Publishing

Journal’s Board Disavows Apology for ‘Transracialism’ Article, Making Retraction Unlikely

May 18, 2017

Critics of a much-criticized article, "In Defense of Transracialism," that was published this year in Hypatia have held out hope for what would be an extraordinary step: the article’s retraction. But that is almost certainly not going to happen, officials at the feminist philosophy journal suggested on Thursday.

A letter this month demanding the retraction of the article drew more than 800 signatures. The letter, which was delivered to Hypatia’s editor on May 2, said that the author — Rebecca Tuvel, an assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College — had exhibited "poor scholarship" that was harmful to transgender people and black people.

Subsequently, a majority of Hypatia’s associate editors published an apology on the journal’s Facebook page. Among other things, they wrote, "clearly, the article should not have been published, and we believe that the fault for this lies in the review process."

On Thursday, Hypatia’s Board of Directors issued a statement saying that the associate editors’ apology did not speak for the journal as a whole, and had been disseminated without "adequate consultation" with the editor, Sally Scholz.

“'Hypatia' is bound by principles of publication ethics to stand by its editors, referees, and authors.”
The board’s statement echoes an earlier statement in which Ms. Scholz defended her decision to publish Ms. Tuvel’s article. The board’s statement appears to rule out the possibility that the article will be retracted, barring the discovery of academic misconduct by Ms. Tuvel. "Hypatia is bound by principles of publication ethics to stand by its editors, referees, and authors except in specific cases such as plagiarism and fraud," the board said.

The board’s statement also pointed out that the associate editors’ apology had not called for a retraction of Ms. Tuvel’s article. While that is true, the associate editors did suggest that they would consider the option of retraction — and all its "potential ramifications" — carefully.

A ‘Revolutionary Gesture’

A chief criticism of Ms. Tuvel’s work was that it failed to sufficiently engage with critical race theory and works by African-American women philosophers. While retractions in the humanities are highly unusual, some scholars have suggested that a retraction would send a strong message about the importance of citing works by marginalized scholars.

“Many of us have much to learn from those who have lived in and worked on intersections of marginalized racial and gender identities.”
In an earlier interview with The Chronicle, Claire M. Colebrook, a professor of English, philosophy, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Pennsylvania State University, said a retraction of the article "would be heavy-duty, but it would be an amazingly revolutionary gesture in philosophy."

"It would be unheard of," she said. "But maybe that’s OK."

In the future, Hypatia’s board said, it will review its governance structure, procedures, and policies, aiming to continue to improve the inclusiveness of the journal and respect for marginalized voices. "Many of us have much to learn from those who have lived in and worked on intersections of marginalized racial and gender identities," it said.

A November issue of Hypatia, planned before the Tuvel controversy, will feature six articles addressing "issues in the profession." One that has been accepted for publication in the issue is by Yolonda Wilson, an assistant professor of philosophy at Howard University. Ms. Wilson’s work will address one issue raised by the controversy — the underrepresentation of women of color and other marginalized scholars in the discipline of philosophy.

“What we're seeing is an example of what happens when you don't have broad voices at the table, when you don't have the work of broad scholars ready at one's disposal, and when the discipline itself doesn't seem to make that a priority.”
Ms. Tuvel’s article highlighted a "general problem in the profession with the visibility of certain scholars," Ms. Wilson said in an interview. She added that she did not have any specific concerns about publishing with Hypatia, whose practices she said were consistent with other journals in the field.

"What we’re seeing," she said, "is an example of what happens when you don’t have broad voices at the table, when you don’t have the work of broad scholars ready at one’s disposal, and when the discipline itself doesn’t seem to make that a priority."

Ms. Wilson said that making the work of marginalized scholars more visible should happen at multiple levels. "It has to happen with journal and book editors, it has to happen in departments, it has to happen with hiring decisions, graduate-school admissions," she said. "There has to be an openness to understand work that may look a little different."