Before you write an open letter, make sure it meets this criteria

When it comes to scholarly engagement, what kinds of critique are considered appropriate and acceptable?

DEBRA MASHEK: A question that comes up about open letters or letters of denunciation. So if a scholar had said something in her or his work or if it's been used in a way by an external organization that some other set of scholars objects to those scholars are absolutely welcome to share their critiques. But a couple of conditions should be met. First of all, the scholars who choose to put their name on that letter should have actually read and understood what the original source material was saying. Ideally they should also be within the same subject area so they have the expertise to interrogate those claims with authenticity.

There was one recently. Noah Carl was a postdoc fellow at Oxford and his work had been used by some outside organizations. And before you know it this letter comes out denouncing his work signed by hundreds of scholars. We went through and spot checked and most of those scholars were actually not within his area of research. This letter came out so incredibly quickly that I question whether the people who chose to share, to actually put their names behind the claims of the denunciation letter had done the difficult scholarly work of reading and thinking about what Carl had actually said in his work. And then some of the claims in the letter actually didn't line up with what we were able - when we did our close reading of what was in his work we weren't able to see justification for those claims.

Letters are certainly a form of scholarly engagement. It's a way to raise concern and critique, but we need to engage in those with the same ethical principles we would in other scholarly discourse.

  • Open letters are welcome in an academic environment, but they should meet certain criteria to be considered valid.
  • While scholars are always encouraged to share their critique of a published work or body of research, they must engage with the same ethical principles as expected in other scholarly discourse.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.