You may have heard in passing or in other media how the peer review process has been undermined by the academic left. But what was always missing were examples. Phillip Magness who is an economist and public policy expert with the American Institute for Economic Research gives a concrete example meticulously demonstrating how the left’s cancer has infected academic publishing and research.
How Activist Academia Destroyed Scholarly Peer Review
by Phillip Magness
The reputation of academic publishing depends upon peer review – the practice by which other experts vet submissions to scholarly journals. A properly functioning peer review process flags potential problems before they appear in print. An anonymous referee might notice complications to a thesis that an author failed to account for, prompting another round of revisions to improve the piece. If an author misrepresents evidence for a claim, an anonymous referee might alert the journal editor to the problem. Usually, the author will be asked to address the issue in a revision. If the problem is severe or intentional, the piece might be rejected outright.
But what happens when academic peer review breaks down? What if an anonymous referee flags serious problems in an article such as misrepresented evidence or basic errors of fact, but the journal’s editor chooses to run the piece anyway? What happens when the same problems are then noticed by other scholars after the article appears in print? Surely a formal correction of some sort would be in order.
Factual corrections used to be a regular practice of most scholarly journals, whether in the form of a short comment or a longer point/counterpoint exchange over the disputed claim. In the hyper-politicized state of academia today, a growing number of scholarly venues no longer see a need to attend to basic standards of factual accuracy in their pages. Factual errors – even egregious ones such as misrepresented evidence and manipulated quotations – are now apparently allowed to stand unchallenged, provided that the error aligns with a politically fashionable viewpoint. This was my own experience after a frustrating year and a half long effort to seek basic factual corrections to an unambiguous error in an article in a journal published by Cambridge University Press.
The saga started in 2019 when Wellesley College historian Quinn Slobodian published a pair of articles in scholarly journals, containing an explosive charge against Ludwig von Mises. Writing for the journal Cultural Politics, Slobodian alleged that “race theory has an ambiguous place in Mises’s work,” which in turn has allowed modern day racists to claim inspiration from the free-market economist. Slobodian repeated and elaborated upon the charge in an article for Contemporary European History(CEH), stating that “libertarians who scour [Mises’s] writings to validate their divergent positions on migration can claim fairly to find confirmation of both sides of the argument.” One side of the story, he continued, derived from Mises “the realist, who saw race as a quasi-permanent category of global social organization. Despite his liberal principles the Habsburg polyglot never became the radical anti-racist.”
While Slobodian acknowledged in both articles that Mises adhered to a broad liberal philosophy that clashed with the racist and imperialist ideologies of his day, his argument held that Mises’s works contained a “parenthetical opening to the possibility of race theory” – a reference to pseudoscientific concepts that purport to link race and intelligence. That posited “parenthetical opening,” in turn, allegedly establishes Mises as a historical progenitor of later defenses of race theory and imperialism.