“The Reformers”: a new three-part documentary on the “Grievance Studies” hoaxers

May 7, 2023 • 12:45 pm

Surely all of you know the trio who perpetrated the “Grievance Studies Affair“, exposing the abysmally low standards of ‘scholarship’ pervasive in some fields of the humanities.  Wikipedia has a big article on it, but I’ll just give two paragraphs:

The grievance studies affair, also referred to as the “Sokal Squared” scandal, was the project of a team of three authors—Peter BoghossianJames A. Lindsay, and Helen Pluckrose—to highlight what they saw as poor scholarship and eroding criteria in several academic fields. Taking place over 2017 and 2018, their project entailed submitting bogus papers to academic journals in culturalqueerracegenderfat, and sexuality studies to determine whether they would pass through peer review and be accepted for publication. Several of these papers were subsequently published, which the authors cited in support of their contention.

. . . Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose wrote 20 articles that promoted deliberately absurd ideas or morally questionable acts and submitted them to various peer-reviewed journals. Although they had planned for the project to run until January 2019, the trio admitted to the hoax in October 2018 after journalists from The Wall Street Journal revealed that “Helen Wilson”, the pseudonym used for their article published in Gender, Place & Culture, did not exist. By the time of the revelation, 4 of their 20 papers had been published; 3 had been accepted but not yet published; 6 had been rejected; and 7 were still under review. Included among the articles that were published were arguments that dogs engage in rape culture and that men could reduce their transphobia by anally penetrating themselves with sex toys, as well as Adolf Hitler‘s Mein Kampf rewritten in feminist language.[2][4] The first of these had won special recognition from the journal that published it.

Mike Nayna, an Aussie filmwriter and director, is putting out a three-part series of this documentary, which he calls “The Reformers.” The first episode, 13 minutes long, is available for free here on his Substack site “The Process”. You can access the other episodes on other parts of that site, but I’d recommend subscribing if you want to watch all three parts. I’ve watched the first part, and want to see the rest, but I think I’ll first make a donation. Click below or on the link above to see the first episode; the rest are on Nanya’s site.

Things get plenty weird around 11 minutes in as Peter and Richard Baldwin (who loaned his name to the enterprise) confect one of the crazy articles.

Now I know there was a lot of outrage elicited by this hoax, with the most common response being, “Well, every field has some crazy papers.”  Yes, ’tis true, but nearly as crazy or as numerous as in “studies” areas of the humanities. I personally found it not only amusing, but also edifying: it showed that Alan Sokal’s hoax, which involved only the journal Social Text, was not a one-off.  And I’ve put up some pretty wild stuff on this site, like papers about feminist glaciology and the racism of pumpkins, yogurt, and Pilates. But now that the rot has been exposed, I see no point in making further hoaxes.

Anyway, have a look if you’re intrigued.


h/t: Colin, for alerting me to the videos

11 thoughts on ““The Reformers”: a new three-part documentary on the “Grievance Studies” hoaxers

  1. The hoax is pretty pathetic. Their paper got rejected from the higher quality journals until it got accepted.
    Sounds like any scientist going through peer review.
    The fact is, the papers we don’t like in those journals arent automatically wrong/low quality just because someone made a hoax paper. Ehat they shouldve done is try and replicate the results or debunk the papers. And shock horror, someone’s already beaten em to the punch. That’s why the term replication crisis existed nearly a decade before these guys failed to hoax a journal.

    I personally think the ‘get me off your fucking mailing list’ guy was funnier and proved more of a point about bad scientific journals.

    1. Ideas formulated in the absence of empirical observation will never be replicated, or subjected to falsification.

  2. As a founder of the NYS Green Party, I knew Stanley Aronowitz, editor of Social Text when they published the Sokol hoax. I know you wont believe me but after I got to about page 10 in Sokol’s piece, I knew it was a hoax. Really; I am not making this up. I used to write satires I sent to friends and colleagues, and wrote one about religion,where I described in detail a disappeared primitive tribe that lived south of the Canadian border, had celibate acolytes, and worshipped and ingested the body and blood of a god, who they represented as two pieces of wood nailed together perpendicularly. A social scientist on my list then asked me for all the details of the findings, the scientists involved, etc. She fell for the satire 100%. I had to break the news to her gently. She never responded.

  3. Most scientific papers are wrong and in a sense that’s a feature not a bug. We know that the peer review system is imperfect and laden with bias but to paraphrase Churchill it’s the worst system except for all the other ones. Also journals are a business and are more interested in acquiring for cheap content that will “sell”. This means it’s extremely easy to either “game” and or hoax journals.

    This applies to all disciplines and has been well studied in the medical journal literature, arguably of much greater import than culture studies. However the thing that makes culture studies unique in this regard is we all have a fairly well formed instinct for what we think is true in culture and usually a political investment in our instincts being right. That means we very much enjoy and find comedy in seeing one side of culture wars being hoaxed and and alternatively get upset if someone goes after our side and see it as an ideological attack on capital T truth, and we do this in a way that we would not with stupid and wrong papers in a theoretical physics journal.

    1. Considering hospitals are continuing to make peoples lives better for longer, where as evolution has been stripped out of textbooks in India (the world’s largest democracy), kiwis are taught that native voodoo magic is science, biology journals are saying biology is a lie, etc, I’d say it’s pretty stupid to just ignore the problem because some drug companies are bad actors.

    2. Most scientific papers are falsifiable. This what distinguishes them from the sort of material parodied in the Sokal squared hoax.

  4. There are all sorts of problems with claims of the hoaxers. I think they merely just established again that almost nobody cares about truth when there’s a good story to be told, especially one which paints political opponents as dumb. Here’s a debunking of the Mein Kampf one (quotes from a paywalled article).


    “The lacunae between these preserved pieces of text were filled with material that was either re-written, or entirely new (including references to bona fide scholarship). This created the convincing illusion of an original philosophy paper. Neither the words nor the intent were comparable to “Mein Kampf”; indeed, the intent was the very opposite.’


    ‘Perhaps Lindsay thought this was the winning ‘tell’ of the whole endeavor. But it resembles far more what philosopher Daniel Dennett calls “pseudo-profound bullshit”:

  5. Jerry, thanks for forwarding the video(s) “Reformers” which I found mildly amusing… but for only one not very honorable reason: I felt *schadenfreude,* and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. These videos preach to the choir, and amuse the choir at the expense of insulting the woke. Ultimately, this is counterproductive. The hoaxes themselves (the fraudulent papers sent, with some being accepted) represent a fair strategy that might well generate some kind of evidence that could be marshalled against the woke ideology. However, the video/documentary shows attitudes in the authors of the hoax that are very unflattering. It shows the authors patting themselves on the back for coming up with ridiculous research results, hyperbolic position statements, etc. and then shows them laughing at the perceived stupidity of their opponents: the DEI researchers, administrators, etc. In a debate, this would be considered an ad-hominem attack, and is very bad form.
    There is an irony that I perceived in these first two parts of the video: the authors argue that woke ideology is akin to a religion or to a cult, creating an attractive logical framework that is impossible to argue against. Smart people are thus drawn into the framework and become apparent *victims* of it, and presumably they would want to help those victims overcome their brain-washing. But the video shows the authors *laughing at the victims* of this cult that they’ve identified. Who laughs at victims?! If their intent is to be helpful, they should show concern for the afflicted, and show their hope that a way can be found to break the logic of this cult/religion that is so destructive and dangerous. Only by showing empathy with and concern for your opponents, could you ever hope to reach them with your ideas, and get them to think about things differently. By laughing at them, you will just turn them away.
    It is worth pointing out that your efforts in publishing the paper about merit in the sciences is the perfect counter-example to this video. It takes the matter seriously, and argues respectfully. This video undermines your work.

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