thing to simply send this email. But to encourage others to do so strikes me as having a fairly high degree of confidence that OUP has acted wrongly, and not that it is a simple misunderstanding, because this is not the correct way to address ordinary editorial decisions that are wrongly decided (or else, we’d have much better ways to ameliorate poor decision-making by editors, in general).

Meme
Meme
Reply to  Lewis Powell
10 months ago

You’re absolutely right, my apologies. I had mixed up the subject of his letter with that of the other story mentioned in Justin’s post. I’ll leave my other comment up as evidence of my error.

Edit: undo your upvotes on my comment! Those upvotes are misinformed!

Last edited 10 months ago by Meme
Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  Lewis Powell
10 months ago

This is all Byrne says about the reasons for the cancellation of the contract: “A couple of weeks later, I heard that OUP would not be publishing Trouble with Gender either, for the sole reason that “the book does not treat the subject in a sufficiently serious and respectful way.” No errors in the manuscript were identified and, as with the pronouns chapter, no revisions were allowed.” If he’s telling the truth, then letters of concern to OUP are justified, given the recent history with Lawford-Smith’s book, which provides the context for the Byrne book decision.

Lewis Powell
Reply to  Moti Gorin
10 months ago

I agree that is all Byrne said about the reasons.

David Wallace
Reply to  Lewis Powell
10 months ago

Because unless Alex Byrne is actually lying (in a way which will clearly be quickly identified and cause significant professional harm to him) then the way his book was handled was radically outside the norms of academic publishing. Byrne’s account implies that he received no detailed peer review commentary, but frankly even if he had, his treatment would be wildly outside academic-press norms. To enter into a contract with an author, normally after an original round of peer review, then to receive a draft of the manuscript, and then to simply reject it without any further dialog with the author? I’ve never heard of such a thing.

That, together with the other documented issues with OUP in the recent past (Holly Lawford-Smith’s travails, Alex Byrne’s other experiences, the bizarre ‘non-consensual co-publication’ thing), seem to me to create a reasonable prima facie case that this is not just an editorial-judgement issue but a violation of procedures and norms.

But, as I said in my email, maybe that’s not true and there’s some clearly exculpatory account that OUP can offer. If so, great, and I look forward to hearing it – but if so, the reputational harm to OUP is best addressed by swift transparency, and I don’t feel bad about trying to expedite that.

(Also, I made my letter public for the reasons I give in the letter itself: where there are serious chilling effects on academic freedom, I think senior academics ought to say so publicly and not keep quiet. Otherwise what is tenure for?)

Incidentally, I wrote to Peter Momtchiloff because he’s my editor at OUP UK, not because he’s necessarily the decision-maker in this particular case.

Lewis Powell
Reply to  David Wallace
10 months ago

While I haven’t claimed Byrne is lying I really think a scenario worth considering is this one. Imagine I get what seems to me like a very weak referee report. The referee has misunderstood my core thesis, they aren’t reading me the slightest bit charitably, and they recommend rejection. The report has sentences in it saying why, but when I tell someone about it I say “they said to reject my paper for no reason!”. Now, maybe I am right and they didn’t have good reason because my paper was great. Maybe I am wrong and their report was sharp and incisive but I like my paper a lot and couldn’t see that. Maybe somewhere in between. None of those are cases where I am lying about what the report said! Byrne said the report said he didn’t engage substantively or seriously with the topic. He didn’t say that was all it said. Maybe he thinks the rest of what it said was piddling worthless minutiae. It’s hard to say because I haven’t read it!

Anyway, I’m glad I’m not your editor, since you have no idea if he’s remotely involved in the process and have invited a huge number of people to start emailing him about this!

David Wallace
Reply to  Lewis Powell
10 months ago

you have no idea if he [Peter Montchiloff] [i]s remotely involved in the process and have invited a huge number of people to start emailing him about this!

It is totally normal to contact senior decision-making people in organizations to express concerns about how that organization is conducting itself. And since OUP serves and engages with a large philosophical community I really don’t see the issue with encouraging members of that community to communicate their concerns.

 I’m glad I’m not your editor“.

The feeling is mutual!

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  Lewis Powell
10 months ago

“Byrne said the report said he didn’t engage substantively or seriously with the topic.”

No he didn’t. And he also said no errors were identified. Your hypothetical is inconsistent with Byrne’s testimony. What you are implying is that Byrne’s testimony is incomplete in a way that’s possibly misleading.

Maybe you are right, but it looks like pure speculation. And given the background facts (Lawford-Smith’s treatment), I think it’s far more plausible that OUP got cold feet than it is that Byrne is publicly misleading readers. Wallace’s letter, and others like it, might help shed some light on the matter.

Lewis Powell
Reply to  Moti Gorin
10 months ago

Everyone keeps suggesting that in order for me to be skeptical of the stated conclusions about the basis for this decision, I have to call Byrne a liar. This is a fairly bizarre stance to me. In areas that are not politically controversial or heated at all, people frequently receive decisions of “reject” from editors which they could sincerely say identified no errors in their work, and didn’t offer any objections, etc. etc. etc. I just think it is a basic and common fact about publication related matters that people are not sympathetic readers of negative reports surrounding whether to publish their work. Does that mean that they are automatically wrong about the contents of those reports? Obviously not. It also doesn’t mean I have to be calling someone a liar to think that they may not have reported every single sentence of the communication they received, and gave their own judgment of the summary contents, which could well differ from my own, from the editor’s, from what other people would say.

You say it is pure speculation, but I think it is just a straightforward observation that, in general (and completely irrespective of how controversial the topic is) people frequently report situations like this a) with total sincerely, and b) in a way that does not do justice to the literal extent of the criticisms that were conveyed to them, because they do not judge those criticisms to have much merit. I think this point should be uncontroversial regardless of whether you think the person in question is apt to be right about the criticisms, if any, lacking merit.

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  Lewis Powell
10 months ago

What I said is that you are speculating about what is or is not in those reports, about which Byrne has said nothing. I didn’t accuse you of accusing Byrne of lying. There are at least two possible explanations for what everyone should agree is an unusual editorial decision (rejecting a book at such a late stage):

  1. The referee reports were negative and Byrne is for whatever reason witholding that information, i.e., misleading his readers, as I said (not lying).
  2. OUP got cold feet.

Which explanation is more plausible? I think it’s obviously 2, given what we know about OUP’s handling of Lawford-Smith’s book around the same time, the OUP staff complaints that book, the other open letter, etc.

You might think 1 is more plausible. If that’s the case, then you can either explain why you think that’s the case, or not. It doesn’t really matter what we think, and we won’t know more unless we get more information from OUP or Byrde.

formereditor
formereditor
Reply to  David Wallace
10 months ago

I am not sure what is the right place to enter this conversation, but hope this is as good as any to offer a view on publishing from a former editor. I will try to touch on a few points raised in various places:

1) It is highly unusual for reasons, often extensive, not to be given for cancelling a contract. This is both out of courtesy and often due to contractual terms that require justification and give author an opportunity to revise. If the reasons are due to reviewers’ comments but the editor does not want to share the comments, they can be excerpted or paraphrased. Alternatively the editor can delete anything that identifies reviewer or that is offensive.

2) Any editor familiar with a field knows who is who and what opinions/view they have, as well as whether they will review “fairly”–meaning clearly stating their disagreement, indicating how the MS could be improved, etc. Editors (generally) know the difference between criticism intended to help make a MS stronger and criticism meant to undermine the MS. The latter typically is discounted.

3) No editor takes lightly the decision to cancel a contract. There are reputational costs, both internally and externally. Time and effort had been invested, without any payoff. And to do so is to admit, at least implicitly, an error of judgment at earlier stages, which is hard to do.

On The Market
10 months ago

I don’t think that in a time of rampant anti-trans legislation, we can ethically play the “what about academic freedom” hand-wringing game anymore. To do so, as you are doing here, Justin, is not just doing a disservice to trans people, but a disservice to the profession at large, and to the very notion of academic freedom.

We have, and always had, standards for seriousness and good-faith. They exclude racist, antisemitic, homophobic theses, no matter how large a bibliography their proponents attach. This is not a conflict with academic freedom.

What is at stake here is not whether a work is “subpar” or “citing the literature” or written by someone with a fancy appointment at a fancy university and a track record of solid philosophy, but whether it is a good-faith, philosophically serious engagement. Therefore, I fail to see why appealing to one’s bibliography is a defence against an allegation of unseriousness (given that I don’t know Byrne’s manuscript I cannot see whether this applies here, naturally).

There is a serious and good-faith way to engage with the question “what is gender identity?”. It beings with the empirical fact that people have one. Then one can do some good ol’ philosophical analysis on what kind of thing a gender identity is, and what kind of bearing it has on ethics, society, etc. That’s what serious people working on this do, and they rarely are subject to any kind of backlash (from within the profession, at least).

The unserious, bad-faith way is to ask that question with the pre-set goal of deeming it an incoherent concept. It is well compatible with academic freedom to brand such works as unserious on these grounds and hence exclude them from our most prestigious venues. As said, I don’t know Byrne’s manuscript. But I can see how an editor might regard a manuscript (as a whole) as inherently unserious in this way. If this is the case here, then it would also not be surprising that a list of individual mistakes would not be provided.

So here’s then a “constructive suggestion for how to best think about, promote, and protect academic freedom:” those with the “controversial ideas” should begin by demonstrating good faith. Unfortunately, this is an uphill battle in this area.

First, because the matter of whether there is such a thing as gender identity is an empirical one, not to be settled by philosophy alone. So any work purporting to refute the existence of gender identities by philosophy alone is comparable to attempting to disprove the Copernican model by philosophy alone. Unserious.

Second, because some self-described “gender critical” scholars have allied themselves with the conservative forces that seek to push trans people out of public life. The suspicions of unseriousness this has engendered may be regrettable for good-faith scholars, but it is their burden to bear, and up to them to fix.

The problem is that, despite some efforts, I have not been successful in having such a good-faith debate with anyone who identifies as “gender critical”. All attempts to “reach out across the aisle”, as it were, are met with an outright eliminationist attitude towards trans people. The well is poisoned, and I don’t think trans people bear the blame for this. (This is not an accusation against Byrne or anyone else mentioned by Justin, with whom I had no interactions; this is to support my point about the uphill battle).

There is readiness to discuss, e.g., how the sincerity of a self-identification as a particular gender is to be assessed, as long as it proceeds from a good-faith agreement that people who self-identify should not be put under a blanket suspicion. There is readiness to discuss, e.g., how access to gendered spaces is policed, as long as it proceeds from a good-faith agreement that the matter is more subtle than chromosomes, gametes, or genitals.

It is quite obvious that trans people are willing to have such debates about policy in good faith. Nobody wants bad actors to abuse self-id laws; trans women want save gendered spaces as much as cis women.

Justin has kindly allowed me to comment this anonymously given my precarious position in the profession, but not to name examples any individual actors who has demonstrated lack of seriousness or good-faith. So I won’t be able to answer any challenges of that kind.

David Wallace
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

“There is a serious and good-faith way to engage with the question “what is gender identity?”. It beings with the empirical fact that people have one… The unserious, bad-faith way is to ask that question with the pre-set goal of deeming it an incoherent concept. It is well compatible with academic freedom to brand such works as unserious on these grounds”

Concepts that have been deemed incoherent in well-respected works of philosophy have included (inter alia) free will, chance, morality, qualia, the passage of time, God, and the external world. It’s not obvious why gender identity uniquely is presumptively immune from that criticism.

On The Market
Reply to  David Wallace
10 months ago

None of the ones you have listed concern empirical matters, whence the difference.

David Wallace
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

Almost all of them do. The case of qualia in particular is almost perfectly analogous. (I don’t think even the most hardline eliminative materialist or Dennettian thinks that David Chalmers is *lying* when he states that he has an irreducible experience of redness that can’t be reduced to his behavioral dispositions.)

On The Market
Reply to  David Wallace
10 months ago

Here’s two empirical facts, not to be refuted by conceptual analysis: people have introspective experience of redness; people have introspective experience of their gender identity.

Here’s conceptual analyses, to be refuted by further conceptual analysis: such introspective experiences are reducible, dispositional, innate, learned, …

If someone argues that “qualia do not exist” (e.g. by naturalistically refuting irreducibility) in order to conclude that regular people who experience redness are mentally ill and that we should eliminate appeals to redness from public life — then they are engaging in exactly the kind of fallacy that I am pointing out above.

David Wallace
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

I’m absolutely not going to get into a conversation on gender identity, but on redness, this is just false as a matter of philosophy of mind. It’s an empirical fact that (some) people utter the sentence “I have introspective experience of redness.” But any number of serious philosophers have thought that they are mistaken, or conflating theory with experience, or in the thrall of a confused folk psychology, or…

I mean, you can think all of this is wrong. But it is absolutely mainstream, legit philosophy of mind. Read Dennett on heterophenomenology; read Wittgenstein on private language, come to that.

On The Market
Reply to  David Wallace
10 months ago

I don’t know how I can convey to you, at this point, the difference between data and theory.

Introspection and experience are sources of data for philosophers. There are experiences we refer to by color terms. That’s data. This is undisputed.

If you have a theory that involves theoretical entities you call qualia, or properties, or “redness”, Platonic ideals, immortal souls etc. and you conclude on theoretical grounds that these entities do not exist — that’s all good. But the data remains.

And must note that you ignored my final point — whatever these theoretical conclusions, they have no bearing on we treat the people having the experiences.

David Wallace
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

I think I’ve run out of polite synonyms for “this is all badly confused about 20th century philosophy of mind” so I won’t try further.

Chill
Chill
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

Here’s another fact, as empirical as the ones you offer: people have introspective experience of God. Yet one can argue that the concept of God is incoherent. BTW it seems you are as well misunderstanding what is “empirical.” What is only incontrovertibly empirical is that people *claim* to have introspective experiences. See the “other minds” problem.

David Wallace
Reply to  Chill
10 months ago

I might strengthen it to “sincerely claim”, but otherwise: yes,exactly.

John Collins
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

Gender scepticism is hardly proof of bad faith or lack of seriousness; indeed, such scepticism was the norm in second-wave feminism. It is a fact that some people think they have a gender identity, but it is not a fact that any such views are true.

On The Market
Reply to  John Collins
10 months ago

“This was a widespread view in the past, therefore we must take it seriously today” is a fallacy if there ever was one.

John Collins
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

That is a fallacy, but is not what I said or even suggested. My claim was that gender scepticism used to be the norm in feminism without any accusation of bad faith. I’m unsure what has supposed to have occurred in the interim to make the position beyond the pale. I’d suggest that such scepticism remains the norm outside of ideologically committed circles.

On The Market
Reply to  John Collins
10 months ago

It’s called “social progress”, I don’t really know what to tell you.

Ray
Ray
Reply to  John Collins
10 months ago

What was the norm in second wave feminism? You aren’t very clear, here.

It was not the norm to conflate sex assigned at birth with gender. Most second wave feminism, with the exception of those who intentionally included transgender people, can be read as compatible with a rejection of the biological essentialism that the Gender Critical movement generally falls into.

John Collins
Reply to  Ray
10 months ago

The norm was to view gender and sex stereotypes as non-natural, essentially coercive, and so structures to be overthrown (think Marx on the ‘naturalness’ of social inequality). You are obviously right to suggest that this incorporated a rejection of essentialism but only primarily with respect to the stereotypes, not typically to the extent of speculating about biology, which is now all too common. I think the relation of the current disagreements to this SW position is complex. For example, GC people tend to row back a bit on what is merely stereotypical, but I would hardly call them essentialists – ‘naturalists’ would be a better term (in these debates ‘essentialism’ is too overdetermined to be useful). Equally, the charge from the GC side against many current feminists, and this is the pertinent point, is that they treat gender as not mostly or merely stereotypical. So, I think it would be fair to say that SW feminists were gender sceptical in the sense of treating gender as a set of stereotypes or expectations that can and should be overthrown, and this they share with GC types. My point above was not to take sides, but merely to point to this heritage, and note that five minutes ago no-one would have thought that gender scepticism was non-serious or obviously in bad faith.

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

This is a nice illustration of the very problem at issue. Certain substantive views are dismissed without argument as “unserious”; questions are begged (“it is an empirical fact that people have [a gender identity]”–this is a contentious claim, as anyone who has looked at the empirical literature knows–e.g., the brain studies and attendant questions about what they do or don’t show, the problem of controlling for sexual orientation in these studies, etc. It is of course an empirical fact that people claim to have a gender identity, though there is nothing close to a consensus view on the nature of what it is they are claiming to have, and it is also an empirical fact that there are people who deny having one); claims are advanced about “eliminationist” rhetoric; criticisms that amount to nothing more than guilt by association (“gender critical scholars have allied themselves with conservative forces”); vague but negative insinuations based entirely on speculation about the contents of a book that admittedly hasn’t been read; “good faith” is construed in a manner that by definition excludes the very viewpoints for which people are arguing; etc.

On The Market
Reply to  Moti Gorin
10 months ago

I agree that this exchange is a nice illustration of the problem.

We can agree that certain research questions are beyond the pale. We can also agree that certain research methodologies are unserious. We only disagree on whether a particular type of question and/or a particular methodology is beyond the pale.

The only response of the GCs to this situation is to cry foul, accuse people of “cancelling”, of being ideological etc. This isn’t working very well, and GCs should note that the same strategies are well available to people who have no interest in good faith argument at all. So they have to do better than to cry foul in sympathetic media. Show that they actually are engaged in serious philosophy.

Whether or not the GC view is beyond the pale is an assumption that could be the substantive matter of a debate. That debate is not aided (or even gotten off the ground) by anything GCs have been doing to this point. Nothing so far has demonstrated good faith.

As for guilt by association: If I’d see my view and work being used to support policies that hurt and marginalize a group of vulnerable people, I’d be VERY concerned. And if I’d not at least distance myself from it, I would not be surprised if people questioned my motives. I thought we had moved past the idea that academics can absolve themselves from moral responsibility by claiming “I’m just doing the research, I have nothing to do with how people use it.” Actions one takes in the course of research are not magically exempt from being morally assessed.

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

“So they [gender critical philosophers] have to do better than to cry foul in sympathetic media. Show that they actually are engaged in serious philosophy”

I find this genuinely puzzling.

Presumably, one way they can do this is by publishing their views and arguments. And the whole point of Byrne’s essay is to show what happens when they try to do so. The same thing happened to Holly Lawford-Smith (Byrne discusses this case) when she did exactly what any serious academic should do–develop views and arguments and publish them with a reputable press.

Scholars have been deplatformed; norms have been invented to exclude them (e.g, “non-consensual co-platforming”); editors are demanding additional and unprecendented review at very late stages of the publication process and, evidently if Byrne is to be believed, sometimes reneging on the contract; a post-doc in the UK (non-philosophy) was recently fired and had her data taken away from her; there are many other examples.

So I find it genuinely puzzling when you suggest that GC scholars aren’t doing exactly what one would expect they do, as scholars, to get their views disseminated for engagement in the wider academic community. The problem isn’t that they aren’t doing philosophy. The problem is that they are being prevented from doing philosophy on the kind of question-begging grounds you set out in your longer comment above.

On The Market
Reply to  Moti Gorin
10 months ago

As I said, today the well is poisoned. But a few years ago, there’d been space to react to accusations of one’s work being beyond the pale by engaging in an argument over the matter (whether it is indeed beyond the pale), rather than by doing the “I have been cancelled” media tour.

We, as a field, don’t negotiate what we publish through op-eds in the tabloids.

If you want to stand up for a position that is regarded as amoral by your peers, you have to be ready to defend against that charge. As said, taking up “cancel culture” rhetoric is not a good-faith way of doing it. If for no other reason, then that this rhetoric is equally available to (and often actively pursued by) people with views who are unquestionably beyond the pale. And we as a field OUGHT to be resistant to this rhetoric for this very reason.

Historically, GCs (even before they even called themselves that) reacted to *any* critical engagement with their view (e.g. on this very website) by whining on every outlet that they’re unfairly targeted. This often involved vast misrepresentations of how they had been critiqued.

If that means that today nobody wants to have this debate anymore, because there’s no expectation of good faith — I can hardly feel sorry. Today, work needs to be done to reestablish a presumption of good faith.

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

If you are interested in assessing the quality of people’s will, that’s fine, I suppose, but it will be challenging to get access to people’s inner states. I think as a profession we should be interested in assessing arguments. Maybe I’m old fashioned.

On The Market
Reply to  Moti Gorin
10 months ago

I suppose, then, that you do not agree that certain theses are beyond the pale. Everything is fair game. You’d be willing to give a fair shot to a well-argued book in favor of slavery, I take it.

I’m not old-fashioned enough for this.

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

Some philosopher writes (in your words) a “well-argued book in favor of slavery”; the manuscript is sent out to reviewers with the relevant expertise; reviewers raise the usual objections, make the usual suggestions, call for the usual clarifications. Case 1: they recommend the book not be published because it doesn’t satisfy the relevant scholarly demands. End of story.

Case 2: reviewers recommend the book be published; the publisher agrees and the contract is signed; the author polishes the book; the book is published. Various other people then publish objections to the arguments set out in the book. Maybe some of these objections are decisive. Maybe others lead to further argument. Other people choose to ignore the book. Yet others don’t read the book but make assumptions about its content and complain on Twitter or on Daily Nous that the book is “beyond the pale.”

This is the way it should work if we are at all serious about academic freedom.

The alternative is to do exactly what your friends in Florida are doing, namely, to rule out/ban entire categories of theses due to the purported harm they cause, or their being “beyond the pale” on other grounds. Harm to heteronormative families, harm to the reputation of this great, freedom-loving country of ours, harm to God, or whatever. DeSantis has views on what’s “beyond the pale,” too. This is nothing but rule by the powerful.

This is free speech/academic freedom 101.

Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Moti Gorin
10 months ago

Since we’re mentioning Florida and academic freedom, I’d just like to note that, regardless of one’s first-order views, now is an excellent time to be principled about academic freedom. I have not read Byrne’s paper, I suspect I might disagree with at least parts of it, but that is irrelevant. I am, however, in the crosshairs of DeSantis’s attacks on academic freedom, free speech, tenure, women, LGBTQ+ people, and immigrants, and the rights of felons, among other charming moral panics.

You don’t want to entrench tools or norms—such as locating certain ideas beyond the pale on the basis of flimsy evidence of harm—if such tools or norms could be used by your opponents. Always ask yourself if you’d tolerate a restriction being used by your worst enemy because, once they are in power, they will use it against you.

I wish we’d made it harder, not easier, for the likes of DeSantis to restrict speech. Unfortunately, many of us have planted the seeds of very bad ideas in the minds of ill-intentioned people—speaking of harmful ideas.

Again, none of that implies an endorsement of Byrne’s views. I happen to find a lot of gender-critical arguments needlessly offensive and conservative. But I also just taught Mill’s On Liberty and, in a context in which my governor and administration are effectively on track to censor what and how I teach, I found his arguments a lot more attractive than I would have if I were the one in power.

Be safe, everybody.

Last edited 10 months ago by Nicolas Delon
Meme
Meme
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
10 months ago

“Now is an excellent time to be principled about academic freedom.”

I totally get your point, and agree, but this line got a chuckle out of me. Like, “I’m not principled about being principled about academic freedom, so—now that the time is right, but not other times—I’ll be principled about academic freedom.”

Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Meme
10 months ago

That’s obviously not what I meant. Now is the time to show that you are in fact principled, not opportunistic, about academic freedom, or to form a firm commitment to it in case you didn’t have one already. It was poorly phrased, but you totally got the point.

Last edited 10 months ago by Nicolas Delon
Meme
Meme
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
10 months ago

Sorry, let me clarify. Your point was not poorly phrased at all. I just found it funny that there was an ironic misreading of your claim. My comment was meant as lighthearted; I know that you obviously didn’t mean what I said above.

Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Meme
10 months ago

I do think it was not ideally phrased, but thanks! And LOL.

Andy Lamey
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
10 months ago

I found his arguments a lot more attractive than I would have if I were the one in power.

Well Said, Nicolas.

On The Market
Reply to  Moti Gorin
10 months ago

Or, you know, Case 0. Aka what actually happens in such cases:

The editor desk-rejects the paper or book for obviously being without merit, and that’s the end of it.

Matt L
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

Here’s a real example that might fit the scenario. (Or maybe you’d not agree with that – that’s also interesting to know.) Some time ago I refereed an article for a journal (I forget which one now – I referee a lot!) that argued that family based migration rights should be extended to polygamous marriages when the people in question were from countries that allow such marriages. I noted in my comments that it seemed to me that the argument as set out would also justify or even require recognizing child marriages in cases where those were recognized by the country the people came from, and said that the author should either show why this wasn’t so, or explain why we should bite the bullet on this point. But, I thought the article was otherwise good (even though I disagreed with the conclusion) and so wanted the author to get to address the point. The editor, however, said that he or she agreed with me that the argument would extend to child marriage, and that because this was obviously immoral, the paper should be rejected. That seemed wrong to me. Do you think something like that was wrong? Or does this not fit the cases you’re interested in.

On The Market
Reply to  Matt L
10 months ago

I’m not sure why I am attributed the view that work with bad moral consequences ought not be published. If so, I should deem most of ethics to be unpublishable.

I’ve advocated that work with the bad moral consequences requires, for that reason, additional scrutiny. And this scrutiny extends to the question of whether the author is making a serious philosophical argument in good faith. (As opposed to making a bad-faith argument towards political ends that are external to philosophy.) I cannot guess what the outcome of this would be in your particular case.

To stress, I am not accusing Byrne of anything. I highlighted in my initial post that the moral circumstances of this case license the application of such scrutiny, and that if his book (which none of us have read) failed the scrutiny, it would explain all his complaints.

Last edited 10 months ago by On The Market
Matt L
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

I took this statement to mean that there were some positions you thought were obviously morally wrong, or perhaps would have such bad consequences, and so should be rejected for that reason:

I suppose, then, that you do not agree that certain theses are beyond the pale. Everything is fair game. You’d be willing to give a fair shot to a well-argued book in favor of slavery, I take it.
I’m not old-fashioned enough for this.

I’m sorry if I’d misread you on that, but I guess I’m not completely sure what position you’re arguing for. I agree that, if we think someone is making a bad faith argument, that might be reason to reject it, but I think there won’t be that many clear cases of this.

On The Market
Reply to  Matt L
10 months ago

I think I just gave you the position I am arguing for. Morally fraught work must pass special scrutiny, including an assessment of seriousness and good faith. GC work faces an uphill battle to pass such scrutiny, for reasons I gave multiple times, but am happy to repeat: an overt alliance with the aggressor-side in a violent culture war, a history of not even acknowledging the moral fraughtness of their work, and the refusal to acknowledge the objective, lived reality of trans people.

As for where you quote me: I believe we are on the save side if we give a blanket assessment of bad faith to any work that advocates for the reinstitution of slavery.

If someone sincerely and seriously, motivated by a ~* sheer love of truth and the desire to see where an argument leads them *~, wants to get their pro-slavery arguments published — well, then I hope we can all agree that they need to do a lot of additional work to convince us of their good faith. And I am not entirely sure they ever could.

Last edited 10 months ago by On The Market
Matt L
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

I’d guess that my position is that certain views are going to be very hard to argue for, given the assumptions I’d be willing to make. (I have in mind here things like supposed biblical or theological justifications for slavery, or claims about “rights of conquest” or the like.) Of course, some libertarians have argued that some forms of slavery can be justified, but it seems to me that the problem is that those areguments are not very good, not that they are made in bad faith or are wicked. (And, they would not plausibly justify slavery as was practiced in the US, either.) These considerations seem to me to solve most of the issues we might have here, without having to place special burdens on people to establish good faith or the like.

On The Market
Reply to  Matt L
10 months ago

I mean, I also think that most GC work is rather shoddily argued, so I would be delighted if we could rely on the general standards of peer review to sort this out. Unfortunately, I think this is rather naive.

For one, because our peer review practices aren’t very reliable. For two, because there’s many avenues to publication that are subject to typically even less rigorous examination (invited contributions to collections, proceedings, or special issues; monographs).

I don’t think it is a coincidence that most “gender critical” work appears in such venues; nor that the present case concerns such venues. I won’t engage in any argument whether this is due to unfair anti-GC bias in the journal system, or due to the lacking quality of GC work; you know my opinion, and this isn’t the space for a substantive debate on the merits of GC arguments. My point is that regardless of the merit of GC arguments, their moral fraughtness merits special scrutiny, because moral fraughtness in general merits special scrutiny.

For, given the unreliability of peer review, I think it is reckless to ignore the possibility of bad faith. We can easily imagine a bad actor publishing a superficially well written but in substance poorly argued paper in favor of the reintroduction of slavery, with callous disregard for the people who may not appreciate having their human dignity being the subject of a public debate; with callous disregard for the members of the profession who may be alienated by their peers arguing that their human dignity ought to be up for discussion on grounds of academic freedom; and indeed with callous disregard for how this whole affair will blight our entire profession in the process.

For slavery this might seem borderline absurd. But for matters that are just slightly less abhorrent, it is easily possible and sometimes has in fact happened. We owe it to ourselves, our profession, its members, and society at large to have proper wards against this.

Indeed, if in the actual case you earlier relayed to me, the editor had a reasonable suspicion that something like this might be the case here, I’m with the editor. But I can’t know the details.

Before someone gets mad, I am not saying that GC arguments are morally on a par with arguing for the reintroduction of slavery.

Matt L
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

Indeed, if in the actual case you earlier relayed to me, the editor had a reasonable suspicion that something like this might be the case here, I’m with the editor. But I can’t know the details.

You think that we should worry that, even maybe, someone wrote a paper on polygamy and family marriage so as to make a back-door argument, that wasn’t at all made, in favor of immigration benefits for child marriage? I mean, do you think that’s something that an editor should consider? I ask because it seems absurd to me. I am not sure why you are as confident about the “bad faith” of various people as you seem to be, but I want to suggest that this might be something you should re-think.

On The Market
Reply to  Matt L
10 months ago

The way you describe your case, it does sound quite milquetoast indeed, and it’s very possible the editor overshot the goal. But, again, I don’t know it, and I have to take your word for it.

Regardless, I think I have made the case that moral fraughtness merits additional scrutiny.

Jarjar
Jarjar
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

“If I’d see my view and work being used to support policies that hurt and marginalize a group of vulnerable people, I’d be VERY concerned.” First, pretty much any work can be so used…Second, depends on whether or not you care about people who are marginalized, no? Plenty of groups feel and claim to be marginalized by pro trans/woke ideology,.but I have not seen anyone give a damn about that from those group – in fact, the reply is “even better”. So it’s a bit hard to sympathize, esp. when the ideology is now the power that be in most academic circles…

Laura
Reply to  Jarjar
10 months ago

If “the ideology” (whatever it is) is presently “the power that be in most academic circles”, the situation is quite the opposite in many US state legislatures. Hundreds of anti-trans bills were introduced in 2023 and many will become law. Many parents will have to decide whether they can or should move to another state to protect their child. In Missouri and Florida, among others, trans adults may not be able to live there and continue to receive health care. The same legislators supporting these restrictions are supporting restrictions on what educators can teach. A conversation about broader attacks on academic freedom should take this context into account as well. “GC” views, and the essays in popular newspapers or periodicals that cite them, are in turn cited by these legislators and their political allies.

This is in no way an argument for censoring views, nor an evaluation of which ones are better. The point is that we should not assume forces opposing academic freedom exist only on one side of this issue, and we should take seriously that the loss of basic rights Is the present context of discussion.

Molly Gardner
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

If I’d see my view and work being used to support policies that hurt and marginalize a group of vulnerable people, I’d be VERY concerned.”

I am glad that you are concerned about the consequences your view has for women.

On The Market
Reply to  Molly Gardner
10 months ago

I am. And I can say with absolute certainty that my work has never been used to rile up a moral panic that has resulted in violence against gender-nonconforming people (cis and trans); bomb threats against hospitals; legislation to abridge healthcare; subjected intersex athletes to abuse and invasive exams; or given succor to anti-abortionist movements.

Can you?

Molly Gardner
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

I have no control over whether a violent maniac making a bomb threat writes some kind of manifesto that cites my research. Or to take a less extreme case, nor do I have direct control over whether a Republican legislator cites my research. I’m pretty sure that there is nothing in my research that–if rationally interpreted–would be justify the actions of a violent maniac or even a Republican legislator, but research can always be misinterpreted. Or perhaps one day I will publish an article that says that males should compete on the men’s sports teams, and a Republican will read it. That would be fine with me.

I do have control over whether I am directly arguing for policies that harm women. If I argue that males who are convicted of violent crimes should be housed in female prisons, then I am responsible for making that argument, and I should be careful that I am not arguing for something that is morally wrong.

On The Market
Reply to  Molly Gardner
10 months ago

So you are not concerned about the consequences of your work, gotcha

Molly Gardner
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

One consequence of the view that trans women are female is the conclusion that trans women ought to compete on the female sports team. I am concerned about consequences of views like that.

I am also concerned about what happens when people’s views are misinterpreted, but that kind of consequence is not something we can control. The possibility that one’s view can be misinterpreted, twisted, or misused by bad actors is not a strong reason to refrain from stating the view.

On The Market
Reply to  Molly Gardner
10 months ago

As a matter of fact, I think that prisons and sports teams are paradigmatic cases where a policy debate can be had in good faith.

Women’s sports already impose restrictions related to hormone levels also on cis women. Trans women are naturally subject to the same restrictions. We could be looking into whether given the new situation (that is, trans women who are competing) these restrictions are in need of revision.

Prisons are a good case where, on a case by case basis, something more than self-id might be called for.

But it is plain to me that GC people are unwilling to have these policy debates in good faith. This has become VERY clear when trans women in prisons were discussed in Scotland earlier this year. There was already a case-by-case determination system in place, but instead of looking for improvements to that system, the GC position was entirely destructive.

Molly Gardner
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

I wrote a reply to this, but I guess it wasn’t approved, and I’m happy to just be quiet now. But I wasn’t ignoring you.

Molly Gardner
Reply to  Molly Gardner
10 months ago

Let me make just one more clarification. I work in applied ethics, so I have a habit of using modus tollens to test out various moral principles–I tend to think that if a moral principle or theory logically implies something immoral, this is some evidence that that view is false. That’s the main sense in which I am concerned about the logical consequences of various views.

That’s different from arguing that if a view has certain practical consequences, it should be censored. That is not the argument I am making. I am opposed to censoring a view on the grounds that bad actors could appeal to the view to justify their bad actions.

So my point is not actually that relevant to the present discussion, since the discussion is about whether certain views should be censored, and not about whether the views in question are true.

David Wallace
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

It’s funny you should mention bomb threats. At Pitt we just this evening had a controversial event involving a debate about trans rights. There was a big protest crowd, which is fine, but also someone seems to have set off an incendiary device outside the building it was happening, which is not.

I don’t blame the peaceful academic critics of trans-critical thinkers. I don’t even blame the protestors. But it’s false to say that one side in this debate has a monopoly on “allies” who go beyond their peacefully-expressed views into violence.

On The Market
Reply to  David Wallace
10 months ago

I agree that this is unacceptable of course, and have often urged my own students to *peaceful* protest.

But I don’t see major queer scholars supporting violence. I do see major GC “scholars” actively and explicitly supporting the alt-right pundits who are whipping up the moral panic.

David Wallace
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

I agree that this is unacceptable of course“.

To be clear, I would never have thought that you believed otherwise.

I don’t normally debate the first-order issues of trans politics here (as opposed to the academic-freedom issues) but the incendiary device this evening was a bit shocking.

On The Market
Reply to  David Wallace
10 months ago

Understandable. It is shocking that such things are happening now.

Without meaning to accord blame, it is a stark reminder that it is not *just* academic freedom that is at stake, but that there are real-world implications and consequences of what we are doing.

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

On your view, should anti-gender-critical scholarship be rejected on the grounds that some people have or might again set off incendiary devices at protests? I think this would be a strange thing to propose, and I would strongly oppose any measures to limit academic freedom on these grounds, but it seems to be entailed by what you’ve said about gender-critical views.

On The Market
Reply to  Moti Gorin
10 months ago

Somewhere long up this comment chain I responded to your point about “guilt by association”. I believe this wasn’t about publication per se, but about the moral character of the people involved.

I am, personally, very disturbed by the ends-justify-the-means attitude of major GC figures. They openly and explicitly give support to major alt-right personalities stoking the culture war. Abortion rights, public safety of gender non-conforming people, both cis and trans people’s access to care, all are acceptable collateral damages of the project to “morally mandate trans people out of existence” or whatever the polite phrase is these days.

Any critique of this is met with wails of “guilt by association”, as if this was the issue — and not guilt by overt support.

I have not, ever, seen a trans positive feminist display similar callousness.

It is very clear who is waging a war on whom here (alt right on queer people). It is also clear who is supporting the aggressor.

If you want to make this about publication ethics then, sure, I think this means that it is incumbent on GC people, more than trans positive scholars, to exercise particular scrutiny regarding the consequences of their scholarship; and incumbent on editors to likewise exercise such scrutiny.

Molly Gardner
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

I think I now better understand On the Market’s position. You don’t want to restrict the academic freedom of GCs because you think having their ideas in print is dangerous. You agree that it is silly to worry about the dangers of Matt Walsh reading Philosophical Studies.

Instead, you want to restrict the academic freedom of GCs because adding a new publication to one’s CV increases a person’s prestige. You are worried that if the profession confers more prestige or status onto GCs, then GCs will gain more power. Is that the view?

On The Market
Reply to  Molly Gardner
10 months ago

I am puzzled by this “better understanding”. If you go back up to what I originally said, you’ll find the following:

First, the observation that we have professional norms about serious and good-faith engagement, and that if an editor finds these norms violated, this merits intervention of just the type we are seeing here, without constituting a violation of academic freedom.

So, as far as I am concerned, there is no evidence that anything went wrong here at all. But apparently the very thought is anathema to some people here.

Sure, I don’t know whether this is the case for Byrne’s book, it is speculation. But everyone else here is speculating; David Wallace is so confident in his speculation that leads him to conclude the opposite (that something did go wrong), he sent an email to the editor!

Second, the claim that GC scholars need to take action to demonstrate seriousness and good-faith because their research is suspect in virtue of their own peers actions. The vast, vast majority of philosophy, I suppose, can be published under a presumption of good faith. But GCs have lost the privilege of being presumed to act in good faith.

That led us down to this whole “guilt by association” rabbit hole, which for the record, is a smokescreen. The charge isn’t coincidental association, but active and willing support. As I said, my conscience is clear, but I can’t absolve you of yours.

I any case, at no point did I say that morally fraught work ought not to be published, or that anyone’s academic freedom is to be restricted.

I said that morally fraught work deserves special scrutiny. That scrutiny, by itself, is not in contradiction to academic freedom, but in fact a vital norm that allows us to uphold academic freedom. Because this freedom is a privilege we can only retain if we use it responsibly.

Notapostgrad
Notapostgrad
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

For someone who goes on and on about “the well being poisoned,” this line above is just risible. We better get the pyres going and throw Marx on there, since no doubt he riled up a good many massacres. Bible and Quran have to go of course for all their violence-promoting. Better update our index librorum prohibitorum with the new texts that blaspheme against the gender nonconforming religion.

Is there any evidence that these heretical academic texts by Byrne et al have directly led to bomb threats and violence? Are shooters walking around with dog-eared copies of Philosophical Studies? Here’s an alternative just-so story: in fact, it’s the the work that Byrne et al are responding to that is actually responsible for violence; for you see, the views in “non gender critical” papers percolate down to disturbed people who find these new views strange and upsetting and it leads them to respond in aggressive ways. The work of Byrne et al actually serves to mediate this aggressive response by providing people with a sense of familiarity, which quiets their need to respond with aggression. And the more the views of Byrne et al are suppressed and snidely ignored, the worse the aggression gets.

What? You don’t find that a well-supported theory? I’d say it’s as well as supported as the notion that Byrne’s work is leading to bomb threats.

Three weeks ago, students at a protest at Purdue hung a big banner for all to see that said “Transphonic? Kill yourself.” But you are sure, with “absolute certainty,” exactly what work leads to disturbing behavior or violent outcomes. Right.

On The Market
Reply to  Notapostgrad
10 months ago

We would indeed merely be trading just-so stories, if it weren’t the case that many major GC people are in openly declared alliances with the right-wing pundits who are stoking the violent and incendiary culture war.

My story isn’t just-so, I’m afraid.

Another Philosopher
Another Philosopher
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

Has Byrne declared such an alliance?

On The Market
Reply to  Another Philosopher
10 months ago

Why do you ask?

Another Philosopher
Another Philosopher
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

Either it is obvious why I ask or I have not understood your point by mentioning the fact that what you call “GC people” are openly in an alliance with right-wing pundits.

Could you explain?

On The Market
Reply to  Another Philosopher
10 months ago

I am making a general point about the area to which Byrne contributes. The point stands regardless of his individual actions. Hence my confusion about why you ask about him personally.

Another Philosopher
Another Philosopher
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

I still don’t understand your point.

There are some bad-faith actors in this area, and therefore we should assume that Byrne is too, and treat him accordingly. And what follows from that, that we should make sure that his books are not published?

Ray V.
Ray V.
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

One reason for caution is that, if you are talking about a particular social group you don’t belong to, and almost all members of that group vehemently object to your claims, particularly those who are also researchers, with longer expertise on this topic, and offer arguments against them continually which you don’t adequately address, it’s possible you have failed to understand something.

But there wasn’t much concern from some researchers about this, and historically it led to some very poor research on women, Black people, indigenous people, LGBT people, etc. So yours is a very good point, and not unconnected to the quality of the research.

One can certainly question the point of particular research interests without it merely being a question of hostility to open discussion of controversial claims. There’s no way for this kind of controversial research to be entirely objective and neutral because no research is, entirely..

Research that cannot be ‘recalled’ by being disproven because it is useful to specific political factions seeking to depict groups in a way that is socially harmful or undermine various public policy is sometimes subject to heightened scrutiny. E.g., when people made claims about causes of autism or climate change, this had lasting effects. The research was bad, but once it was out there, showing it was bad didn’t make much of a dent on the effects.

So now people doing research which could have that impact face a higher bar for how good their research is because it is clearer what is at stake, and how that research can be used, no matter how bad it is.

Why shouldn’t research with potential for this impact be subject to a higher level of scrutiny, given its likely effects on people’s lives and the fact it is widely criticized by people who are more centrally in this area of study?

Gender Critical research is almost exclusively utilized by people opposed to various rights of transgender people. How is that irrelevant to how the research is received when the impact is lasting even if the research is later disproven?

For a while, research about transgender people wasn’t making a huge difference because there wasn’t a large political movement opposed to their rights–they already had some rights (which they have now lost in some places). They lost these rights partly as a result of the gender critical movement.

Now there are different stakes so people approach this research differently, subjecting it to more scrutiny.

This is normal though. It’s happened in many other fields such as medicine, anthropology, sociology and psychology for many different reasons. It wasn’t destructive of progress in those fields.

Perhaps Professor Byrne’s work is better than the other work which preceded it. Nevertheless, now that people know about its possible effects, they are more demanding of its quality.

It just seems quixotic to claim we should ignore the context wherein research is received, and treat all research the same.

William Clare Roberts
William Clare Roberts
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

This is exactly right. I actually cannot believe academic philosophers are still having this conversation in 2023, given everything that has happened over the past two years. A very vocal and very aggrieved set of academics want to use their publications to tell a small and threatened minority — the object of over 450 attempts at punitive legislation in the US — that they don’t exist, that their experiences aren’t real, that they have no right to make their claims on us, and that they are at best a quirky case to be thought-experimented upon. I have nothing but contempt for the “gender critical” academics and that is the attitude I would urge everyone else to adopt as well. Good riddance.

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  William Clare Roberts
10 months ago

Could you please just quote the passage where Byrne tells the threatened minority that they don’t exist?

Thanks!

Jarjar
Jarjar
Reply to  William Clare Roberts
10 months ago

I have never seen any philosophers (of the ones usually mentioned in these discussions) make any of these claims. What are you talking about?

Dr EM
Reply to  William Clare Roberts
10 months ago

Wow. It’s one thing to abhor a view but to say you have contempt for the individuals is quite concerning. It also contributes to the “chill” and is part of the reason precarious philosophers don’t speak up. I know you won’t see that as a problem (since they are “contemptible”) but hopefully others will recognise the problem.

Not I
Not I
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

There is a serious and good-faith way to engage with the question “what is gender identity?”. It beings with the empirical fact that people have one.”

(empirical) citation needed.
This is one of the basic things at issue. Why can “gender identity” not be transparent to “feeling drawn to a certain set of gendered expectations?” Many people testify to having no distinct sense of “gender identity” just as many people say it is the defining thing about them. It’s not “good faith” to ignore this disagreement.

On The Market
Reply to  Not I
10 months ago

The existence of gender identities is not seriously disputed in the empirical science that studies it, psychology.

If anyone else wants to dispute any other robust empirical result, we’d expect them to present very robust, very carefully gathered, empirical evidence.

If someone would try to, say, refute the Copernican model not by astronomical data, but by *conceptual analysis* of the word “sun”, we’d be flabbergasted at the audacity.

That is how flabbergasted I am at GC scholarship. Even more flabbergasted at how many are falling for it.

Dr EM
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

I’d be interested in how they define “gender identity” for the purpose of asking people if they have one.

On The Market
Reply to  Dr EM
10 months ago

I generally find the arrogant presumptiveness of some philosophers, that our skill at conceptual analysis gives us license to insert ourselves in any scholarly debate whatsoever, quite repulsive.

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  Dr EM
10 months ago

I’ve looked into this in some detail for my own research and I can tell you that conceptually it’s a disaster.

Justin Kalef
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

The existence of gender identities is not seriously disputed in the empirical science that studies it, psychology.

On The Market, are you aware of the intense pressures (including widespread public denunciations and shaming, calls (often successful) for firing, death threats, online attacks on vulnerable familiy members, etc.) faced by psychologists who have dared to question the new ‘consensus’? Are you not aware of the fact that many researchers in psychology and other relevant social scientists have lost or abandoned promising careers to avoid these attacks? What seems to be happening at OUP is just another, perhaps even milder manifestation of what is happening throughout the social sciences.

A wide number of books, like Helen Joyce’s _Trans_ and Alice Dreger’s _Galileo’s Middle Finger_, discuss in some depth the vicious attacks on figures like Michael Bailey (whose character was run down on the basis of terrible falsehoods about himself and his family) and many others.

A 2017 BBC documentary, _Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?_, discussed cases like the outsting of the eminent Canadian psychologist, Kenneth Zucker, from the leading gender identity clinic in that country when radical activists ascended to power and falsely smeared him in 2015. That program was not in fact aired on the BBC because transgender activists exerted pressure against the public’s seeing it and deciding the matter for themselves, but at least it was set to be aired in Canada, so that Canadian citizens could make an informed decision about this transformation — until the CBC caved in the face of radical activists there, too, and pulled the show. (You can watch it online if you’re interested).

I could go on about this with more and more instances… but here’s my point. Whether the new gender identity viewpoint is accurate or inaccurate, it’s very clear that the social sciences, including clinical psychology, are rife with terrible intimidation on this very point. Any reasonable scholar or practitioner who considers questioning what has suddenly become the mainstream view will be well aware of significant and probably permanent risks for doing so.

One might of course admit that this sort of intimidation is widespread, and yet take the position that that level of pressure is salutary for this or that reason, since anyone who raises any doubts about the radical gender identity view is wrong and dangerous. But I don’t see how any informed person could deny that the pressure _exists_, or that pressure of that sort makes it unreasonable to treat the ensuing consensus as good evidence of anything.

Notworthit
Notworthit
Reply to  Justin Kalef
10 months ago

Thanks for bringing attention to this, Justin. Part of the reason I’m not inclined to speak up on these matters anymore is that I have friends in the social sciences who have been victimized by just these attacks (death threats, calls for cancellation of various forms, harrassment, etc.), and I have people in my university who are similarly intolerant. And let’s not mince words here: I’d argue that a social scientist friend of mine has done as much as anyone to advance the cause of trans people–and who without question knows all the arguments for the inclusive stance and is themselves on the inclusive side of that debate–and still that’s not enough for those who aim to take my friend down through destructive methods.

When it comes to silencing unapproved speech through drastic measures, it’s not just philosophy, we can all see that it’s not just philosophy, and it’s bad both inside and outside philosophy.

On The Market
Reply to  Justin Kalef
10 months ago

I’m glad you bring up Dreger on Bailey, it is actually a good case for the incredible credulousness with which claims of censorship are assessed here.

Dreger cried wolf about the supposed suppression of Bailey’s allegedly fine research, but have you actually looked at his book? It is *laughable*. Not just on moral grounds or on grounds of being anti-trans. It is just very, very bad. For a brief case in point, cf Christa’s reporting https://twitter.com/christapeterso/status/1617955358483550208

Someone published junk science, got criticized, someone wrote a misleading account of the criticism… all you all fell for it.

Helen Joyce’s “trans” makes anyone remotely familiar with the psychology or philosophy of gender want to put their head through a fucking table.

I don’t deny that that these publications face extreme pushback. I deny that these pressures are “purely ideological” rather than ON MERIT.

On the Inside (anon for obvious reasons)
On the Inside (anon for obvious reasons)
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

As someone employed by the university press in question, I thank you for articulating this so efficiently. This is not a question of academic freedom but rather one of academic integrity and recognizing that scholarly output can and does affect policy. It is irresponsible and transparent when those supporting GC beliefs claim otherwise. If the violent and horrific attacks against the trans and NB community aren’t convincing enough, try looking into the extremely high rates of suicide ideation and attempts by trans youth. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32345113/

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin

Putting aside the unsupported maligning of GC scholars by linking them to violence and suicide, this is, from a purely academic freedom perspective, probably the most concerning comment on this thread, given both the source (an employee of an academic press) and the substance.

The suggestion that the fact that “scholarly output can and does affect policy” should factor significantly in editorial decisions should send a chill down the spine of anyone working on topics that might have even indirect influence on important and disputed matters of public concern.

Last edited 10 months ago by Moti Gorin
On The Market
Reply to  Moti Gorin
10 months ago

Moti, for real:

Do you or do you not think that a work that has foreseeable, likely consequences on policy or social life merits additional scrutiny, compared to a work that lacks such consequences?

Richard Y Chappell
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

Do you mean, for example, that critics of effective altruism — who, if they discouraged effective giving in their readers, would predictably and foreseeably result in many more people *literally dying* from malaria (amongst other grave harms) — should receive “additional scrutiny” before their objections to demanding conceptions of beneficence can be published?

On The Market
Reply to  Richard Y Chappell
10 months ago

Sure. But I also believe that in this particular case the standard of additional scrutiny is very easy to meet, since critics of effective altruism have not comported themselves in the public realm in such a manner that would defease a default assumption of seriousness and good faith.

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

Which work merits additional scrutiny? Work that has foreseeable likely negative consequences, or work that was plausibly not produced by serious people acting in good faith? These are very different principles. Do you hold both?

On The Market
Reply to  JDRox
10 months ago

Work that has foreseeable likely negative consequences merits additional scrutiny, in particular regarding the seriousness and good faith of the ones doing it.

I’ve said this multiple times over now.

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

The very question of what counts as a “negative consequence” is one of the issues in dispute. Molly Gardner made this point above. Some people believe, for example, that replacing sex with gender identity will lead to negative consequences. Others believe that failing to replace sex with gender identity will lead to negative consequences. That you have taken a side on these issues does not mean they are not live issues, or that “additional levels of scrutiny” should be applied just to those arguing for the positions you oppose.

There are substantive conclusions that you seem to take for granted and you then argue that those who don’t take those conclusions for granted are “not serious” or are arguing “in bad faith.” This is a mistake. Consider the possibility that some people genuinely hold different views from your own, that they sincerely believe there are good reasons to hold the position they hold, etc.

On The Market
Reply to  Moti Gorin
10 months ago

I’m quite alright with having “negative consequence” be interpreted widely, encompassing issues over which there is moral disagreement, erring on the side of caution.

You still haven’t told me whether you think that moral fraughtness, however construed, should have any kind of impact on publication ethics.

I, generally, don’t doubt the sincerity of GC beliefs. I doubt that, at large, they are sincerely interested in subjecting these belief to rational argument. My evidence for this doubt is their comport in extra-academic venues. If serious GC scholars, supposedly like Byrne, have been caught up in this, that is very unfortunate. I suggested ways out of that unfortunate situation.

To pursue an inexact analogy: I generally believe that bigots sincerely hold their bigoted beliefs. And I simultaneously, consistently believe that whenever they try to concoct a rationalistic arguments to spread their bigotry, the very effort is unserious and in bad faith for it is just a smokescreen for the underlying bigotry.

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

No, I do not think “moral fraughtness” should have any kind of impact whatsoever on publication ethics, at least not in the academic domain, where the books are written and read not by children in a nursery but by adult academics. That a topic is morally fraught gives us more reason, not less, to write and read about it, to argue about it, to try to sort out the best way to think about it, the best way to form policies in response to the various considerations to which the problem gives rise, and so on. Of course I take a different view when it comes to children’s literature.

On The Market
Reply to  Moti Gorin
10 months ago

Very well. Then I shall continue to be appalled at either your naivety or callousness towards the real-world consequences of our work. And you shall continue to be appalled at my naivety or disregard towards academic freedom.

Ray V.
Ray V.
Reply to  Moti Gorin
10 months ago

Sure. However, history of scholarship in almost every field of social science and throughout the history of natural sciences may mean that people actually take the views of humans that research is about more seriously –as a matter of scholarly integrity, and perhaps people are less willing to dismiss researchers from certain marginalized groups as experts when they possess the requisite credentials.

A lot of the science and social science that was done in a free and easy way without any thought about what it meant for the groups it was about was not only extremely harmful but also bad and dumb. So it’s not unrelated to the quality issue.

If the editor and referees have doubts about the quality of the research, how is this destructive of academic freedom?

I am not saying I know the reasons they thought it wasn’t good–merely the fact that ‘this is a view some scholars have, therefore it requires prestige publication’ isn’t very convincing on its own unless you presuppose those scholars don’t ever have to answer to other scholars–but that’s not how it works, generally. And there are good historical reasons to be cautious about that.

It’s not like the ideas won’t get out there. They just don’t have a certain imprimatur.

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  Ray V.
10 months ago

I’m not sure I understand you, but I think you are asking two different, unrelated questions. The first one is about the responsibility researchers have to the people they study. The second is about editorial norms.

On the first question, I think it’s a mistake to regard these debates about sex and gender as being about trans people. They aren’t. They are about sex and gender. There are implications for trans people, of course, but also for non-trans people. This research is not analogous to biomedical or social scientific research that seeks to learn about members of some group, how they behave, what health burdens they face, how they respond to this or that stimuli, or whatever. There, the “nothing about us without us” slogan has application. But that’s not anything like what gender critical scholars are doing.
On the publication issue, I’m not quite sure what you are asking. Of course editors and reviewers should assess the quality of the research. One of the main questions in this case is whether the unusual decision was made on the basis of legitimate scholarly assessment or rather if it was motivated by other considerations, e.g., of the sort that played a role in the treatment of Lawford-Smith’s book. If you are asking me if I think certain people are better positioned to assess the quality of scholarship about sex and gender because they are members of this or that group, then my answer is decidedly “no” for the reasons I gave above. This research is not about any particular group of people, unless we just mean the group of people that includes all people.

Richard Y Chappell
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

Well, actually: https://markfuentes1.substack.com/p/emile-p-torress-history-of-dishonesty

But I just don’t see how details about the authors or their mental states are relevant to assessing the philosophical merits of a piece of work. As I understand it, academic assessment involves assessment of a text, not an attempt at predicting whether the author is a good or sincere person.

On The Market
Reply to  Richard Y Chappell
10 months ago

Whether a work is serious and in good faith is very much a quality of the work.

I’ve also not advocated for tracking down individual authors and including an assessment of their moral character in an editorial decision.

  1. If a work has foreseeable, likely bad consequences, it deserves additional scrutiny.
  2. By default, we can assume good faith and this scrutiny amounts to nothing more than checking whether the work is egregiously unserious.
  3. This default is defeasible. It can be overridden, e.g., if the work belongs to a larger body of work in which bad faith is rampant or whose proponents have a history of bad faith.

This isn’t a new professional norm.

Any editor knows to recognize a morally fraught work and knows to be extra careful with it.

The profession at large never had an issue with this. It only became an issue when certain people took the issue outside the profession because they think their work should be exempt from this norm.

Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Richard Y Chappell
10 months ago

🔥

s.w.c
s.w.c
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

Just a small remark. You say you

have not been successful in having such a good-faith debate with anyone who identifies as “gender critical”.”

but the value of public debate, by way of published scholarship, does not always manifest in a feeling of personal satisfaction for the participants.

if the published record made it as transparently obvious as you take it to be that your opponents cannot argue in good faith, or produce compelling responses to criticism, or maintain theories which survive scrutiny, then there’s great value whether or not you emerge feeling victorious from such exchanges. The general philosophical education puts us all in a position to recognize bad arguments and bad positions, so having philosophers exposed on the public record will be instructive to a broader intellectual community. There’s a reason we should want these these debates playing out in venues with the highest standards for clarity and argumentation, because those conventions provide the conditions for easiest detection of fallacy or rhetorical manipulation.

It’s clear that most do not consider the scholarly debates conclusive so far, but that’s more a reason to encourage these exchanges to happen in philosophical literature rather than letting cheeky pundits do the heavy lifting. Believe it or not, many if not most people have an open mind about issues relating to sex and gender, and are relying on trained experts to duke things out in attempts to find better-defendable theories and eliminate weak untenable ones. If people get the impression that the debate is deemed inappropriate for vigorous back-and-forths regarding the vices and virtues of prima facie plausible theories, then, I at least would not conclude things are conclusively established to acceptable philosophical standards. I would rather conclude that these issues are unfit targets for serious philosophizing and take claims on the subject less seriously, which you might consider a harmful result — since the goal seems to be to establish certain popular ideas about sex and gender as established fact.

Just something to consider when you ponder the purpose of continued debate.

On The Market
Reply to  s.w.c
10 months ago

I think it is rather fallacious to claim that bad work should be published, so that its badness becomes wider known. Bad work simply does not get published, that is the norm.

We are all in a position to recognize bad arguments and bad positions, and initially we did recognize the “GC” (before they called themselves that) arguments as bad, and accordingly did not publish such work and did not engage with such arguments.

It was the GCs who took the extraordinary step of taking the matter whether their work merits publication or engagement out of the peer review process, and into the tabloids, press, blogs, political arena, effectively handing the reigns to the “cheeky pundits”.

This situation is exactly what I am decrying in this comment thread, and exactly the reason why I think the good faith of GC scholars is dubious.

Dr EM
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

Who is “we”? Because it is surely not the profession as a whole.

On The Market
Reply to  Dr EM
10 months ago

We, the profession collectively, and our collective actions regarding matters as what gets published where, what arguments get engaged with in publication.

If a particular type of work does not pass peer review, and is not discussed by peers in related areas, this is prima facie evidence that such work does not meet some standard of quality, enforced collectively and determined collectively by the profession.

I have not yet seen any evidence suggesting that peer review isn’t working here, that publication standards are misapplied.

If some work does not get published and you think this is due to a bias or conspiracy, it is up to you to prove that bias or conspiracy. Otherwise and all else being equal, I will continue assuming that the work was just shoddy.

And, once again, stirring up a storm in the extra-professional media is not how one would go about this.

s.w.c
s.w.c
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

We disagree on a lot. I want the best version of a bad theory to be formulated and defended as clearly and carefully as possible. That way, it’s somewhat conclusive when such projects fail. All the more when the “bad theory” is one that’s found pre-theoretically plausible, as in not totally ridiculous.

According to my philosophical methodology, there’s no more conclusive evidence that I’m right than that the very best version of the opposing view faces difficulties which will plague all weaker and weirder and wonkier versions of the theory. When I write, I tend to do a lot of work trying to find the best strongest most careful formulations of the theory I want to debunk, so that I don’t waste my time arguing against contingent features of the opposing view.

Is your view that there’s simply no possible way of making the views you dislike any more precise, or arguing for them in print any better than they’ve already been defended? If no, you should be encouraging opponents to try and develop more careful and compelling versions of the view you ultimately take to be false, right? And then thwarting attempts to do is counterintuitive in a multitude of ways.

On The Market
Reply to  s.w.c
10 months ago

If there is a good defense of a bad theory, I expect to see it in print and be subjected to discussion. Likely, this will help us to better understand the badness of the theory.

But what if the bad theory cannot be well defended in the first place? Do you recommend that we settle for publishing a bad defense of the bad theory? Or, perhaps, that the bad theory is not worth our attention in the first place.

s.c.
s.c.
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

So you answer yes to my question,

“there’s simply no possible way of making the views you dislike any more precise, or arguing for them in print any better than they’ve already been defended”?

On The Market
Reply to  s.c.
10 months ago

No. I don’t think that an argument is publishable merely in virtue of being “more precise” or “any better than” a previous, worse argument.

If you think otherwise and are running a journal somewhere, let me know, so I can send you my very crappy but extremely precisely articulated argument for the Earth being flat. I promise it’s better than the stuff that has been put forward on youtube!

I can’t rule out, metaphysically, the possibility that there is a good defense of a hitherto not well-defended argument that merits publication and attention from the wider community. But there isn’t one until there is one. And I generally rely on the peer review process to do some pre-selection for me in this. The fact that some purportedly good argument for a view I find absurd has not appeared in print is not something that fazes me much.

There’s a great many views I “dislike”, as you so very charitably put it, in that I go by the default assumption that they cannot be well-defended: that the earth is flat; that slavery is moral; that God hates me. I’m keeping with my default until proven wrong. That there are people who claim to be able to prove me wrong, but cannot seem to get published in venues I respect really does not concern me much.

I don’t understand why you would conclude that I “should be encouraging opponents to try and develop more careful and compelling versions” of such views. I am very neutral about whether this is a worthwhile use of their time.

s.w.c.
s.w.c.
Reply to  On The Market
10 months ago

You must have had your mind changed somewhere above (I haven’t bothered to read all the threads).

I took you to be still arguing that access to venues you respect is and ought to be conditional on the good faith” of the author. Now you’re saying publication is and ought to remain a meritocratic endeavor. My mistake.

On The Market
Reply to  s.w.c.
10 months ago

I consider seriousness and having been produced in good faith to be properties of the work itself, relevant to its merit. Happy to clear that up.

Cora Diamond
10 months ago

Esa Diaz-Leon argues that there is no general opposition to publishing works arguing for gender-critical views. When OUP published Holly Lawford-Smith’s book defending her gender-critical feminism, there were two letters sent to OUP, objecting in the strongest terms to the publishing of her book. One letter was from OUP authors, the other from OUP staff. The book was not yet published, so the criticism did not reflect thought about what was actually in the book. The opposition was simply to publishing a book defending gender-critical feminism. Diaz-Leon’s claim that there is no general opposition to publishing gender-critical books seems to imply that OUP has not in fact crumbled in the face of the earlier criticism. But we should note that Hannah Barnes’s book on the Tavistock Clinic in London was recently rejected by 12 publishers, some of whom explicitly cited objections from staff. Diaz-Leon has no good evidence that there is no widespread opposition to publishing works defending views opposed to what is now orthodoxy. And no good evidence that publishing decisions aren’t being determined by this kind of opposition. See especially the letter from “not worth it” about the obvious chilling effect on philosophical discussion, not limited to junior people.

Esa Diaz-Leon
Reply to  Cora Diamond
10 months ago

“ And no good evidence that publishing decisions aren’t being determined by this kind of opposition”. Precisely my point is that we cannot tell either way just on the basis of an article by Alex Byrne. As “on the market” explains above, it is compatible with all the evidence we have, that the book was rejected because it did not satisfy the standards of the editors.
Also: Lawford-Smith’s book “sex matters” is forthcoming in OUP. So there is no general ban against books defending those views. Perhaps OUP wants to be extra careful. For the reasons “on the market” gives above, I think they should be.

Hector
10 months ago

Byrne writes, “according to the authors—as if no one had ever dreamed of denying it—Elliot Page is a man. Never mind whether this is correct; what was disappointing was the pretense that it is beyond dispute.” This is unfair. The authors explicitly decline to take a position on — or even to discuss — the semantics of English nouns like “man.” (See p. 2, end of second full paragraph).

Junior Faculty
10 months ago

I’ve always been concerned with academic freedom, but now I’m convinced I underestimated the threat.

My fellow faculty try to contort words into some argument to convince us that undeniably and absolutely extraordinary editorial or publisher action around controversial writings is just as likely quality-control-as-usual. The intellectual dishonesty is staggering. I’d respect (but vehemently disagree with) a colleague who transparently defended a philosophy of research which put social effects on par with (or above) truth or academic freedom. I’ve argued my whole career with those who deny even morality (and hence, human rights, individual dignity, moral equality, etc) exists. That’s philosophy for ya.

But I cannot abide my colleagues engaged in this ridiculous sophistry.

Last edited 10 months ago by Junior Faculty
Mid career
Mid career
Reply to  Junior Faculty
10 months ago

This is by far the most sensible comment in this thread. As it happens, I think that there are all sorts of cases where it might be justifiable to limit inquiry or speech on the basis of potential social harms. There’s a great discussion of this topic in Kitcher’s Science, Truth and Democracy book, which I think makes a good case. But I know that’s a controversial position in general. It’s also very unclear whether that argument would apply in the case of gender critical beliefs.

Still, it seems to me that these sorts of considerations are far more useful starting points than suggestions that Byrne’s work is simply sub-standard. I’m not an expert in his work but it would be a bit weird if someone ended up in his job while completely incompetent at meeting the norms of contemporary philosophy.

Jonathan Kendrick
Jonathan Kendrick
10 months ago

As a philosopher of language, who works on pronominal anaphora, the Byrne pronoun piece was, in my opinion, egregiously bad scholarship. No one in linguistics thinks that grammatical gender has much to do with actual gender or sex (e.g. just because elevator is feminine in some language or other doesn’t mean elevators somehow have feminine characteristics). Regardless of whether the paper’s arguments were harmful, the more immediate problem was that the paper showed a glaring lack of engagement with decades of work in philosophy of language and linguistics.

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Jonathan Kendrick
10 months ago

Just to be clear:
nobody in linguistics thinks that the gender of a personal pronoun used to refer to a human being has much to do with the actual gender or sex of the human being?

Jonathan Kendrick
Jonathan Kendrick
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
10 months ago

Well, grammatical gender has *something* to do with actual gender or sex, but the relationship is hardly very deep. Grammatical gender is primarily just an abstract feature used for purposes of tracking agreement in syntax. Hence, why “toaster” being masculine in language or other doesn’t have deep metaphysical implications about the relationship between toaster-hood and masculinity.

Katie Martin, a linguistics PhD student at MIT, has a nice writeup of some of the basic empirical issues with Byrne’s claims

https://medium.com/@katiedimartin/thinking-about-byrne-2022-on-pronouns-part-1-67f671316654

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Jonathan Kendrick
10 months ago

Yes, I understand the point about toasters and refrigerators. But I’m asking whether you are saying it’s the same with personal pronouns used to refer to a human being.

An example involving anaphora would be helpful, since that’s your specialty!

Jonathan Kendrick
Jonathan Kendrick
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
10 months ago

Sure! For example, if I don’t know the gender/sex of the reviewer, the following utterance is fine:

“_The reviewer_i found Byrne’s paper bad. _She_i recommended rejecting it.”

Many bound and anaphoric uses of the pronouns are impersonal uses, which seemingly undermines the view that they have any significant import into debates about sex/gender.

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Jonathan Kendrick
10 months ago

Sure, but someone who knows the reviewer is male can properly correct you:

“He, not she”.

So this seems to be an example in which the choice of personal pronoun does have a lot to do with the sex/gender of the person to whom it refers.

Jonathan Kendrick
Jonathan Kendrick
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
10 months ago

But, the point is, in bound and anaphoric uses, it really doesn’t matter. For example, if I say, “Every tenured professor in the department must send her CV,” I’m not saying every tenured professor in the department is a woman or only the women professors have to send their CVs!!!

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Jonathan Kendrick
10 months ago

So what is your explanation for why it is felicitous to correct the speaker by saying, “He, not she”, when you know that the subject is a man?

A good explanation is that the gender of the pronoun has a lot to do with the sex/gender of the person to whom it refers. (Or really, I see that the person in this subthread calling themself ‘grad student’ has put it clearer and more accurately: what Byrne is talking about is the presuppositional content of the choice of pronouns.)
But if that’s not the right explanation, I wonder what is.

Lowlygrad
Lowlygrad
Reply to  Jonathan Kendrick
10 months ago

If only someone told the feminists this back in the 90’s about “he”…

Laura
Reply to  Lowlygrad
10 months ago

What arguments of theirs make you think they did not know this?

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Jonathan Kendrick
10 months ago

Jonathan, I’m having trouble understanding the view you’re defending in a way that doesn’t entail that it is in a certain sense silly for people to care about what pronouns they are called by.* Do you accept that implication?

*Of course, people care about silly things all the time: grown men playing games, etc.

nope
nope
Reply to  JDRox
10 months ago

I was going to ask this too. I can already imagine the next professor stirring the pot by deliberately misgendering their students, saying: “Look, I was just using ‘he’ as an abstract feature for purposes of tracking agreement in syntax; I wasn’t implying anything about his actual gender!”

UmWhat
Reply to  Jonathan Kendrick
10 months ago

The claim that “in bound or anaphoric uses it doesn’t really matter” seems incorrect, and was actually indirectly addressed in Byrne’s pronoun piece which you claim to be such bad scholarship. E.g., to modify one of his examples from early in his paper:

# That animal is not female, but she is in the field.

Also, Byrne rejected (in fn. 5) your point using a similar example: “Bound FM pronouns produce the same result: ‘If every cat washes herself, then we don’t need to bathe any cats’ commits the speaker to every contextually relevant cat being female.” I suppose a question then, much like Drier’s, is this: if you are right that such uses of bound uses of ‘her’ do not commit the speaker to the domain being (all) female, why is it relevant for someone to offer the correction or clarification: “Oh, but they aren’t all female”?

Laura
Reply to  UmWhat
10 months ago

Why is it relevant? People say things like this all the time and it would seem superfluous to point out that not all cats are female, unless this feature is somehow relevant to understanding their bathing. Otherwise we would assume the claim was extended to all cats.

UmWhat
Reply to  Laura
10 months ago

Laura: Byrne’s example isn’t about all (quantifier wide open) cats, but about the “contextually relevant” ones given that conditional with the embedded quantifier: a domain that could, in principle, include only female cats, or male and female both (or only male ones), depending on the context. Given that the context could be about any such set of cats, the use of “herself” when one could’ve easily instead said “itself” lends itself to the obvious interpretation that the speaker has committed themself to all those cats being female. The point is that even bound uses of “she/her/…” etc. do plausibly commit one to all of them (in the restricted domain quantified over in that context) being female, which is what Jonathan had denied atop this subthread. If Jonathan’s denial is correct, then (as he says) such uses don’t commit one to a particular sex at all… but if so then it’s quite unclear why they seem eligible for correction (about the restricted domain being discussed in the context).

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  UmWhat
10 months ago

This is not my area and so I can’t follow this particular discussion very well, but is the claim here that when X refers to a person using “her” or “him” X is never referring to sex? Obviously pronouns don’t always refer to sex (toasters or whatever). But is the claim that they never do? No need to respond, of course, to an amateur question–I’m just curious and trying to get a dumbed-down sense for what’s at issue.

UmWhat
Reply to  Moti Gorin
10 months ago

Moti: Right. Apart from toasters etc., it seems like Jonathan’s point was that bounded or anaphoric constructions, “it doesn’t matter” even when it is clear that the context is about some cats or women (and not toasters)… which could be interpreted as “they don’t refer to sex” even in those constructions & contexts. And my only point has been that this seems wrong in that a bunch of the standard evidence (including the kind Byrne invoked in his pronouns draft) points the other way. (Clearly, I do work in philosophy of language, so I’m confused by Jonathan’s insistence in his earliest comments on this.)

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  UmWhat
10 months ago

Thanks, UmWhat.

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  Moti Gorin
10 months ago

Actually, one more question, if you don’t mind (and assuming you even see this, given the state of this thread.) I just want to make sure I understand the basic idea.

I go to a friend’s house. My friend greets me and says, “We got a new puppy! Come meet her, she’s in the back yard.”

From this (“her”, “she”) I infer that the puppy is female or, weaker, that my friend believes it’s female, or if something funny or sinister is going on, that my friend wants me to believe, for whatever reason, that it is female.

On the view you’re responding to, are these inferences unwarranted?

Philip Kremer
Philip Kremer
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
10 months ago

In French, “personne” is always feminine and “bébé” is always masculine, and pronouns anaphorically referring to these words should accord with them in grammatical gender.

Example. A parent is looking at their baby girl: “Mon bébé est si beau, mais il pleure trop.” (My baby is so beautiful, but she cries too much.) According to the grammar books, the correct pronoun to use is the masculine “il” even though the baby is female, because the word “bébé” is masculine. (One should also use the masculine “mon” instead of “ma” and the masculine “beau” instead of “belle”.)

There is a counter-argument here: while the grammar books tell you to use “il”, lots of actual francophones will use the feminine “elle” in conversation. I will now consult with my francophone friends on Facebook! Of course, this is a parochial fact about French: I don’t know how it works in other languages.

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Philip Kremer
10 months ago

Great example, Phil.
I’d thought of basically the same example! (I thought of a woman doctor, and the noun “médecin”.) Since my linguistic intuitions about French are basically worthless, I asked a native speaker, who claimed to *always* use the pronoun whose gender matched the sex/gender of the person, rather than the gender of the antecedent noun. E.g.,

J’ai demandé au médecin et elle m’a dit de prendre du Tylenol.

But anyway, your info about what the grammar books say is quite germane. Thanks!

Philip Kremer
Philip Kremer
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
10 months ago

My five native language informants so far on FB all use “elle” in the baby case, despite the advice of the grammarians.

Benj
Reply to  Philip Kremer
10 months ago

An amusing, notorious example from German: the diminutive suffixes ‘-chen’ and ‘-lein’ impose neuter gender; thus, the word for ‘girl’, ‘Mädchen’, is neuter, taking the neuter article ‘das’ and anaphor ‘es’.

Jonathan Kendrick
Jonathan Kendrick
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
10 months ago

But, cross-linguistically, grammatical gender is really pretty divorced from gender or sex. As Kirk-Giannini and Glanzberg point out in their article in the aforementioned handbook:

“Many languages show richer gender systems, and these systems also show important variety. Gender features, in contrast to number features and person features, typically carry contents related to personal gender, sex, animacy, humanness, or animalhood. We mention a few example, drawn from work of Kramer (2020). Her broad cross-linguistic survey notes, among many other data points, that Sochiapan Chinantec (Otomanguean: Chinantecan) assigns gender using animacy: animate nouns are assigned one gender, and inanimate nouns another. As she also notes, many Niger-Congo languages have one gender for human-denoting nouns and one for non-human-denoting ones. Some languages assign gender to nouns seemingly arbitrarily, at least outside of nouns with clearly gender-specific semantic content. Spanish is an example.”

David Wallace
Reply to  Jonathan Kendrick
10 months ago

This might be right (I have no idea, this isn’t my field) but there are established norms for peer review of invited contributions and (at least on Alex Byrne’s testimony) they were not followed here.

N.A.
N.A.
Reply to  David Wallace
10 months ago

Are you saying that the established norms presumptively require publishing “egregiously bad scholarship”, or perhaps something less ridiculous?

David Wallace
Reply to  N.A.
10 months ago

They require serious, documented, argued-for, peer-review evidence that the paper isn’t publishable, in order to outweigh the prima facie expectation that an invitation is honored. That apparently didn’t happen here.

Jonathan Kendrick
Jonathan Kendrick
Reply to  David Wallace
10 months ago

But, this exists! See Katie’s excellent take down of the piece. You seem to think that just because Byrne is a famous professor at a famous institution, he should be allowed to wade into something far beyond his own expertise and make patently absurd claims!