Shameful Treatment of Scholars

A number of you will by now be familiar with this affair.  This is my personal take on the situation.

Dr. Beert Verstraete and Dr. John De Cecco guest-edited what was to have been a special issue of The Journal of Homosexuality. The issue addressed the theme of “Sexual Intimacy between Adult and Adolescent Males” and was built around a revised version of a paper by Dr. Bruce Rind of Temple University.  This paper was originally to have been published as part of an earlier special issue of The Journal of Homosexuality. Verstraete and De Cecco asked Rind to expand that paper and enlisted other scholars to contribute papers critiquing and reacting to Dr. Rind. They did so on the specific suggestion of Haworth Press, the publisher of the journal.

The issue of The Journal of Homosexuality in which the Rind paper was originally to have appeared addressed the theme of “Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity and in the Classical Tradition of the West.” Beert Verstraete was one of the editors.  Rind’s research in pederasty has long been controversial and his contribution of an article, “Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity,” quickly became a cause célèbre in WorldNetDaily, a conservative news service. Haworth Press reacted to this by tacitly canceling the issue.  The academic community–including librarians–brought pressure to bear on Haworth, and they ultimately agreed to publish the issue without Bruce Rind’s paper.

Dr. Verstraete and the other editors of that issue were, however, encouraged to make Rind’s paper the center piece of a subsequent thematic issue. Indeed, John De Cecco, who was then the General Editor of the Journal of Homosexuality, agreed to edit the volume with Dr. Verstraete.  Though neither man seems to have realized it at the time, they were not promised publication. Once the manuscript was submitted, the Taylor and Francis Group (who had purchased Haworth Press in the intervening months) reviewed it and “decided not to proceed.” There was no hint that it contained inferior scholarship or that it had deviated from the original suggestion for the issue. Dr. Verstraete’s willingness to compromise on the earlier issue of the journal had led him to place faith in mere suggestions. What had been a source of anxiety to the publishers in 2005 was completely out of the question in 2009.

This is yet another instance of publishers that refuse to distinguish between scholarship that addresses controversial issues and those issues themselves. Dr. Rind’s scholarship on pederasty (or “intergenerational sex” or whatever terminology one might choose) addresses issues about which most of us have strong feelings and moral convictions. I have no reason to believe that I would agree with Dr. Rind’s conclusions. Indeed, I might even be angered by what I’d read. But that’s not to say Dr. Rind should be prohibited from researching this subject or publishing his findings. If such academic freedom is not available, research cannot advance on controversial issues. The freedom of scholars to take positions and draw conclusions with which others disagree–the freedom to challenge established points of view and our settled moral convictions–is essential.  Such challenges strengthen arguments and, yes, on occasions cause the modification and growth of settled points of view and convictions.

Of course, for-profit publishers have their eyes on the bottom line and like so many corporations are leery of controversy, especially when it touches upon hot button issues like pederasty. They are also adept at drawing fine distinctions between legally binding agreements and persuasive suggestions that could perhaps just conceivably be misconstrued. But–in my personal opinion–it is shameful thing to waste the efforts of so many scholars with such a ploy. I am also deeply concerned when a publisher of academic journals proves so lacking in courage and unwilling to stand on principle.

—Paul Beavers

3 Responses to “Shameful Treatment of Scholars”

  1. Bill Cohen says:

    Additional analyses of the Rind controversy may be found at these two

  2. Rosana Gutierrez says:

    I don’t think that the publishers were treated unfairly. They were not promised publication they assumed that it would be published. In order to have a valid contract it must be in writing.

  3. Paul Beavers says:

    The reason I used the word “shameful” in my title was that I’m well aware that there are actions one can take that are not legally wrong that are nonetheless contemptible.

    The publishers of the Journal of Homosexuality manipulated Verstraete and De Cecco’s trust in order to resolve their immediate problems with “Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity.” In doing so, they demonstrated a complete indifference to wasting the efforts of those two men as well as the scholars who wrote articles specifically for “Sexual Intimacy between Adult and Adolescent Males.”

    The Taylor and Francis Group neither violated a contract nor broke a law. Indeed, because the volume can be published elsewhere, they have not engaged in censorship. But conning people who trust you is something of which honorable people and corporations should be ashamed.