Journal Publisher Says Controversial Essay Did Pass Peer-Review Process

The publisher of Third World Quarterly, a journal of international studies, said on Wednesday that its recent controversial essay, “The Case for Colonialism,” did not fail the peer-review process.

The essay — by Bruce Gilley, a political scientist at Portland State University — argues that “Western colonialism has a bad name.” Its publication prompted 15 scholars to resign from the journal’s 34-member editorial board. Among other sharp criticism of the essay and the journal’s decision to publish it, a petition seeking the paper’s retraction has drawn more than 10,000 signatures.

In a written statement, Leon Heward-Mills, global publishing director for journals at the Taylor & Francis Group, said that the essay had passed through the journal’s standard checks.

“There have been many accusations that this essay was not peer-reviewed, or ‘failed’ multiple rounds of peer review linked to a special issue, and also independent of it,” Mr. Heward-Mills said. “Using the checks in our systems, we can be absolutely clear on the path through peer review this essay took. It was double-blind peer-reviewed by two referees (in line with the journal’s policy).”

Mr. Heward-Mills also said that the article cannot be withdrawn unless there are sufficient grounds for retraction.

On September 21, Mr. Gilley asked the journal to withdraw his essay, Mr. Heward-Mills said. But in a new statement Mr. Gilley wrote that he now stands by his essay.

“I am glad that Taylor & Francis has documented the process of peer review through which my article, ‘The Case for Colonialism,’ was submitted and accepted for publication in the Third World Quarterly,” Mr. Gilley wrote. “I am also pleased that they have reaffirmed the COPE principles of academic publishing that are designed to protect scientific research from censorship, including self‐censorship. I stand by the article in its entirety.” (COPE stands for the Committee on Publication Ethics.)

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