When academics publish studies that hurt the sensibilities of today’s protected classes, they’re punished.
Remember Lisa Littman, an assistant professor of the practice of behavioral and social sciences at Brown University’s School of Public Health. She published a study – which Brown initially promoted through a campus news story – that took a look at “rapid-onset gender dysphoria.” Littman found, in her interviews with “more than 250 parents of children who suddenly developed gender dysphoria symptoms during or after puberty,” that 21% had a child with at least one friend who declared they were transgender at the same time, and 20% had a child who began spending more time on social media just before they claimed to be transgender. Forty-five percent of parents reported both.
Brown removed the study because “community members expressing concerns that the conclusions of the study could be used to discredit efforts to support transgender youth and invalidate the perspectives of members of the transgender community.” The University gave a couple throwaway lines about “academic freedom,” but made it clear that feelings mattered more.
There’s also Ted Hill and Sergei Tabachnikov, two mathematics professors who wanted to figure out why male members of species throughout the animal kingdom showed more variability in traits than females.
The paper was accepted and reviewed – by a female professor of mathematics – but once word of the study got out, other women took issue with the premise, calling it “potentially sexist.” The study was withdrawn even though it had already been accepted.
Issues like these and others have led an international group of university researchers to create a new journal, launching early next year, that would allow scholars to use pseudonyms to protect their academic careers when they publish studies that may upset certain political groups.
"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," said Jeff McMahan, professor of moral philosophy at the University of Oxford. McMahan is one of the organizers of the new journal, called the Journal of Controversial Ideas.
"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,” McMahan said.
"The fear comes from opposition both on the left and the right. The threats from outside the university tend to be more from the right. The threats to free speech and academic freedom that come from within the university tend to be more from the left," he added.
McMahan also stressed to BBC that the journal would follow normal academic standards of peer-review.
"The screening procedure will be as rigorous as those for other academic journals. The level of quality will be maintained," he said.
The editorial board for the new journal will include intellectually diverse members from the Right and the Left, including religious and secular scholars.
Given the attacks on academic freedom in academia, a journal like this may be the best thing for advancing scholarly pursuit.