NYT and other media fall for a hoax because it matched their ideology

September 16, 2022 • 9:20 am

I read about this incident (or rather, non-incident) the other day, but Jesse Singal, in a post on Bari Weiss’s site, tells the whole story in detail. The lesson is that when a story appeals to the ideological bias of a newspaper, even if it doesn’t check out, they sometimes print it as if were true, or at least don’t check it out especially thoroughly.  It’s especially galling when America’s premier newspaper, The New York Times, falls prey to this confirmation bias, as it did in this story.

Click to read; it’s free and short (but do subscribe if you read often):

The story is one indicting Brigham Young University (BYU) students as racists, supposedly evinced during a volleyball game against Duke University on August 26:

Last month, Rachel Richardson—the only black starter on the women’s volleyball team at Duke University—leveled a shocking accusation. She said that during her team’s August 26 match against Brigham Young University, fans inside the BYU arena in Provo, Utah inundated her with racist abuse and threats.

After the match, 19-year-old Richardson told her godmother, Lesa Pamplin, about the incident. Pamplin is a criminal defense attorney running for a county judgeship in Texas, and was not at the game—but the next day, she published a tweet that rocketed the story to national attention: “My Goddaughter is the only black starter for Dukes [sic] volleyball team. While playing yesterday, she was called a [n-word] every time she served. She was threatened by a white male that told her to watch her back going to the team bus. A police officer had to be put by their bench.”

The tweet is no longer available, but it racked up 185,000 likes before it was archived. LeBron James himself responded: “you tell your Goddaughter to stand tall, be proud and continue to be BLACK!!! We are a brotherhood and sisterhood!  We have her back. This is not sports.”

The story was reported widely, most prominently by the New York Times in this story by Vima Patel (click to read):

One student, said to have led the racist insults, was banned from all University athletic venues. The story then spread widely:

The national response to this heinous allegation was swift and righteous. Utah’s governor, Spencer Cox, issued a statement on Twitter (now deleted) expressing his shock and disappointment. “I’m disgusted that this behavior is happening and deeply saddened if others didn’t step up to stop it,” he wrote. “As a society we have to do more to create an atmosphere where racist a**holes like this never feel comfortable attacking others.” For its part, BYU quickly acknowledged that something horrible had happened in the fieldhouse. The day after the game, it published an apologetic statement, saying that the fan deemed responsible for shouting the epithets—who was not a BYU student—had been banned from all university athletic venues.

Unsurprisingly, major media outlets were all over this story. The Times’ coverage set the tone, with the Washington Post and CNN and Sports Illustrated and NPR all publishing similar articles, alongside the predictable think pieces. The incident also had consequences for BYU sports more generally. The head coach of women’s basketball at the University of South Carolina canceled its home opener against BYU. A match between Duke and Rider University’s women’s volleyball teams—scheduled to be played at the BYU arena—was moved to a nearby high school gym in order to provide both teams “the safest atmosphere,” according to Duke’s Director of Athletics, Nina King.

For millions of people watching this story unfold, this was yet another example of the ineradicable stain of American racism, of just how little progress we’ve really made.

Singal, whose reporting I like quite a bit, then adds the four-word kicker.

Except it didn’t happen.

Yes, this was all made up. Completely made up. There is no evidence that any slurs were emitted, that the n-word was used when Rachel Richardson was serving, that there was a cop assigned to sit by the Duke bench, and so on. And it’s not as if there weren’t potential witnesses, either: there were cameras recording the game, cellphones doing the same, and thousands of witnesses. Not a single bit of film documented the assertions, and no witnesses came forward, even with requests to do so by the cops and the newspapers.

It was either a hoax or a massive lie, however you want to characterize it. How was it discovered, then?

Not by any major paper. The Salt Lake Tribune did question whether the right student had been banned, but the whole truth came out via—you guessed it—”a conservative campus newspaper at BYU”, the Cougar Chronicle  (BYU is a Mormon school, quite conservative, and has few black students.)  Here’s their attempt to get at the truth, done the old-fashioned way: using the phone and shoe leather.

Click to read:


BYU then did its own investigation, and on September 9 issued this statement (click to read):

An except:

From our extensive review, we have not found any evidence to corroborate the allegation that fans engaged in racial heckling or uttered racial slurs at the event. As we stated earlier, we would not tolerate any conduct that would make a student-athlete feel unsafe. That is the reason for our immediate response and our thorough investigation.

As a result of our investigation, we have lifted the ban on the fan who was identified as having uttered racial slurs during the match. We have not found any evidence that that individual engaged in such an activity. BYU sincerely apologizes to that fan for any hardship the ban has caused.

Yet, as often happens during these hoaxes, institutions who were deceived nevertheless must say something that affirms their virtue, so the statement adds this:

Despite being unable to find supporting evidence of racial slurs in the many recordings and interviews, we hope that all those involved will understand our sincere efforts to ensure that all student-athletes competing at BYU feel safe. As stated by Athletics Director Tom Holmoe, BYU and BYU Athletics are committed to zero-tolerance of racism, and we strive to provide a positive experience for everyone who attends our athletic events, including student-athletes, coaches and fans, where they are valued and respected.

This is typical of what happens when a campus “hate crime” is revealed as a hoax—as a substantial proportion of them are. I suggest having a look at Wilfred Reilly’s book, Hate Crime Hoax: How the Left is Selling a Fake Race War. (Reilly, by the way, is black.) I’ve read it, and the stories he tells are dire. I can’t remember the proportion of campus hate crimes or hate “incidents” that turn out to be fake (usually perpetuated by a member of the minority group that was a victim of the fabricated “hate”), but it’s substantial.

What’s telling is what these incidents have in common after they’re revealed as hoaxes. The perpetrators are often not punished, even when they’re caught; the fact that the hate crime or incident was a hoax is not revealed to the college community (this is bad, because it perpetrates the idea that racism is prevalent on campus); these hoaxes happen everywhere, and, after the “crime” is revealed as a hoax, the schools nevertheless continue to insist that it could have been real because racism is everywhere. Finally, the colleges even put in place new antiracist initiatives—simply to show that they’re doing something, even in the face of a hoax. These colleges, like the newspapers, have a substantial ideological investment in perpetrating the idea that racism is ubiquitous.

At any rate, the New York Times also responded with a retraction (below), but also some tut-tutting about the prevalence of racism at BYU. Here’s the retraction:

And Singal’s take on the NYT’s most recent story, which still maintains that the “hate” against the black player happened as described.

By this point, between the original New York Times story and a tepid followup, a combined five reporters and researchers had been pantsed by a small student paper. If all this provoked any soul-searching on the part of the Times, it was unclear from its report on BYU’s findings.

Remarkably, their most recent story treated the events as unresolved: “B.Y.U. did not directly address why its findings contradicted the account by Richardson, and the statements by both universities left questions unanswered.” It also included a statement from Duke’s athletic director saying the university stood by the volleyball team. The story ends with a reminder that at the overwhelmingly Mormon school, less than 1 percent of students are black, and that a recent report highlighted the university’s diversity issues. It’s unclear exactly why this is relevant; the point seems to be for the Times to advertise that it understands racism is a serious problem at BYU, and that even if the school were not guilty of it this time, everyone knows the university’s soul is not entirely spotless.

The lessons are several. People were all too willing to believe a story that comported with their ideological views, especially the view racism is everywhere and “systemic”. But the press bought into it too, abjuring their traditional role in news stories to state the facts and omit anything that isn’t supported by the facts. Further, this shoddy reporting damages people, as well as the public, who are misled by biases. Singal mentions, as examples of similar hoaxes taken seriously by the public and the media without proper vetting, the Covington Catholic High School issue (three media settled with the supposedly “smirking racist” for a substantial amount of money), and the Jussie Smollett case, immediately believed as an incident of racism though Smollett’s claims were ridiculous.  And of course the fact that a “hate crime” or a “hate incident” was a hoax is never publicized as widely as the original “transgression” itself, so the public never learns the truth.

Here’s Singal’s conclusion:

. . . there’s an established pattern of journalists being far too credulous when these incidents first burst onto the scene.

It won’t take some radical revolution for journalists to better cover fast-developing, controversial incidents involving race and other hot-button issues. All they have to do is rediscover norms that are already there, embedded in journalistic tradition. The best, oldest-school newspaper editors—a truly dying breed—constantly pester cub reporters to make that one extra call, ask that one extra question, follow that one extra unlikely lead. They do this all in the service of making sure their organization prints the best, most accurate version of the news (and doesn’t get sued). They can adhere to these norms without becoming a shill for the powerful. It’s simply a matter of approaching a story with curiosity and skepticism, of not believing they are the advocate for one side in a conflict—no matter how righteous and obvious the battle lines may seem at first glance.

It’s getting so that one has to turn to Substack instead of the “MSM” to get the real news!

The lesson, then, is one that scientists have long had drilled into them. If a result tends to jibe with your innate biases—with what you want to be true—then that is the time you have to exercise the most doubt and give the results the highest scrutiny.

Jussie Smollett found guilty on 5 of 6 felony charges

December 9, 2021 • 5:40 pm

Yes, it’s breaking news: a jury in Chicago just found Jussie Smollett guilty on five of six counts of felony disorderly conduct for faking a report of a hate crime that he concocted against himself. (He was acquitted on one charge.)

In class 4 felonies like this, the judge can sentence Smollett to up to 3 years imprisonment and $25,000 in fines on each count, with sentences to run consecutively or concurrently. Maximum sentence would thus be 15 years in jail and a $125,000 fine, but that won’t happen. In fact, I’m not sure that Smollett will see the inside of prison at all.

Smollett isn’t out of the woods yet, as Chicago is suing him in civil court for $140,000 to recover the costs of the police investigation.

I was correct again, but you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to see this coming.

Aside from the sentencing, this is the last time I’ll mention Juicy unless he pulls another stunt.

Jussie Smollett, considered a hoaxer by all sentient beings, is defended by BLM

December 9, 2021 • 9:45 am

You must, at least if you’re American, know about l’affaire Jussie Smollett, or, as Dave Chappelle calls him, “the French actor Juicy Smollyé”.  (Smollett was a character in the television series “Empire.”)

In 2019, Smollett reported that he was a victim of a “hate crime” in Chicago perpetrated by two men who accosted him as he was going out to get a Subway sandwich after midnight. He claimed that the men were white, wearing MAGA hats, shouted racial and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him, and then put a noose around his neck. You can read all the details at the Wikipedia article, “Alleged assault of Jussie Smollett.”

Police investigations soon revealed that this was likely a hoax perpetrated by Smollett to draw attention to himself, and, sure enough, two brothers, who were black, were located as co-conspirators. They;had worked on Smollett’s set, knew him, and investigation turned up a check from Smollett to one of the brothers, as well as text messages and videos incriminating Smollett.

After this, nobody with a lick of sense thought that Smollett had been the victim of a hate crime; it was realized, even in the black community, that he had perpetrated a hoax. If you want to see a funny video about that, Dave Chappelle’s bit below is very good and hilarious (warning: racist language):

Here’s the history of Smollett’s run-ins with the law about this “assault”, taken from Wikipedia:

On February 13, 2019, Chicago police raided the home of two brothers who had worked with Smollett as extras on his television show’s set. Police recovered records indicating the brothers had been paid $3,500 by Smollett. They had purchased the rope found around Smollett’s neck at a hardware store in Ravenswood over the weekend of January 25. They were also seen in the security camera footage in a clothing store where they bought gloves, ski masks, and a red hat that police said was used in the attack. On February 20, 2019, Smollett was indicted for disorderly conduct for paying the brothers to stage a fake hate crime assault on him and filing a false police report. Smollett’s defense team reached a deal with prosecutors on March 26, 2019, in which all charges were dropped in return for Smollett performing community service and forfeiting his $10,000 bond.

The charges were dropped, but Smollett was also dropped from the “Empire” show.

On April 12, 2019, the city of Chicago filed a lawsuit in the Cook County Circuit Court against Smollett for the cost of overtime authorities expended investigating the alleged attack, totalling $130,105.15. In November 2019, Smollett filed a counter-suit against the city of Chicago alleging he was the victim of “mass public ridicule and harm” and arguing he should not be made to reimburse the city for the cost of the investigation.

On February 11, 2020, after further investigation by a special prosecutor was completed, Smollett was indicted again by a Cook County grand jury on six counts pertaining to making four false police reports. On June 12, 2020, a judge rejected Smollett’s claim that his reindictment violated his right against double jeopardy. Smollett’s trial began on November 29, 2021.

So Smollett is on trial again for six felony counts. The trial ended yesterday and if the jury has any neurons, they’ll find him guilty today. If they don’t, I’ll be completely flummoxed and baffled given the overwhelming evidence against him. But it’s unlikely that, even if convicted, he’ll go to jail. Still, if he’s convicted he’ll have a felony record and will likely be fined the amount that it cost Chicago to investigate his allegations (about $130,000). He’s maintained his innocence the whole time, and even took the stand in his own defense, whereupon his story and explanations (the check was for “exercise and nutrition” for the brothers) was ripped apart by the prosecution.

Reader Luana sent me this tweet by the black conservative Coleman Hughes, who agrees with Chappelle (and me). But regardless of the source, the item of interest is the BLM statement below Jussie’s picture. I’ll put the entire statement below, as it’s worth reading.

Here’s the statement in its entirety (click on screenshot):

As abolitionists, we approach situations of injustice with love and align ourselves with our community. Because we got us. So let’s be clear: we love everybody in our community. It’s not about a trial or a verdict decided in a white supremacist charade, it’s about how we treat our community when corrupt systems are working to devalue their lives. In an abolitionist society, this trial would not be taking place, and our communities would not have to fight and suffer to prove our worth. Instead, we find ourselves, once again, being forced to put our lives and our value in the hands of judges and juries operating in a system that is designed to oppress us, while continuing to face a corrupt and violent police department, which has proven time and again to have no respect for our lives.

In our commitment to abolition, we can never believe police, especially the Chicago Police Department (CPD) over Jussie Smollett, a Black man who has been courageously present, visible, and vocal in the struggle for Black freedom. While policing at-large is an irredeemable institution, CPD is notorious for its long and deep history of corruption, racism, and brutality. From the murders of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, to the Burge tortures, to the murder of Laquan McDonald and subsequent cover-up, to the hundreds of others killed by Chicago police over the years and the thousands who survived abuse, Chicago police consistently demonstrate that they are among the worst of the worst. Police lie and Chicago police lie especially.

Black Lives Matter will continue to work towards the abolition of police and every unjust system. We will continue to love and protect one another, and wrap our arms around those who do the work to usher in Black freedom and, by extension, freedom for everyone else.

They clearly believe Smollett’s story, but for only two reasons: it fits in with a narrative of oppression (two whites supposedly attacked a black man and made racist statements), and, second the investigation was conducted by the police (BLM are police “abolitionists”).  The evidence isn’t even a consideration here; they say “we can never believe police”. But the evidence came from much more than the police: it came from video cameras and especially the two black brothers who testified against Smollett. It also came from the check, which Smollett admitted he wrote to pay the brothers.

Now the claims of police violence and racism are not totally unjustified given the past. The murder of Fred Hampton in 1969, for example, was a horrible police execution of a black activist who had been deliberately drugged. No shots were fired; the cops just pumped bullets into a sleeping man. And yes, there’s been police racism since them, but I would not characterize the police as inevitably racist, liars, and white supremacists.

But this trial is not a matter of police claims versus Smollett’s claims: it’s a matter of what the empirical evidence shows, and Smollett himself, as well as his attorneys, were given a chance to have their say. The BLM statement thus implicates the jury itself as instantiating white supremacy and injustice.

What we see here is how strongly an ideological commitment can override evidence. If the system is so committed to oppressing blacks no matter what, why did O. J. Simpson, whom I believe was a murderer, get off?

But of course anecdotes won’t settle this. What will settle the Smollett case is evidence—evidence that can be both adduced and inspected by Smollett and his lawyers. If the jury finds him innocent, I will be very, very surprised.

About the BLM call to abolish the police: I think that’s impractical and ridiculous. Remember, they’re not calling for “defunding” police, but abolishing them.  While I appreciate that the principle of BLM is to secure equality of blacks and whites, and I support that goal, I am not behind some of their other principles. Abolition of the police, which is palpably insane, is one of them. I can’t stand behind BLM so long as they remain “police abolitionists.

A Gallup poll last year showed that 81% of blacks wanted the police to spend as much or more time as they do now patrolling where they live. That means that BLM is not even close to expressing the wishes of the people they claim to represent, at least as far as policing is concerned.

Another scam paper published in a “scientific” journal

January 15, 2021 • 9:45 am

I’ve written before about predatory scientific journals: those fly-by-night venues that will publish nearly any submitted paper, however dreadful. Their motive is to get the thousands of dollars in “publication fees” that authors are forced to pay. In return, the authors get to cite their paper on their c.v.s, even though most papers in these journals are worthless. (Those who evaluate c.v.s, however, often don’t know which journals are bogus.)

In April of last year I wrote about a hilarious and deliberately insane paper written by Daniel Baldassare, “What’s the deal with birds?”, published in the predatory Scientific Journal of Research and Reviews (it’s not there any longer).  Its thesis, such as it was, was that birds tending to look like fish (i.e., penguins) occurred in areas most susceptible to climate change, while birds with weird beaks (i.e;, parrots), didn’t live in those areas. But it was a farrago of madness and humor, done on purpose to show that these journals will publish anything. Here are the “data” from Baldassare’s paper:

I guess after Baldassare exposed both the paper and the journal in his Twitter thread, they decided to remove the paper. Baldassare, by the way, managed to bargain the “author’s fee” down from $1700 to zero. Audubon Magazine even wrote a piece about the hoax.

Now we have another of these hoax papers, also dealing with “fishy” birds. This one, published by Martin Stervander and Danny Haelewaters, appears in in Oceanography & Fisheries. It’s still up (click on the screenshot), but won’t be for long (I have a pdf for you if it’s taken down).

The premise and thesis is also bull-goose loony, again on purpose. This time their complex hypothesis took into account no fewer than four biological factors. Here’s how the authors describe the genesis of the hypothesis:

At the time we developed the original idea about fishiness of birds potentially being correlated to absence of poisonous mushrooms, one of the authors (D.H.) was eating pizza with four cheeses, chicken, anchovies, and mushrooms. It was really a good one, and this prompted us to—just like the pizza—integrate all four parameters in this study: fishiness, birdiness, lack of fungal toxicity, and effects of prolonged heating. We note that integrative taxonomy approaches [8], and by extension approaches to integrate everything in research, are being increasingly employed, thus supporting the rationale for the work presented in this paper.

It is important to keep in mind that research has not always been this integrative, or cross-disciplinary. For example, Charles Darwin worked alone [9] and still published a relatively well-cited contribution to the field of theology and some other disciplines. We feel it is natural for humans to dangle up and down between extremes. This is true for scientists, just like it is for politicians (consider the formation of the European Union in the 1990s and early 2000s versus the current wish of some countries to leave again [10]).

All in all, in this study we present the results of our work with fishy birds (fide Baldassarre [1]). We hypothesize that, (1) despite climate change, it is still cold in Antarctica and thus the presumed lack of poisonous fungi leads to fishy-looking birds. Further, with a clear correlation of pizza and lower latitudes [11], we hypothesize that (2) birdy-looking birds (as well as fishy-looking fish) will be more prevalent than fishy-looking birds on pizzas.

Any good reviewer would have spotted this in an instant as a Poe, but of course these journals don’t care about quality, or even seriousness. I doubt the reviewers even read the papers.

Their results, like Baldassari’s are presented in a single bizarre figure, with lots of bogus statements in the text about statistical methods and significance. But what they conclude is that birds that look like fish (i.e., penguins) tend to occur in areas without poisonous fungi (Antarctica), while birds that don’t look like fish (chickens, swifts, etc; they also threw in a flying fish that looks like a swift, an anchovy, and a “Nemo fish”) live at lower latitudes where there’s an abundance of pizza. A remarkable vindication of their thesis! The results in graphic form:

. . .  and in the text:

Our PCA revealed that most of the variation in the dataset was partitioned along the first (59.3%) and second (34.8%) principal components (PCs), with loadings corresponding to poisonous funginess and pizza toppingness, respectively (Table 1). There is a clear bimodality in both PC scores, distinguishing on the one hand penguins (PC1, low funginess) and on the other hand anchovy and chicken (PC2, high toppingness). Plotting the scores for all taxa, a quadratic model explains the two-dimensional distribution of avian species (p <<< 0.05) with low residual variation except for the outlier H. rustica (Figure 1).

They note that while fishy-looking birds occur in areas lacking poisonous fungi and pizza, that relationship doesn’t hold for birdy-looking fish (flying fish).  They also note that the swallow is an outlier.

In the discussion they take up the parlous subject of climate change, and postulate that, with global warming, poisonous fungi may invade Antarctica and “may thus exert a strong selection pressure on penguins to evolve a less fishy morphology,” so that the evolved penguins may, with their new appearance, expand into “pizza topping habitats.”

There are two more immediate clues that this was a hoax: the acknowledgements (which damn predatory journals!) and the author contributions, which cite Darwin:

First author Martin Stervander also wrote an exposé on his own website about the paper, including a positive “review” of the paper for another journal where it was submitted, Journal of Ecosystems and Ecography, published by OMICS International. It’s clear that the reviewing process of all these journals is deficient—to say the least. But if it was rigorous, they’d have no way to make money!

So we have another exposé of  predatory journals, which we all know exist because every scientist gets daily requests for submissions to these journals, even when the journals aren’t remotely connected with the scientist’s research. (I’ve had pleas for my papers from journals in obstetrics and gynecology.) But there’s no better way to expose this nonsense than to publish a loony paper in it.  Sadly, this doesn’t bring down the journals (they just remove the papers), and they continue to serve as citations for desperate scientists.

Is there anything unethical about these hoaxes? Hell, no: there’s no way anybody could be deceived by papers like these, and it’s the best way to show the journals up for what they are.

They also resemble the “hoax papers” sent by Boghossian, Pluckrose, and Lindsay to social-science journals in the famous “grievance studies affair” that now has its own Wikipedia page. As I wrote last April:

One final remark. In the “grievance studies affair“, Helen Pluckrose, James Lindsay, and especially Peter Boghossian got into big trouble for “hoaxing” humanities journals with equally ludicrous papers.  Baldassarre won’t get into trouble (and shouldn’t), for his paper is in a clearly predatory journal.  But what’s the difference between a predatory scientific journal that will publish nonsense and humanities journals like Fat Studies or Gender, Place & Culture that publish nonsense but also purport to be venues for serious research? In effect, they both do the same thing: help researchers fatten their c.v.s with worthless research. Why should Boghossian et al. be excoriated for exposing the same kind of crappy journal standards that Baldassarre did?

Anything that exposes this kind of academic garbage, including clear hoax papers, is to be applauded, so long as the hoaxes are revealed (as they were with the Grievance Studies Trio) or are so palpably ridiculous (as with Baldassarre’s paper) that they couldn’t be anything other than a hoax.


h/t: Martim Melo


Hoax: a crazy hilarious paper in a predatory journal

April 16, 2020 • 12:30 pm

UPDATE: See this Twitter thread by the author for his hilarious interaction with the journal, including the “reviews”.


This paper, pointed out earlier today by my Chicago colleague Brian Leiter, highlights one of the scandals of scientific publishing: predatory journals that will publish anything, allowing researchers to inflate their c.v.s while the journal rakes in outrageous “publication fees.”

The upside is that the paper is fricking hilarious, and so transparently nonscientific that it’s amazing that even an abysmal journal would publish it. Perhaps they don’t care—perhaps all they want is the dosh. But this paper is the result. Click on the screenshot below to go to the paper. Download it quickly, for I have a feeling it will be gone soon. . .

(If it disappears, you can always get a pdf from yours truly.)

Behold: “What’s the Deal with Birds?”

I mean, if the abstract and keywords don’t give it anyway, somebody’s asleep at the wheel:


Many people wonder: what’s the deal with birds? This is a common query. Birds are pretty weird. I mean, they have feathers. WTF? Most other animals don’t have feathers. To investigate this issue, I looked at some birds. I looked at a woodpecker, a parrot, and a penguin. They were all pretty weird! In conclusion, we may never know the deal with birds, but further study is warranted.


birds, ornithology, behavior, phenotype, WTF, genomics, climate change

Remember, this is not a joke journal; it’s one that pretends to be serious. Here are a few tidbits (be sure you read the acknowledgments at the end of the paper):


And Figure 1, which is lovely.  Remember, the journal is presenting this as peer-reviewed and solid scientific work (well, clearly this one wasn’t peer-reviewed as it was received March 25, and published April 1!).


Given the publication date, could this be an April Fool’s paper? No, I don’t think so. The journal isn’t available through my library (of course), but the journal’s table of contents, which you can see, gives no indication that the paper is a hoax. Instead, the journal appears to be a repository for crap papers in all sorts of fields from authors all over the world. In fact, I just saw on Twitter this note from another biologist, Andrew Burchill, that Baldassarre telegraphed his intentions before he submitted “What’s the deal with birds?”.  (Note that, in my own tweet, the hoax paper was regarded as “sensitive content”!):

Greg did a bit of Googling and came up with what’s indented below:

Here’s the link to the publisher’s website– it’s a real hoot!
A statement of “Publication Ethics”!!
It’s not written by a fluent English-speaker. A sample sentence:
We want the outcome of integrity meeting integrity to be compounding source of factual information that will help the world become a better place.
And this (I suspect it’s the opposite of what they intended, but it’s nonetheless oddly fitting.):
Authors should ensure that the manuscript they’ve submitted to us should be under review anywhere else.
They claim to be based in San Francisco. I wouldn’t put money on it.


Science is loaded with these kinds of predatory journals; I get invitations to publish in them all the time, often in journals way outside my field, like microbiology or even obstetrics! Maybe if scientists kept loading them up with hoax papers like this one, it would hasten their demise.

By the way, the author’s name, Daniel T. Baldassarre, sounds like a hoax name, too, but he’s a real biologist, an assistant professor of zoology at the State University New York at Oswego, as he correctly notes in the paper’s header. (I’ve put his photo below).

Daniel Baldassare

One final remark. In the “grievance studies affair“, Helen Pluckrose, James Lindsay, and especially Peter Boghossian got into big trouble for “hoaxing” humanities journals with equally ludicrous papers.  Baldassarre won’t get into trouble (and shouldn’t), for his paper is in a clearly predatory journal.  But what’s the difference between a predatory scientific journal that will publish nonsense and humanities journals like Fat Studies or Gender, Place & Culture that publish nonsense but also purport to be venues for serious research? In effect, they both do the same thing: help researchers fatten their c.v.s with worthless research. Why should Boghossian et al. be excoriated for exposing the same kind of crappy journal standards that Baldassarre did?

Anything that exposes this kind of academic garbage, including clear hoax papers, is to be applauded, so long as the hoaxes are revealed (as they were with the Grievance Studies Trio) or are so palpably ridiculous (as with Baldassarre’s paper) that they couldn’t be anything other than a hoax.

h/t: Greg Mayer

Titania McGrath pwns The Independent

December 11, 2019 • 12:00 pm

This Independent article by Liam Evans (click on screenshot below; I’ve also saved it in the Wayback Machine here), is a strongly worded piece by an apparently woke person of color offended by “reactionary comedy”, with the tirade supposedly triggered by a Fin Taylor show that included an anti-#MeToo sketch called “When Harassy Met Sally”.  (This appears to be a real sketch by Taylor.)

A few quotes from author “Liam Evans”:

Satire is a powerful tool. Tyrants have always feared ridicule, because there is nothing more likely to undermine authority than the sound of derisory laughter. But male comedians like Taylor taking pot shots at women who have had the courage to speak out can hardly be described as “punching up”. As a comedy aficionado, I’ve seen a disturbing rise in this kind of victim-bashing on the circuit over the past few years. It’s got to the point where I have to research the acts on any given lineup very carefully before booking a ticket.

. . . “Alt-right comedy” might sound like an oxymoron, but the immense popularity of internet “sh*tposters” such as PewDiePie and Sargon of Akkad has persuaded some comedians that there is money to be made from belittling social justice.

Speaking as a person of colour in an irredeemably racist culture, I’m sick of being accused of hypersensitivity by straight white men who are blind to their own privilege. What makes them believe that comedy should just be for them?

The hallmark of a good satirist is the ability to expose the follies of the powerful and the corrupt, not to embolden them at the expense of those of us who are already marginalised.

After decrying Ricky Gervais and Dave Chapelle, “Evans” goes on:

Perhaps it’s time for the comedy community to reflect. Danish comedian Sofie Hagen has successfully toured with “reduced-anxiety” performances in which all toilet facilities are gender-neutral and audience members can contact her in advance if they have particular needs.

The success of Hannah Gadsby’s game-changing masterpiece Nanette has also proven beyond doubt that woke comedy is commercially viable.

And yet the likes of Gervais, Chappelle and CK still fail to recognise that they no longer have to rely on shock tactics to appeal to a modern audience. As role models to a new generation of comics, they have a responsibility to be mindful of the damage they can do to an already divided society.

I would go so far as to argue that some of the jokes I have heard on the comedy circuit of late constitute actual hate speech.

. . .The battle for equality will not be won by activists alone. We all need to play our part. Sometimes this will mean risking the accusation of being a “prude” or a “killjoy”, but this is surely a price worth paying.

Such tactics are designed to silence us, to make us feel ashamed for standing up for those who might not be able to stand up for themselves.

It takes an astonishing degree of entitlement to claim the right to free speech without accepting the consequences of one’s choices. In a country poised on the brink of a far-right resurgence, is a cheap laugh really worth the risk? The kind of jokes that reinforce negative stereotypes and normalise bigotry should no longer be tolerated in our society. This really isn’t too much to ask.

Okay, so we have a humorless Pecksniff decrying free speech and “alt-right comedy” as instantiations of “hate speech”. It also includes the word “woke.” It sounds a bit like Titania McGrath, doesn’t it? Or does it? After all, often Titania’s satire works because it’s very close to the real thing, if not indistinguishable from it.

Well, it’s certainly Titania, who apparently has tricked The Independent. Here’s what “she” said (Titiana is the alter ego of Andrew Doyle), and if you go to the original article, her “coincidence” is true.

So how did a reputable newspaper get fooled by someone who doesn’t exist? Probably because Titania’s hoax was ideologically compatible with the editorial view of The Independent, and claimed to be written by a “person of colour”. Shame on them for not doing their fact-checking! Tip to newspapers: always verify the existence of a new author, or any author!

Because The Independent is likely to pull the piece, I archived it at the link above.

h/t: Al

Darwin the victim of an April Fool’s joke

April 1, 2019 • 8:00 am

I’m not going to perpetrate any April Fool’s pranks today, but I wanted to point out (thanks to Matthew) that Darwin was victimized by one about three months after he set out on his five-year Beagle voyage.

The tweet below, from the “Friends of Darwin”, gives the link, and I’ll reproduce the prank below:

Darwin wrote this in his Beagle diary the same day:

April 1st

All hands employed in making April fools. — at midnight almost nearly all the watch below was called up in their shirts; carpenters for a leak: quarter masters that a mast was sprung. — midshipmen to reef top-sails; All turned in to their hammocks again, some growling some laughing. — The hook was much too easily baited for me not to be caught: Sullivan cried out, “Darwin, did you ever see a Grampus: Bear a hand then”. I accordingly rushed out in a transport of Enthusiasm, & was received by a roar of laughter from the whole watch. —

However, looking up “grampus“, I find that it is indeed the name given to several sea creatures, as well as other animals.

Grampus may refer to:

So perhaps Darwin knew what a grampus was, and the trick was not like the American “snipe hunt” where a nonexistent creature is touted. According to another site, Darwin was probably expecting to see an orca.

More science-dissing: WaPo’s misguided criticism of “scientism”

January 29, 2019 • 10:45 am

There’s never an end to science-dissing these days, and it comes largely from humanities scholars who are distressed by comparing the palpable progress in science with the stagnation and marginalization of their discipline—largely through its adoption of the methods of Postmodernism. (Curiously, the decline in humanities, which I believe coincides with university programs that promote a given ideology rather than encourage independent thought, is in opposition to the PoMo doctrine that there are different “truths” that emanate from different viewpoints.)

At any rate, much of the criticism of science comes in the form of accusations of “scientism”, defined, according to the article below in the Washington Post, as “the untenable extension of scientific authority into realms of knowledge that lie outside what science can justifiably determine.”

We’ve heard these assertions about scientism for years, and yes, there are times when scientists have made unsupported claims with social import. The eugenics movement and racism of early twentieth-century biologists is one, and some of the excesses of evolutionary psychology comprise another. One form of scientism I’ve criticized has been the claim (Sam Harris is one exponent) that science and objective reason can give us moral values; that is, we can determine what is right and wrong by simply using a calculus based on “well being” or a similar currency. I won’t get into why I think that’s wrong, but there are few scientists or philosophers that espouse this moral form of scientism.

But these days, claims of “scientism” are more often used the way dogs urinate on fire hydrants: to mark territories in the humanities. And that, it seems is what Aaron Hanlon, an assistant professor of English at Colby College is doing. In fact, he could have used science to buttress his main claim—that numbers make fake papers more readily accepted in journals—but didn’t. When you do, as I did, his main claim collapses.

The photo of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is there because she said (correctly) that algorithms themselves aren’t pure science, but reflect the intentions and perhaps the prejudices of people who construct them. From that Hanlon goes on to indict science for having a deceptive authority because it relies on numbers. But his example doesn’t have much to do with what Ocasio-Cortez said.

First, though, I note that Hanlon makes one correct point: that moral judgments, while they may rely on science (he uses claims that AI might replace human judges), aren’t scientific judgments that can be adjudicated empirically. I agree. But so do most people.

With few exceptions, most scientists and philosophers think that morality is at bottom based on human preferences. And though we may agree on many of those preferences (e.g., we should do what maximizes “well being”), you can’t show using data that one set of preferences is objectively better than another. (You can show, though, that the empirical consequences of one set of preferences differ from those of another set.) The examples I use involve abortion and animal rights. If you’re religious and see babies as having souls, how can you convince those folks that elective abortion is better than banning abortion? Likewise, how do you weigh human well being versus animal well being? I am a consequentialist who happens to agree with the well-being criterion, but I can’t demonstrate that it’s better than other criteria, like “always prohibit abortion because babies have souls.”

But that’s not Hanlon’s main point. His point rests on the “grievance studies” hoax perpetrated by Peter Boghossian, Helen Pluckrose, and James Lindsay (BP&L), in which they submitted phony papers, some having fabricated data, to different humanities journals. Some got accepted. From this Hanlon draws two false conclusions: that having numbers (faked data) increases the chance of a bad paper being accepted to a humanities journal, that that “we’re far too deferential to the mere idea of science.” Hanlon says this:

In actual fact, “social justice” jargon wasn’t enough — as the hoaxers initially thought — to deceive, but sprinkling in fake data did the trick better than jargon or political pieties ever could. Like Ocasio-Cortez’s critics, who trust too easily in the appearance of scientific objectivity, the hoaxed journals were more likely to buy outrageous claims if they were backed by something that looked like scientific data. It’s not that the hoax was an utter failure, nor that we shouldn’t worry about the vulnerabilities it exposed. It’s that, ironically, scientism and misplaced scientific authority actually contribute to those vulnerabilities and undermine science in the process.

But putting the numbers of accepted vs. rejected papers divided by whether or not they included faked data into a Fisher’s exact test (papers with data: 3 accepted, 2 rejected; papers without data: 4 accepted, 11 rejected), there’s no significant difference (p = 0.2898, far from significance). So using numbers in the “hoax papers” didn’t make a significant difference. Ergo, we have no evidence that using fake data improved a paper’s acceptance. That what science can tell you.

But it hardly matters, as the point of the hoax wasn’t to show that using data helped mislead reviewers. Even if there was a difference, it wouldn’t affect BP&L’s point: that palpably ridiculous papers, with or without numbers, were accepted by humanities journals because they conformed to the journals’ ideology. In fact, if you think about another famous hoax—Alan Sokal’s famous Social Text hoax of 1996—it involved a paper that used verbal arguments rather than data. So it’s not numbers that matter. Nevertheless, Hanlon wants to claim that scientism is still at play:

So what does the latest hoax tell us about the extension of scientism into academic fields that aren’t reducible to purely scientific explanations?

Part of the answer lies in a prior hoax, perpetrated by New York University physicist Alan Sokal in 1996. Sokal got an article laden with nonsensical jargon and specious arguments accepted at Social Text, a leading (though not peer-reviewed) cultural theory journal. The infamous “Sokal Hoax” was instructive, too, because, as Social Text editors Bruce Robbins and Andrew Ross explained after Sokal went public about his actions, they didn’t accept his article out of fealty to its politics or its jargon, but rather out of trust in — perhaps even reverence for — an eminent scientist’s engagement with cultural theory.

Remember that the more recent hoaxers didn’t just content themselves with verbal nonsense (as Sokal did); they also faked data, and not in a way that reviewers should necessarily dismiss without a good reason to do so. Columbia University sociologist Musa al-Gharbi found that the hoaxers’ “purported empirical studies (with faked data) were more than twice as likely to be accepted for publication as their nonempirical papers,” which lends support to this possibility. It’s entirely possible that reviewers took these submissions seriously out of respect for scientific conclusions, not out of anti-science bias. This would also align with broader research showing that political ideology is not actually what causes people to distrust science.

So if you use numbers, you’re damned for scientism, and if you don’t use numbers, you’re damned for scientism because you’re a scientist. You can’t win!

But were there any dangers in promulgating false data the way that BP&L did? No, because their papers never entered the literature. The trio of hoaxers promptly informed the journals of the hoax after the papers were accepted, and, as far as I know, none of those papers stand as published contributions.

There are other wonky statements in Hanlon’s paper as well, but I’ll give just two:

But the question of whether AI judges should replace human judges is a complex civic and moral question, one that is by definition informed but not conclusively answerable by scientific facts. It’s here that observations like Ocasio-Cortez’s become so important: If racist assumptions are baked into our supposedly objective tools, there’s nothing anti-scientific about pointing that out. But scientism threatens to blind us to such realizations — and critics such as Lindsay, Pluckrose and Boghossian suggest that keeping our eyes open is some sort of intellectual failing.

First of all, scientism doesn’t blind us to realizing that bias might occur. Scientists in love with their own theories may tend to hang onto them in the face of countervailing data, but eventually the truth will out. We no longer think that races form a hierarchy of intelligence, with whites on top; we no longer think that the Piltdown man was a forerunner of modern humans, and so on. It is scientists, by and large, who dispel these biases. More important, BP&L did not suggest that keeping our eyes open was “some sort of intellectual failing.” It was in fact the opposite: they suggest that keeping our eyes open makes us see how ridiculous are papers written to conform to an ideology, papers that make crazy assertions that would startle anybody not already in the asylum.

Finally, Hanlon tries to exculpate the hoaxed journals because they are “interdisciplinary”:

Indeed, one of the liabilities of interdisciplinary gender studies journals like those that fell for the hoax is that, as I’ve argued, they’re actually not humanities journals, nor are they strictly social science journals. As such, they conceivably receive submissions that make any combination of interpretive claims, claims of cultural observation, and empirical or data-based claims. For all of their potential benefits, these interdisciplinary efforts — which have analogues in the humanities as well — also run into methodological and epistemological challenges precisely because of their reverence for science and scientific methods, not because of anti-science attitudes.

No, these journals fell for the hoaxes not because of their reverence for “science and scientific methods” (we have no data supporting that claim), but because the papers BP&L submitted were accepted because of reverence for their ideology, which was Authoritarian Leftist “grievance” work, in line with what these journals like.

This attitude—that we should go easier on work that conforms to what we believe, or what we’d like to think—is the real danger here. And there’s a name for it: it’s called confirmation bias. And it’s more of a danger in the humanities than in the sciences, simply because in science you can check somebody else’s work with empirical methods.

Medusa Magazine says it’s not a hoax

June 27, 2017 • 1:30 pm

. . . but of course that means nothing, for if it were a hoax—and the evidence is strong on this one—they would resolutely deny it.  If they admitted it were a hoax, that hoax would be over for good, and there would be no point in continuing to add to the site.

A person at the New Zealand site Whale Oil  wrote Medusa, asking them if they were genuine, as if their answer would settle the issue. Part of Whale Oil‘s post:

I came across an online Feminist magazine called Medusa Magazine with the byline Feminist Revolution now. As I scanned the headlines I wondered if it was a satirical site as once before I fell for a poorly written piece of satire thinking that it was a genuine piece. I didn’t want to make the same mistake with this site so I e-mailed them to check.

They were kind enough to reply.


Medusa Magazine is a blog that espouses feminist ideology. We make no apologies for this, and we stand by everything we publish.
That being said, the views expressed in each article belong to the author(s) alone. We would however never have published any of the articles if we didn’t think they had any value to add to intellectual discourse. Even the articles that you describe as “over the top” have started a discussion and debate online about important issues that need to be discussed.
Say Hi to your readers from us.


The thing is*, is that they continue to publish articles, and they’re close enough to the real thing to fool some people. But I’ve decided that they’re too over-the-top to be real. And, as a reader pointed out (see link in first line), the domain is registered to someone who would be expected to satirize feminism.



*deliberate infelicity


A mini-Sokal hoax: abstract of physics paper written by computer, and in complete gibberish, accepted for conference on physics

October 22, 2016 • 11:15 am

In the famous Alan Sokal hoax, now twenty years old, a physicist got a bogus, post-modern paper accepted by the pomo journal Social Text. Now the tables are turned—sort of. This time, as the Guardian reported yesterday, a non-physicist hoaxed a physics conference by submitting an abstract, immediately accepted, that was written almost completely by computer. It was complete gibberish, proving that nobody looked at the paper, and that the conference was probably just a garbage meeting designed to make money.

I didn’t know what iOS autocomplete was, but apparently it’s an Apple program that can be used to finish written text with stuff that’s generated by computer (correct me if I’m wrong).  And a professor used it to write an entire paper. From the Guardian:

Christoph Bartneck, an associate professor at the Human Interface Technology laboratory at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, received an email inviting him to submit a paper to the International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics in the US in November.

“Since I have practically no knowledge of nuclear physics I resorted to iOS autocomplete function to help me writing the paper,” he wrote in a blog post on Thursday. “I started a sentence with ‘atomic’ or ‘nuclear’ and then randomly hit the autocomplete suggestions.

“The atoms of a better universe will have the right for the same as you are the way we shall have to be a great place for a great time to enjoy the day you are a wonderful person to your great time to take the fun and take a great time and enjoy the great day you will be a wonderful time for your parents and kids,” is a sample sentence from the abstract.

It concludes: “Power is not a great place for a good time.”

Bartneck made a video, posted in his website, showing how he did it:

But wait! There’s more!

Bartneck illustrated the paper – titled, again through autocorrect, “Atomic Energy will have been made available to a single source” – with the first graphic on the Wikipedia entry for nuclear physics.

He submitted it under a fake identity: associate professor Iris Pear of the US, whose experience in atomic and nuclear physics was outlined in a biography using contradictory gender pronouns.

The nonsensical paper was accepted only three hours later, in an email asking Bartneck to confirm his slot for the “oral presentation” at the international conference.

“I know that iOS is a pretty good software, but reaching tenure has never been this close,” Bartneck commented in the blog post.

The conference itself, to be held in Georgia in mid-November (see link above), looks pretty dicey. For one thing, read its call for abstracts:

And, as the Guardian notes:

The International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics. . . is organised by ConferenceSeries: “an amalgamation of Open Access Publications and worldwide international science conferences and events”, established in 2007.

It also has a $1099 speaker registration fee.

The Guardian describes what Bartneck wrote as a paper, but it’s actually an abstract of a paper, complete with a bogus diagram and a phony photo of the author. You can see it here, and I’ve put a screenshot below:


I get invitations all the time from bogus organizations that invite me to submit papers or give talks on forestry, molecular biology, immunology, and all sorts of things for which I have no credentials at all. There are a lot of organizations out there preying on scientists who, I guess, think that going to such meetings gives them professional credibility. And it must work, or why would these meetings and journals continue to exist?

h/t: Barry