If you can, have a peek at New Threats to Academic Freedom published in the November issue of Bioethics. The author, Francesca Minerva, argues that anonymity might represent a way to shield academics from the repercussions of public dialog when discussing sensitive matters. Academic freedom, she suggests, is a key element in sustaining the mindset for creativity and productivity. An example of death threats following an ethical debate of post-term abortion is cited as one example of why author anonymity might be necessary to protect authors.
The paper is remarkable in that it illustrates the separation some academics perceive between themselves and the networked world.
A couple of points:
Anonymity is a fantasy. While it might seem to offer a convenient solution to the repercussion of our beliefs, anonymity in public dialog is unsustainable and should be seen as a dying vestige of analog life.
We’re part of a global conversation. The walls dividing ‘the academic thinker’ and the rest of the world have begun their decay. Our dialog is no longer sequestered. One could even argue that we even share an obligation to involve ourselves in the broader discourse. While I can personally appreciate the difficulties of public dialog surrounding controversial issues, this is what we do. Or it’s now what we should do.
Avoidance of public controversy is unavoidable. There are few subjects of academic investigation free from controversy. The example of post-term abortion represents an an issue so volatile that no measure of ‘protection,’ even the perception of anonymity, is possible.
Risk must be balanced with opportunity. While I’m no stranger to menacing trolls, the benefits outweigh the real personal risk of public discussion. And to separate ourselves from our ideas is to miss the opportunity that comes with this type of public discourse. The true cost of remaining anonymous, according to Google’s Eric Schmidt, may be irrelevance.
While the subject of this paper would be great for all of us to discuss, it is ironically sequestered within the confines of an involuting 17th century information distribution model (journal). Of course, for an author concerned with implications of public discourse, perhaps it’s better that way.
Sarcasm aside, this is an interesting read with lots to discuss. For those of you privileged enough to see this author’s thinking, where have I gone wrong?
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