As Cancel Culture takes hold in universities, is free thinking at threat? Francesca Minerva, co-founder the Journal of Controversial Ideas, joins Turi to explain what has happened to the academy.
S2 E24: The Journal of Controversial Ideas
“You can’t have a good education if you’re not exposed to ideas you don’t agree with”
Twelve years ago, Francesca Minerva published an academic article in the Journal of Medical Ethics giving a moral defence of infanticide. She was overwhelmed by the reaction she received - for an academic article in the early days of Twitter and Facebook, it went ‘viral’. She received death threats from the public, academics refusing to shake her hand, and she found it hard to get tenure. But she says that she was lucky. If the same thing happened today, she’d be a lot worse off than a few disgruntled colleagues.
Francesca is one of the co-founders of the Journal of Controversial Ideas, alongside Peter Singer and Jeff McMahan. Their aim is to promote free inquiry on controversial topics, in the face of what they see as increasing censorship across the academy.
“It has become really common for academics to sign petitions to get somebody they disagree with fired or demoted…”
Francesca worries that without the capacity to discuss or challenge widely held views, our search for the truth will fall flat. She worries that the very idea of academic enquiry is changing: that truth is ‘constructed’ rather than ‘discovered’.
“I don’t know if university as we know it is going to survive.”
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Francesca Minerva is a research fellow at the University of Milan. Between 2011 and 2020 she has worked as a post-doc at the University of Melbourne, at the University of Ghent, and at Warwick University. She is the co-founder and co-editor of the Journal of Controversial Ideas. Her research focuses on applied ethics, including lookism, conscientious objection, abortion, academic freedom, and cryonics.
On Opinion is a member of The Democracy Group, a network of podcasts that examines what’s broken in our democracy and how we can work together to fix it.
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