The Journal of Controversial Ideas—academic freedom sans responsibility is reckless

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Roland Barthes proclaimed the death of the author in 1967, arguing that once a text is produced, it is an independent entity to be interpreted and understood by the audience without the author’s intentions, idiosyncrasies, and personal history getting in the way.

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The Journal of Controversial Ideas is Barthes’ idea made manifest—it proposes to allow academics to publish papers on controversial topics under a pseudonym. The hope is that this will allow researchers to write freely on controversial topics without the danger of social disapproval or threats. Thus the journal removes the author’s motivations, conflicts of interests, and worldview from the presentation of a potentially controversial idea. This proposal heralds the death of the academic author—and, unlike Barthes, we believe this is a bad thing.

A history of concealment

First, we need to distinguish between anonymous and pseudonymous authorship: a paper is anonymous when it does not list a name, and it is pseudonymous when it lists a name which is not the author’s given name. Both practices have long histories in academic research.

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