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Suppression of dissent

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Suppression of dissent occurs when an individual or group which is more powerful than another tries to directly or indirectly censor, persecute or otherwise oppress the other party, rather than engage with and constructively respond to or accommodate the other party's arguments or viewpoint. When dissent is perceived as a threat, action may be taken to prevent continuing dissent or penalize dissidents. Government or industry[1] may often act in this way.

Types of suppression[edit]

Direct action tries to silence the dissenter via factors or influences in a forthright manner, often coercive. Indirect action tries to silence the dissenter via intervening factors or influences, but not in a forthright manner. Self-censorship occurs when individuals are concerned about risking their employment status, standing in an academic course and/or ability to live without threat. It is a social action. Some dissenters fear direct actions taken against them. Self-censorship makes direct and indirect suppression unnecessary.[1]

Areas of suppression[edit]

Society and speech[edit]

Suppression of dissent is undesirable in society for a variety of fundamental reasons. Freedom of speech is a cardinal rule for a free society: George Orwell wrote 'if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.' Dissent is essential to allow all points of view to be given and considered. Censorship plays a central role in the control of speech and other forms of human expression, often by government intervention (through criminalization or other regulation). It is most commonly applied to acts which occur in public circumstances, and most formally involves suppression of ideas by criminalizing or regulating expression. This differs from self-censorship, though. Self-censorship is when an individual censors and/or classifies his/her own speech to avoid offending others, and without authority requiring them to do so. But, especially in some authoritarian countries, the fear of secret police organizations and possible government backlash against individuals may result in an indirect suppression of dissent via self-censorship. Sanitization (removal) and whitewashing (from whitewash) are almost interchangeable terms with censorship that refer to a particular form of censorship via omission, which seeks to "clean up" the portrayal of particular issues and facts which are already known, but which may conflict with the official point of view. In democratic countries, self-censorship is also a possible phenomenon, particularly in times of crisis.[citation needed]

In greater society the typical example of suppression of dissent is when a company fires a whistleblower. Cultural suppression can exhibit facets of dissenting suppression, especially when used as part of social control and the promotion of another more powerful culture over minorities' cultures through mass media, government control or powerful organizations. The devious use of governmental power, political campaign strategy, and resources aimed at suppressing (i.e. reducing) the total vote of opposition candidacies in voter suppression is a typical governmental occurrence of suppression of dissent. Sometimes laws are enacted to suppress dissent, South Africa enacted the Suppression of Communism Act to ban organizations that supported communism (and other activities).[citation needed]


Some sociologists of science argue that peer review makes the ability to publish susceptible to control by elites and to personal jealousy. Reviewers tend to be especially critical of conclusions that contradict their own views, and lenient towards those that accord with them. At the same time, elite scientists are more likely than less established ones to be sought out as referees, particularly by high-prestige journals or publishers. As a result, it has been argued, ideas that harmonize with the elites are more likely to see print and to appear in premier journals than are iconoclastic or revolutionary ones.[2]

To express the notion of intellectual dissent suppression, a situation has these features:[2]

  1. a power structure, with some vested interest groups with power and privilege.
  2. views or techniques, methodologies, procedures, and processes in which dissent from is possible.
  3. an alternative source of power (e.g., an alternative power structure)

Generally, science is presented as a "noble search" for truth, in which advancement depends on inquiring about established ideas and concepts.[3] Reportedly, scientists do not see an occasional error as a flaw in science—they maintain that science is a self-correcting system, and that with substantial evidence, any true investigation into encountered anomalies will result in a change in basic assumptions within the ruling theory of science. But many dissenters experienced the dangers of dissenting against dominant views, especially backed by powerful interest groups.[3]

Scientific debate is a healthy and necessary part of science, but may collide with power dynamics within the academic world.[4] Suppression of legitimate scientific debate can be considered as a breach of academic integrity.[4] Examples of suppression include journal editors rejecting a paper for political reasons prior to peer-review, refusing access to data for research which might draw negative conclusions about the safety of some commercial product, and putting pressure on a university to fire a dissenting researcher.[4]

Handling the suppression of dissent[edit]

Doing nothing against the acts of suppression often allows the state of being suppressed (and associated existing errors and fallacies) to continue. Furthermore, doing nothing does not give rise to support for the dissident views. If critics decide to "toe the mark" and "keep out of sight", the critic may be re-accepted by the opponent. This passive agreement without protest means that other dissents are likely to encounter the same difficulties.[1]

Use of unofficially and officially recognized or controlled channels has been used as a means of alleviating the state of suppression (and associated existing errors and fallacies), such as protesting, demonstrating, striking, civil disobedience, or other similar actions to attempt to directly enact desired changes themselves. Using formal channels against decisions, using internal procedures, bringing appeals to the appropriate committee or commission, and launching legal actions has also been used to enact desired changes. Proposing legislation, policies, and regulations has been used to help alleviate the situation. If such exist, dissenters have used these to alleviate the situation, also.[1]

See also[edit]

  • Free speech and publication banning
  • Science journalism and scientific freedom
  • Bullying, ostracism, and harassment
  • Defamation and personal attacks
  • Plagiarism and scientific fraud
  • Blacklisting
  • Secrecy
  • Coercion
  • Chilling effect
  • Media transparency
  • Consensus reality
  • Socpa
  • Silencing Dissent
  • Scientific dissent


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Brian Martin, "Suppression of dissent: what it is and what to do about it". Science, Technology & Society, University of Wollongong.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Brian Martin, C.M. Ann Baker, Clyde Manwell and Cedric Pugh (editors), Intellectual Suppression: Australian Case Histories, Analysis and Responses, Elites and suppression. (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1986), pp. 185–199.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Brian Martin, "Stamping Out Dissent; Too often, unconventional or unpopular scientific views are simply suppressed". Newsweek, 26 April 1993, pp. 49–50
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Jason A. Delborne, "Suppression and Dissent in Science," in Handbook of Academic Integrity (Tracey Ann Bretag, ed.), Springer, 2016, pp. 943–956.

Further reading[edit]

  • Brian Martin, Suppression Stories. Fund for Intellectual Dissent, 1997. ISBN 0-646-30349-X Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png.
  • Brian Martin, "Suppression of Dissent in Science". Research in Social Problems and Public Policy V. 7, pp. 105–135 1999 (ed. Edited by William R. Freudenburg and Ted I. K. Youn (Stamford, CT: JAI Press, 1999))
  • John Biggs and Richard Davis, (editors) "The subversion of Australian universities". 2002.
  • Robert R. Kuehn, "Suppression of Environmental Science". American Journal of Law and Medicine, 30 (2004): 333–69. Boston University School of Law, 2004.
  • Wendy McElroy, "World War I and the Suppression of Dissent". 1 April 2002.
  • "ACLU Releases Report on Suppression of Dissent in a Post 9/11 America". American Civil Liberties Union, 5/8/2003.

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