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Their reactions spurred me on. My alarm was not about Dr. Paarlberg's views, for they can be addressed in fair debate. My distress was about the threat to democracy itself in Oxford University Press's choice to lower its standards.
OK, that might sound overblown. But not to me. Democracy depends on honest, fair, accurate debate. Without it, we can't possibly meet today's challenges. And if academic presses don't hold the line -- when fair discourse in the wider culture is in collapse -- who will?
In time, six distinguished, courageous scholars and leaders in the field of food, hunger and ecological farming, who share my alarm, joined me. First we sent our critique to the leader of Oxford University Press in New York City, Mr. Niko Pfund. We asked to meet to discuss straightforward remedies. At first, I truly believed top leadership at the Press would be distressed that this book had slipped through and would recommit to uphold basic standards.
Instead, after several weeks, we received a letter saying that Food Politics met its standards and no one would meet with us. (On the particular point of lack of disclosure, the Press told us that Dr. Paarlberg did not accept payment from Monsanto and therefore disclosing his advisory role was not required. However, we'd never said that he was paid by Monsanto. Our position is the widely accepted standard that any association, which could appear to influence a writer's coverage of his or her subject, must be disclosed.)
OK, we thought, what about the home base of Oxford University Press in Oxford, England? Surely, there, where two dozen faculty of the university, known as the Delegates, have final authority, we'll find leadership who shares our dismay. Calls and offers to travel to Oxford for discussions got nowhere. Finally, the office of Oxford University Vice Chancellor Andrew D. Hamilton, speaking for the Press, wrote to affirm the position of his New York office: The book met Oxford University Press standards; and no one would discuss the matter with us.
With those channels closed, we launched a petition campaign. And here's where we need your help!
On April 25 th, I'll arrive on the steps of Oxford University Press in Oxford, England. And we would love to have your signature on the petition I'll deliver. The petition asks for just three basic standards to be upheld by Oxford University Press: citations for evidence-based claims, full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest (whether financial or other associations), and accurate promotion of publications.
Is not each of these three -- transparency about sources, disclosure of conflicts of interest, and accurate promotion -- precisely the type of standard that distinguishes an academic press from, say, a Fox News?
We believe our appeal goes to the very heart of democracy itself; for, absent transparency and commitment to evidence-based argument (impossible if authors provide no sources for claims!) democracy's lifeblood -- open, fair dialogue -- drains away.
You can follow our exchange and sign the petition here. If you want to know what happens next, please send us an email: email@example.com and put "standards at risk" in the subject line.
Thank you. It really matters.