That we have ever come – or, rather, come back – to this point again is the sad indictment of the intellectual climate throughout the Western academia:
An international group of university researchers is planning a new journal which will allow articles on sensitive debates to be written under pseudonyms.
They feel free intellectual discussion on tough issues is being hampered by a culture of fear and self-censorship.
The Journal of Controversial Ideas will be launched early next year.
Jeff McMahan, professor of moral philosophy at University of Oxford, and one of the organisers, said: “It would enable people whose ideas might get them in trouble either with the left or with the right or with their own university administration, to publish under a pseudonym.”
He revealed plans for the publication on University Unchallenged, a BBC Radio 4 documentary about viewpoint diversity in academia.
Speaking on the programme, he explained the motive: “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 and his colleagues are establishing an intellectually diverse international editorial board with representation from the left and the right, as well as religious and secular thinkers, to ensure the journal is not identified with a specific viewpoint. They will soon issue a call for papers.
Others involved include the prominent Australian philosopher Peter Singer, and Francesca Minerva, a bio-ethicist at the University of Ghent in Belgium.
I can’t really recall academics getting into trouble “with the right” for their output, and certainly not living in fear and self-censoring themselves on the account of a threatening right-wing backlash, which does not exist within universities and does not affect universities from without, vigorously as their guard their academic independence from outside interference and criticism. Someone has quipped not so long ago that Western universities are our only remaining islands of tyranny on the ocean of freedom. They are certainly oases of ideological monoculture, with virtually no classical liberals, conservatives or libertarians teaching and researching, and the spectrum of views represented – and often pushed relentlessly onto students – ranging from the mainstream centre-left to the far left. Be that as it may, if the journal’s founders are at pains to not be identified with a “specific viewpoint”, so be it, as long as it does not lead to the anti-censorship journal in turn censoring itself to satisfy some form of left-right balance. “The Journal of Controversial Ideas” will for all practical purposes be “The Journal of Non-left Ideas”, because these are the only ideas at the moment controversial enough amongst our intellectual elite to land those who pursue them in trouble with their colleagues and administrators.
Looking forward to the Journal’s educational videos where the academics’ faces are pixelated and voices changed to protect their identity.