Should authors be allowed to be anonymous for controversial research proposals? — R Voice

Should authors be allowed to be anonymous for controversial research proposals?

chris leonard
chris leonard Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 104 admin

There is a fascinating article on the Times Higher Education site today - which is summarised below:

The inaugural issue of the Journal of Controversial Ideas covers the following: can the use of force be justified against humans who hurt animals? Could a violent criminal be sentenced to be put into a coma? Can white people ever legitimately use blackface? “But for all these provocative subjects, the biggest controversy appears to be over a simple question of academic practice colliding with the culture wars pervading higher education: whether scholars should be publicly accountable for what they write or allowed to remain anonymous to protect them from recrimination,” writes Jon Marcus. The journal’s founders tell him the journal is essential in airing ideas that would otherwise be suppressed in academia, while critics argue it is founded on the dangerous idea that research can take place in a moral vacuum.

I urge you to read it in full. It stirs up many feelings in me, but I am surprised to find myself generally supporting the idea. What do you think?


  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 283 ✭✭✭✭

    @chris leonard , I couldnt read the full article (needs registration, have run out of email accounts for registration - or needs a subscription....)

    But very interesting topic!

    From the limited info, my stand is - from an ethical, taking responsibility for what we say and do as researchers, as well as standing up for what we believe in viewpoint, I dont support anoymous publishing - controversial or not.

    Unfortunately, anonymity gives an unchecked power to abuse.

    Only from the text you have quoted - the issue seems multifold.

    (1) How could controversial questions be pursued without being obviously racist, propagating cruelty - to animals or humans, etc.

    In my opinion, the above example questions are philosophical in nature and the answers could help us know more about our culture, mindsets, and even provide answers to pressing ethical questions on race, capital punishment, animal cruelty, etc. The questions above are similar in nature to the "Trolley problem".

    (2) Why should there be recrimination of academics pursuing such questions? It is merely intellectual pursuit and at the best, perhaps, the results are going to provide more information about ourselves. Pursuing these questions is not going to change policies or lives of anyone out there right away massively, or even change/affect public opinion. Academic results dont cause as much damage as mainstream and social media do, after all!

    So - the real problem that needs to be addressed is the recrimination. Perhaps, its the research and funding organizations that need to have ethics boards to assess the nature and intentions of research problems pursued. In order to protect researchers. But also for accountability and eliminate/defund questions with outrightly unethical intents.

  • chris leonard
    chris leonard Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 104 admin

    Recriminations, pile-ons, doxxing, and 'being cancelled' are all unsavoury elements of online life which seem to be a (small) part of academic discourse too. Yes, recrimination for exploring these topics shouldn't exist, but it does, and therefore so does this journal.

    The better fight is against recriminations, rather that working around it in this way. I would agree on that point. But how to do that when an individual's name and email address are associated with each manuscript?

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 283 ✭✭✭✭

    @chris leonard

    Since I didnt have full access to the article, can you please let me know what kind of recriminations authors face? Email threats? Social media wars? Or is it funding cuts/warnings from departments/institutions/student protests?

    Is it from fellow academics? The general public?

    From reading some articles in the journal, some ways I can think of is

    -> remove email addresses (not that people can't find email addresses/photos/postal mail addresses of academics online...but having a small hurdle of making an effort to search for it can lead to people stopping themselves. A well-known psychological trick.

    (Going off course - also, the reason why female leadership is difficult - big hurdles or lots of small off-putting hurdles.😏)

    -> Create a discussion forum right below the article. So, people can comment and everyone can see and reply.

    -> Open peer-review (nice that they are doing a double blind peer-review).

    So...Publish the peer-review - referee (anonymous or otherwise, as the referee chooses) and author comments . This provides readers who can be offended with more information to NOT be offended, perhaps. The nutcases who are beyond reasoning - meh! can be blocked.

    PS: I went to the journal. It was a lot of fun reading on a saturday morning. I am not offended. But I may not want to get out of bed. 😂

Sign In or Register to comment.

Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!