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the rampant hypocrisy of The Conversation – academic arrogance, journalistic prejudice

| 10 Comments

Back in February I decided to find out if I was eligible to submit articles for publication to The Conversation. Promoted as the contemporary, relevant voice of academia, The Conversation is not quite that. It is the mouthpiece for people employed at research institutions. There’s a difference between the two.

People who hold postgraduate research degrees, like myself, who do not work at an approved institution are not eligible to submit articles to The Conversation. Regardless of whether we have anything relevant to say as experienced researchers and analytical thinkers, we’re not wanted.

The Conversation implies that it represents the voice of the academic community, but this community is bigger than the number of university academic employees. The Conversation’s suggestion, in providing a voice for the academic community, that it represents it is implausible and needs to be questioned.

Below is a screenshot of a conversation I initiated with The Conversation on their Facebook page on 20 February 2013. I wanted an explanation for why suitably qualified intellectuals working in industry, or elsewhere outside academia, could not contribute to The Conversation. They had no answer to this and the issue had seemingly never occurred to them, which is strangely naive.

sex and gender media

Yesterday The Conversation published the article ‘The Iceland model: banning pornography or banning freedom?‘ by Professor Margaret Alston. The article is clearly not academic in nature and if submitted as an undergraduate assignment would probably fail.

It is embarrassingly subjective and moralistic in tone and content. It makes claims to authority and authenticity that it cannot maintain, and gives a superficial veneer of academic credibility to a clearly anti-sex point of view. It endorses an anti-pornography point of view without questioning it while explicitly critiquing the pro-porn point of view.

It then engages in a ludicrous straw man argument, comparing porn advocates with fringe lunatics like anti-gun control advocates in the US and misogynistic online trolls. Now that’s academic rigour for you.

The article makes a farce of The Conversation’s claims to academic rigour by only allowing university employees to contribute. It is also an embarrassment to the standards of The Conversation’s editorial staff.

At the time of writing this article, my comment on Alston’s article was the most recommended. I’ve included an image of it below as it does not seem possible to link to individual comments in The Conversation.

sex and gender media

I have no idea what Alston’s academic credentials in relation to porn are. I can’t find a single reference to ‘porn’ in her list of publications.

In contrast, I wrote my Honours dissertation 20 years ago on how the cultural response to AIDS changed representations of sex, I’ve worked as a sexuality educator and I’ve maintained a professional interest in the area of sexuality, such as by presenting at Pleasure Forum Australia (then known as Pleasure Salon) in 2010.

It’s plausible for me to consider, therefore, that I am suitably qualified to discuss the topic of porn. But The Conversation doesn’t want to add my voice to their collective. I’m evidently not morally conservative, prejudiced and subjective enough for their liking.

On Facebook The Conversation describes itself as ‘academic rigour, journalistic flair’. Alston’s article contains neither of these. It’s more like academic arrogance and gutter News Ltd journalistic prejudice.

10 comments

  1. Dude, now you just look like you have an axe to grind.

    Your use of language in the posts with The Conversation’s fb page are accusatory. It wasn’t necessary and reduced significantly from what was an otherwise fairly valid point.

    • Yes and yes. I stand by my words and their meaning – that The Conversation has failed to uphold academic standards and embraced morally judgemental propaganda.

      • The obvious problem with that is that there are two issues addressed in your article and one of them is the fact that they haven’t published your work.

        These should be two separate issues, if journalistic standards are your emphasis anyway.

        • You’re totally missing the point. I don’t care that they haven’t published my work as such. I self-publish.

          I am pointing out that they would not accept my work, regardless of how good it may be and despite the fact I have a PhD, because I do not work for an institution, but they do accept subjective moralistic rubbish like Alston’s article, which fails the standards of academic rigour, simply because she is employed by a university.

          This demonstrates that The Conversation has poor editorial standards and fails to uphold measures of intellectual integrity. It’s an ironic comparison. Do you get it now?

          • No, you’re totally missing the point this time.

            If it’s possible for me to draw this conclusion so easily from the article (or if you’re pushing it into my face despite the obviousness of your self publishing), it detracts from the point in your previous response and the article as a whole. You cannot blame your reader for failing to assume your own premises, or for not sharing your personal feelings about a personal experience.

            It’s quite easy for me to say in response to your objection that there are other academically oriented publication sites available, and that Ms Alston is a well known academic and the head of two separate social science units at a G8 university… This is normally something that is considered to carry weight and prestige in the academic world. I conceede that this probably reduced the weight of editorial pressure on her, but it’s also possible that your expectations regarding the editorial process differ from the editors themselves. If you think that hunting prestige is ignoble, or that in that case it detracts from the academic merit of the work by lowering scruitiny, then i generally agree with you… but that’s not what this is about, based on your previous responses to me.

            If you’d approached this issue differently it could have been a catalyst to a policy change by The Conversation.

          • My initial experience of my exchange with The Conversation from February suggested to me that they had no interest in reviewing their authorial policy.

            In relation to their editorial policy, they make claims to authenticity and integrity that they fail to uphold and maintain. They claim to be the socially relevant voice of academia. The professional sex educators I know would be appalled by the judgemental attitude about consensual sexual practices in Alston’s article. Her article is simply not academic or professional. It is prudish anti-sex propaganda.

            Academics have long failed to gain a foothold in mainstream media as a means of sharing their expertise with the broader community. It is ironic that The Conversation, as the supposed voice of academia, has built its own media platform to better speak to and with the broader community it has abandoned its standards and has published the kind of subjective rubbish usually seen in the News Ltd titles that have long rejected academia as socially irrelevant.

          • Valid, and I concede also that it is hard to write for an audience both as broad and as specialized as this message needs to reach.

            I disagree with Alston’s article on a personal level, but it’s necessary for me to consider it as a published opinion piece and point out that there is still room in this interpretation for accusations that you are merely offended by the content of her opinion.

            Regardless, I do think you’re correct with regards to academics and the media, and I agree that this is a practical problem. Luckily, as you earlier pointed out, we are no longer limited by monolithic publishing platforms… though they still tend to give the reader a sense of community.

            Good luck pushing it in a more reasonable direction, i’ll be attempting the same elsewhere.

          • I’m not offended by Alston’s article as such. It is typical of its type and has nothing new to say. What is new is such a prejudiced, anti-intellectual article being presented in a curated media platform that is claiming to be the voice of academia.

            I’m angry about the values of such publications and institutions that they condone and perpetuate anti-sex attitudes, because these attitudes represent and support discriminatory behaviour.

            Given that Alston has never published anything on porn before and offers only opinion, not evidence, she does not qualify as an expert in this area and her article does not qualify as academic work, and therefore it should not been published in The Conversation.

  2. The Conversation needs to take a long, hard look at itself, its editorial practices, and its complete lack of engagement with industry-based academics. Not to mention the dangers inherent in publishing/promoting Alston’s moralistic, anti-sex P.O.V. stance.

  3. Its their magazine and if they only want to publish articles by university employed academics then that is their prerogative.
    You can publish elsewhere as they don’t have a monopoly.
    They may well be better off by allowing ex academics to publish especially if their editorial standards are low.
    It is obvious that they see this as a niche market for them and can no doubt appeal to university funding schemes etc as they only source articles from staffed academics.

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