No outlet for work on men and boys

Refusal to publish paper on ancient Greek pederasty a blow to freedom, scholars say. Lee Bunce reports

June 25, 2009

An academic freedom row has blown up over the reluctance of a publisher to include material on sex between men and boys in ancient Greece in one of its journals.

A group of classicists have accused publisher Taylor & Francis of delaying yet again the appearance of an article that argues that pederasty "can benefit the adolescent".

The row in the US follows a four-year struggle by the authors to get the work published. The collection of articles was originally submitted to the Journal of Homosexuality, published by Haworth Press, in 2005, but it was rejected.

The decision apparently hinged on the inclusion of a piece by Bruce Rind, a former professor of psychology at Temple University, in Pennsylvania, that suggested that sexual relationships between adults and adolescents may be healthy even today.

An agreement was reportedly struck between the parties to release a revised collection at a later date. However, Haworth Press was subsequently acquired by Taylor & Francis, which is said to have backed out of the deal.

Speaking to the US news website Inside Higher Ed, Beert Verstraete, professor of classics at Acadia University, Canada, and co-editor of the unpublished collection, accused the publisher of "violating the principles" of academic pursuit.

"Legitimate scholarship can be controversial; that does not mean it should be banned or censored," he said. "I know that the publishers are within their legal rights to refuse publication, but I think they have a moral obligation - an ethical obligation - (to allow) the free dissemination of ideas."

Kevin J. Bradley, president of US journals for Taylor & Francis, said the publishing group, which is one of the largest in the world, had acted appropriately.

"We appreciate the opportunity to consider the articles for publication, but chose not to proceed," he said.

"We did research on the origins of this special issue, as well as the reaction to it in 2005, and those issues formed a part, but not all, of the decision-making process."

It is not the first time that Professor Rind has courted controversy - in 1998 he co-authored a work suggesting that child abuse may be less harmful than generally believed. The paper was criticised by a number of Republican members of Congress.

Simon Goldhill, professor in Greek literature and culture at the University of Cambridge, said he did not believe the latest row raised wider concerns about academic censorship.

He also cast doubt on how interesting or important an analysis of pederasty in ancient Greece would be: "Publishers are not duty bound to publish everything they receive, it depends if the work is serious or not," he said.

"If (Professor Rind) is suggesting that relationships between adults and adolescents aren't always abusive, then that isn't very interesting.

"Such relationships may be illegal, but that doesn't mean they are interesting."

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