E-mail Message from Brill
by Andrew Kliman
January 12, 2024
Brill’s e-mail message to me, reporting on the outcome of its investigation of my request for retraction, is reproduced in full below. It was written by Lauren Danahy, a Brill acquisitions editor, who headed the investigation.
The message creates a false dichotomy, between “misrepresentation and inaccuracy” and “matters of theoretical interpretation.” It falsely attributes that false dichotomy to me: “Thank you, as well, for clarifying your claim to refer only to ‘misrepresentation and inaccuracy’ as you note, and not to matters of theoretical interpretation.” That is not what I said.
The present document lists and discusses the misrepresentations and inaccuracies in the article that I have identified.
This list may well be incomplete. I have refrained from listing statements in the article … that put forward interpretations of Marx’s texts that are implausible but not clearly incorrect.
I didn’t say that I was leaving out all theoretical interpretations. I said that I was leaving out those particular theoretical interpretations that are implausible but not clearly incorrect. Brill’s falsified version of my statement turns inaccurate claims and theoretical interpretations into mutually exclusive things. The original does not. The falsified version gives Brill a “Get Out of COPE Retraction Guidelines Free” card. The original does not.
The e-mail message states that two Marx scholars were consulted during the investigation. Its summary of the investigation suggests that the consultation went down like this. Question: “Is ‘never states that labour–time is also a measure’ a theoretical interpretation?” Answer: “Yes, of course it is.” Garbage in, garbage out.
COPE’s guidelines state that “[r]etraction is a mechanism for correcting the literature and alerting readers to articles that contain such seriously flawed or erroneous content or data that their findings and conclusions cannot be relied upon” (p. 3). That Brill is uninterested in alerting its readers to unreliable content is evident from the e-mail message, which does not mention COPE’s guidelines, much less say that they were followed. It does not acknowledge that the editorial process should provide readers with a safeguard against propagation of unreliable content. On the contrary, it states that “the editorial process has played out as it should here, to preserve academic discourse and debate.”
Preserve debate? The purposes of reasoned debate are to settle controversies and weed out unreliable content, not to perpetuate (“preserve”) them.
The concept of “preserving debate” is new to me, but I am familiar with the practice. It is standard practice at Historical Materialism. As I noted some months ago,
The effect and, arguably, the aim of the milieu of which Historical Materialism is part is to make Marx disappear, and thereby clear the field for the variety of contenders who present themselves as his true inheritors. Capitalizing on the fact that he can no longer speak for himself in real time, so that truths about what he said and meant can be separated from falsehoods only by rigorous testing of hypotheses that seeks to resolve controversies—and continues until they are resolved—they instead perpetuate controversies and thwart efforts to resolve them. … The outcome is, inevitably, a situation in which the (exegetical) meaning of Marx’s writings could be anything. But if they could mean anything, then they mean nothing; nothing determinate. “Both-sides-ism” has caused Marx to disappear. Only the various “true inheritors” survive.
By making a virtue—“preservation of debate”—of this reprehensible practice, Brill is shielding Sebastian Budgen and his fellow perps at Historical Materialism from the punishment they deserve.
Brill’s e-mail message to me stresses that its decision was made independently from its publication ethics committee and the Historical Materialism editorial board. It was also independent from the COPE retraction guidelines and concern for reliability and accuracy. What it was not independent from was Brill itself and its drive to maximize profit and keep its customers at Historical Materialism satisfied.
As I have said from the start, when I first predicted that Historical Materialism and Brill would ignore or reject my request for a retraction, “[w]hat is needed is … a pro-truth movement of opposition from the left to break their haughty power.”
* * *
From: Lauren Danahy <Lauren.Danahy@brill.com>
Sent: Friday, September 15, 2023 3:16 AM
To: Andrew Kliman <Andrew_Kliman@msn.com>
Subject: Update on Historical Materialism retraction request
Dear Professor Kliman,
Many thanks for your patience and cooperation as we completed our publication ethics investigation in response to your claim. Thank you, as well, for clarifying your claim to refer only to “misrepresentation and inaccuracy” as you note, and not to matters of theoretical interpretation.
By now we have reviewed all the evidence. This includes your claim, correspondence, and clarification, as well as relevant materials from the Historical Materialism editorial board regarding the editorial process for this piece. In addition, we have also sought an anonymous outside opinion from two Marx scholars – an extraordinary step to help avoid bias. Our conclusion is that the paper in question and the points that you raise fall within theoretical interpretation, and that the editorial process has played out as it should here, to preserve academic discourse and debate.
I thank you again for your patience, as this took some time to complete. We acknowledge that you are likely unsatisfied with this conclusion, and we want to stress that this decision has been taken independently from the Historical Materialism editorial board, and indeed independent from our publication ethics committee, as we conferred with external experts on the topic.
The offer to submit a response still stands. We wish you all the best with your future scholarship and thank you again for your cooperation.
Acquisitions Editor, International Law