Academics tell of bid by Edinburgh University Press to censor article on transwomen The Sunday Times 02.08.20

The original article is here.

Three female academics have complained about an attempt to censor an article that had been accepted for publication in an academic journal published by Edinburgh University Press (EUP).

The women say they were falsely accused of being transphobic as a way to silence their views and stifle academic freedom. In recent years several women academics have had talks cancelled, articles refused or speaking dates withdrawn after transgender activists accused them of transphobia.

PhD student Lucy Hunter Blackburn and research fellow Dr Kath Murray, both at Edinburgh University, together with independent policy analyst Lisa Mackenzie make their claim in a submission to the Scottish parliament.

They are giving evidence in a consultation on a hate crime bill, which would make it an offence to “stir up hatred” in relation to transgender people. Some Scottish academics, including Professor Lindsay Paterson, have supported the publication of their article and warned of the risks to academic freedom from the attempt to suppress it.

Blackburn, Murray and Mackenzie oppose the proposed legislation and say it is too easy to make serious accusations of transphobia. As an example, they describe their experience of trying to publish an article called Losing Sight of Women’s Rights, which argues that organisations ignored the effect on women when making policies to improve the treatment of transwomen in prisons and other places.

The article was peer-reviewed and accepted by the journal Scottish Affairs, published by EUP. Before it appeared in print the women say “an attempt was made from within [the]… publisher to prevent publication”.

They say “a member of EUP staff, who […] would not normally have any role in relation to journal content, wrote in an internal note that they had been passed the article and had concerns about it”. The note complained that the article “both expresses anti-trans sentiment and also uses terms that are discriminatory and insulting towards trans women (for example, the use of the word ‘women’ as specifically excluding trans women)”.

It said transphobia was “just as serious as other forms of intolerance”, and the writer added: “I feel that we should take the same principled approach.”

Senior staff at EUP contacted Professor Michael Rosie, the editor of Scottish Affairs, to highlight the concern, without telling the authors. The press also sent a copy of the article to the university’s legal team. The academics believe this was an attempt to see whether the article contravened policies on “dignity and respect”.

The lawyers declined to get involved, saying it was a matter of academic freedom. The article was published after the board was consulted and backed publication. The journal has since commissioned a “formal critical response” to the women’s article, which will be published in Scottish Affairs in January.

Hunter Blackburn said: “It was really shocking to discover that an internal email written by a member of staff at EUP had been shared outside the press without our knowledge.” She said the note “made horrible claims about our motivation, alleging transphobia. We are not transphobic. Of course, I understand that people will disagree about issues but we were simply trying to have a debate and put our point of view.”

Rosie said: “Academic journals rely on the peer review process and the autonomy of the editor, and I was pleased that Edinburgh University Press confirmed both of these as paramount.”

Paterson said: “I have never known an attempt to restrict publication of any paper by staff at EUP. I was very happy to support the editor in his protest about the attempt at censorship. The principle […] is academic freedom.”

EUP declined to comment.