There has been a bit of media attention in recent weeks around the soon-to-be-launched scientific journal named The Journal of Controversial Ideas, whose most novel (and controversial!) feature is that it explicitly allows its authors to write under pseudonym. The three founding editors, philosophers Jeff McMahan, Francesca Minerva and Peter Singer, have gathered a highly interdisciplinary (albeit with particular emphasis on ethics and philosophy) collection of 41 further researchers to serve on the editorial board, and the time has come for me to come forth as one of these editorial board members.
Of course any scientific journal ought (unless it specifically aims to be pedestrian, but what sort of boring journal would that be?) to welcome controversial ideas, but the point of the new journal is to be a place to go for publishing scientific and philosophical work that is not just controversial but inflammable and runs the risk of eliciting Twitter storms and death threats (all too common phenomena that some of the editors have direct personal experience with). On the other hand, an obvious objection to the enterprise is that hiding behind anonymity may seem to go against the spirit of the scientific enterprise. Indeed, the initiative has generated a good deal of criticism, ranging from vulgar tweets misrepresenting the purpose of the journal as serving to "anonymously ponder racist, sexist, transphobic, pro-colonialist, pro-exploitation ideas without fear of backlash", to the rather more sane and measured concerns by Bradley Campbell and Clay Routledge that "cordoning off controversial ideas into a special journal allows the reactions of activists to define the journal’s subject matter. Instead of sharing a common methodology or field of study, the contributing authors would have in common only their identity as actual or potential victims of censorship", to which they add that we should be careful about "organizing institutions around competing narratives of victimhood".
In a Vox interview, Francesca Minerva emphasizes the journal's role in protecting academic freedom, which "is fundamental to get closer to the truth. If you can see things from a different vantage point, you understand better your own arguments and how the world works. That can never happen if people are silenced". Talking to the BBC, Jeff McMahan adds that "all of us will be very happy if, and when, the need for such a journal disappears, and the sooner the better. But right now in current conditions something like this is needed".
Personally, I see good arguments on both sides of the debate. But I value diversity among scientific journals, and view The Journal of Controversial Ideas as an interesting experiment and a potentially valuable addition to the current range of journals. We'll see how it plays out.