Big academic scandal brewing: three researchers deliberately publish seven bogus papers on “grievance studies” to highlight abysmal academic standards in the humanities

October 3, 2018 • 8:15 am

Yesterday three academics, James Lindsay, Peter Boghossian, and Helen Pluckrose, announced that they’d engaged in a year-long project submitting “intentionally absurd papers to leading scholarly journals as part of an investigation to expose extreme bias in fields that study race, gender, sexuality, and other politically charged topics.”

As the media release says (links to all materials, including the project’s methods, goals, and the list of seven accepted papers, are here), “The study was cut short when popular Twitter account New Real Peer Review, a platform dedicated to exposing shoddy scholarship, ridiculed one of their published papers. The attention prompted an investigation by the Wall Street Journal (article here) and the group made the decision to go public.”

Areo Magazine has just published the author’s rational and methodology so you don’t have to go to the Google Drive link above to see this material.

The best introduction to the project is the Wall Street Journal article, “Fake news comes to academia“, as well as  the video prepared with the authors’ cooperation, which is below. Do watch it: it’s only 6½ minutes long and is both informative and fun. One of the quotes from Lindsay in the video:

“Since approximately June of 2017, I along with two other concerned academics, Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose, have been writing intentionally broken academic papers and submitting them to highly respected journals in fields that studied race, gender, sexuality and similar topics. We did this to expose a political corruption that has taken hold in the university.”

The authors call their papers “grievance studies” because they play into the ethos of much of the humanities, which “puts social grievances ahead of objective truth.” We all know that’s true for many papers, as I’ve written posts about some of them in the past several years. Remember the unbearable whiteness of yoga, yogurt, and pumpkins, and the work on feminist glaciology? That’s only a small sample of the ludicrous papers that, by populating some humanities journals, waste trees and neuronal activity. (I emphasize that there are many good studies in the humanities, but that the fields targeted by the authors have become deeply corrupted by requiring scholars to produce papers with politically approved conclusions.) The “authoritarianism” involved here is the fields’ and journals’ insistence that only a few ideological and political attitudes are acceptable in the work and publications.

But on to the video:

Seven papers have been accepted, but more were submitted; the project was cut short when the press sniffed it out. Journals on feminist studies, queer studies, fat studies, race studies, and so on will now be frantically vetting submitted papers to be sure they aren’t hoaxes. (This is best done not by looking at the content, for satire is indistinguishable from “real” scholarship, but checking on the identity of the authors.)

One paper even recast 3600 words from Hitler’s Mein Kampf as feminist theory, and was accepted by the journal Afflilia: Journal of Women and Social Work (it was rejected by Feminist Studies, but have a look at the reviewer comments on the fact sheet). As the project’s fact sheet notes:

In fact, a while back I came upon one of the authors’ satirical papers in Gender, Place & Culture, assumed it was real, and was going to write a post calling attention to the travesty. It turned out that I, like the journal’s editors, couldn’t distinguish “scholarship” in this journal from complete dreck. Here’s the original paper (click on screenshot to go to the site):

The paper has now been retracted, but on the grounds that the author used a disguised identity, not that the content was garbage. As the editors note:

We, the Editors and Publishers of Gender, Place & Culture, have retracted the following article:

Helen Wilson, “Human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog parks in Portland, Oregon”, Gender, Place & Culture, DOI:10.1080/0966369X.2018.1475346, published online on May 22nd, 2018.

This is due to a breach of the following Publishing Agreement clause, signed by the author during the publication process:

“You warrant that: i. All persons who have a reasonable claim to authorship are named in the article as co-authors including yourself, and you have not fabricated or misappropriated anyone’s identity, including your own.”

Following an investigation into this paper, triggered by the Publisher and Editor shortly after publication, we have undertaken a number of checks to confirm the author’s identity. These checks have shown this to be a hoax paper, submitted under false pretences, and as such we are retracting it from the scholarly record.

Quillette has already solicited five statements from academics about the Grievance Studies project, all of whom find the Project fascinating and strongly criticize the fields for the pollution and ideology revealed by the satirical papers. You can read their reactions by clicking on the screenshot below:

Here’s what one of the five, Nathan Cofnas, in philosophy, had to say about the standards of one “quality” journal:

The flagship feminist philosophy journal, Hypatia, accepted a paper (not yet published online) arguing that social justice advocates should be allowed to make fun of others, but no one should be permitted to make fun of them. The same journal invited resubmission of a paper arguing that “privileged students shouldn’t be allowed to speak in class at all and should just listen and learn in silence,” and that they would benefit from “experiential reparations” that include “sitting on the floor, wearing chains, or intentionally being spoken over.” The reviewers complained that this hoax paper took an overly compassionate stance toward the “privileged” students who would be subjected to this humiliation, and recommended that they be subjected to harsher treatment. Is asking people of a certain race to sit on the floor in chains better than asking them to wear a yellow star? What exactly is this leading to?

Oy gewalt!

We know what will happen now. The journals will retract the papers (but not on grounds of scholarship!), and those defenders of the polluted fields will argue that the journals are not first-rate journals, but predatory ones that will publish anything. That, however, is not the case this time.

Further, those Authoritarian Leftist defenders of the rigor of feminist, queer, fat-studies, and other fields infected by postmodernism will call out Lindsay, Pluckrose, and Boghossian for duplicity. But that’s not the point, just as it wasn’t the point in the Sokal Affair. Yes, one needs to be deceptive in a case like this, but it’s deception of the kind that occurs when government officials test TSA screening methods by putting fake bombs and guns in luggage. It’s a necessary, blind-testing way to expose shoddiness and rot. Yes, we’ll hear a lot of screaming from the humanities and Authoritarian Leftists, but it will be at once obfuscatory and humorous. I’m looking forward to it. (Note: One defense of the journals has already appeared; it’s more or less what I expected, but including the charge that we Leftists should spend our time policing the Trump administration and the military-industrial complex than policing academia. It’s a great example of whataboutery.)

In the end, I don’t think the fields infiltrated by these papers will change much. The students want these kinds of studies, the classes are money-makers for universities, the papers are money-maker for the journals, and, in fact, I suspect that many professors already know that they churn out a lot of junk, but they don’t care. After all, it’s the way to get a secure job and get ahead in academia. But at least the rest of us will know how our tax money is being used, how our students are being propagandized, and how what could be respectable fields of scholarship are being eaten away by the twin termites of postmodern nonsense and the Authoritarian Left.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, there will likely be severe repercussions to all three researchers:

Mr. Boghossian doesn’t have tenure and expects the university will fire or otherwise punish him. Ms. Pluckrose predicts she’ll have a hard time getting accepted to a doctoral program. Mr. Lindsay said he expects to become “an academic pariah,” barred from professorships or publications.

Yet Mr. Lindsay says the project is worth it: “For us, the risk of letting biased research continue to influence education, media, policy and culture is far greater than anything that will happen to us for having done this.”

Kudos to them; they’ve done a good thing. Most of us know how bad the scholarship can be in these fields, but they have cast a big spotlight on it.

Left to right: Lindsay, Pluckrose, Boghossian

h/t: Michael

106 thoughts on “Big academic scandal brewing: three researchers deliberately publish seven bogus papers on “grievance studies” to highlight abysmal academic standards in the humanities

  1. I think this has been some time coming. Ever since the Sokal hoax. Can’t say I’m sorry, given the fields. But, I do worry that this will be used as an excuse to summarily dismiss real scholarship in a variety of fields like climate science.

    1. It already is. You only need to spend a nanosecond on any right-wing websites to see this kind of stuff weaponised for the purposes of slamming elites, climate scientists, environmentalists, student millennials – academia in general. The anti-intellectual strand on the right feeds off stuff like this, and off the pathetic tantrums emanating from left-wing students.

      And there is no more comforting a website for that right-wing demographic than Quillette – a skewed aggregator of anti-SJW articles posing as a liberal website for freethinkers.

      1. To be fair, though, the anti-intellectual strand also feeds off scientific controversies and examples of academics being punished for moral turpitude. They don’t really choose rational targets. What we see as necessary housecleaning they often translate as fundamental corruption.

      2. Given that professor ceiling cat (not to mention, my own self) have appeared in Quillete, would you like to justify those remarks? If elements of the left have now lurched so far over that a sober description of them sounds like abuse…well, that’s hardly the fault of the genuinely liberal now, is it?

        1. I’ve justified it plenty of times here. It’s a deeply skewed website. The articles they publish are almost entirely critiques of SJWs and the left. OTOH there is a gaping chasm where I’d expect articles about the recrudescent populist right/Donald Trump/etc. to be. It’s a well-written source of confirmation bias. I have no problem with many of the artiles, just like most of the scientists Templeton pays off are excellent scientists. That doesn’t make it any less skewed.

          1. I see no problem with a publication having a point of view. As the Economist magazine proves, it is possible to have a platform without giving up honesty and credibility. Let’s leave “fair and balanced” to the evening news.

            1. NoNoNo!!! Unless you start a quota (50%) of your articles with “Trump is a piece of shit!” and finish it with “Yes he is!” you can be dismissed without reading.

              Say hypothetically that you want to focus on the internal cultural battle on the left (just an example, any reference to real life is purely coincidental), and therefore you don’t publish or only marginally publish articles against Trump (sorry for naming that piece of shit by the way, I want you all to know THAT I HATE HIM I HATE HIIIIM!!!11!!!), then you are an echo chamber for anti SJW that only bothers criticizing the left to empower the right. No matter that you are not the only publication on the planet, and that indeed there many publications dedicated to that . You, as a reader and citizen, have only one option: point out how there are certain young extremes on the left that are very bad kids, but let us not forget that the real danger is on the right, and Quillette is a $%&&&**^$## anti left anti SJW echo chamber. And if you comment on a post that uses an article from Quillette to address a topic, don’t forget to remind everybody how Quillette is a ##$%^^&%% anti SJW anti left echo chamber, therefore the article must be a $$%%^^&%^.

              P.S.: any resemblance to real events is purely coincidental.

              1. It depends on the content of the articles. A journal can be mono-thematic and still publish good quality articles on that single theme (and poor articles as well of course.) Generally, it should be possible to judge by the article without attributing any intent to the journal.

              2. And your reference about anti Trump/Trump supporters seems to be misplaced, assuming that I understand it correctly to refer to anti left/liberals. Indeed there is a clear cultural battle in the non-right, and smarter people than me have extensively written about it (see e.g. Nick Cohen.)

                It would be better to engage criticisms rather than dismiss them as right-wing.

              3. The Left got complacent and failed to clean its ideological house for decades, resulting in the loss to Trump and SJWs run amok on our college campuses poisoning generations of young liberals. We need to correct this. Publications like Quillette and this website are part of the solution.

                Much is made of the need to avoid the echo chamber but I believe this objection can be taken too far. The audience for all media outlets, speeches, and publications largely consist of people who agree with the ideas presented by them. They are all at least partially echo chambers in that sense. But as long as they also present new ideas, analysis, and ways to counter the oppositon, they are much more than echo chambers. The new ideas reach the opposition by being carried by the audience into their daily lives, repeated on social media, their writings, and discussion with others who are closer to the opposition.

                Bill Maher’s show, for example, almost certainly preaches to the choir. He even comments to that effect virtually every show. However, he has conservatives on his show too and there are bound to be people who tune in to see them. More importantly, people in his audience take his ideas home with them (or are sitting at home already like me). This is simply how ideas and culture change over time.

            2. I’d have no problem with that if Quillette hadn’t set itself out as an explicitly freethinking liberal website.

              1. …Which it is. Claire is a bit libertarian in her politics, which I’m not (I tend to find myself telling libertarians to stop whingeing and to pay their damn taxes and be grateful they live in civil society). But she publishes plenty of people who aren’t libertarian.
                I fear that you are confirming exactly what Professor ceiling cat has argued: That elements of the left have lurched so far into parodic versions of themselves that they see all criticism as fascism. Then they get surprised when half of their “fascist” critics laugh in their faces, and the other half go “fascism? We love it”. The problem is yours. The sickness has been shown to you by people like Helen, Claire and the rest. Continue preaching to the choir and alienating everyone else..or…sort yourselves out. The choice is yours.

              2. Helena: I don’t think that’s a particularly reasonable response. All I’ve done is point out that there is a clear skewing of the kind of articles it publishes. I don’t care how many liberals Quillette publishes, because they’re all writing articles about the same thing.

                If they commissioned some articles about the screaming void of irrationality that has gripped the American right over the last couple of years I’d have no problem. But they don’t. In that way its approach is similar to Templeton – very credible participants, but a clear agenda.

              3. Here is the statement from Patreon:

                What Is Quillette?

                We are a daily online magazine offering free thought to readers around the world, primarily in the realm of culture, science, tech, politics and current affairs.

                Our guiding principles include:
                – Respect for civil and open debate
                – Commitment to the search for objective truth
                – The desire to move towards a consilience between the arts and sciences

                Each week our global readership grows. We’re currently approaching an astounding 1 million unique visitors a month. When we imagine the contours of the magazine we are working to build, you are the foundation.

          2. Over at the “Science-Based Medicine” website it’s not uncommon for people in the comments section to point out that there’s a heavy bias towards articles weighing in against ‘Alternative Medicine’ and a lack of similar fervor directed against the very serious issues involving the pharmaceutical industry. It’s not only alt med fans making the complaint (“Yeah, but what about what YOU do?”) but people who agree that alternative medicine is neither alternative, nor medicine, will argue that it’s necessary to include negative explorations of Big Pharma so there’s both a balanced perspective and a better understanding of why people often prefer fringe remedies.

            The SBM collective explanation for the lack of balance is twofold. One, many skeptics have also gone after problems with mainstream big business medicine in other forums. And, two, there are plenty of those forums. There aren’t a lot of places with good critiques of not just specific forms of quackery, but their pseudoscientific and anti scientific foundation. It’s a different sort of wrong involving not so much deliberate fraud, but good intentions gone bad.

            As for the lack of balance on the other side — pro-science sites which ignore alt med — some have expressed concern that they’re sweeping a serious problem aside. But I can’t recall anyone complaining that they’re just giving ammunition to the alties. If it’s a legitimate scientific problem, it’s a legitimate problem. Those who have drunk the Conspiracy Kool-Aid ignore anything in science they don’t agree with and exaggerate and distort the hell out of the rest.

          3. “I’ve justified it many times here”. You will have to excuse me for not having previously followed such a famous and august personage as yourself more closely. Could you condescend to provide some actual links to pieces that support your argument? Here, let me help you get started
            Here: A piece on Trump in Quillette
            Here: A piece on the alt-right in Quillette
            See how this works? Mere assertion wont cut it alas. Now–you might not like the pieces–but, you can always submit one of your own. Or–you might just admit to yourself that Quillette skewers some of the regressive lefts more pompous and fact-free positions?

            1. No, that’s not the way it works. Because at no point have I claimed that there are no articles on these subjects. What I have claimed is that when they are written about, which is very rarely, they are in the context of articles that attack the left; and that is precisely the case with the first article you posted. Which is a long article defending Trump voters from claims of sexism or racism:

              (“Nonetheless, scholars bend over backwards trying to find ways to “prove” that Trump voters were especially racist or sexist. Such narratives may be edifying for those who count themselves among the “resistance” — however, the real-world costs of politicized research likely outweigh these emotional benefits”)

              The second link brought up five different articles that had alt-right in the title spread across two years, so I’ve no idea which one you were referring to.

      3. This is a general problem though. The ‘other’ side will always make hay of ‘our’ flaws and scandals. That doesn’t make them any less our flaws and it’s not an excuse to ignore them.

        I agree that Quillette has become rather one-note and its version of ‘liberal’ is mostly libertarian. It’s criticisms of leftist overreach tends to attract a commenter base that is libertarian to rightwing. (Something I’ve tried to push back against here and there.) Nonetheless, those criticisms often have more than an element of truth. It’s very hard to get people to maintain perspective. Critical theory nonsense doesn’t make Trump a less-pressing concern, and the right-wing reactionaries don’t justify illiberal or unthinking leftism.

        1. The fact of the matter here and now is that peer-reviewed processes are made to weed out bogus or full-of-shit as I like to say, scholarships or papers. Some get through, we do not disregard this in science at least. The point is that 7/20(even 6/20 as some say) is ridiculously high. With more potentially and I say potentially to be accepted.

          You know, we could ‘sort of’ accept 3 or 4. And that is based on the reasoning that some do get through. But even that puts the bar a little low for these gold standard journals. The content of the papers is also so remarkable that I can’t understand where these feminist top rank journals derive their ‘rigor’ from?

    2. If “… this will be used as an excuse,” the issue is not this hoax project but the shoddy research and publications in these fields to begin with.

  2. I will refrain from comment, as I am surrounded by people that buy into the ‘different ways of knowing’ and ‘truth is subjective’ models, which I find indistinguishable from their archenemies on the conservative side with ‘it should be true(false)’ and ‘I want it to be true(false)’

  3. The sort of garbage “research” exposed here only decreases public support for universities. Departments supporting faculty in these bogus disciplines have found a way to commit suicide slowly.

    1. I think that the universities engaged in bogus “studies”, or at least the relevant departments, need public support for them to be decreased. It is a mystery for me how they pass accreditation.

        1. That was his second “real struggle”. His first was to be accepted as an Art Student, but he couldn’t make that grade.
          I think of some of the people I know who have made the grade to become art students, and think again that Hitler couldn’t make the grade. I think an appropriative “Oy vey!” is appropriate.

  4. In the video one of the academics says that several reviewers of the ‘dog park’ paper were worried they didn’t respect the dogs privacy when examining their genitals.

    This topic is not only funny but extremely important because it touches on so much of what is wrong with this country and the west. I’d love to see it turned into a 2-hour documentary on Frontline.

  5. I’d say, given the standards of these particular fields, and their po-mo approach to epistemology, that there’s nothing in the submitted papers that particularly makes them out of the ordinary.

    I’m not even sure any of it is much of a step up in stupidity for these kinds of journals anyway; I think I could go through the submissions from these journals and find more extreme implications than anything in the hoax papers. The whole field has curdled into a pointless side street, a bubble with no real world implications thus no responsibility to be useful, and no responsibility to be interesting or revelatory because no-one outside the bubble reads any of it(even they don’t seem to read most of it).

    No implications flow from it, besides the self-replication of a particular brand of political non thought, and therefore there are no standards whatsoever. It’s astonishing that something so completely and utterly pointless could perpetuate itself so thoroughly through the academic bloodstream. I’ve no idea what can be done about it, but I hope this exercise has some kind of effect. I doubt it though.

    Having said that, I probably won’t be taking lessons on what constitutes groupthink from Quillette. “Quillette has already solicited five statements from academics about the Grievance Studies project” …Well of course it has. God forbid it address a single other issue on earth.

    1. Yes, you’ve gone after Quillette three times already in this thread. Nobody is expecting you to take your lessons on groupthink from them. We expect, as always, that you’d think for yourself, incorporating data and opinion from diverse sources. Quillette is one of those sources. BTW, you know that the NYT is slanted too, as is HuffPo and the New Yorker.

      1. I think I brought up Quillette twice, and then replied to people on those posts. Apologies if I overdid it.

        “Quillette is one of those sources. BTW, you know that the NYT is slanted too, as is HuffPo and the New Yorker.”

        Absolutely, but only one of those sources is regarded as a beacon of freethought while the other three are regularly criticised and even occasionally compared to Breitbart.

        And Quillette has from the outset set itself up as a non-partisan, even liberal website. It’s relatively new, so obviously it’s finding its feet, and perhaps a certain amount of ‘ideological drift’ is necessarily going to take place, but I get deeply frustrated visiting it and scanning the articles to find something, anything, that isn’t specifically about how obnoxious the left and modern liberals are. Its political remit is microscopic.

        p.s. it’s not a contradiction that I also find many of the articles at Quillette genuinely excellent. I’ve saved some of them to my favourites.

        1. Ok, now I see what you’re getting at. I took a look at Quillette’s self-description and, as I see it, it is a bit broad and a tad ambitious. After all, “free thought” and “dangerous ideas” covers a lot of territory. Still, why is it so bad a description? What expectations is it failing?

          1. I have never, not once come across a single article that is about the modern right’s perfidies*, and considering the state of the world right now I’d say there’s a hell of a lot more fertile ground there than there is in endless articles about left-wing academia and how obnoxious students are. Do you think a website that shapes itself as a free-thinking and non-partisan source of articles is doing its job if it ignores the phenomenon of Trump and populism in order to focus on a problem that I personally would class as substantially less serious, ie. the illiberal left?

            *I’m not saying it doesn’t publish any, but they must be pretty rare.

            1. To clarify: ‘ignore’ might be the wrong word: it touches on the populist right and Trump, but only in the context of articles that are about how bad the modern left is.

            2. I think that subject is well-covered elsewhere.

              One problem a new magazine has (or any organization for that matter) is coming up with a self-description that is broad enough to cover anything it might want to write about in the future. Judging by the articles they’ve published so far, they seem to focus largely on the excesses of the Left. As I see it, their description merely reserves the right to publish articles on a wide range of topics.

  6. … should be allowed to make fun of others, but no one should be permitted to make fun of them.

    Well, a lot of us have said the motivation of these folks is essentially religious, and there you have it — paradise for weisenheimers.

      1. Absolutely. The religious impulse and the bullying impulse (and, of course, the impulse to signal one’s virtue) often go hand-in-hand. There’s a reason Teddy Roosevelt found the metaphor “bully pulpit” apt.

        1. Ummm..I’m pretty sure that at the time ol Teddy was speaking “bully” meant “capital” or “first rate” or, in modern lingo, “good”.

  7. Going through this process and therefore, providing evidence of just how crazy this has become is interesting, but does it make a difference or a dent in the behavior? I was comparing it to what the NYTs spent the last year uncovering, the truth of Donald Trump and the family corruption. Does it make a difference to the mobs who follow his cult?

    Anyway, fixing the problem will be the real story.

  8. At the bottom of all this is that fact that Grievance Studies are not scholarship, they are politics. From a content perspective it doesn’t matter whether–or rather how–the articles are made up. It is merely a matter of embarassment to the journals involved that the curtain has been pulled back. I doubt there are any academics out there who, now knowing that these articles are fakes, could demonstrate from the standpoint of theory how they were wrong. As we’ve seen, these sorts of things can only be wrong in their conclusions. That is, if they were to conclude by saying that there was no grievance to be had. Even Hitler can be repurposed, as an anti-liberal, to support the cause. (Which reminds me of Churchill’s quip, that “if Hitler invaded hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”)

  9. I don’t think that anyone can deny that legitimate grievances existed and still exist in areas such as race and women’s rights. Also, the historical record clearly shows that movements to rectify social and political grievances will spawn quite often extremist offshoots that attempt to take over these movements in what is an equivalent of a coup. In an unrelated incident, the takeover of the Russian Revolution by the Bolsheviks from more moderate revolutionaries is an example. It seems that the extremists have usually an authoritarian mindset in which any means to achieve their ends is acceptable. The question for each situation is whether the moderate elements can resist the extremists, who are usually fanatical in their dedication to their beliefs. That moderates often fail is also common – just look at the Republican Party. This is why the actions of our intrepid threesome are encouraging. To resist the corruption of certain parts of academia is crucial to the maintenance of the reputation of academia as a whole and the research that it generates. Whether they will be able to stem the tide of lunacy remains to be seen, but kudos to them for risking their academic futures.

    1. STEM fields in academia are currently being lectured and policed by luminaries from these corrupted fields, and the administration is happy to have finally found a use and a legitimization for programs that do not belong to academia for the same reasons theology doesn’t.

      If, as a society, we have to find a way to subsidize the mass of students graduating from corrupted and racist programs, I think it is better to give them a check to stay home rather than massively employing them in administrative positions, allowing to metastasize society with the doctrines they have been marinated into.

    2. Yes, they are courageous, the more so given what they have to lose academically and the academy’s hypocrisy in not defending its own avowed purpose and those who profess it.

      Yet the connection between all these emergent ‘–studies’ programs and the traditional humanities is tenuous at best. I write as an emeritus professor at a liberal arts college, so I may be missing something important about post-graduate work in these ersatz fields.* But when, as in the video, I see a classroom of students (most of whom are young women), I cannot help but wonder whether they are intellectually prepared to join what should be a non-ideological community devoted to social justice.

      Have they read enough to learn both classic content and to write well? (Yes, genuine humanists almost universally believe there is a creative, causal link between reading well and writing well.) Have they studied a little philosophy and enough science to understand what naturalism and its episteme are? And has this underpinning been reinforced by carefully inculcated practice in critical thinking?

      The answers, I think are uniformly ‘No.’ I saw this decline in liberal arts skills gradually unfolding over the last two decades of my teaching career. Too many students who had the smarts lacked the curiosity to ‘go deep.’

      I view the dire state of American democracy today as largely owing to educational failures–from Kindergarten through college, in public and private institutions. Whose fault? Everyone’s, myself included.

      Long time passing, I favored American studies, African-American studies; then I supported women’s studies, the varieties of international studies, and so on. They seemed like good, even necessary curricular expansions at the time. Now I suspect they were, all of them, a mistake. Not because academically unworthy: rather because no college curriculum can succeed with such a de-centered approach to learning.

      The how-to must precede and enable the what-to.

      *Sociology, for instance, has been around for more than a century in U. S. colleges, but it has rarely been classified with the humanities. At my college, sociology was deemed a ‘social science,’ and we humanists wouldn’t have had it in our barn for any money. Along with ‘educational studies,’ it’s a shame to have to say, sociology was where the weakest students enrolled.

      1. I cannot say to what extent the field of sociology has been corrupted to the degree of those discussed in this post. But, I would say that sociology, as originally conceived, is an invaluable discipline to both understanding the present and the past. In general (which I must emphasize), I think that most historians have failed to appreciate the role of group dynamics as an important component of culture in understanding the past. From my observations of the historical profession, I think the failure of some historians to understand this and the overemphasis of economic factors has resulted in a distortion of our understanding of the past. For example, our understanding of the antebellum South requires as much a cultural as well as an economic explanation as to why slavery was so important to that region and ultimately resulted in most of the slave slaves to attempt to secede from the Union.

      2. “(Yes, genuine humanists almost universally believe there is a creative, causal link between reading well and writing well.)”

        Absolutely. Interestingly, however, there seems to be an inverse correlation between speaking well and writing well. In my experience, people who are exceptionally good talkers are seldom good writers, and vice versa. This may be because writing seems an indirect means of communication for one who talks well, and those who don’t express themselves well verbally may compensate by resorting to writing. Just a theory. There are exceptions, of course—Churchill comes to mind.

        1. True. The Hitch was another exception, equally adept at the oral and written aspects of the verbal arts.

  10. Are we sure that Boghossian et al only got seven spoof papers through? How about the other few hundred they’re not telling us about 😉

    Poe’s Law applies…


  11. “Yes, one needs to be deceptive in a case like this, but it’s deception of the kind that occurs when government officials test TSA screening methods by putting fake bombs and guns in luggage.”

    And with about the same results. 😉

    (Which is to say, the TSA would rather not talk about the disconcertingly high pass rate of such tests).


      1. I’ve been expecting to see comment on this here at WEIT. Apparently there are some questions scientists (or, in this case, mathematicians) are not even allowed to ask.

          1. I went through the paper when the Quillette article came out and I have to agree that it wasn’t a very good article, but I wouldn’t call it horrible. It presents a very basic idea which is demonstrated with ultimately trivial math. The problem is that the model is so simple it’s not clear if the idea could play any role in a realistic evolutionary scenario. That’s good reason to reject a paper in a serious journal, but not to retract it after acceptance.

            But putting that aside, as you say, the apparent memory-holing and behind the scenes manipulations looks very bad. I don’t trust that the author of the paper and the Quillette article is giving an unbiased account, but the professionalism of the journal and his opponents looks very dubious.

  12. Perhaps they should have been more patient, and allowed the process to run, even if the WSJ were investigating.

    The previous Lindsay/Boghossian hoax was a bit feeble because they settled for a low-ranked, nothing journal. They seem to have gone for significant journals this time, but only got halfway through the study.

  13. “Satire is indistinguishable from ‘real”’ scholarship”

    Indeed. Here’s an excerpt from a paper that appeared in The American Journal of Public Health some years back:

    It is widely appreciated that inference of a causal relation requires documentation of the temporal sequence of the phenomena being investigated. This principle applies to the study of life and death no less than in other areas. Recently, there has been considerable excitement in this field, because a breakthrough has been achieved in the mathematical modeling of migration. When the effects of migration are eliminated, a close correspondence between birth and death rates emerges, but with a variable induction period, ranging from less than a day to over 100 years.

    The above is, of course, a parody of scientific writing, which is clear from a reference for the above to “Lemming, Lemming, Lemming and Mietinnen, personal communication.” I used to use this in a writing class that I taught to researchers when I was an editor at The Center for Health Research. The researchers there were fond of justifying their lack of writing skills by complaining that they were never taught how to write in medical school, to which my reply was always, “Of course you were—nobody writes this way naturally!”

    1. I got accepted into an out-of-state creative writing program many years ago, and while I was biding my time establishing residency, one of the professors hooked me up with a gig tutoring English comp — to med-school students, of all goddamn things if you can believe it, who were required for no reason any of them could fathom to pass an expository writing class in order to graduate. Their writing was godawful, but next to the stuff you’ve cited, they seemed like budding Prousts. 🙂

  14. While these hoax paper schemes are good fun, my fear is that it is a bit like an attempt to expose astrology. It’s not going to mean anything to the astrology industry and its market. They have heard it all before.

    The retribution expected by the three perpetrators is sad. I wonder if stating these expectations is an attempt at reverse psychology. Perhaps their universities will think that punishing them will only make their predictions come true and that ignoring them is the best course.

    1. I suppose that they had already decided to seek alternative careers, instead of devoting their productive lives to “studies”.
      Still, kudos in today’s hard times!

  15. I’m hoping that this project is just the beginning. The important followup is what the trio calls for: solidarity among those who adhere to good scholarship and true liberal values. By a clear distinction from the polluted left we can achieve better standing in the public’s eye and counter the right, which points to the more craven lefty academics to bolster their cause and tar progressives generally.

  16. It won’t be too long before we have some new po-mo papers on the “Intersectional Agression of Hoax Papers” or some such. Grievance about grievance is a perfect topic.

    1. That’s brilliant and bound to happen (not that it occurred to me). Hell, surely it already has happened…? I don’t want to look it up. Someone else has to do it. It’s all too depressing.

    1. PZ and company have been vehemenely anti-science, and anti-enlightenment, for a long time now.

      Sames goes for other regressives and New Racists, Dan Arel, Peter Ferguson, Ryan J Bell-End, Thomas Smith, etc. All these truly odious and malicious people formerly involved in “movement skeptism”, keep jumping up to defend pseudoscience and gobbledegook.

  17. It’s funny that this was my first thought yesterday when you wrote about Jessica Daniels’ piece in HuffPo, and I read a comment on the post from Jon Gallant. Jon noted, “Hunter College’s website reveals that Prof. Daniels has published ‘dozens of peer-reviewed articles in journals such as New Media & Society, Gender & Society, American Journal of Public Health, and Women’s Studies Quarterly.'” Professors like Daniels get to pad their resumes with this crap.

  18. Alan Sokal published two utterly marvelous commentaries on his own hoax. One is the original hoax paper with detailed footnotes, and the other is his superb book “PostModern Nonsense”.
    They are tremendously articulate and incisive.

      1. It’s a very good book, but my favourite is Higher Superstitions by Gross and Levitt. That one really delineated everything that’s gone wrong with the academic left, only it did it twenty five years ago.

        It’s also gorgeously written…a quality the academic left seem to think is pointless. Probably because no one who doesn’t have to actually reads their papers.

        1. If I remember correctly, Sokal talked about his hoax in an article in a publication that covered issues in academia. The publication eventually disappeared but was commemorated in a “best of” compendium published as a book. I remember it being surprisingly interesting and contained some really good writing. I believe I gave it away in a home library purge some years ago. I wish I could remember its name.

          1. It sounds like A House Built on Sand, edited by Noretta Koertge. My copy is falling apart from re-reading.

            1. No, that’s definitely not it. It does sound interesting though. Thanks for the inadvertent tip!

              The book I’m thinking of is not about the Sokal affair or science. It contains only one article of many on the Sokal affair. You’ve inspired me to figure it out.

  19. Some of the New Racists and regressives are already crying about this.

    They are obsessed with defended anti-science nonsense. Just like the creationists, although, these regressives have power and influence in academia and the media.

    So far, I’ve spotted antisemitic bigot enabler Ryan J Bell crying about this new hoax. I’m sure some of the other New Racists such as racist thug Dan Arel, the fraud PZ Myers, and pro-abuser Peter “Humanisticus” Ferguson will be squealing loudly soon enough.

  20. I enjoy seeing the vacuousness of some of these disciplines exposed but I also have some unease about the use of deception to do so.

  21. A quick check of “Gender, Place and Culture”, revealed this piece of scholarship – “When ‘Angelino’ squirrels don’t eat nuts: a feminist posthumanist politics of consumption across southern California” ( I confess to only having read the abstract, but it is hard to see how it differs that much from the “dog park” paper. For example:

    “I, therefore, juxtapose feminist posthumanist theories and feminist food studies scholarship to demonstrate how eastern fox squirrels are subjected to gendered, racialized, and speciesist thinking in the popular news media as a result of their feeding/eating practices, their unique and unfixed spatial arrangements in the greater Los Angeles region, and the western, modernist human frame through which humans interpret these actions.”

    If I read this correctly, squirrels have moved up the victimization ladder.

    1. We can still trust the abstract to boil things down for us. Here’s a marvelous excerpt:

      “Given that the shift in tree squirrel demographics is a relatively recent phenomenon, this case presents a unique opportunity to question and re-theorize the ontological given of ‘otherness’ that manifests, in part, through a politics whereby animal food choices ‘[come] to stand in for both compliance and resistance to the dominant forces in [human] culture’. I, therefore, juxtapose feminist posthumanist theories and feminist food studies scholarship to demonstrate how eastern fox squirrels are subjected to gendered, racialized, and speciesist thinking in the popular news media as a result of their feeding/eating practices, their unique and unfixed spatial arrangements in the greater Los Angeles region, and the western, modernist human frame through which humans interpret these actions.”

      Hats off to the hoaxers! This would be hard to parody as it is already its own best parody.

      1. That’s what Sokal said to B. Latour – he didn’t actually *write* most of his paper, simply quote back “the masters”. (There are a few things that are his, like the radon joke.)

  22. I wonder if some of this problem originates in the shoestring budgets for many humanities professors, who then are forced to do social science and humanities research without being able to collect statistically significant amounts of data on human subjects. I’m not excusing shoddy research on the part of doctoral students, post-docs, and professors, but I can see how a desire to help publish obviously low-budget work might cause the journals to lower their standards way more than they should.

    1. It would be better to have small but good humanities. Besides, it may be an outsider’s error, but it seems to me that humanities can do their research with next to nothing. I mean, they do not need microscopes, antibodies, lasers etc.

  23. Honestly the more I think about it, the less I know what to make of it. The topics and the responses are so divorced from reality that it’s hard to know whether these disciplines are in any relevant to the real issues facing the people those disciplines claim to pontificate on. It’s hard to call that activism, but it’s also hard to know what it’s meant to achieve other than clever people talking to themselves. So I really don’t know what this proves about it those disciplines which isn’t already obvious.

    1. When battling entrenched bad ideas, there are usually no huge wins where everyone’s opinion changes overnight. The war is won (or not) by engaging the enemy in numerous little battles.

  24. Teachers in humanities could assemble 5 to 10 articles with one of the hoaxes among them, and show the collection to students with the task to recognize the hoax.

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