Education, Top Stories

The Problem with ‘The Journal of Controversial Ideas’

A group of academics recently announced plans to launch a new journal focused on research that its authors fear could lead to a backlash, putting their careers and perhaps even their physical safety in danger. With these concerns in mind, the journal will allow authors to publish their work anonymously, subject to peer review. Some are applauding the launch of what will be titled The Journal of Controversial Ideas. They view it as a needed response to an academic and potentially broader culture that is increasingly afraid to grapple with sensitive topics and seeks to suppress ideas that may have merit but are socially unpopular. However, we think the creation of a journal like this, while serving as a prophetic warning about the new moral culture taking hold of academia and the future of our institutions of higher learning, may be a counterproductive way of dealing with the problems it addresses.

First, it is worth asking whether the concerns prompting the creation of this journal are warranted. Some writers and academics claim that stories of campus censorship, groupthink, and ideological bias are overblown, if not outright fantasy. We believe that these concerns are, in fact, justified. One need not look very hard to find cases of professors facing serious backlash, even threats, from students, faculty, and administrators because of ideas they have expressed in academic journals, opinion pieces, media interviews, and public lectures.

Just weeks ago Professor Samuel Abrams of Sarah Lawrence University published an op-ed in The New York Times documenting that among college administrators who are on the front lines interacting with students, liberals outnumber conservatives 12 to 1. He discussed how this imbalance can dramatically bias the campus social and educational agendas in favor of progressive viewpoints. In response to this article, campus activists vandalized his office and called for him to be fired. The student senate held an emergency meeting. The college president responded not with a forceful and unambiguous defense of free speech and academic freedom but by signaling support to campus activists and suggesting Professor Abrams had created a hostile work environment.

The lack of viewpoint diversity among college and university faculty gives further reason for scholars to be concerned about pursuing and attempting to publish “controversial” ideas.

University faculty, particularly in the social sciences and humanities, are overwhelmingly on the political left, and this may lead to social and professional consequences for academics whose ideas or research are perceived as at odds with a progressive worldview. For instance, in a survey of academics in the field of social psychology, researchers observed that conservative and moderate scholars reported experiencing a significantly more hostile work climate than liberals. The survey also found that the majority of respondents indicated some willingness to discriminate against colleagues who are conservative or whose research takes a conservative perspective. Surveys of faculty in other disciplines paint a similar picture of an academy populated by professors willing to block colleagues with divergent views from getting academic appointments, publishing their work, and receiving research funding.

Even while we recognize these and other threats to scholars who do work viewed as controversial, we believe the creation of The Journal of Controversial Ideas is ultimately a capitulation to the academic culture that motivated scholars to feel the need to establish such a journal.

One of us (Bradley) is a sociologist who has spent the last several years studying the rise of a new moral culture among progressive activists on college campuses. In The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars, Bradley and his coauthor Jason Manning point out that campus activists increasingly reject many widely held moral concepts and ideals—the injunction to have thick skin and ignore insults, for example, or the distinction between speech and violence. Those who embrace the new morality use a framework of oppression and victimhood to interpret even mundane human interaction as hostile or malignant. In this way, victimhood confers a kind of moral status as the adherents of this new ideology create new kinds of protections for oppressed groups.

One such protection is a safe space. A few years ago at Brown University, for example, members of the Sexual Assault Task Force set up a safe space—a room with coloring books, Play-Doh, and other comforts—for students who might be upset by a formal debate about the term rape culture that was taking place elsewhere on campus. Closely related to the idea of safe spaces is the idea of speech as violence. Words can harm people as much as sticks and stones can, the argument goes, so slights, insults, and even intellectual debate that harms victim groups should be treated just like violence—authorities should prevent it, and when they fail to do so, activists should use violence to stop it themselves.

The new culture can lead to the stifling of academic freedom and free speech on campus, as at Sarah Lawrence. But it can also have a strange effect on those who oppose it. What psychologists call “competitive victimhood” occurs when people counter accusations of wrongdoing with claims of victimhood, and in this way the critics of political correctness may come to adopt their own version of victimhood culture. Some on the right have even adopted the idea of speech as violence, as when Trump supporters shouting “This is violence against Donald Trump” at a New York performance of “Julius Caesar” that portrayed Caesar as Trump.

Those behind The Journal of Controversial Ideas aren’t adopting the language or tactics of campus protesters, but we worry that despite their good intentions, an academic journal centered around grievances over censorship will only intensify the problems it’s supposed to address. What makes an idea controversial is the reaction to it, so cordoning off controversial ideas into a special journal allows the reactions of activists to define the journal’s subject matter. Instead of sharing a common methodology or field of study, the contributing authors would have in common only their identity as actual or potential victims of censorship.

In fighting censorship, we need to avoid creating new kinds of safe spaces and organizing institutions around competing narratives of victimhood. The danger is that The Journal of Controversial Ideas, rather than arresting or reversing campus intolerance, could lead to a situation where competing academic journals simply champion different victims. This would be a submission to the culture of victimhood, not a counterpunch.

But another danger is that universities will ignore the warning the creation of this journal provides. The journal is a response to problems that have the potential to undermine the mission of the university. Controversial ideas are a normal part of academic life, a feature of any environment where people are free to pursue the truth and engage in vigorous debate. The idea that universities or academic journals should be safe spaces where certain ideas go unchallenged is backward. Let them instead be safe spaces for the expression of ideas. Let every journal be a place where controversy is welcome and there will be no reason for this one.

 

Bradley Campbell is an associate professor of sociology at California State University, Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter .

Clay Routledge is a Quillette columnist and professor of psychology at North Dakota State University. You can follow him on Twitter @clayroutledge.

63 Comments

  1. MichaelJ says

    I quite agree that a Journal of Controversial Ideas (JCI) would legitimately be subject to many of the same criticisms as ‘safe spaces’ if it allows anonymous publication. Unfortunately, the only antidote to the censorious and often vicious behaviour of the cultural Marxists who currently dominate the Humanities faculties, is to confront them forthrightly. To that end, the JCI could be very helpful if it gives a platform to research and ideas that might otherwise be denied one on ideological grounds.

    The problem, to mind mind, is not the journal as such, but its anonymous aspect. True intellectuals of the past confronted all sorts of persecution – including torture and murder – when they made controversial (heretical) arguments publicly and openly. In so doing they laid the foundations of the culture of free speech and inquiry that largely prevailed in the democratic societies of the 20th century. We must be prepared to put our names to our controversial ideas in defense of their legacy.

    • Brian Villanueva says

      There is a long tradition in Western scholarship of anonymous publication of ideas that could pose a threat to the authors. For one of the most prominent examples, all of the Federalist and Anti-federalist papers were published anonymously.

      • ga gamba says

        Thanks for the comment, Brian. I immediately thought of George Kennan’s prescient The Sources of Soviet Conduct, published under the pseudonym ‘X’ in 1947, and Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population. Consider the 200-odd years of comedy from the Malthusians we would have missed out on had Malthus kept that under wraps.

        First, it is worth asking whether the concerns prompting the creation of this journal are warranted. Some writers and academics claim that stories of campus censorship, groupthink, and ideological bias are overblown, if not outright fantasy.

        The critics have the right to think and say so, yet I don’t understand the intent of their complaint. Those who advocate anonymous publication are not requiring it for everyone else. Moreover, they’re not even demanding present journals bend to demands. I think the critics’ misgivings are based on the fear the culture they’ve created isn’t sufficiently repressive enough to stymie uncomfortable ideas. The more cherished the icons, the more painful the iconoclasm.

        I look forward to the publication of the Journal of Controversial Ideas and wish it much success in shaking things up.

      • Jack B. Nimble says

        @Brian V.

        As someone who comments pseudonymously, I like the idea of anonymity. Apart from avoiding harassment, anonymity might mitigate the ‘Matthew Effect’ in science and other academic areas:

        ‘….In the sociology of science, “Matthew effect” was a term coined by Robert K. Merton to describe how, among other things, eminent scientists will often get more credit than a comparatively unknown researcher, even if their work is similar; it also means that credit will usually be given to researchers who are already famous……’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_effect

        Grant and MS reviewers are typically allowed to comment anonymously, but [unfortunately] authors usually don’t have that privilege. Anyway, scientific works are so individualistic that guessing an author is pretty easy, even without resort to stylistic analysis.

        Even without the possibility of harassment, publicly criticizing the ‘big shots’ in an academic field can be a career hazard, as recent Nobelist Paul Romer has observed, with particular reference to macro-economics:

        ‘……Several economists I know seem to have assimilated a norm that the post-real macroeconomists actively promote – that it is an extremely serious violation of some honor code for anyone to criticize openly a revered authority figure – and that neither facts that are false, nor predictions that are wrong, nor models that make no sense matter enough to worry about.

        A norm that places an authority above criticism helps people cooperate as members of a belief field that pursues political, moral, or religious objectives. As Jonathan Haidt (2012) observes, this type of norm had survival value because it helped members of one group mount a coordinated defense when they were attacked by another group. It is supported by two innate moral senses, one that encourages us to defer to authority, another which compels self-sacrifice to defend the purity of the sacred.

        Science, and all the other research fields spawned by the enlightenment, survive by “turning the dial to zero” on these innate moral senses. Members cultivate the conviction that nothing is sacred and that authority should always be challenged. In this sense, Voltaire is more important to the intellectual foundation of the research fields of the enlightenment than Descartes or Newton……’
        https://paulromer.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/WP-Trouble.pdf

    • Michael Joseph says

      Am I the only one who noticed that of the list: opinions; lectures; media appearances; journal submissions. Only the journal work could be anonymous. Seems to me there are plenty of free speech warriors or FSWs to go around and a secret journal of controversial ideas might be a good idea but probably won’t get very many submissions since everyone wants credit for their contributions.

  2. Sam Hall says

    I agree that the anonymity contemplated for JCI authors is troubling. Even if we stipulate that the editors would run a tight ship behind the scenes, the bad optics are obvious.

    That being said, the writers of this piece are correct to fear powerful career and even physical retaliation for potential JCI contributors, and also about the moral power of putting oneself at risk in the service of an idea. The answer, in my view, is for the JCI and its supporters to strongly defend the right of all to speak their minds, while standing ready to oppose actual violence with force. At the end of the day, bullies are bullies, and it still only takes a punch in the nose to set mostbof them straight.

  3. Farris says

    This article reminds me of a question I have asked for over 30 years but have yet to receive an answer:
    “Can the truth be politically incorrect?” Or in other words just as truth is a defense to defamation, is truth a defense to political incorrectness?
    The author poses an interesting question as to whether the publication in question is a surrender to the culture of victimhood. However he fails to suggest how such so called controversial ideas ever see the light of day without such a journal. Would a politically incorrect article disavowing victimhood be a capitulation to the victim culture? Is alternative media such a capitulation? I would view such a publication a rival to Leftist nostrums. I fail to understand how lack of engagement could ever create parity or better. Perhaps the author would prefer the moniker “The Journal of Alleged Controversial Ideas”.
    Anonymity alone does not infer victim status but rather a desire for privacy. Most postings on this site are under pseudonyms, not because the commenters lack the courage of their convictions or indicative of perceived victim status.

    • Farris says

      Thomas Paine’s pamphlet “Common Sense” was published anonymously.

      • Anonymous says

        Years ago I read of an innovation which was introduced at a german orchestra to remove bias from the evaluation of auditioning players seeking employment. They put up a screen on the stage and evaluated the performance purely on the sound of the playing without allowing the judges to know the sex, age, race, or even posture or clothes sense of the candidate. Apparently, it resulted in the hiring of many more women.

        I think all data should be published under the name(s) of its collectors because the quality of the data is a question of truth for which everyone who gathers data should be held personally responsible to the scientific community; but all analyses or syntheses thereof, or arguments therefrom, should separately be published anonymously because such things are ultimately a matter of opinion (some opinions being more informed than others but not thereby necessarily more correct). That way the arguments to conclusions to be drawn from the data would be judged on their own logical and mathematical merits without reference to the identity of the person who holds the opinion being expressed. After all, the text (whether wordy arguments or mathy calculations) is the text, whatever the intentions of its author may have been.

    • MichaelJ says

      Farris, I agree that anonymity in comments sections like this one is both usual and not indicative of cowardice. But note that, while Quillette comments are usually pretty civil, not all comments sections are the same and anonymity is, I would argue, often more of a shield for trolls than for people who lack the courage of their convictions. The more anonymous a debate is, the more it is likely to degenerate into mudslinging and ugliness. Note also that, while comments are usually anonymous, the actual authors of Quillette articles are very rarely so.

      In the case of the academy, being prepared to put one’s name to one’s controversial work is a duty in respect of intellectual honesty and willingness to engage in open debate. Academics are professional purveyors of ideas and should take personal responsibility for their work, even when doing so is dangerous. (I say this as an academic who is about to embark on a book project that’s likely to land me in hot water with the dominant cultural Marxist element of the academy.)

    • Circuses and Bread 🇺🇸 says

      @Farris:

      30 years? Wow. I’ll bite.

      The answer is absolutely not. Since when has politics had an interest in truth? Politics is a means for grabbing, retaining, and abusing power. And the ends justify the means. Political correctness is just a methodology for suppressing ideas that don’t fit with the orthodoxy of the political cult in question. Political correctness just sounds nicer than “heresy” or “thoughtcrime.”

      • Chris Mackay says

        Excellent wording to define the point. Of the definitions of anonymous I prefer the “unknown” element, as in the name of the writer is not actually known. Where the person is known then anonymity should not apply. Be brave or appease … that is the choice and we know what happens to the latter category.

    • To answer your question truth is quite clearly not a defence, or at least not an effective defence against policitcal correctness.

      It is absolutely beyond any rational argument that there are differences between the dsitribution of mental characteristics between boys and girls which are not drived from the environment. The evidence is from many diverse sources, biology, medicine, psychology it is as well an established fact as anything can be in science. It should be a foundation of gender studies if that means anything at all yet the opposite is almost universally held to be true and taught and arguing the opposite is dangerous being denounced as misogynistic and oppressive. There are very big problems in modern academia, the proposed journal is a symptom of this but I don’t think it will make much differences in either direction. The current trend is for a still greater erosion of the enlightment principlas of open debate, rational argument and respect for differing points of view. Ironically it is based on an argument for equality and fairness but is deeply racist and sexist in nature. Most worryingly it is a strongly anti-evidence, anti-logic, emotionally based movement whcih makes it very hard to combat with the traditional tools of evidence and rational argument.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Farris

      “is truth a defense to political incorrectness”

      Absolutely not. PC is precisely that body of canonical lies that make up the myth structure of SJW-progressive orthodoxy. PC is the opposite of truth so truth must either destroy PC or be destroyed by it. But ‘defense’ implies that PC would be turned back by truth, that is, that PC would admit the power of truth whereas exactly the opposite is the case.

      • Farris says

        @C&B AJ & Ray

        Thank you all for your responses. But mostly thank you for confirming that political correctness is an anti-intellectual regressive pursuit devoted to virtue signaling and myths. As each of you have demonstrated Political Correctness is nothing more than a high stakes of “Pin the Tail on Donkey”

      • dellingdog says

        “PC is the opposite of truth so truth must either destroy PC or be destroyed by it.” I disagee. I think social-justice arguments contain elements of truth which are taken to absurd and counter-productive extremes. As anyone who reads Quillette’s comment section can see, there’s are equally rigid anti-SJW ideologues who demonize their opponents in the same way that extremists on the left do. If both sides followed the principle of charity and made a sincere effort to find common ground, the polarization would be less extreme.

  4. Farris says

    @MichaelJ

    Thank you for your observations and I admire your ethics. I would also point out that because of the manner in which debate is conducted it can be prudent to remain anonymous in order to preserve the topic. Today debates often degenerate into a referendum on the advocate. “He is a member of the gun lobby”, “She is employed by the abortion lobby”, “She worked on so and so’s campaign”. Unfortunately, many seem to believe denigrating the proponent discredits the idea or supporting facts. Good luck with your endeavors.

  5. X. Citoyen says

    If the journals in your field are controlled by a cabal of loons, you set up your own journal. But it’s not really the journals that are the problem; it’s the weak-willed (or complicit) university administrations that allow mobs to rule campus. The solution to this is for the Samuel Abrams of the world to start suing the universities for not protecting their rights and their persons. Universities understand money, and if the administration doesn’t the donors will. Bank on that.

    A Canadian case just popped up in the National Post. The back story is pro-life demonstrators attacked on the University of Calgary campus, not just by students, but by at least one faculty member. They sued and lost in lower court; but the provincial superior court agreed to hear the case. Naturally, the university has engaged in the usual sophistry to defend itself (https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/complaint-over-universitys-17500-security-charge-for-anti-abortion-protest-heads-to-albertas-top-court).

    • MagnusMino says

      “Universities understand money, and if the administration doesn’t the donors will. Bank on that.”

      Absolutely. But, it does not follow that university administrators would cower from angry mobs of students, who are mostly powerless, and not at all to onerous restrictions on speech by their donours. You literally admitted as much, but fail to close that circle. It’s notable how obvious the doublethink must be, to dismiss that university donours have ideological agendas too, let’s not be naive here, and absolutely impose their will on university administators.

      For example, massive and relentless pressure from outside zionist groups successfully stifles BDS activism on campus all the time, at many Universities.

      Zionists’ MO is to make calls to cut funding (it’s helpful when you have so much power, isn’t money great?), in order to silence students and professors, then blackmail people with wolf-crying slander, equating “anti-semitism” with opposition to superpowers massacring defenseless civilians living in open-air prisons where protesters, children, hospitals, schools, aquifers, are bombed routinely with space-age weaponry and laser-armed drones. They successfully get people fired and job offers rescinded (e.g. Steven Salaita). Let’s not be naive here. Either you’re for free speech all, or you’re against it. But don’t pick and choose what speech you’ll allow on campus, and why, and then try to claim that you’re guided by some kind of higher principle and enamoured by Heterodox thinking, fellow readers. That’s delusional and I’m calling you all out on it.

      Quillette is a funny place. Such a massive double standard is on display in every single one of these articles. Nobody here believes they are in favour of censoring free speech, meanwhile quite a few here are 100% in favour of sustained, foreign-government-supported university censorship drives, when it comes to even the mildest criticism of grotesque and regular war crimes, when they happen to be committed, “allegedly”, by the Chosen Few.

      Liberals all get outraged when Trump uses tear-gas on families and children at the Mexican border, rightfully, but most are conspicuously silent, if not outright supportive, when Israeli drones fire missiles at Palestinian kids playing soccer on the beach, or when their snipers shot 500 unarmed protesters this past summer including medics and journalists wearing white shirts. Or when they blew up a Palestinian primary school on the first day of school. It’s shameful the lack of coverage and sympathy they receive. Palestinians live under the constant threat of sudden death by sniper fire or drone strike every single day, and yet the media is largely silent. And people who protest these crimes are tracked and put into databases when joining protests, then threatened, doxed, fired.

      So I laugh at all these articles trying to equate the Heckler’s Veto being used at university campuses (which is bad, but not illegal), with for others using the federal government to criminalize dissent goes unnoticed. Forget tear gas, try white phosphorous, a chemical weapon used in 2014 on children. Cruise missiles blowing up UN hospitals. Anyone who defends these crimes is complicit. But their right to speak their drivel isn’t being silenced, far from it. Israel holds recruiting drives for the IDF, openly, on Canadian campuses, which is actually illegal. And they are not silenced or stopped. Why is that?

      Why does Quillette keep on ignoring the biggest cry-bullies in the room? The rank hypocrisy on display here is astonishing sometimes. Try to be consistent in your world-view if you want to be taken seriously as pro-free speech intellectuals.

      You’re only in favour of free speech if you’re in favour of speech you despise. Like Chomsky said, Stalin and Goebbels were in favour of free speech they liked, too. Just like Zionists never tell a pro-Israel students to stay silent on campus because it’ll offend relatives of their victims in their midst. It’s rank hypocrisy.

      I invite you all to ask yourselves: are you REALLY in favour of free speech on campus? Or just speech that you approve of. Because I really suspect it’s the latter.

      Ignoring the malign influence on campus activism by financial pressure from university donours is the tell-tale sign of someone who’s a fair-weather speech speech crusader. In other words, not really different than Stalin or any other strongman. Defend BDS activism even if you despise it, or stop pretending to believe in free speech. Pick a side.

  6. Peter from Oz says

    I agree whole heartedly with this article.
    The way to truth does not lie through victimhood but by reasserting the old values. If academic leftists want to be vicitms, I suggest we make them into what they wish by demolishing their arguments in open contest. There is no need to hide behind anonymity.
    But thing we must do is insist that leftist wrong doers are punished. But this punishment is for acts of violence and intimidation and preventing others from speaking. In fact one of the right’s goals must be the widespread understanding that preventing others from speaking is the most heinous of social offences that justifies severe punishment.
    Leftist extremists are only engaging in such behaviour, because spineless admisitrators are allowing them to do so. That must stop.

  7. Polaris says

    The authors have a valid point. Nonetheless, the need for The Journal of Controversial Ideas sufficiently outweighs the legitimate concerns raised in this article. Nicolaus Copernicus delayed publication of his sun centred theory of the solar system until his death for fear of religious objections. Charles Darwin likewise delayed publication of his theory of evolution for about two decades because of fear of criticism. Had The Journal of Controversial Ideas existed in their times then perhaps they would have published earlier and the world would have discovered their ideas that much sooner.

  8. Circuses and Bread 🇺🇸 says

    If the idea in question is REALLY politically controversial, it will be suppressed. A journal that sought to publish such would last maybe a month. If that long. So maybe a better question would be whether we need a Journal for Mildly Controversial Ideas That Don’t Threaten?

  9. Characterizing the journal as “centered around grievances over censorship” is misleading and inaccurate. The point of the journal is not to complain about censorship but merely a place to publish that is free of censorship.

  10. Nicholas Conrad says

    “you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”

    The point of the JCI isn’t to be a ‘safe space’ where ideas can go unquestioned, quite the reverse. By making SCIENCE anonymous, the only rebuttal available is intellectual. It removes the meta-game of attacking speakers rather than ideas, but it doesn’t remove the mechanism of SCIENCE: falsifiability. It’s a peer reviewed journal, if you think something published in it is wrong, REPLICATE. Anyway, it’s not one or the other, they can issue cryptographic public keys with each article so they can be claimed later by the author when civility is restored.

  11. Andrew Leonard says

    With these concerns in mind, the journal will allow authors to publish their work anonymously, subject to peer review.

    Textual analysis of the journals papers by pattern matching software could reveal authors identities, with a high degree of accuracy. The pattern matching would work against existing publications and look at subject areas, word frequencies, sentence length, grammar and writing idiosyncrasies, etc.

    Companies like Google probably already have this sort of software, and companies like Google would also be keen to undermine the journals effectiveness. Is there any effort towards modifying texts in some way so as to obfuscate authors?

    • ga gamba says

      Textual analysis of the journals papers by pattern matching software could reveal authors identities, with a high degree of accuracy.

      It’s called stylometric analysis. It’s existed for a quite a while, computational power makes it much less a chore, and, for example, it was used to expose the author of Primary Colors.

    • X. Citoyen says

      @AL,

      You’re right for the wrong reasons. Stylometrics only works if the author’s not trying to cover his tracks. Even if you have a large body of accessible work for comparison, a good copyeditor will—nine times out of ten—erase your stylistic imprint without even trying. (As an aside, a really good writer could make your paper match someone else’s style. The thought of people publishing papers in this journal that ping back to Judith Butler and other luminaries as the authors fills me with childish glee.)

      Anyway, these writers will be given away by their content not by their style. The first wave of papers will have been rejected by others journals. A lot of people will have read them in peer-review, and a lot more will recognize the work of their colleagues. So, unless you happen to have been working on the subject in secret, collecting data without going through the usual channels (which is all but impossible with human participants), or you’re using others’ data, you’ll be outed in jig time.

      It’s a lot easier than you think, especially when you’re dealing with controversial or minority views because the set of all people it could be is extremely small. I’ve been able to tell instantly who the authors of anonymized papers were by the content, and I’ve even identified anonymous peer-reviewers on the basis of what they said and didn’t say in their feedback. You can hide your name and change your style, but you can’t hide your pedigree.

      @ga gamba,

      If you haven’t come across this episode in stylometric history yet, check out the Ayers-as-Obama-ghostwriter controversy. Admittedly, I don’t have the time or interest in re-checking the analysis, so I have to reserve judgement. But Cashill’s evidence—if it tracks as well as he claims—makes for a prima facie case that’s more compelling than the ridicule offered as rebuttal.

  12. Anonymity is incompatible with virtue signalling. After all, the anonymous author reaps no benefit to his social standing by mouthing the approved orthodoxy. For this reason, forums for anonymous thought are of great value.

  13. Andrew Leonard says

    IMO most virtue signalling is actually status signalling.
    Regardless, you make a good point.

  14. Hm

    I can’t say I agree. There is a sufficient amount of diversity among the fields and ideas that what woulduld be considered controversial, that I don’t think we’ll have to worry about it creating a safe space or echo chamber, regardless of persecution.

    Especially since the grouping isn’t so much based on political ideology, so much as being contrary to a specific ideology. The group should be actually diverse enough.

    I can see two potential problems however.p

    One, the Journal turns on itself, creates it’s own ideology and refuses to publish anything that contravenes it. At that point it’s not an echo chamber problem, the Journal just isn’t actually representative of anything but a few people. The lack of overarching narrative and the multi-disciplinary nature of the journal should deal with that.

    Two, it turns into a ghetto. Academic activists and ideologues use it as a demonstration of “this is what we’re fighting” etc. etc. Isolating the academic field like this is potentially dangerous and ostracizing. Anyone who posts anything potentially controversial could be branded as being part of this specific self-identifying but anonymous group, and reactively try to distance themselves from it. “I’m not a right-winger!” etc. etc.

  15. E. Olson says

    Interesting counter-point to the idea of the journal, but it misses one important aspect, which is the first layer of publication. Peer review offers legitimacy to the ideas/outcomes that are expressed in a published paper that has survived the process, and several recent reviews and scandals suggest that most non-PC papers are unlikely to survive the peer review process (i.e. papers that suggest global warming is exaggerated, or that transgendered are mentally ill), while PC papers fly through without serious scrutiny (i.e. recent publication of a feminized Mein Kampf in a feminist journal). Hence with peer review journal rejection most “controversial” papers will not get “legitimate” publication status even if they become available to the public via some “open source” site. Of course there have also been some recent examples of “controversial” papers that have gotten through the review process (usually after extra lengthy and onerous reviews), which have subsequently been rejected or retracted because of social justice protest against the very idea of the paper or frivolous objections to some aspect of the data or analysis, but for every such accepted and then rejected/retracted paper I expect there are hundreds that never got that far because they were rejected early in the process because they weren’t PC enough. And of course the SJ crowd fights the peer-reviewed acceptance of any controversial papers because if they actually get published and stay published they will have a certain legitimacy that is much more difficult to refute.

    The question that I have about the Journal of Controversial Ideas is how the review process will work. In fields where Leftists are likely to be 95+% of the potential reviewers, how will the journal find “open-minded” reviewers who won’t subvert the the review process to their Leftist ends? Will such reviewers be able/want to use their ad-hoc reviewer or review board membership on the journal as a “professional service” item on their CV or annual performance review? Has any university and/or publishing house actually offered to provide a home and the necessary resources to get the journal off the ground, and will their support continue when the the SJWs and the Leftist media and faculty come after them for supporting a controversial journal?

  16. Stephanie says

    The problem with peer review is painfully obvious in the humanities, but the same problem exists in science. The idealogies people are beholden to aren’t as politicised, but they’re just as firmly held, and it means good science is thrown out because a reviewer felt their ideology was threatened, or they are working on something similar themselves.

    The author’s concerns are valid, and I would add that this new journal does not address that there is a deeper problem with the peer review process specifically and academic publishing generally that needs to be addressed. It’s unacceptable that research primarily funded by taxpayers is blocked behind paywalls, so that the publishing houses who do very little work can make 50% profits selling academics back their own work.

  17. “Let every journal be a place where controversy is welcome and there will be no reason for this one. ”

    Well said, and thank you for continuing your great work. I’m truly grateful to have found Quillette.

  18. Ray Andrews says

    Good thinking both pro and con here. Both sides are right. Let individual authors decide for themselves if they feel anonymity is what they need or not. It might have seemed noble for a civilized German to announce to Hitler that the latter is a barbarian — and end up in Dachau the next day — but it would have been more effective in that environment to go underground, survive, and do what one could anonymously.

    In the best of all possible worlds, all sane academics would rise as one and denounce the Correct and throw them out of the universities, one and all, but in the real world some will quietly join ‘the resistance’ and not offer themselves up for career execution one at a time. That’s fine. Better to publish anonymously than not at all.

    Besides, it will be great fun watching the thoughtpolice try to shut the JCI down and hound-out the authors, one thinks of the McCarthy witch hunts. The spectacle will put the lie to claims that there really is no problem with FOS on campus. Absent controversy, perhaps the universities would slowly ossify into entirely pointless chanting circles that almost everyone ignores.

  19. Ray Andrews says

    BTW, speaking of which, why doesn’t someone found the University of Patriarchy? You know, a place somewhat comparable to the great universities of 60 years ago where it is still permissible to state plain facts. Where you leave smarter than you were when you entered, rather than the converse. Peterson and Haidt among the first professors.

    • E. Olson says

      Great suggestion, but if the school received government funding it would soon be visited by lawyers from the federal government wondering why there aren’t more female students and faculty – open and shut case of discrimination. In their infinite wisdom, the administration would respond by creating a female/gender studies department and the great unraveling of the truth would begin.

        • Thoughthelookingglass says

          Hillsdale College, which has a classical liberal arts curriculum, accepts no government funding for precisely that reason.. I believe the same is also true of Thomas Aquinas College in California, where every student studies the same Great Books. It’s a wonder that California progressives permit such a subversive institution to operate in their midst.

      • The problem with all of the segregated universities is that they do not prepare the graduates for life in the real, corporate world. For all the cries about diversity, i’m shocked there hasn’t been a call to dismantled these segregated relics.

        • ga gamba says

          In a cruel twist, the integrated ones are also not preparing graduates for real life.

          And what of the large minority of high school graduates who don’t enroll in tertiary education? Are they completely unprepared for real life? And for how long? Of those who enroll, at what point along their academic lives are they ready for real life. The reason I ask is only 60% of those who enrolled complete their degrees with six years – this is 42% of high school graduates.

          In the US the age of majority is 18, which coincides with the age when most students complete their secondary education. Rather than delay preparation of real life handling to university, it ought to be required of high schools do so.

          • Thoughthelookingglass says

            The goal of the Left is not to prepare the graduates for real life, it is to turn “real life” – society as a whole – into the campus. HR employees, many of them fresh out of their 6 year indoctrination at Diversity U, are eager to ram sensitivity training and speech codes down the throats of their coworkers. The silly, outmoded idea of due process was sneered at during the Kavanaugh hearings. The notion of innocent until proven guilty was disregarded on campuses long ago. And corporate heads are accepting SJW dictates – whether out of cynicism, fear, or naivety, I do not know.

  20. In a wise world: “Let every journal be a place where controversy is welcome and there will be no reason for this one.”
    But what about a world where that’s not happening? Then is it okay?

  21. DontTakeMeSeriously says

    Does the current academic climate have elements that prevent the growth of knowledge?

    Are there movements that will employ personal harassment to stifle academics for pursuing the growth of knowledge?

    Can a journal offer the option of author anonymity in order to facilitate the growth of knowledge?

  22. Robert F Horan says

    Op-Eds and editorials make use of anonymity. Soviet containment strategy devised by Kennan began as an as anonymous article in the journal Foreign Affairs. Let the journal launch. It won’t be a “safe space” for long, as anonymity will be impossible, and there are few courageous academics willing to take the flak in sustaining the publication.

  23. Michael Joseph says

    Anonymity is your friend when you want to prove your biases. If you think this minority or that gender is less than yours, set up ways to work and submit work anonymously. I can’t believe this isn’t done more often. We have considerable technology that would allow us to accept and evaluate work products across a tremendously wide spectrum of activities from academics to Zamboni driver. The beauty part would be catching the cheaters. Just like Gerrymandering and other suppression techniques prove that you don’t believe in your own ideas (why would you cheat if you did?) people who cheated anonymous systems might like their minorities and genders better but they couldn’t really believe they were superior.

    Another boon of anonymous systems would be a protected space for people who defy cultural norms like girls who are good at math or boys who are good at interior decorating. I know, we are trying to get girls into coding and lift stereotypical pressures but there is still a lot of that out there.

    Just like a twelve year old girl on the internet could really be male, fat, fifty, and bald. Someday a jaded old coder could be skinny, twelve, and female. Here’s to anonymity!

  24. Pingback: Off the Cuff #37: Free Speech: The Last Unicorn of Human Rights | More Than Cake

  25. Tome708 says

    Ha Michael Joseph. Ironically those anonymous opinions you are referring to are usually progressive sjw using anonymity to create a false narrative. You have obviously bought into them. Here is to gullibility!

    • Michael Joseph says

      What’s that? A response to a post expressing ideas about how to run society so bias and discrimination are cut out of the economic process? What are your ideas? Something about progressive sjw and false narratives? Yeah real logical thinking there champ.

  26. João says

    You propose that this journal is not the best of ideas. However, what would be a good idea given the academic environment of apparent censorship of perceived controversial subjects?

  27. As many commenters have already stated, this journal normalizes censorship, groupthink, and ideological bias in academia by making authors of controversial ideas feel compelled to be anonymous. This is exactly the wrong way to address the problem.

    Contrast the approach of this journal with that of Researchers.One, also featured in Quillette (https://quillette.com/2018/11/29/academias-case-of-stockholm-syndrome/). On Researchers.One nothing is anonymous, dialogue is done publicly (including peer review) and all authors and reviewers are non-anonymous. There are no editors to suppress ideas of impose an ideology.

  28. ralfy says

    I’m trying to imagine a journal (or even a department) that follows the advice given at the end of the article.

  29. lloydr56 says

    Good article, and comments. If there is a Journal of Controversial ideas, many defenders of a conformist status quo might say of any and all controversial ideas: there is one (and only one) journal for that. Here’s a questionable analogy: when the British cabinet decided in 1917 that there should be a Jewish homeland at least roughly where Israel now is, there was some criticism from Jewish leaders. Wikipedia: [the criticism was that] “‘the establishment of a Jewish nationality in Palestine, founded on this theory of homelessness, must have the effect throughout the world of stamping the Jews as strangers in their native lands, and of undermining their hard-won position as citizens and nationals of these lands.’ This was followed in late August by Edwin Samuel Montagu, an influential anti-Zionist Jew and Secretary of State for India, and the only Jewish member of the British Cabinet, who wrote in a Cabinet memorandum that: ‘The policy of His Majesty’s Government is anti-Semitic in result and will prove a rallying ground for anti-Semites in every country of the world.’.” This was about 20 years before the Holocaust.

  30. Ted Peters says

    The human personality forms as a defense against awareness of deeply repressed conflicts and anxieties extant from our early development. Censorship of uncomfortable facts is therefore a natural human psychological reaction. Those individuals who are most burdened within because of childhood trauma are the most bigoted and overly sensitive members of our society, be they alt right supremacists or academic pc snowflakes. This is why we have a First Amendment. “It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.” Whitney vs People of the State of California.

  31. TofeldianSage says

    The author doesn’t seem to draw a distinction between feigned victimhood and actual victimhood. Someone shouting down a speaker because she feels unsafe is a faker, but if she is successful then the speaker becomes an actual victim of her chicanery. Discussing the actual victimhood of the speaker does not imply the adoption of victim culture by the speaker.

  32. Pingback: Philosophers to create journal for controversial ideas, anonymous submissions accepted | Unhinged Group

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  34. Chaim Yankel says

    It may become a ghetto for free-thinkers. It may become a beacon for academic freedom. It may become a whiny home for crumudgeons. We won’t know until we try.

  35. Blime Cork says

    I see no problem with anonymous authors if the source data sets used are also provided for subsequent verification.

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