Who Prevails When Academic Freedom Threatens the Bottom Line?

from Tomb of the DiverPsychologists of a certain age (roughly, over 40) may recall the considerable public controversy that erupted over an 1998 article published in Psychological Bulletin (124, 22-53) entitled, “A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples.” The article, written by Bruce Rind, Philip Tromovitch, and Robert Bauserman, argued against the widespread belief that child sexual abuse is always traumatic and damaging. Instead, the authors wrote that “self-reported reactions to and effects from CSA [child sexual abuse] indicated that negative effects were neither pervasive nor typically intense, and tha[t] men reacted much less negatively than women…. Basic beliefs about CSA in the general population were not supported.” The article drew a storm of protest, most notably from conservative members of the US Congress, who condemn the article and made dark noises about responding to it by pulling funding for behavioral research. The American Psychological Association scrambled in limit the damage while simultaneously trying not to appear to be buckling to overt political pressure (see Scott O. Lilienfeld’s comment in a 2002 issue of the American Psychologist). The article was later heavily criticized on methodological grounds by Stephanie J. Dallam.

The first author of that article, Bruce Rind, is back in the news again because a piece he has written on a related topic, though about ancient Greece, has been refused by two different publishers who, apparently, are not willing to weather the same sort of backlash. Of course, having one’s article or chapter refused by an editor is not all that unusual, but the circumstances here are quite extraordinary. According to Inside Higher Ed, the scholarly publishing giant Taylor & Francis has announced that it will not publish a collection that was to have contained the new piece by Rind, even though the chapter had been previously approved by a publisher that T&F purchased between the time it was approved and the time that the book was to have been printed. The chapter in question dates back to 2005, when:

Haworth Press announced amid heavy criticism that its Journal of Homosexuality wouldn’t publish [Rind’s] article or book chapter about sexual relationships between men and boys in antiquity. Critics had learned of a particularly controversial piece in the forthcoming collection, which would argue that such relationships “can benefit the adolescent” in certain circumstances, prompting allegations that the author was advocating child molestation. Those allegations were trumpeted first and loudest by the Web site World Net Daily, whose readers vigorously complained to Haworth.

Soon after, IHE goes on to report, Haworth

published the collection Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity and in the Classical Tradition of the West, but left Rind’s work out of it. The thinking, however, was that Rind would revise and expand his work for another collection, which would also feature articles by other authors who would critique or challenge Rind’s assertions.

When T&F bought Haworth out earlier this year, the deal came apart and the book will apparently not be published after all. According the Inside Higher Ed, a T&F spokesperson would not be specific about why the book will not go ahead, but did say about the earlier controversy that, “those issues formed a part, but not all, of the decision-making process.”

Although there has been some protest on the part of academics who view the action by T&F as being tantamount to corporate censorship,

Even some of those who are concerned about Taylor & Francis’ decision are ambivalent about rallying too strongly to Rind’s defense. The leadership of the Lambda Classical Caucus, a self-described “coalition of queer classicists,” has sent a letter to the publisher asking for a broader explanation of its decision. But Kristina Milnor, co-chair of the caucus, concedes that for every member who is worried about censorship is another deeply worried about the implications of Rind’s scholarship. (from the IHE article)

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.

2 thoughts on “Who Prevails When Academic Freedom Threatens the Bottom Line?

  1. Back in the old days, scholars had the subterfuge available of being able to write in Latin any passages which would be deemed offensive to the overly genteel, the infirm, the delicately religious, and the politicians.

    Having learned Latin and Greek many, many years ago; having read ancient authors, the view expressed is not news – I seem to recall Plato writing on it.

    Whatever the outcome, there will still be cheap goods made by child labor, kids will shoot each other with unsecured firearms, and will be prey to the violent and abusive.

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