Martin Paul Eve bio photo

Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

Email Books Twitter Github Stackoverflow MLA CORE Institutional Repo ORCID ID  ORCID iD Wikipedia Pictures for Re-Use

A journalist recently asked me for a comment on why I, as an academic who studies academic publishing, signed a petition calling for the retraction of Mead, Lawrence M., ‘Poverty and Culture’, Society, 2020 I wanted to publish my full reasoning here ahead of any publication that might quote me.

When I saw this petition circulating, I took time to read the article before signing the petition. I respect academic freedom to investigate controversial areas of research, but my reasons for signing were as follows:

  1. I abhor racial discrimination in all its forms. It is my opinion that this paper expressed racially discriminative views, such as: “Today, the seriously poor are mostly blacks and Hispanics, and the main reason is cultural difference. The great fact is that these groups did not come from Europe”. This statement, in my reading/opinion, innately characterizes (i.e. discriminates, as in the definition: “recognizes a distinction between”) people based on their racial backgrounds. Given this, and the potentially harmful nature of the argument based on this categorisation, I believed that the work should be retracted so as not to give credence to this distinction, which I do not trust.

  2. Professor Mead’s article was a “commentary”, which is listed on the journal’s site as a “non-research article”. That is, as far as I could tell, it was not a full research article and was not subject to full review. To air such extraordinary and possibly harmful views in this “commentary” form was, I believe, against the journal’s policy on research that may cause harm. The subsequent retraction notice validates this assessment, noting that “the Editor-in-Chief concluded that the article was published without proper editorial oversight”.

  3. From my own reading, it seemed to me that the claims in this paper were extremely general and, had I been asked to review it, I would have rejected it. For instance, consider another claim of the paper: “Fifty years after civil rights, their [the aforementioned groups’] main problem is no longer racial discrimination by other people”. This must be extraordinary news to BIPOC people in the USA who, from all I have seen in recent months, face continued police brutality, racial bias in the criminal justice system (for instance, the Death Penalty Information Center notes that every sophisticated, controlling study has found systemic bias against white-victim cases) etc. These claims of the paper seem to me not credible and this paragraph of the article contains no citations.

  4. The policy of the journal states that “Excessive and inappropriate self-citation […] is strongly discouraged”. This piece was based extensively on the author’s own work elsewhere and cited his own writing three times, which I believe violated this policy.

  5. Another of the journal’s policies is that “Authors should avoid untrue statements about an entity (who can be an individual person or a company) or descriptions of their behavior or actions that could potentially be seen as personal attacks or allegations about that person”. I believe this piece violated this policy in its broad-brush stroke claims about entire demographics.

Hence, I called for retraction of the article on grounds of: 1. believing that the article contained unverified and potentially harmful opinions about racial demographics; and 2. policy violations for the publication in question.