Pseudonyms to protect authors of controversial articles

By Martin Rosenbaum
University Unchallenged, BBC Radio 4

Image source, Pic by John Cairns
Image caption,
Prof Jeff McMahan said there is a need for more open discussion

Academics who are frightened to explore controversial topics, in case it provokes a backlash, will soon have a safer route to publish such work.

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.

"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."


Prof McMahan stressed that the new cross-disciplinary publication will be fully peer-reviewed in line with normal academic standards.

"The screening procedure will be as rigorous as those for other academic journals. The level of quality will be maintained," he said.

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.

Prof McMahan said the team behind the journal regarded it as a response to the spirit of the times.

"I think all of us will be very happy if, and when, the need for such a journal disappears, and the sooner the better.

"But right now in current conditions something like this is needed."

University Unchallenged is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 20:00 GMT on Monday, 12 November and is available on BBC Sounds afterwards.

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