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'The Journal of Controversial Ideas' will launch in 2019. Is it dangerous?
Should all ideas see daylight?
- A trio of respected philosophers have decided to launch a peer reviewed journal that would allow for anonymous submissions.
- If successful, the journal could allow for important ideas that might lead to threats or harm to the author to join the debate and promote discussion.
- Critics ask if this is needed, and warn of giving dangerous people a safe space to publish horrific ideas.
Three very famous philosophers are teaming up to create an academic journal dedicated to ideas too controversial to put a name on. As you might expect, the concept itself has already gathered controversy.
The names behind a journal without names
Philosophers Peter Singer, Jeff McMahan, and Francesca Minerva have announced their intention to create the straightforwardly named The Journal of Controversial Ideas, which will begin printing next year. The organizers are no strangers to controversial ideas themselves; Dr. Minerva received death threats in response to an essay she wrote about abortion and Peter Singer's ideas on the moral permissibility of euthanizing severely handicapped infants still leads to semi-regular protests against his speaking arrangements and academic postings.
How will it work?
The idea is for this annual journal to be just like any other interdisciplinary peer-reviewed academic journal, with the same standards and rigorous review process. The only real point of interest is that anonymous submissions will be allowed in cases where academics fear that attaching their name to a submission could lead to personal or professional harm.
At the moment, the journal's potential review board is limited, and Dr. Minerva explained to Vox that the journal wouldn't be able to properly review an article on a subject like astrophysics at this time. However, this could be seen as a mere start-up problem. If it takes off, there is little doubt that experts in other fields could be brought in.
Why do they think this is needed?
In an essay written jointly by the three founders published in The Guardian, they explain exactly why set out to do this:
"Our aim in establishing the journal is only to enable academics — particularly younger, untenured, or otherwise vulnerable academics — to have the option of publishing under a pseudonym when they might otherwise be deterred from publishing by fear of death threats (which two of us have received in response to our writings), threats to their families, or threats to their careers. Pseudonymity is optional, not required. Our intention is to publish only articles that give carefully developed reasons, arguments and evidence in support of conclusions that some may find offensive or pernicious. We will not publish work that is polemical, intentionally inflammatory or ad hominem."
Is this necessary?
Perhaps naturally, many people object to the idea that this journal is needed.
Annabelle Timsit of Quartz explained that our perception of censorship in academia might be overblown, and pointed to a project by Sanford J. Ungar of Georgetown University that shows that incidents of students, facility, or department heads censoring speech is actually quite rare and tend to be limited to cases where the speakers are people who have given Nazi salutes and cheers in public or advocate for the death of people they don't like. Another study shows the political leanings of professors doesn't lead to censorship or have much effect on how students learn anyway. If these findings are accurate, the need for this journal would be in doubt.
Others have objected to the idea that ideas which would prompt backlash are entitled to this level of promotion and the authors to the protection of anonymity.Professor Laleh Khalili scorned the idea on Twitter as "a journal in which to anonymously ponder racist, sexist, transphobic, pro-colonialist, pro-exploitation ideas without fear of backlash." The Guardian columnist Nesrine Malik agreed and said that the journal would be "a safe space, one where authors do not have to deal with feedback or criticism from those at the sharp end of their 'controversial" ideas.'
Of course, the fact that two of the people behind the journal have had death threats sent to them suggests that maybe a little protection for writers peddling bold ideas might be useful.
Is it a good idea?
Even if the journal is addressing an important issue, there are debates over if such a journal is the right way to deal with the problems it seeks to solve. Professors Bradley Campbell and Clay Routledge write in an article published in Quillette that they agree that people with controversial ideas are currently at risk of personal and professional harm, but do not support the tactic of producing this journal. They explain that:
"Even while we recognize these and other threats to scholars who do work viewed as controversial, we believe the creation of The Journal of Controversial Ideas is ultimately a capitulation to the academic culture that motivated scholars to feel the need to establish such a journal."
They instead suggest that we "Let every journal be a place where controversy is welcome and there will be no reason for this one."Others have been more supportive of the idea, pointing out cases where people have been fired or treated poorly as a result of taking a controversial stance. The journal already has a board with 40 members with a variety of intellectual and ideological backgrounds, suggesting a fair amount of support. One member of the board is the conservative intellectual Robert P. George, who has disagreed with Peter Singer for years.
What do the journal's founders say?
They have responded to several critiques of their idea already.
Dr. Minerva reminds us that intellectuals have been anonymously publishing important work that could get them into trouble for centuries. Some more famous examples include Søren Kierkegaard, Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Malthus. We still manage to have discussions about their ideas anyway, and the authors didn't get lynched; a win-win for all involved.
Singer and company fully explain why they feel the need for the journal in an essay published in The Guardian as a response to Ms. Malik's article. They restate that their goal is the promotion of debate and the prevention of self-censorship by academics that fear what would happen if they wrote something that offended somebody.
We live in a world were concerns over offending people are increasingly prevalent, and the risks of being personally and professionally ruined as a result of making a controversial statement are great. While the question of if this mandates the creation of a journal for anonymously published controversial essays remains debatable, but a debate is exactly what the philosophers behind it want.
Where should the line of censorship be drawn?
Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?
Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.