Some scholars are starting a new journal that will allow anonymous publication of peer-reviewed pieces, in a sign of intellectual intolerance now regnant in academia.
“The Journal of Controversial Ideas” will launch online next year under an editorial board studded with top-flight scholars from more than three dozen countries, said Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University’s Center for Human Values.
So ingrained is the hegemony of thought within the ivory towers that younger scholars might be fearful of advancing some ideas and consequently may want to publish anonymously.
“I’m ambivalent about that, but it seems to be the majority opinion [of the board],” said Robert P. George, another Princeton professor and the founder of the James Madison Program, which sees itself as an enclave of liberty within the broader campus.
Mr. George is a conservative star in the shrinking world of right-of-center scholars within academia, while Mr. Singer’s views on topics such as health care and animal rights have made him a controversial scholar since the publication of his Animal Liberation in 1975.
“We are hoping to publish online, open access and are currently in discussion with a possible platform host,” Mr. Singer said in an email. “We will start with a single annual issue to test the demand.”
They don’t have a host platform yet, but they do have a mission — they want the papers to be accessible beyond specialists in a field.
And while they are planning to allow anonymity, they are hoping most of their authors are willing to be identified.
“Anonymity is an option for those who feel that doing so may disadvantage them either personally or professionally,” Mr. Singer said.
Mr. George said he considers it important that the journal not be “captured by one side” of the political spectrum.
Studies have shown a remarkable uniformity of liberal thinking among faculties in the most prestigious universities. Data on partisan registration and campaign contributions show a liberal lean that often tops 90 percent among college employees.
The quality of debate also has come under fire, even from within the liberal wing of the academy.
Three “left-wing” scholars revealed last month that they had submitted what they called “intentionally broken” papers to leading publications on gender, race and sexuality, spitting gibberish disguised within academic buzzwords.
Most of the papers were accepted for publication, including one that purported to expose “rape culture” by studying the sexual behavior of dogs at a dog park in Portland, Oregon.
Steven Hayward, a senior scholar in residence at the University of California at Berkeley, has dubbed the planned journal “an American samizdat,” using the Russian word for “self-publishing.” Intellectuals in the old Soviet Union would furtively pass along hand-typed manuscripts of works such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago.”
“We have come to the point where even liberal academics in good standing will feel the wrath of leftist orthodoxy if they depart from the party line,” Mr. Hayward wrote in the PowerLine blog.
One of the proposed journal’s editors, Francesca Minerva of Ghent University in Belgium, received condemnation and threats for a 2011 paper she co-authored, “After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?,” according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Mr. George said there is a tradeoff to the journal’s approach, given the “publish or perish” world of academia: those who write anonymously run the risk of receiving no credit.
“We really need some courage here,” Mr. George said. “I can understand why some younger scholars would want the anonymity. But no matter how controversial my own scholarship may have been at times, I’ve always believed you have to take responsibility for your ideas and arguments.”