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Two views on the new “Journal of Controversial Ideas”


Colleen Flaherty at Inside Higher Ed has the story:

Academic freedom is meant to protect scholars with controversial ideas. But a group of philosophers says academic freedom isn’t protection enough in an era of campus speech debates, internet trolls and threats against professors — and that academics now need a place to publish their most sensitive ideas pseudonymously.

That venue, The Journal of Controversial Ideas, will launch next year. Co-founder Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics in the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University, and no stranger to controversial ideas, mentioned the idea for such a journal in a 2017 interview. But plans for it took shape in a BBC Radio 4 documentary on viewpoint diversity, which airs for the first time this week.

Jeff McMahan, White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy at University of Oxford, told the BBC that the need for more open discussion is “really very acute.” There’s “greater inhibition on university campuses about taking certain positions for fear of what will happen,” he said, with the political right and left alike stoking that “fear.” Threats to academic freedom and free speech from within the university tend to come the left, he added, while outside threats tend to come from the right. More.

Yeah. The outside barks but the inside bites. Many of us, if it’s our skin in the game, prefer the bark, however bad. Anyhow, two views are emerging:

Some think that the current system facilitates “responsible publishing”:

Defenders of The Journal of Controversial Ideas see it as a forum for true academic freedom. While academic freedom is important, it is not an unlimited right. Freedom without responsibility is recklessness. It is a lack of regard for the danger or consequences of one’s ideas. True academic freedom does not mean that writers get to choose when to avoid controversy. The pseudonymous authorship proposal allows authors to manipulate the credit and blame systems of the academy in the name of academic freedom.

When it is working well, academic inquiry is a conversation. Researchers make claims and counterclaims, exchange reasons, and work together to open up new fields of inquiry. A conversation needs speakers: we need to keep track of who is talking, what they have said before, and who they are talking to. Pseudonymous authorship is an opt-out from the conversation, and the academic community will be worse off if its members no longer want to engage in intellectual conversation.Haixin Dang and Joshua Habgood-Coote, “The Journal of Controversial Ideas: it’s academic freedom without responsibility, and that’s recklessness” at The Conversation

Then there’s the question of whether the current system even remotely resembles what Dang and Habgood-Coote describe. :From a response

There is so much shoddy research already in existence, that the fields of psychology and biomedical science are facing a reproducibility crisis. Putting the real authors’ names on these papers hasn’t prevented bad research from being published.

Additionally, just because a paper is pseudonymous does not necessarily mean that the papers will be of poor quality. Consider The Economist. Every article is published anonymously. Yet, the newspaper is highly trustworthy because the institution is concerned with maintaining its own credibility. Likewise, the editors of The Journal of Controversial Ideas likely will want to maintain a good reputation for their journal, which would incentivize them to publish responsibly.Alex Berezow, “The ‘Journal Of Controversial Ideas’ Is A Fantastic Idea” at American Council on Science and Health

The real question is the one that isn’t on the table: Why is the public supporting university faculties that seem to be one long-running Sokal hoax? If that’s based on the belief that a college education advances a person socially, the stats may be out of date: “the data show a recent meaningful decline in the differential between high school diploma holders and those with bachelor’s degrees. For males with high school diplomas, average earnings rose by $1,551 from 2015 to 2017; for bachelor degree holders, earnings actually fell by $367. For females, earnings rose $1,212 for those with high school diplomas, but only $312 for those with bachelor’s degrees. The payoff for having a college degree was falling.” (The Independent) More on this later, but that’s the conversation we really need to have. Not whether they’re responsible (to whom?) but whether they are even needed.

There’s also the question of whether people who are really upset by controversial ideas should even be at a university.;

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See also: Surprise: Science thrives when people can admit they didn’t prove something


What can a huge retractions database teach us? Overall, improved vigilance has slowed the trend, but key problems remain, including manipulated images. If a picture is worth a thousand words, that’s about three to five paragraphs of falsehood.

Two major problems with academia are job security for those with “heretical” ideas, and ostracizing them. This is exemplified by the Adacemicians at the University of Piza who taught Aristotle’s view of physics. Along comes Galileo with Copernican’s astronomical views and then upending Aristotle by his own scientific experiments and models,. That threatened the jobs of the Aristotelian Academecians. Galileo had strong support both by the Church through his friendship with bishop Maffeo Barberini who became Pope Urban VIII and the Medicies. Academic job security was behind the Inquisition v. Galileo. Academicians led by Lodovico delle Colombe (the “Pigeon”) formed the “Pigeon League” to destroy Galileo. They plotted, and accused Galileo to the Inquisition of speaking against the Bible – even though Galileo was a strong Christian and upheld the Bible. Caccini led the public accusation against Galileo. http://galileo.rice.edu/chr/caccini.html See: A Brief History of Eternity, Roy Peacock http://bit.ly/2ybNB61 http://bit.ly/2lphaLk DLH
@4 Here’s one that will whip up the flames - That A Human Baby In The Womb Is A Person.
FYI Heartlander
I can't see this journal being of any value. Peer review, with all of its imperfections, at least makes the authors accountable for their arguments, process, interpretation of data etc. that they are presenting. I think one step that can be made to improve the current peer review process is to keep the authors names and affiliations anonymous with respect to the reviewers until after the manuscript has been accepted. I don't know if there are any journals that currently do this, but I know that Springer does not. Ed George
Here's one that will whip up the flames- That A Human Baby In The Womb Is A Person. Andrew asauber
OT: What the Hoax Papers Tell Us about the Decline of Academic Standards Heartlander
"We invite submissions to the Journal of Controversial Ideas from a wide variety of perspectives, excluding those denying climate change, gender fluidity, and evolution." OldArmy94
Another question is, "what ideological presumptions will the editors of the proposed journal bring to their decisions about what gets selected for publication?" If the Peter Singer mentioned is the same who believes in post-natal abortion (so much for ethics), then how open to ideas supportive of traditional morality will he be? Given how controversial such morality has become in the last few decades, we could fill every issue of this journal with what was considered normal (non-controversial) a mere 40 years ago. Also, would ID be given fair treatment in his journal? Perhaps he just wants to publish his own controversial ideas and then hide in the anonymity? Fasteddious

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