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(L to R) Lindsey, PLuckrose, Boghossian

Just how corrupt is higher education?  Let’s return to October of 2018 and Grieving Grievance Studies: The Continuing Scam.   There, I introduced readers to Peter Boghossian, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, academics all, who had an interesting idea:  Write parodies of academic writing, so outlandish, so obviously jokes, no rational editor of an academic journal could possibly buy them, submit them to various academic journals, and see what happened.  They wrote more than 20.  Seven were accepted to fulsome acclamation, seven were rejected, and the rest were still being considering when they went public, as they always intended. In that article, I also reminded readers of the gold standard, the Sokal Hoax:

credit: youtube

The Chronicle of Higher Education, which is a window on the sometimes weird world of academia, recently revisited a hilarious intellectual hoax from 20 years ago. Reading the recollections of the perpetrator and of some who swallowed his gibberish is sobering.

In 1996, Alan Sokal, a New York University physicist and self-described ‘academic leftist,” composed an essay that was a word salad of solemn academic jargon. He said he strove to be ‘especially egregious,’ by maundering on about “the dialectical emphases’ of ‘catastrophe theory’ becoming a ‘concrete tool of progressive political praxis.” His essay’s gaudy title was “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.”

He sent it to the left-leaning ‘cultural studies’ journal Social Text, which swooned, perhaps in part because Sokal larded his nonsense with political tropes that are catnip to lettered leftists — ‘emancipatory mathematics,’ ‘demystify and democratize the production of scientific knowledge,’ ‘the crisis of late-capitalist production relations.’ Soon after Social Text published his faux scholarship, Sokal revealed in another journal, Lingua Franca, that it was a parody.

In January of 2019, I wrote Grieving Grievance Studies: The Continuing Scan–Revisited,   where I provided a bit more detail on the three scholar’s parodies.  They wrote a paper claiming that when a man masturbates–in private–and thinks about a woman without her consent, and she never knows about it, that man is committing “sexual violence against her.” In another paper, they argued that if men masturbated via anal penetration, they’d be less transphobic and more feminist.  Another was a rewrite of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. They titled it: Our Struggle is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism.  Yet another was The Conceptual Penis: A Social Construct, which blamed climate change on penises.  Their masterwork titled: “Human Reactions to Rape Culture and Queer Performativity in Urban Dog Parks in Portland, Oregon,”was accepted by an academic journal and praised as “one of twelve leading pieces in feminist geography as a part of the journal’s 25th anniversary celebration.”  The paper’s 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.

The authors claimed to have examined the genitals of about 1000 dogs in dog parks while asking the owners about their sexuality.  The Academic left did not take this lying down, as I noted:

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.

Lindsey (L), Rubin (C), Boghossian (R)

I followed that article in March of 2019 with Leftists: Bayonetted On The Battlefield. I quoted Boghossian:

They [the journal editors and peer reviewers] couldn’t distinguish between this silliness and their own scholarship.

Boghossian, Lindsay and Pluckrose badly embarrassed the academic left–actually, they embarrassed themselves–so Boghossian’s university attacked him:

Boghossian’s academic career is in doubt.  His college–Portland State University–is investigating him for violating research protocols.  One line of attack is Boghossian violated procedures for human experimentation.  And who were the humans upon who he experimented?  The editors and peer reviewers that accepted absolute drivel as brilliant scholarship.  Apparently other academics reading and praising absolute, incomprehensible idiocy as scholarship somehow comprises research abuse by Boghossian.  He’s also charged with fabrication of data.

By all means, take the links and catch up on the background of this story.  Now we discover Boghossian has been “convicted,” but fortunately not every academic is a mindless leftist.  Campus Reform reports:

Hundreds of academics, students, and other individuals have sent letters in support of the Portland State University professor who, along with two other academics, used ‘hoax papers’ to expose faulty publishing in several academic journals.

Who are the “human subjects” upon who Boghossian and his fellow hoaxers “experimented”?  The editors of the academic journals.  And what is the “data” they “fabricated”?  The utter insanity they made up in writing their satirical–or parody–papers.  Climate change caused by penises?  Good grief! What do vaginas cause?

Mark McLellan           credit; portlandstateuniversity

What is still up in the air, however, is Boghossian’s punishment, which currently lies in the hands of the IRB and Mark McLellan, Portland State’s vice president for research and graduate studies.  Campus Reform did a public records request for McLellan’s e-mails:

Almost all of the pages retrieved were of letters sent to McLellan in support of Boghossian’s work. With supporters from New Zealand, Australia, Japan, England, and Canada, McLellan had to set up a separate folder in his inbox to filter through them all.

People from across the world have sent McLellan their thoughts and opinions on Boghossian’s case, such as Richard Dawkins (University of Oxford), Daniel Dennett (Tufts University), and Michael Shermer (Chapman University).

This is particularly significant:

Most notably, PSU administrators received an email from Alan Sokal, a physicist who currently teaches at New York University. In 1996, Sokal, much like Boghossian and Co., challenged what he believed to be a flawed process within academic journals by submitting an article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” in the cultural studies journal Social Text.

Regarding Boghossian, Sokal wrote:

It seems to me that it would be a grave injustice to punish Professor Boghossian for a violation of the letter of the [Research Misconduct Policy] that did not constitute in any way a violation of that policy’s purpose and which moreover was undertaken with the goal of serving, and which did, in fact, serve the public interest,’ Sokal wrote to PSU administrators.

‘If anything, Professor Boghossian and his collaborators should be congratulated for raising important issues in a forceful and unconventional manner; and Portland State University should take pride in having such a distinguished public intellectual on its faculty.’

According to the available records, Sokal did not receive a response from the PSU administration.

What a surprise.

Christina Hoff Sommers, an American Enterprise Institute scholar and outspoken critic of feminism, also wrote to PSU in January, detailing her opinion on the matter and calling the hoax project an ‘eye-opening experiment.’

‘These [hoax] results raise serious questions about the methods of several seemingly legitimate academic journals,’ she wrote.

Addressing the accusation of improperly studying human subjects, Sommers had this to say: ‘This charge is hard to take seriously. By its very nature, the parody rules out the possibility of consent: It is the view of the IRB that academic journals should be shielded from critical or irreverent scrutiny?’

‘By punishing Dr. Boghossian, Portland State University would be exposing itself to ridicule,’ she continued. ‘It would also be adding to the silliness Boghossian and his colleagues so successfully exposed.

The hoaxer’s work shares so many elements of satire and parody it’s impossible to characterize it as one or the other.  A parody requires closely imitating the style or intent of others to comedic purpose–which they did–while a satire holds individuals or institutions up to ridicule by exaggeration, or by simply telling the truth about them, which they did.  They succeeded by writing nonsense, and using accepted, bizarrely woke academic jargon and leftist bias.  Any rational academic should have been able to tell they were being pranked.  The hoaxers made no attempt to cleverly trick anyone.  Their work was silly, their theses and arguments made up and outlandish, their data composed out of thin air.  The most cursory examination of their writing–they examined the genitals of 1000 dogs?!–should have immediately exposed it as nonsensical drivel.

Apparently, even the journals that rejected some of their satires did not understand they were being pranked.  Utter nonsense was taken seriously, even praised, because it was stridently leftist, used the right buzzwords and embraced cherished leftist themes.  Academics are used to reading nonsense from students.  They should have immediately identified the papers as satire, but they didn’t.

They didn’t because these journals exist not to broaden the boundaries of human knowledge, but as political propaganda organs, and as self-congratulatory vehicles for intellectual narcissists. There is no scholarship occurring there, but much socialist agitation and mirror-gazing.

Are we to believe when one submits a paper to the editors of such journals, they’re “experimenting” on human subjects without their knowledge or consent?  Is satire–made up “data”–used to expose rank stupidity masquerading as groundbreaking scholarship the intentional employment of false data?  The hoaxers gained nothing.  They voluntarily exposed their hoax.

The editors of these journals accepted these papers–they invite submissions–and did nothing more than read them.  Because the papers perfectly reflected their own intellectual deficiencies and political biases, they accepted, even praised them, in effect praising themselves and their beliefs.  There was no experimentation.  They did their daily jobs.  There were no consequences for rejecting any of the papers.  In fact, rejecting any of the papers tends to suggest they were doing their jobs properly.  The problem is by accepting the papers, even praising them, they defined themselves, and the pathetic, deeply unserious nature of the contemporary, self-imagined elite, academy.

The hoaxers indeed made up data.  How else could they have come to their lunatic conclusions?  They intended to satirize; that was their point!  But unlike so many academics, they had no intent to profit by that fabrication.  Their only goal was, through exposure of incompetence and bias that could happen in no other way, restore academia to its rightful role in our society.  To in any way punish Dr. Boghossian would do nothing but diminish Portland State University and further convince Americans “higher education,” is a laughable misnomer.

I suggest, gentle readers, you e-mail Dr. McLellan at: mark.mclellan@pdx.edu, and express, kindly and intelligently as you do here at SMM, your concerns.  I’ll send him a link to this article, and report should he respond.  I will not be holding my breath.  How corrupt is higher education?  Does scholarship matter, or is political correctness/resistance of utmost importance?   Dr. McLellan will shortly help to answer these questions.