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UNC philosophy professor warns: ‘Progressive privilege’ abounds in academia

Scholar: Getting published in academic journals can often depend on whether editors agree with the premise

A philosophy professor’s paper was rejected for publication for reasons he said he believes are mainly ideologically motivated — rather than over the plausibility of his argument. Dr. Jonathan Anomaly, director of UNC’s Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program, told The College Fix about his experience in a recent telephone interview.

After examining research by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending offering evolutionary explanations for group differences in cognitive ability, Anomaly (pictured above) wrote a paper about the moral upshot. Anomaly set out to answer the following question: If there are biological differences between groups, and if some stereotypes based upon these turn out to be true, what are the moral implications for the way in which human beings should treat one another?

“My conclusion was modest,” Anomaly wrote, “if there are biological differences between groups, and if, as [Cochran and Harpending had argued], some stereotypes turn out to be accurate in part because of correct generalizations about biological differences, these facts should not undermine our commitment to treating one another as moral equals, or to increasing opportunity for all, regardless of group membership.”

Yet, Anomaly’s reviewers had a different take. According to Anomaly, they fixated on his paper’s mere suggestion that biological differences between groups may exist.

“He [the reviewer] had a strong reaction,” Anomaly told The Fix. “He called the research that suggests biological differences ‘wildly implausible’ despite the fact that this wasn’t the focus of the paper. It’s a strange thing for a reviewer to say.”

According to Anomaly, one of the referees gave “the most venomous and dismissive feedback” he had ever witnessed.

“I don’t want to cry sour grapes here because papers get rejected for numerous reasons,” Anomaly continued. “But in this case, it was pretty clear that the section of the review discussing biological differences dominated while my paper only focused a small amount on that topic.”

After talking to numerous other scholars who had their research rejected because of unorthodox [read: not in line with progressive ideology] conclusions, Anomaly said he believes that the process of getting published in academia is fraught with what he calls “progressive privilege.”

“I wrote a paper years ago arguing that obesity is a private health matter rather than a public health matter that I had a difficult time getting published,” he said. “I argued that whether you believe it should be a public or private health matter depends on who you believe should be paying for healthcare. Since I ultimately concluded that obesity is a private health matter (an opinion not shared by many who work on this topic), that paper was also harshly reviewed and was only published on the condition that it be run next to a rebuttal.”

“To me, this is another example of ‘progressive privilege’ because the person writing the rebuttal was invited to publish a piece they hadn’t yet written, and the editors were basically saying, ‘feel free to attack this other paper,’” Anomaly said.

RELATED: Integrity of research is a victim of academic liberal bias

That journal, Public Health Ethics, has published Anomaly three other times without the stipulation of a rebuttal attached; a fact Anomaly said he believes has to do with the content of his other pieces.

“I wrote another paper for the same journal arguing against factory farming and had no trouble getting that one published because that is an idea with which progressives largely agree,” Anomaly said.

Anomaly believes that “progressive privilege” has real consequences for the quality of research emerging from universities.

“If you are an academic who writes in line with standard progressive ideology, and reaches conclusions which progressives widely accept, reviewers, students, colleagues and the general public often won’t notice (or acknowledge) mistakes you make in your reasoning,” he said.

Yet, resources such as Heterodox Academy do exist for academics who want to find more viewpoint diversity in the social sciences. Professor Anomaly invites those who wish to explore unpopular ideas to consult this website, at which they can find academic work that “exposes bias and celebrates ideological diversity.”

RELATED: Northwestern has been censoring a faculty-produced journal for more than a year

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IMAGE: Courtesy photo – Dr. Jonathan Anomaly

About the Author
Kate Hardiman is a student at the University of Notre Dame majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies and minoring in the Philosophy, Political Science, and Economics (PPE) Program. She serves as campus editor of the Irish Rover and is a fellow of both the Constitutional Studies Department and Center for Ethics and Culture. She is interning at The Hill in Washington D.C. for the summer of 2015 and has had articles published there, as well as on Minding the Campus.

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