Do we really need more controversial ideas?

Over 30,000 academic journals publish over two million articles each year, which works out to about 5,000 per day or about 200 per hour. It’s a lot; too much, some argued. It is not true that most of these articles are not cited (Nature put the lie to this myth a few years ago) but most attract a modest readership because they are hidden behind expensive payment walls, or they are only understandable by the privileged few, or they are somewhat boring. In some cases all of the above.

Given this staggering amount of verbiage, you might assume that keeping their thoughts to themselves isn’t an urgent issue. But what if there are certain ideas they keep secret? And not just any old ideas, but important ideas that might force us to rethink our dearest assumptions? Perhaps they sketched out these theories in a Word document that they are too afraid to submit, as it could hamper their college careers, infuriate the masses, and force them to move to a shack somewhere.

Take note of potential iconoclasts: the Controversial Ideas Journal wants to hear what you’ve remembered. It is open access, peer reviewed and not limited by conventions. Plus, it offers the option to post under a pseudonym so that no one can blame you for your transgressive thoughts. The newspaper first issue was recently published and contains 10 push-button essays that provide answers to questions including whether it is okay to commit violence to save animals (yes), whether criminals should be placed in a medically coma put ending our lives makes no sense (no).

The direct line here is controversy, or at least the potential for controversy, which makes this an unusual reading experience. Often times, a journal explores a particular topic rather than trying to elicit a reaction. When you open, say, the last issue of Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management, you can assume that the articles will be related to – what else? – manufacturing, technology and management. With the Controversial Ideas Journal, you don’t know what to expect. You might be offended. Maybe someone will give a voice to a verboten notion that you secretly hold. It’s a strange organizing principle, almost like a restaurant that advertises “spicy dishes” but refuses to say what kind.

Another possibility is that you shrug your shoulders. One downside to declaring your newspaper controversial is that readers will expect to be outraged, and if you feel too reasonable, you’ve failed. At the same time, if you make everyone angry, then you have succeeded, but now everyone is angry. Given this built-in double bond, why start such a journal in the first place?

Because, say the journal’s editors, researchers need an outlet where they can share ideas that others might consider “tasteless, needlessly provocative or even dangerous.” The truth may be “hidden among these disturbing thoughts.” They point to Jesus, Socrates and Galileo as those who suffered social punishment (and worse, in the case of the first two) for their opposing views. They argue that while the internet provides many platforms for your wandering thoughts, it has paradoxically stifled even the most daring academic work. Once upon a time your article appeared in print, it was mailed to colleagues in your field, and that was about it. Darkness provided a measure of protection. Now it is possible that your groundbreaking article will be grabbed by social media and you may be involved, as the editors of the journal say, in an “unwanted controversy.”

Francesca Minerva, one of the journal’s editors, and the driving force behind its creation, knows this scenario all too well. I first wrote on Minerva almost ten years ago after she and co-author Alberto Giubilini published a document in the Journal of Medical Ethics with the breathless headline “Abortion after birth: why should the baby live?” This article argues for the justifiability of “abortion” of newborns. “We assert that killing a newborn could be ethically acceptable in all circumstances where an abortion would be,” they wrote.

This study became international news, and Minerva and her co-author were portrayed as more or less monsters. Regardless of what you think of their argument, it didn’t come out of nowhere. The question of when a human being achieves the so-called personality has been debated a lot by ethicists. Another founding editor of the Controversial Ideas Journal, Peter Singer, probably best known for his book Animal liberation, argued in his 1979 book, Practical ethics, this infanticide is acceptable when a newborn is severely disabled. Last year, an event Singer was supposed to speak to was canceLED because of pressure from those who oppose his long-held view.

Minerva was inundated with threats and insults. “Because of people like you and their ideas, the world we live in is full of crap,” one wrote. Another: “You must be eliminated with your whole family.” Several correspondents have imagined, in some detail, how this elimination could be carried out. She continued to receive abusive emails for years after the article was published.

It was this experience, at least in part, that inspired her to create a journal that allows authors to publish under a pseudonym. Three of the authors of the first issue have chosen this path. One of these essays is by “Shuichi Tezuka” and he compares young earth creationists – that is, those who believe that a higher power created everything in less than a week a few thousand years ago – to those who confuse behavioral genetics with eugenics. Both groups, in the author’s opinion, ignore the obvious scientific truth because of their denominational commitments. Tezuka is not the first person to make this point, and the term “cognitive creationism” is not new; it was, as the author notes, invented by Michael Shermer. So why hide behind a pseudonym?

Via email, Tezuka wrote that it is “common for academics who write about anything perceived to be related to the intersection of race, genetics and intelligence to face serious consequences. professional ”. Tezuka also pointed out a Twitter thread in which someone suggests that the newspaper is racist and offers $ 50 to anyone who reveals the real identity of the perpetrator.

Another pseudonym essay is from “Maggie Heartsilver,” which argues against the idea that trans women are not really women. It does the trick that the use of “female” only to refer to an adult female “may simply reflect the fact that the dominant culture is oppressive to trans people”. It’s far from a unique position so, again, why use a false name? In an email, Heartsilver, who is a trans woman, writes that she could have published the essay under her own name anyway, but that she wanted to use a pseudonym in order to “avoid harassment by anti -trans”.

Unlike Heartsilver and Tezuka, the third pseudonym author, “Ivar Hardman,” didn’t even include an email address for readers to ask questions. Tough man valorize that it is permissible in certain circumstances for animal rights activists to engage in violence against people who harm animals. “I think there is an argument to be made for the view that almost anyone who experiments on animals is susceptible to defensive harm,” writes Hardman. The author admits that publicity of such actions could harm the animal rights movement and that some forms of violence, such as sending mail bombs to those who do business with factory farms, are “not proportionate.”

It’s easy to imagine why Hardman, whoever he was, might be nervous about negative reactions.

NOTone of the essays from the first issue generated significant controversy, or at least not the viral kind that swept through Minerva and Singer. Eyes rolled in some quarters. A bunch of wags on Twitter threw tongue-in-cheek ideas for their own mock-controversial essays (example: “Kant was just ok”). There were also more substantial criticisms. A philosopher rejected it as a “haven for ideas that could not withstand moral scrutiny the first time around.” This may be true, although the safest home for any idea is to never communicate it in the first place. If the Controversial Ideas Journal will become a fleeting novelty or a mainstay of publishing remains to be seen, but what is wrong with encouraging scholars to be a little provocative, especially when the incentives of academic life often tend towards intellectual conformity ?

Arguably, the issue’s darkest – and by far the most entertaining – essay does not enter politically charged territory or advocate loathsome solutions to societal problems. Its glorious title is “Ultimate Meaning: We Don’t Have It, We Can’t Get It, And We Should Be Very, Very Sad.” The author, Rivka Weinberg, professor of philosophy at Scripps College, inform us that all human life is useless, even the lives of revered figures like Jonas Salk and Beethoven. She distinguishes between “everyday meaning” and “ultimate meaning” and concludes that, when it comes to the latter, the game is rigged against us. “Putting small chunks of meaning or even chunks of great significance in our container of unnecessary life is not what we thought or hoped to do with all our efforts, is it?” she writes.

Weinberg told me that she had submitted to the Controversial Ideas Journal because it is difficult to have a philosophical work published which is “broad, deep and critical of university orthodoxies”. The more ambitious the thesis of the essay, the more likely it is that critics will try to punch holes. Weinberg is also shunned by editors who consider her writing too funny, which she finds, like life in general, “hilarious and a little sad.”




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