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 think believe this is a bad thing. ...Really? Wakefield is their best example?
The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society – the world’s longest-running scientific journal – was initially published without the names of researchers who carried out the experiments. It was only after the development of the legal institution of authorship in the 17th century that named authors become the norm.
The Victorian bestseller, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, which put forward an early version of evolutionary theory, was initially published anonymously. Its readers had to wait 40 years and 12 editions to discover that it was written by Robert Chambers. Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population, which develops his theory of population growth, was also first published anonymously.
More recently, there are some notable examples of pseudonymous authorship. Starting in 1939, a rotating group of mathematicians have used the collective pseudonym “Nicolas Bourbaki” to publish the ongoing Elements of Mathematics series, which has 11 volumes published over 70 years. ...
But the most important function of having authors is to facilitate responsible publishing. If the 1998 Lancet paper linking the MMR vaccine to autism had not listed Andrew Wakefield as its lead author, it would not have been possible to hold him to account for producing fraudulent work, or for contributing to a dangerous anti-vaccination narrative. Authorial responsibility has both an intellectual and a moral flavour: we want to hold people responsible both for producing shoddy research, and for the moral consequences of their publications.
Wakefield had some legitimate reasons for linking MMR vaccination to autism. Instead of just doing the research to test his hypotheses, much of the vaccine industry instead focused on personal retaliations against Wakefield, such as stripping him of his medical license.
The above authors are obviously part of the Ctrl Left that has taken over academia, and seeks to use name-calling and shaming in an attempt to control what gets published. There is legitimate research that might be published, except that it would make enemies among the Ctrl Left.
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