Quillette Podcast 9 – Professor Jeff McMahan talks about co-founding the Journal of Controversial Ideas

Associate editor Toby Young talks to Jeff McMahan, professor of moral philosophy at Oxford and co-founder of the Journal of Controversial Ideas, a new academic periodical in which contributors will be given the option of publishing their papers pseudonymously. Professor McMahan talks about why he believes the journal is needed, how “controversial” ideas will be defined and responds to some of the criticisms that have greeted the idea, both from the Social Justice Left and the liberal centre.


  1. Toby Young covered the waterfront of issues that might arise from the publication of this kind of journal. And he did so quite eloquently. Prof McMahan likewise responded well to Mr. Young’s qustions and observations.

    The last question about the potential problems of influence that might come from of funding was followed by Claire’s pitch to use Patreon to support Q. We know now that Patreon’s staff moved to ban some members of the Intellectual Dark Web. Amusing.

  2. Num num says

    Toby’s arguments against pseudonymous scholarly publishing weren’t convincing. If there is just one scholar who would not otherwise publish, then it’s a needed and worthwhile option.

    The idea that pseudonymous publishing will discourage real-name authorship seems to value socially coerced silence over a pseudonymous option. If there’s any likelihood that authors will opt for pseudonymity, there’s manifestly a need for the option. It also ignores the likelihood that pseudonymous publishing may eventually encourage real-name authorship on offensive topics if it serves to advance an idea to the point that its truth claims can’t be denied and gain traction.

    Conversly, pseudonymous publishing may also afford the opportunity to refute bad offensive ideas that are lurking out there by hoisting them into the limelight where they can be openly subjected to critical scrutiny and thereby eliminated more effectively than ignoring them.

    • There is definitely a need for pseudonymous publishing now. I work at a fairly prestigious institution with lots of very very big names around, who should in principle have nothing to fear and speak their minds openly. All of them are living in mortal fear of the SJW academic lynch mob, and then there is the question of what fraction of them disagree with it to begin with, which is probably not that many (most have been socialized into actually believing the nonsense or at least pretending to do so). And this is in a field that has a lot to say on the current subjects of controversy, but is keeping silent because of these reasons. Someone like me can’t even think about opening his mouth even though I could set the record straight on a lot of subjects because I don’t have any job security.

      There is also the issue of journal subject matter — a lot of the crazy BS that needs to be combated is published in “journals” that will never ever consider an alternative view point, because they are not in the business of finding truth but in the business of enforcing an ideology. But there is no other place to combat it because there are no journals that adhere to actual scholarly standards and that even have that stuff within the scope of what they publish as a subject matter. They deal with actual science and this sort of crazy just isn’t within their subject matter.

      And, of course, they wouldn’t consider publishing such papers anyway for everyone their lives in fear too and/or has drank the koolaid themselves. You can find many examples of Nature and Science, the premier STEM publications, promoting blatantly anti-scientific views on their pages on issues of gender and sex.

      So what is there that could be done then within the existing system? Not much, thus an alternative is needed.

      • Num num says

        Thanks GM for your insights! SJW doctrine has perfectly built itself within preexisting liberal ethos such as of anti-racism, so charges of “racism” to the likes of even left liberals such as Burt Weinstein are not only bizarrely possible but stingingly effective, as good as a cracked whip, fear of which compels silence (albeit thankfully not so effective in Burt’s case, but Burts are one in tens of thousands, alas).

        And this new doctrine of ‘social justice’ has essentially flipped equality of opportunity within the preexisting liberal framework, into equality of outcome. Transforming classical liberalism into communism in one fell swoop, and most liberals don’t even notice (or don’t care or don’t perceive the significance of) the flip and thoughtlessly drink the kool- aid.

        • Please do not bring “communism” into this, it has nothing to do with it, and it’s a huge mistake to equate SJWs with communists.

          Actual communists are militantly against SJWs because SJWs are a purely bourgeois phenomenon the purpose of which is further transfer of power and wealth from the poor and working classes to the upper and upper middle classes.

          This is why they are doubly convenient for those interests — first, they help accomplish that transfer of wealth and power, second, by associating their insanity with “communism”, communism gets tarred in the eyes of many otherwise sane (but sadly not well informed) people, especially among the young, who as a result get pushed to the right on social and economic issues.

          If a bunch of pink-haired tattooed gynoceroses showed up half-naked on the Red Square in 1935 and started screaming profanities against the patriarchy, it would have been an immediate trip to the gold mines north of Magadan followed by quick death within a few months for them. And not just because they would have showed insubordination by doing that, it would have happened for real ideological reasons too.

  3. I see the headline already…

    “Professor McMahan was found hanging from a campus elm tree with the words “sexist misogynistic Obamaphobe” carved in his chest. The carving knife was found ten miles away in the basement of Lesbian Studies professor Dr. Shaman Hatedicks. It has been concluded he committed suicide after he realized he’s a homophobe.”

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