I came across a notification yesterday that the publisher Taylor and Francis had withdrawn a paper following a threat against the editor. The paper in question is The case for colonialism, by Bruce Gilley, a professor of political science at Portland State University. The paper was originally published in a journal known as Third World Quarterly. It has been the subject of a petition calling for its withdrawal, but the withdrawal notice, directly below, makes no mention of such a petition. If you click on the link to the paper you will find,
This Viewpoint essay has been withdrawn at the request of the academic journal editor, and in agreement with the author of the essay. Following a number of complaints, Taylor & Francis conducted a thorough investigation into the peer review process on this article. Whilst this clearly demonstrated the essay had undergone double-blind peer review, in line with the journal’s editorial policy, the journal editor has subsequently received serious and credible threats of personal violence. These threats are linked to the publication of this essay. As the publisher, we must take this seriously. Taylor & Francis has a strong and supportive duty of care to all our academic editorial teams, and this is why we are withdrawing this essay.
Oh dear, oh dear. Thanks to a friend of a friend on Facebook, I found the article here. I downloaded and saved the article in case it disappears again. The abstract reads,
For the last 100 years, Western colonialism has had a bad name. It is high time to question this orthodoxy. Western colonialism was, as a general rule, both objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate in most of the places where it was found, using realistic measures of those concepts. The countries that embraced their colonial inheritance, by and large, did better than those that spurned it. Anti-colonial ideology imposed grave harms on subject peoples and continues to thwart sustained development and a fruitful encounter with modernity in many places. Colonialism can be recovered by weak and fragile states today in three ways: by reclaiming colonial modes of governance; by recolonising some areas; and by creating new Western colonies from scratch.
According to an article in Inside Higher Education, the paper had been rejected by 2 reviewers. 15 members of the editorial board subsequently resigned on September 20. Inside Higher Education noted that the article was criticized for lack of rigor, failure to “engage with the broader literature,” and to ignore “colonial-era atrocities.” The editorial board members, however, resigned because of what they thought was “a failed editorial process” and “dishonesty” on the part of the editor-in-chief. A more detailed discussion of the paper may be found in an earlier article in Inside Higher Education.
The important point is not the merits of the article; if it were, this discussion would be out of order on PT. What is important is that an article has been published in a technical journal, the editor has supposedly been threatened, and the article has been pulled. I am afraid I do not know the nature of the threat, nor how credible it is; all I can say is that withdrawing the paper has set a terrible precedent. Further, as someone else commented on the Facebook thread, it would have been substantially better had the article been published so that it could be “comprehensively debunked in public.”
Let us hope that this instance is one of a kind and that we do not soon see biologists, astrophysicists, and political commentators, among others, subjected to similar threats.