How a Paper Supporting Colonialism Hacked Academic Metrics - MediaShift | Public Relations & Social Marketing Insight |

Two weeks ago, development studies journal Third World Quarterly published an article that, by many common metrics used in academia today, will be the most successful in its 38-year history. The paper, in a few days, achieved a higher Altmetric Attention Score than any other TWQ paper. By the rules of modern academia, this is a triumph. The problem is, the paper is not.

Academic articles are now evaluated according to essentially the same metrics as Buzzfeed posts and Instagram selfies.

The article, “The case for colonialism,” is a travesty, the academic equivalent of a Trump tweet, clickbait with footnotes. Its author, Bruce Gilley, a professor at the Department of Political Science at Portland State University, sets out to question the “orthodoxy” of the last 100 years that has given colonialism a bad name.


He argues that western colonialism was “as a general rule, both objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate,” and goes on to say that instead of taking a critical view of colonial and imperial history, we should be “recolonising some areas” and “creating new Western colonies from scratch”.

So how did this article rise to such prominence and apparent success? Arguments for colonialism have been made in academia before; however, Gilley’s article contributes no new evidence or datasets, and discussing its empirical shortfalls and blindness to vast sections of colonial history would go far beyond the scope of this post.