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  • Page 2Don't Shoot the Journal Editor
  • Jeffrey R. Di Leo, Editor and Publisher (bio)

Academic publishing can be a rough place.

Recently, threats of personal violence against a journal editor for publishing a controversial essay were widely reported.

The editor's concerned publisher looked into the threats and found them to be both "serious" and "credible."

"So, you're really going to break my editor's thumbs if we don't withdraw the essay?" you could imagine the publisher asking.

"Just try me," the snarling thug might reply. "You've got 24 hours to make that essay go away or we start with the thumbs!"

After the essay received 16,000 online views in just a couple of weeks, the publisher succumbed to the threats and withdrew the essay from the journal. Today, in place of an essay, one finds the following:


This Viewpoint essay has been withdrawn at the request of the academic journal editor, and in agreement with the author of the essay. Following a number of complaints, Taylor & Francis conducted a thorough investigation into the peer review process on this article. 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. As the publisher, we must take this seriously. Taylor & Francis has a strong and supportive duty of care to all our academic editorial teams, and this is why we are withdrawing this essay.

And, to be perfectly accurate, the threats of violence were not directed at the thumbs of the journal editor. Rather, they were against his life.

The journal editor called the author of the essay and said, "We're getting death threats. Do you mind if we withdrew it?" The author agreed, and the essay was withdrawn with his consent.

The editor, Shahid Qadir, received a piece from Bruce Gilley, a professor of political science at Portland State University. The journal, Third World Quarterly (TWQ), founded in 1979, and edited by Qadir since 1990, had already published two peer-reviewed articles by Gilley, so he was no stranger to them.

The article, "The Case for Colonialism," was submitted by Gilley to a special issue of the journal on the new imperialism. The editors of the special issue quickly rejected the article as not suitable for it.

In recounting this process, Gilley says,

Obviously [my article] wasn't suitable for their special issue because their special issue was going to be a critique of what they considered the latest round of imperialism. My article did not share their ideological slant. It was therefore, ipso facto, not appropriate for their special issue. That was a desk rejection, not a peer-review rejection.

But this was not the first time that the article was rejected. It was submitted to another journal, whose editor regarded it as "a very powerful piece," and proposed to his board that it be published along with critical responses—in spite of two peer reviews that concluded that it should be rejected. Wisely, the editorial board "anticipated a fury" and decided that publishing it with responses "was not worth the grief."

So, by the time Gilley submitted it to another journal for publication, he was surely well aware that it would be regarded as a controversial piece. In fact, as he says above, he knew that it "Obviously was not suitable" for the special issue of TWQ.

Thus, one might ask Gilley, why then he submitted an article to the journal that he knew was not suitable to its special issue?

It is one thing to not know that it is suitable, and to find it out later. It is entirely another thing to know in advance it is not suitable, but to send it anyway. The former one can accept on the grounds of naiveté; the latter though might be regarded as irresponsible, if not also, a species of unprofessional behavior. If you know something is not suitable or acceptable, but submit it anyway, you are arguably just wasting your time, the time of others...


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