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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Columns

Academic journals defy Chinese censorship in case for integrity


In recent years, China has been notorious for censoring the internet from the public and removing anything that doesn’t laud the Communist Party of China.

Cambridge University Press, the oldest publishing house in the world, had initially complied with Chinese authorities by removing academic articles that the government didn’t want accessed by its public. On Aug. 18, CUP confirmed that the publisher was contacted by a Chinese import agency to block certain articles from The China Quarterly, an academic journal published by CUP.

Three days later, CUP rescinded the decision and made a public statement on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site, claiming that “academic freedom is the overriding principle on which the University of Cambridge is based.” In less than half a day, the post on Weibo was taken down .

The Socio-Economic and Natural Sciences of the Environment, a research school and international joint venture of universities known for its rankings of academic publishers, gives the CUP an “A”, ranking it in the echelon of “a few top-notch international publishers.”

CUP is a bastion of the academic research community and rethinking its compliance with Chinese authorities should be praised. That being said, the initial move to allow censorship of their articles pertaining to issues in China, including comments on the Tiananmen Square and similar sensitive topics, should alarm the academic community.

The China Quarterly was established in 1960, before Mao Zedong’s cultural revolution, and claims to be the “leading scholarly journal in its field”. Not only were they willing to comply with Chinese censors, but they were willing to comply with censors that would shape fact-finding on Sino-specific matters.

Those are arguably the issues that should be handled with the utmost objectivity in regards to the country.

There were also a number of not-for-profit organizations and professional associations of which CUP was a member that have a stated mission promoting open-access journal publishers globally, such as the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association and Knowledge Unlatched.

The censorship doesn’t just betray the academic world and purveyors of truth; it betrays the framework of organizations of which the CUP is a part.

The censorship of social media organizations and foreign press by China is not a new phenomenon, but as the New York Times noted, academic journal have historically been left alone due to their “small readership and high subscription costs.”

Cambridge University as a whole is one of the richest universities in the world, and the school is the richest in Europe. With an endowment — $7.57 billion in 2017 — that surpasses certain countries nominal GDP, a lot is invested in the school to retain the utmost standard of academic integrity.

Academic institutions are a unique entity in today’s society, especially public research universities. The universities are run like a corporation but are supposed to represent the public money that funded their interests.

The term “publish or perish,” a common phrase in academia, is meant to describe the notion that people must consistently publish material to further their careers. Usually, the phrase is meant with respect to the faculty and staff of a research university.

But in terms of actually materials, what is the point of publishing material for an international audience if the authors knows that the work is doomed to perish in certain places? Information from public academic institutions should make no concessions whatsoever when it comes to publishing research.

Opinion columnist Nicholas Bell is an MBA graduate student and can be reached at [email protected]

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