Alan Sokal, dildos paper, dog park rape, fake scholarship, Grievance Studies, hoaxing fake journals, Masturbation, Oregon universities, Peter Boghossian, PSU, sanctimonious twits, Sexuality and Culture
In October of 2018 I wrote Grieving Grievance Studies: The Continuing Scam, which was about three academics who, in the best tradition of physicist Alan Sokal, submitted multiple nonsensical academic papers to various “scholarly” journals. One even contained a chapter scarcely changed from its source: Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Sokal submitted a single paper, which was a mish mash of nonsensical academic jargon, two decades ago. One would think that in the intervening years, the editors and peer reviewers of such journals might have learned something, however, as John Belushi used to say: “but noooooooooooooooo!” In that article I wrote, or more accurately, quoted:
Everyone is buzzing today about the revelation of the three academics—James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian—who placed over a dozen complete hoax articles with various premier ‘cultural studies’ or ‘identity studies’ academic journals. All three professors, it should be noted, consider themselves left of center, as does Alan Sokal, the New York University physicist who placed a hoax article about the supposed subjectivity of physics in the postmodernist journal Social Text 20 years ago. (Yet somehow Social Text stayed in business instead of closing down in embarrassment, as they should have.)
You can read a good summary of the story in the Wall Street Journal today. If you’re not a subscriber, here are a couple of highlights from Jillian Kay Melchior’s fine report:
Beginning in August 2017, the trio wrote 20 hoax papers, submitting them to peer-reviewed journals under a variety of pseudonyms, as well as the name of their friend Richard Baldwin, a professor emeritus at Florida’s Gulf Coast State College. Mr. Baldwin confirms he gave them permission use his name. Journals accepted seven hoax papers. Four have been published.
There’s also an excellent Twitter thread about it from Yascha Mounk of Harvard (another liberal) worth reading.
And the three authors explain the whole effort in an article out yesterday entitled “Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship.” It’s very much worth reading the whole thing, but here is the lede:
Something has gone wrong in the university—especially in certain fields within the humanities. Scholarship based less upon finding truth and more upon attending to social grievances has become firmly established, if not fully dominant, within these fields, and their scholars increasingly bully students, administrators, and other departments into adhering to their worldview. This worldview is not scientific, and it is not rigorous. For many, this problem has been growing increasingly obvious, but strong evidence has been lacking. For this reason, the three of us just spent a year working inside the scholarship we see as an intrinsic part of this problem.
Consider their explanation of their methods:
What if we write a paper claiming that when a guy privately masturbates while thinking about a woman (without her consent—in fact, without her ever finding out about it) that he’s committing sexual violence against her? That gave us the ‘Masturbation’ paper.
Good grief. Were that so, how many men would be in prison for rape? And:
Sure, our ‘Dildos’ paper did that to answer the questions, ‘Why don’t straight men tend to masturbate via anal penetration, and what might happen if they did?’ Hint: according to our paper in Sexuality and Culture, a leading sexualities journal, they will be less transphobic and more feminist as a result.
And this example of their success:
1 paper (the one about rape culture in dog parks) gained special recognition for excellence from its journal, Gender, Place, and Culture, a highly ranked journal that leads the field of feminist geography. The journal honored it as one of twelve leading pieces in feminist geography as a part of the journal’s 25th anniversary celebration.
Consider too their explanation, and the response of reviewers, on the dog park paper:
Title:Human Reactions to Rape Culture and Queer Performativity in Urban Dog Parks in Portland, Oregon
Helen Wilson, Ph.D., Portland Ungendering Research (PUR) Initiative (fictional)
Status: Accepted & Published
Recognized for excellence. Expression of concernraised on it following journalistic interest leading us to have to conclude the project early.
Thesis: That dog parks are rape-condoning spaces and a place of rampant canine rape culture and systemic oppression against “the oppressed dog” through which human attitudes to both problems can be measured. This provides insight into training men out of the sexual violence and bigotry to which they are prone.
Purpose: To see if journals will accept arguments which should be clearly ludicrous and unethical if they provide (an unfalsifiable) way to perpetuate notions of toxic masculinity, heteronormativity, and implicit bias.
Selected Reviewer Comments:
‘This is a wonderful paper – incredibly innovative, rich in analysis, and extremely well-written and organized given the incredibly diverse literature sets and theoretical questions brought into conversation. The author’s development of the focus and contributions of the paper is particularly impressive. The fieldwork executed contributes immensely to the paper’s contribution as an innovative and valuable piece of scholarship that will engage readers from a broad cross-section of disciplines and theoretical formations. I believe this intellectually and empirically exciting paper must be published and congratulate the author on the research done and the writing.’-Reviewer 1, Gender, Place, and Culture
Fieldwork?! The authors claimed to have examined the genitals of some 1000 dogs in dog parks while asking their owners about their sexuality.
‘Thank you for the opportunity to review a really interesting paper. I think it will make an important contribution to feminist animal geography with some minor revisions, as described below.’-Reviewer 2, Gender, Place, and Culture
‘As you may know, GPC is in its 25th year of publication. And as part of honoring the occasion, GPC is going to publish 12 lead pieces over the 12 issues of 2018 (and some even into 2019). We would like to publish your piece, Human Reactions to Rape Culture and Queer Performativity at Urban Dog Parks in Portland, Oregon, in the seventh issue. It draws attention to so many themes from the past scholarship informing feminist geographies and also shows how some of the work going on now can contribute to enlivening the discipline. In this sense we think it is a good piece for the celebrations. I would like to have your permission to do so.’-Editor of Gender, Place, and Culture
By all means, take the “explanation of their methods” link above and read their exposition of the rest of the papers and reviewer comments. That any supposedly educated person would think such obvious drivel meaningful or scholarly is amazing, but only to those unaware of the lack of reason and total political orthodoxy of the left.
Imagine the outrage of the reviewers when they discovered they willingly, eagerly fell for a particularly obvious hoax designed to appeal to their unethical prejudices.This would not, of course, caused them to question their own assumptions, because leftism can never be wrong. Prof. Boghossian has, as one might expect, committed a cardinal sin: exposing the intellectual wasteland that is contemporary university grievance “studies” programs. As a result, as The Week, reports:
Philosophy professor Peter Boghossian may face discipline over hoax aimed at exposing shoddy scholarship
A university professor who sought to expose bias through hoax academic papers that were published in prominent academic journals is reportedly facing dismissal.
Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University in Oregon, admits that he and two other scholars submitted a total of 20 ‘intentionally broken’ and ‘nonsense’ papers on topics including gender, race and sexuality.
The Timesreports that the spoofs featured ‘very shoddy methodologies including incredibly implausible statistics’, as well as ‘ideologically motivated qualitative analyses’ and ‘claims not warranted by the data’.
By all means, take the link and read my original article for additional details.
Boghossian said: ‘We wanted to see if these disciplines that we called ‘grievance studies’ are compromised by political activism that allows for the laundering of prejudices and opinions into something that gets treated as knowledge.’
However, Portland State University has initiated disciplinary action against Boghossian for what it calls a ‘breach of the institution’s ethical guidelines’. University bosses argue that he studied ‘human research subjects’ – a reference to the staff and peer-reviewers of the journals – without proper ethical approvals, reports The Washington Times.
A second charge relating to the falsification of data is under review and may potentially cost the professor his job.
These charges are, of course, absolute idiocy, but being ethical and producing reproducible scholarship has not been the point of higher education for a very long time. Fortunately, fellow scholars are coming to Boghossian’s aid, as The College Fix reports:
The biggest academic publishing story of last year was probably the “grievance studies” projectthat included Portland State University’s Peter Boghossian, who submitted intentionally bad papers to prominent academic journals to expose their low standards. [skip]
While the experiment divided academia, the less controversial question is whether PSU is right to take disciplinary actionagainst the philosophy professor.
The Oregon Association of Scholars, the state affiliate of the National Association of Scholars, accused the public university of punishing a ‘whistleblower’ who did nothing more than expose the ‘shameful lack of standards’ in peer-reviewed journals ‘devoted to identity grievances and ideological agitation.
Yes he did, which is why those sanctimonious twits are so angry at Boghossian.
Led by Boghossian’s PSU colleague Bruce Gilley – himself investigated by PSU for several months, allegedly because of his pro-colonialism article– the OAS said Boghossian’s project was just a form of ‘stress-testing’ common to field such as banking, ‘to determine the strength and reliability of safeguards.’
The group mocked the university for its stated grievances against Boghossian – that he ‘fabricated’ data that was on its face ludicrous, conducted unapproved ‘human subjects research’ on academic journal editors and peer reviewers, and didn’t get institutional approval for a fake study of “rape culture” in dog parks.
“Rape culture in dog parks?” Yes, gentle readers; they fell for that. Remember, these peer reviewers are credentialed, tenured professors at universities. The average normal American, seeing a paper on that subject would surely have said “What the…!?” Then they would have read it and quickly concluded it was nonsense. Contemporary American academics, however, saw it as a ground-breaking study affirming their lunatic, irrational disciplines.
These charges are bogus and ideologically motivated. Journal reviewers and editors have never been considered part of human subjects research protocols, not only because the scholar’s interactions with them are unforeseeable and separate from the research but also because the reviewers are anonymous. More generally, the hoax or satire based on concocted data that is later revealed to be such as part of the research is a fundamental and long-standing method of intellectual inquiry in the Western liberal tradition.
Boghossian should be ‘given a letter of commendation for his research efforts’ and PSU should promote his work, OAS said. It also called on PSU trustees and state lawmakers to affirm that academic freedom includes ‘the right to conduct hoaxes,’ and create an independent committee ‘to recommend reforms to strengthen academic freedom in Oregon public universities.
Any predictions, gentle readers, on which way PSU will go? Will they discipline or fire Boghossian for the crime of exposing them as charlatans, or work to strengthen academic freedom in Oregon public universities?
I know: too easy.