By Robert Weissberg
As one who has spent nearly four decades in the academy, let me confirm what outsiders often suspect: the left has almost a complete headlock on the publication of serious (peer reviewed) research in journals and scholarly books. It is not that heretical ideas are forever buried. They can be expressed in popular magazines, op-eds and, think tank publications and especially, on blogs. Nevertheless, and this is critical, these off-campus writings do not count for tenure or promotion. A successful academic career at a top school requires publishing in disciplinary outlets and with scant exception these outlets filter out those who reject the PC orthodoxies.
Academic outsiders seldom grasp the power of PC gatekeepers in the humanities and social sciences. Consider, for example, a scholarly paper on AIDS that finds that the government's anti-AIDS campaign received overly generous funding, as calibrated according to multiple well-established statistical measures of medical need, a conclusion hardly consistent with the gay victimhood narrative. The journal editor will undoubtedly send the submission to a reviewer sympathetic to gays since, it would seem, they know about gay matters. The likely outcome will be rejection no matter how persuasive the evidence. Add yet one more triumph of ideology over reality.
Journal submissions that challenge the PC orthodoxy are risky ventures. A single negative review typically means rejection, so why risk almost sure rejection when the tenure clock is ticking? If publication is the pressing goal, better to lie by claiming AIDS funding was inadequate.
Such rejections shape knowledge more generally. Young scholars will avoid these PC-controlled fields altogether rather than an entire career filled with rebuffs. Ideological uniformity within the sub-field thus grows even more pervasive which, in turn, makes it even less likely that contrary views will be heard. A few well-placed ideological gatekeepers can thus impose a stifling orthodoxy for decades.
So, how can un-PC research see the light of day and still count as bona fide academic currency? How can the Protectors of the Faith be circumvented and intellectual diversity restored?
Just eliminate hard copies of all scholarly journals, even books, and "publish" everything, no exceptions, on the Internet. This is hardly revolutionary. Many academics already post "working papers" on the Net that circulate prior to hard-copy publication while Amazon.com offers easy self-published books Going "paper free" was seriously raised at recent MLA convention. Legal scholars have ExpressO that for a fee delivers manuscript to 750 law reviews.
E-publications are also wonderfully green: no more thick tree-eating paper journals or doorstopper tomes, no carbon-consuming mailings and huge libraries are unnecessary to warehousing seldom accessed publications. The only obstacle is professional legitimacy and rest assured, if prestigious scholars do it, everyone else will follow.
The mechanics are a snap and current popular social networking technology might be exploited. The Berkeley Electronic Press currently offers distribution for scholarly papers. Everything is forwarded to the discipline's national association and then automatically routed to subscribing specialists via key words or other identifiers. Filters might be imposed to manage one's inbox. Or papers can be bundled together under current journal titles with assurances of prior editorial scrutiny. Access would be free and professional dues would fund the technical administrative overhead (now much cheaper thanks to abolishing journal staff, production costs and postage). Readers could then offer scholarly critiques but, and here's the key, nothing could be censored as "offensive." Ideologues accustomed to killing off any hint of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and similar crimes against today's orthodoxy are now rendered powerless.
Contrary to what might be expected, this wide open system would not necessarily produce an overwhelming tidal wave of information. Google alert-like filters would insure that I received every paper that might interest me and goodbye scanning multiple journals and book reviews to find relevant research. E-mail folders would also replace cumbersome paper file folders. And everything would be on a USB thumb drive! Positively liberating.
An added bonus might be reducing shoddy scholarship. After all, if everything, no matter how awful, now counts as "published" little incentive exists to push out fourth rate stuff in the hope of getting "a publication." Why let the whole world read one's desperate efforts? If self-imposed intellectual birth control is insufficient, how about a website featuring the ten worst "scholarly" papers each month? Perhaps effort once devoted to pointless publications might now be invested in teaching.
This is a genuine heretic-friendly marketplace of ideas. Whole areas of research now off-limits thanks to PC domination will be reinvigorated. Openness and honesty will make a comeback. If the research is guilty of some "thought crime" let critics openly state their case and sign their names. No more hiding and, best of all, let this unprofessional PC attack be visible for all to see. This uncensored proliferation hardly guarantees truth but it will allow the expression of once silenced views that allegedly offended some delicate sensibility.
Net-only publishing offers other advantages. It dramatically speeds up the dissemination of ideas and encourages suggestions from dozens of fellow professionals. Less obvious is that it can stimulate collegial interaction. It is an open secret that fellow academics seldom actually read what colleagues write even when it comes to tenure, promotions and yearly salary increases. Judgments are conveniently outsourced to journal and book editors under the assumption that if it passes muster there, it must be worthy ("worthiness," sad to say, is often certified not by intellectual quality but the proportion of manuscripts the journal rejects or the book publisher's prestige). With everything published, however, things must be read.
Finally, compare this remedy for combating the PC University with alternatives such as mandated ideologically diversified faculty recruitment or an elaborate judicial appeals process to expose ideological bias. This Net-based solution is far superior to any of these (and other) administrative interventions. Who could possible argue that going totally electronic undermines university autonomy? "Publishing" everything is the very embodiment of intellectual freedom: every voice now can be heard, and quickly and cheaply, whether it is a condemnation of America's intractable racism or an assertion that genetics explain educational failure. Let the marketplace of ideas cull out foolishness, not a few ideologically minded gatekeepers. Isn't technology wonderful?