Monday, October 9, 2017

Death threats in academia

Articles in scholarly journals at most put folks at risk of being bored to death. They are not supposed to trigger actual death threats.
Bruce Gilley’s eyebrow-raising essay in favor of colonialism has been scrubbed from the scholarly record, but not for any of the reasons cited by its critics. (Among them: that it was historically inaccurate, that it ignored the vast literature on colonialism and colonial-era atrocities, that it was rejected by three peer reviewers, and that Gilley himself requested it be pulled.)
Rather, the article has been withdrawn because the editor of Third World Quarterly, the journal in which it appeared, has received credible threats of violence. That’s according to a note posted online by journal's publisher, Taylor & Francis.
“Following a number of complaints, Taylor & Francis conducted a thorough investigation into the peer-review process on this article,” the note reads. “Whilst this clearly demonstrated the essay had undergone double-blind peer review, in line with the journal's editorial policy, the journal editor has subsequently received serious and credible threats of personal violence.”
The threats are linked with the publication of Gilley's piece, the statement says, and as the publisher, “we must take this seriously. Taylor & Francis has a strong and supportive duty of care to all our academic editorial teams, and this is why we are withdrawing this essay.”
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The journal’s London-based editor, Shahid Qadir, said that the essay, like all articles, did in fact go through double-blind peer review. Yet soon even Gilley asked for the article to be withdrawn, saying in a statement, “I regret the pain and anger that it has caused for many people.”
Taylor & Francis later said it was reviewing the matter in a “rigorous, methodical and measured way,” according to guidelines established by the international Committee on Publication Ethics. Those guidelines don’t prescribe one particular editorial process but do emphasize transparency in procedures. Through weeks of controversy, the publisher had not removed the article. Now that's changed.
Taylor & Francis did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday, but its most recent statement about the essay’s withdrawal suggests that review process is complete. Yet the rationale for pulling the article has some concerned, since it seemingly legitimizes threats as a way of getting controversial journal articles withdrawn.
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Qadir, who, like Gilley, did not respond to requests for comment, is far from the only academic to face death threats for their speech or actions in recent months. Of that trend, Wilson said that colleges, universities and police departments “need to make a much more concerted effort to identify people who make actual death threats and prosecute them.”
This is a very worrisome trend. 

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