Some Journals are Less Equal than Others

A recent press release announced the launch of the “ground-breaking” new Journal of Animal Ethics. It is the product of collaboration between the University of Illinois Press and the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics (not affiliated with Oxford University). It aims to be “journal of inquiry, argument, and exchange dedicated to exploring the moral dimension of our relations with animals”. Fantastic! Well thought out ethical discussions on the use of animals (both animal research and their wider use and ownership in society) is exactly what need to take place to enhance human understanding on this issue.


The value of such discussion is only as good as the forum in which it can happen, and the Journal of Animal Ethics is showing many signs of not being one of them.

Let’s start with the editors, who are also the Director and Associate Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics (OCAE), Revd Professor Andrew Linzey and Professor Priscilla N. Cohn.

Prof Andrew Linzey (pictured) has written and edited a multitude of books which defend animal rights – generally from a religious (Christian) perspective. His biblical view on ethics can be quite difficult to counter if you reject his base premise – that all rights are derived from God. This is especially important when you consider that atheism and agnosticism are much more prevalent among the scientific population than among the general populous.

The second editor is Prof Priscilla N. Cohn is also a proponent of animal rights, having published several books on the issue. Prof Cohn has also founded PNC Inc, “a non-profit animal rights foundation”, and been a board member of Humane USA

The Consultant Editors, those people who help advise the above Editors on potential submissions, are almost entirely (47 out of 48) Fellows or Associate Fellows of the OCAE. Now this would be fine if the Centre itself did not have a bias on the issue of animal ethics, but in truth it has more than a slight animal rights bent. David Sztybel, a Fellow of the OCAE, described the centre as an “animal-rights-friendly organization whose Director is a known animal rights philosopher

The language used by the Centre’s website is confused – it aims to make “an effective ethical case for animals”, but doesn’t explain the meaning behind this. One can make an ethical case for animal research, one can make an ethical case for animal rights, however you cannot make an ethical case “for animals” anymore than you can make an ethical case “for humans” or an ethical case “for tables” – it makes neither grammatical, nor philosophical sense.

Returning to the new Journal and some other concerns begin to arise such as the submissions guidelines, which include:

In addition to the normal policies against libelous and discriminatory language, all authors should avoid derogatory or colloquial language or nomenclature that denigrates animals (or humans by association), such as: beasts, brutes, bestial, beastly, dumb animals, sub-humans; companion animals should be used rather than pet animals, and free-living or free-ranging rather than (or in addition to) wild animals. [My highlighting]

Why is a Journal that should be discussing ideas of Animal Ethics demanding its authors use the lesser used “companion animals” over “pets”. The former has heavy connotations of animal rights language (especially groups like PETA). This would seem a great issue to discuss in the journal, but not something one should take for granted. The difference between the two terms lies with the nature of ownership of pets – something which should be accepted as a divisive issue.

Reporting in the Telegraph newspaper, the editors said:

“Despite its prevalence, ‘pets’ is surely a derogatory term both of the animals concerned and their human carers,”

“Again the word ‘owners’, whilst technically correct in law, harks back to a previous age when animals were regarded as just that: property, machines or things to use without moral constraint.”

“We invite authors to use the words ‘free-living’, ‘free-ranging’ or ‘free-roaming’ rather than ‘wild animals’”

“For most, ‘wildness’ is synonymous with uncivilised, unrestrained, barbarous existence.”

“Owners” may well have certain connotations, but also helps realise certain truths – that I (legally) can’t (and morally shouldn’t) take home any dog from the park, regardless of how willing it is to come with me.

In the Daily Mail’s article, one reader made the following incisive comment (albeit rather sardonically):

I asked my pet cat and she has stated categorically she doesn’t want to be a companion, she expects to have her every need catered for and companion sounds like she might have to put some effort into this relationship.

Although I applaud the concept of a new Journal to investigate issues of Animal Ethics, I am not sure this will be the one to do it. The heavy Animal Rights orientation of those behind it (both editors and advisers) is already showing its agenda – even before the release of the first edition.


Tom Holder

12 thoughts on “Some Journals are Less Equal than Others

  1. The word monkey is used to refer to a medium-sized primate. It is a rather non-specific term used to describe collectively a group that includes baboons, marmosets, capuchins, macaques, guenons, and tamarins. Apes — a group that includes gorillas, chimpanzees, orang-outans, and gibbons — are usually held to be in a different category than monkeys. Apes are simians that have neither tail nor cheek-pouches, and the lack of these distinguishes them from monkeys.

    The O.E.D. offers the opinion (on p. 1838 of my weathered 1971 edition) that the word monkey “may have been brought to England by showmen from the continent.” So unless I mistake their meaning here, the word monkey was introduced into the English language by way of hurdy-gurdy men and travelling circuses from Europe and Asia.

    We have discussed in this thread the power of words to perpetuate ideologies of animal exploitation, and it was, I believe, Prof. Linzey’s assertion that the word pet was problematic in this respect. Perhaps the word monkey can be viewed as another example of the language of exploitation.

    Perhaps changing our attitude to certain words is a good thing to do at certain times, and as cultural values change sometimes certain words fall into disfavour and cease to be used. Sometimes words are retained, but take on new meanings.

    Vegans have been very vocal critics of Western society, asking for sweeping changes in agricultural and scientific practices, so it might be worth considering what would happen if vegan ideology assumed control over our language.

    What will vegan ideology do with of all of the scientific terminology that has come to us by way of animal research? Is it to be expunged? If we cannot say the word pet because of its exploitative connotations, will we be able to say any of the words animal research has added to our language? And if not, where will that leave the language of science?

  2. In “Animal Gospel,” Linzey takes the position that “…to stand for Jesus is to stand for the Christ-like innocence of animals….” (from page 13)

    I’ll leave the accuracy of this for the theologians to argue over, save only to say that it seems like a very selective view of the Bible’s portrayal of animals. Snakes and goats, in particular, are not at all viewed as innocent or Christ-like. And where reframing the language is the issue, why choose a religion that frequently makes various animals the symbols of evil?

    Perhaps Linzey has a major rewrite of the Bible in mind. If we must avoid referring to animals as pets, surely the way animals are often referred to in the Bible will require some major revision.

  3. C – I decided to chase up some feminist journals – unsurprisingly none had gender neutral language requirements and I would think it somewhat unacademic if they did.

    Yale Journal of Law and Feminism:

    MP Feminist Journal:

    Click to access MPstyleguide.pdf

    Feminism and Psychology:

    The last comes the nearest with:
    “Authors should avoid the use of sexist, racist and heterosexist language.”
    Which is a damn sight less prescriptive than the Journal of Animal Ethics – in fact it essentially just asks we respect standard etiquette

  4. And I’ll just add that the only explicit exclusion they make is that they refuse to appoint people who advocate illegal action and violence. I’m sure you’re worried about the injustice of that as well, right?

    1. We probably have different ideas about what an academic journal is. To me an academic journal is publication that publishes work on a field of academic inquiry. In this case, it is purportedly about the question of how humans should relate to animals.

      But the guidelines for submission are such that already invalidates anyone from submitting a paper that would even justify the use of “pet” for an animal.

      A paper entitled “On the artificial selection of the domestic dog and its evolution as a human pet” would e rejected independently of its content.

      Have you actually read the author guidelines?

      1. So if a Feminist journal has gender neutral language requirements, or a critical race theory refused to publish essays that used derogatory language for non-caucasians, they would no longer be a journal?

        Many journals exercise control over the language especially when the assumptions embedded in that language are precisely what the journal is trying to reframe. So yes if you want to get your argument that companion animals should not be called companion animals published (and assuming something less silly than OP can be written), then you will need to abide by the language requirements of the journal.

        “In addition to the normal policies against libelous and discriminatory language, all authors should avoid derogatory or colloquial language or nomenclature that denigrates animals (or humans by association), such as: beasts, brutes, bestial, beastly, dumb animals, sub-humans; companion animals should be used rather than pet animals, and free-living or free-ranging rather than (or in addition to) wild animals. An exception should be made in the quotation of texts, particularly historical writings. In addition, he or she should be utilized in relation to individual animals rather than it.”

        Yes, you would need to change that title to replace the word pet with companion animal. I recognize the vast injustice you feel here, but for the same reason that non-sexist language expectations, despite analogous arguments like OP against them in the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s and 90’s and even by few throwbacks today. Now it is just the norm. One day I suspect the same will be true in this case as well.

  5. Yes, I’m sure Linzey does have an answer for this. You might try reading the 10 or so books he’s published on it, or the numerous other scholars and theologians who have tried to develop a religious foundation for rethinking our relationship to animals (just as feminists and liberation theologians have done previously). No need to “wait to hear it” and I doubt you’ve just “caught him out.”

    On journals: First off, there is no actual evidence that they will reject arguments from other points of view, there is just a SR-ish pre-emptive maligning and hack job in the original post. Please submit an article to the journal and then to another journal and then repeat a few hundred times to generate enough statistical evidence to demonstrate your accusations rather than engage in cheap smears.

    Second, the idea that not calling it a “journal” is somehow an academic obligation because it has a particular orientation in a field of normative investigation is just plain absurd. Should feminists not have journals? Or, must they publish poorly argued shoddy work from sexists in order to earn that title? How about Christian Theologians? Should they have to publish PZ Myers screeds? This argument seems ridiculously parochial.

    Don’t know how many books you have published in multiple languages over a 35 year career, but the sneer at Professor Cohn seems to rest on some misunderstanding of what a emerita is. And ignorance of other field’s and their practitioners might demonstrate a lot of things about its possessor, but at least it is easily corrected:

    “Professor Priscilla N. Cohn, PhD, began teaching Philosophy at Bryn Mawr College where she gained her PhD on the work of Heidegger. She has taught Philosophy for more than 35 years, and has written on animals, environmental issues, and ethical problems, as well as on contemporary philosophers and the history of philosophy, publishing in both English and Spanish. She was made full Professor in Philosophy at Pennsylvania State University in 1982, and was made Professor Emerita at Abington College at Pennsylvania State University in 2001. She has pioneered courses in animal ethics and lectured on five continents.”

    The point about companion animals/pets is that language matters insofar as it expresses and conceals assumptions about value. It has mattered in all struggles to change the way that people look at those they oppress and dominate. Straw men arguments such as “animals don’t care what we call them” just reveal ignorance.

    1. It is good that you are able to tell us that Prof. Linzey has all these matters looked after. I suppose you have read the “10 or so books he’s published” yourself, have you?

      However that may be, you have done little to add to Linzey’s premise that “all rights are derived from God.”

      Personally, I believe rights are human constructs. Sometimes these constructs are based on or reflect human religious beliefs. Mosaic and later Christian laws have certainly influenced the way rights are understood in certain human societies. Just as often, rights are adamantly secular in nature–sometimes even directly opposed to religious laws.

      I’m not too sure what those laws have done specifically for animals. Maybe you can explain it to us.

  6. I’m not claiming to be a proponent of the “all rights are derived from God” argument, but I do recall that the King James version of the Bible says:

    “For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and fornicators, and murderers, and idolaters, and whoever loves and makes a lie.” Revelation 22:15

    And it is not just dogs. The Bible has lists of unclean animals to be shunned and maligned. Read Leviticus if you are interested. Or have a look at:

    But Prof. Linzey, no doubt, will have an answer for this.

    I can hardly wait to hear it.

  7. They may certainly be respected scholars in the field. Nobody is claiming they are not.

    The post simply comments on the creation of an academic journal that, apparently, has no intention of allowing for other view points but their own.

    They are free to create such a publication, but please… don’t call it a journal. Call it the “Animal Ethics Newsletter” or something like that. This is not a journal in the academic sense of the word.

  8. “Respected scholars in their field”? Really? You’re going to go with that arguement? Prof. Cohn hasn’t even been heard of on the campus she claims to be a Prof. Emeritus of, how respected can she possibly be? People take children from parks all the time but that’s an arguement for another discussion board. I assume you’re trying to make the case that some lab animals are taken from parks and used in sinister lab experiments by deranged scientists who like nothing better than to torture someone’s pet?

    I can’t imagine any sane person really being concerned about whether an animal should be a pet or a companion animal. The animal sure as hell doesn’t care what you call it! And I rather doubt the squirrel in the forest gives a damn if he’s referred to as “wild” or “free-ranging”.

  9. Wow. Seriously? SR calling respected scholars in the field of ethics biased? You guys should just go to work for Berman and get it over with.

    As for the companion animal/pet argument. That’s just weak. Children are not property and people can’t just take them from the park. Marc Hauser’s undergraduates have a better grasp of these issues than SR.

    seriously the Daily Mail comment?

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