Controversy Columbus Day
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Christopher Columbus statue.

October 09, 2017

Journal pulls controversial pro-Colonialism essay on eve of Columbus Day

Third World Quarterly's Philadelphia-based publisher said there have been credible threats of violence made against editor

The academic journal Third World Quarterly saw the resignations of almost half its member board after publishing a controversial essay titled “The Case for Colonialism.”

The Quarterly’s publisher Taylor & Francis, which has offices in Philadelphia, posted a withdrawal notice after the essay was pulled, citing “serious and credible threats of personal violence” against the journal’s editor.

The essay, which exalted the merits of colonialism, was pulled shortly before Columbus Day, a federal holiday criticized and protested by many for celebrating European colonialism and the mass murder of Native Americans.

“Following a number of complaints, Taylor & Francis conducted a thorough investigation into the peer review process on this article,” the publisher’s statement reads

“Whilst this clearly demonstrated the essay had undergone double-blind peer review, in line with the journal’s editorial policy, the journal editor has subsequently received serious and credible threats of personal violence. These threats are linked to the publication of this essay.”

The essay was written by Bruce Gilley, a political science professor at Portland State University, and made the case for Colonialism stating that countries that had been colonized “did better” than others, according to the Washington Post

Though the essay has been pulled, the Post noted that the abstract read, “For the last 100 years, Western colonialism has had a bad name. It is high time to question this orthodoxy.”

Since its publication last month, scholars have criticized the article for being racist and also using illegitimate data. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the essay was indeed rejected by three peer reviewers at the Third World Quarterly.

After two petitions and a joint resignation letter of 15 members of the Quarterly’s 34-member board, leading to the journal’s eventual withdrawal of the essay, some in the academic world worried that pulling the essay set a bad precedent.

Noam Chomsky, who sits on the editorial board of Third World Quarterly, told Inside Higher Education that it’s “pretty clear that proper procedures were not followed in publishing the article, but I think retraction is a mistake – and also opens very dangerous doors. Rebuttal offers a great opportunity for education, not only in this case.”

This is not Gilley’s first conflict in academia, previously leaving the American Political Science Association after claiming it didn’t accept right-wing viewpoints.