November 29, 2021
The Association for Asian Studies (AAS) a scholarly, nonpolitical, nonprofit professional association with approximately 5,000 members worldwide and the largest scholarly association for Asian Studies in the world, denounces the harassment of Asian Studies specialists, especially regarding recent online targeting of historians who are contributing to our understanding of WWII-era Japan.
While academic freedom is a central principle governing pedagogy and research, free academic inquiry necessarily entails responsibility and accountability. Scholars can disagree over methods and sources, but they also have a duty to hold each other to account according to the standards of academic integrity. This means representing one’s own work honestly, providing proper evidence to substantiate one’s argument, reading carefully and translating primary sources accurately, and properly giving others credit for their ideas. We collectively maintain these standards through processes such as double-blind peer reviews, public book reviews, and occasional rebuttals and retractions.
Promoting research online can be an expedient method for introducing academic and lay audiences to the fruits of academic labor, but doing so also comes with specific challenges. Social media provides members of the public with an avenue for registering disagreement with scholarly conclusions that they do not like or with which they do not agree. In extreme cases, this has led to online harassment of scholars who study politically controversial topics. Such harassment can include ad hominem attacks, allegations of professional incompetence, or demands that universities fire or censure specific researchers.
Harassment can also include “dogpiling,” where an individual or small group incites dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of netizens to attack scholars in the ways mentioned above.
Such harassment highlights the necessity of preserving institutional protections against politically motivated attacks and developing ways to better support public scholarship. The AAS calls on universities, scholarly journals, and fellow professional associations to stand against such attacks by publicly affirming standards of academic integrity and protecting harassed scholars with full institutional support. The AAS recommends the following strategies for online engagement to prevent and counter online harassment:
- Block and report ad hominem attacks to social media companies.
- Refuse to engage disingenuous questions or baseless critiques (“trolling”) that do not happen on academic terms.
- Lock one’s account (“go private”) and report harassment when subjected to dogpiling. Extensions such as Twitter Block Chain enable mass blocking in order to mitigate dogpiling.
- Require advance registration for public Zoom events to prevent Zoombombing (the disruptive takeover of a Zoom room, often accompanied by disturbing images or racist and misogynistic statements).
To be clear, those targeted by online harassment are not responsible for their plight. These strategies are recommended to mitigate such harassment and to support colleagues attacked for their scholarly activities.
Academic inquiry often produces discomfiting outcomes, and the value of evidence-based research lies in this capacity to move beyond what is already known or commonly taken for granted. Persuasive research is conducted with keen attention to all types of appropriate evidence, judicious and empirically verifiable explanation of causal relationships, and clear statement of findings. Such rigor is the basis for our work, but it is also the basis for our denunciation of the baseless and identity-driven attacks on our colleagues.