A journal has withdrawn an essay that called for a return to colonialism after the editor received alleged threats tied to the article.
Soon after Third World Quarterly published the controversial essay, readers began to object. When the journal defended its decision, 15 editorial board members resigned in response. More than 10,000 people signed a petition to have it retracted. On September 26, the publisher posted a statement — including a detailed timeline of the paper’s peer review process — and said the the author had requested to withdraw the article. However, in the statement, the publisher said that “peer-reviewed research articles cannot simply be withdrawn but must have grounds for retraction.”
Facing a volley of criticism for publishing an essay that called for a return to colonialism, a journal editor has defended his decision to print the article.
“The Case for Colonialism,” published Sept. 8 in Third World Quarterly (TWQ), was written by Bruce Gilley, a professor of political science at Portland State University. For an idea of what the piece was about, here’s the beginning of the abstract:
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.
Since the essay came out, scholars have criticized both the article itself and the journal’s decision to publish it. Several critics have called for retraction. [Update: 15 members of the editorial board have resigned in response.]
The last author on the article, published in the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, told us an “innocent mistake” and difficulty navigating a website led the authors to incorrectly note that nine journals had not made their contents available through the World Health Organization’s Health InterNetwork Research Initiative database (HINARI), which gives bioethicists who live in low- and middle-income countries access to research articles either free of charge or at reduced cost. The authors argued that the mistake didn’t affect the paper’s conclusions, but the journal disagreed, and opted to pull the paper entirely.
After searching through the database, first author Subrata Chattopadhyay mistakenly determined that the journals had not made their contents available through HINARI, when in fact they were listed but on a different part of the website.
Last week, we wrote about a correction of a heavily criticized paper in The Lancet by the Millennium Villages Project, a large aid program. Paul Pronyk, director of monitoring and evaluation at Columbia University’s Center for Global Health and Economic Development, which runs the Project, left his job shortly after writing an explanatory letter that accompanied the correction.