Is health a “social construct”?

October 3, 2017 • 11:00 am

Oy, the kids are at it again, and it just gets worse and worse. In fact, this one is so bad that I can barely bear to write about it. Yes, it’s from the ultimate Hierarchical Oppression site, Everyday Feminism, always a way to gauge the Regressive Left Zeitgeist. Since the site loves listicles, this is one of them: “5 social theories that prove health is constructed,”   by Melissa A. Fabello, who describes herself on her website as “a feminist writer and speaker who covers issues related to body politics and beauty culture.”

Read the title of her piece again and see if you can guess what the piece is about. Yep, you’re probably right: health is not in any sense “objective”, but a social construct that is sold to us by various Organizations of Power like doctors and Big Pharma. In reality, she implies there are many ways to be healthy. Being sick is one of them.

Now Sam Harris makes the case, in The Moral Landscape, that we can have objective morality—i.e., those actions that promote well being; and he makes his case by pointing to something that he thinks is indubitably objective: health. Health is a kind of well-being, he says, and few of us doubt what it means to be healthy, want to be healthy, or judge someone healthier than someone else.  While I disagree with Sam’s general argument on the objectivity of morality, it’s hard to argue with this example.

Unless, that is, you’re Melissa A. Fabello, who, besotted by postmodernism, thinks that “health” is a very complex topic, and, in fact, a socially constructed concept. This is one example of where the Left has gone badly wrong on science.

Well, in one sense the concept of being “healthy” is a social construct since it’s a concept constructed by humans, but if you have the flu, or measles, or a flesh-eating bacterial infection, it’s also a meaningful concept, because you want to be cured, feel better and not to have your nose eaten away. With the exceptions of people who suffer from Munchausen Syndrome and like being ill, doctors and medicine exist for a reason: people want to be healthy and feel good, and they prefer not to be sick. People of all races and genders go to doctors when they have “socially constructed” illnesses.

Not so fast, says Fabello, and lists five “social theories” that support the notion that “being healthy” is purely subjective. All quotes are indented (emphases are Fabello’s); my take is flush left.

  • Healthism.

Healthism (Crawford, 1980) describes a political ideology wherein a biomedical understanding of health is given social power and individuals are held responsible for their ability to uphold their own health.That is, it’s our cultural belief that meeting the standards of a one-size-fits-all version of health should be a priority for everyone – and that those who don’t meet that criteria can and should be oppressed as punishment.It is, basically, the idea that health is valuable – not just individually, but socially. . .

I get it. It makes sense that we would be evolutionarily drawn to the idea of good health and longevity. But prioritizing health (and especially making it a moral issue) still creates a hierarchy wherein some people are deemed more worthy than others – and that’s an oppressive way to think about our bodies.

Health, sure enough, is arguably a physical experience of biological beings. But our moral obligation to health is something that we, ourselves, created.

She’s talking about “ableism” here—the discrimination against those who are ill or disabled—and that is wrong. But we do have an obligation to health—perhaps not our own, but that of our family and friends, and society as a whole. Why else would Everyday Feminism write article after article about how increase the well being of the disabled, or “heal from toxic whiteness” (that’s a paid course they offer). If nothing else, it’s clear they feel we all have an obligation to mental health.

  • Social model of disability

Here she claims that society has a responsibility to ease restrictions for disabled or ill people.  To some extent she’s right. A disabled person isn’t usually disabled by their own choice.  And we should do what we can to help them and give them access to the same opportunites that others have.  But isn’t the notion of “disability” a real one, then, and not a social construct? And if disabled people are disadvantaged, that shows that there is an alternative condition, not involving accommodating the disability, that would render them not disadvantaged, like not being paralyzed.

  • Biopsychosocial model. 

The biopsychosocial model (Engel, 1977) was created in response to the biomedical lens – the latter of which assumes that all disease and disorder has an organic cause, and therefore, an organic solution, within the body. Using a biopsychosocial lens means recognizing that biology, psychology, and sociocultural factors all play a role in how we develop and are treated for illness.

It’s a way more holistic (and honest) way of looking at health.

Western Medicine hyper-medicalizes health – which seems sensible at first. But only because we’ve been socialized to believe that our bodies should operate like machinery and that with a little fine-tuning from doctors, we can live long and healthy lives.

But no. Our health isn’t only determined by what’s going on in our physical bodies (more on that next), so we need to think more broadly about it. Not because medicine isn’t legitimate – but because it’s limited.

Of course there are psychological and sociocultural factors that cause illness and disability, but this still manifests itself organically. Doctors may not be able to help you, and are limited in that sense, but you won’t get helped by anything that doesn’t have some effect on the molecular makeup of your being, whether it be your body or your brain. If all Fabello is saying here is that not all diseases are purely caused by mutations or microbes, then that’s completely trivial. As is her next “model”:

  • Social determinants of health. 

What if I told you that the genes with which you were born and the health behaviors in which you choose to engage only account for 25% of your health experience? What if these two factors that we spend so much time and money on understanding and fixing are only a quarter of the problem?

You can learn more from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but here’s the gist: There are five factors that determine (un)health: genes, behavior, social environment, physical environment, and access to health services. And guess which are the ones that have the biggest influence. YupThe last three – also known as the social determinants of health.

And think about it: What affects our social environment (who we interact with), physical environment (where we live), and access to health services (how available healthcare is to us)? Our intersecting social locations.

But if health is a social construct, how can you even talk about what determines health or “unhealth”. There must be a way to measure it, and surely those measurements are in the two links they give. The emphasis on “intersection” in the last sentence gives away the real point of this article:

Our race affects our level of health. Our class affects our level of health. Our gender, size, sexual orientation or identity, documentation status, and ability affect our level of health.

The more oppressed a person is by intersecting systems, the more likely their health is to suffer.

Tell me again that biology is simple.

The whole article boils down to that second sentence, which is “the more oppressed somebody is, the sicker they are.” That may well be true. But again, how does that make health a “social construct”? How can your “health” suffer if it’s a social construct? Can’t you just declare yourself healthy, as a transgender person can declare themselves a member of another gender (gender, too, is a social construct)?

Finally, we get to the conspiracy theories:

  • Medical Industrial Complex.

The medical industrial complex (Ehrenreich & Ehrenreich, 1969) is a term used to criticize health as a for-profit industry and how the driving force of money creates an unbalanced, unjust system.

How can we trust anti-“obesity” research findings when the studies are funded by the weight-loss industry? How can we have faith in medical practitioners offering us prescriptions when they’re sponsored by pharmaceutical companies? How can we believe that we really are sick when disease is invented just so that a solution can be sold to us?

When our (lack of) health puts money into big businesses, we need to question the systems telling us that we’re unhealthy.

And when our level of health determines how we’re treated in society, we need to question the validity of “health” as a concept.

Now there’s no doubt that there’s cronyism, biased reporting by the pharmaceutical industry in drug tests, and so on, but not all drugs are useless. And really, are medical practitioners “sponsored by pharmaceutical companies”? Some of them get perks from those companies, or have their research sponsored by them, but #NotAllDoctors!

In the end, this is a profoundly confused article, which, it seems to me, both admits health is real and quantifiable but then argues it’s a social construct. It can’t be both. The whole problem is summed up in the last sentence:

And when our level of health determines how we’re treated in society, we need to question the validity of “health” as a concept.

Seriously? How does that work? Just because society may discriminate wrongly on the basis of something, doesn’t mean that that “thing” is somehow invalid.  People are also discriminated against on the basis of ethnicity and gender, but does that mean that “gender” and “ethnicity” are invalid concepts? They may be criteria that aren’t morally or socially relevant, but they’re still real things.

And with that Fabiello displays her profound anti-science views, dismissing something as real if it can be a cause of bigotry. That’s exactly what Heather Heying was talking about this morning, and it’s exactly how the Regressive Left approaches studies of differences in behavior and preferences of different groups, or of evolutionary psychology as a whole. Because they could in principle be used to promote bigotry, they can’t tell us real things.

I have a feeling I’ve just wasted half an hour. . .

The anti-science views of third-wave feminists

June 25, 2017 • 12:30 pm

Because of its connections with postmodernism, third-wave feminism has sometimes shown a disturbing trend of doing down science. That, of course, is because postmodernism rejects objective truth, valuing feelings and “lived experience” over science, which it sees as not only un-objective, but as a tool and embodiment of the patriarchy. This attitude was, of course, mocked by Sokal in his famous Social Text hoax paper, and you can find plenty of examples in his books. One will stand for all: feminist philosopher of science Sondra Harding characterized Newton’s Principia Mathematica as a “rape manual”. I could give more, but why bother? You can find them on your own.

Of course not all third-wave feminists reject the objectivity of science, or the notion that there are real truths about the cosmos that can be found via science. But there are enough of them to disturb me, as I see this attitude as even worse than creationism. Creationists, after all, reject just one scientific theory—evolution—while accepting nearly all other findings of science. But those who claim that the scientific enterprise is useless at finding truth cast aspersions on all of science. I wonder if people like Ellen Granfield, who have that attitude, use cellphones, get immunizations, or take antibiotics.

Last November, Granfield wrote a piece at Everyday Feminism called “This history reveals that science isn’t nearly as objective as you think.” The “history” is simply the history of science, rewritten by Granfield and others of her ilk to cast aspersions on science because—horrors!—its conclusions sometimes change! That means, to them, that science is neither reliable nor objective. So, here are the three ways Granfield takes down science (quotes are indented, bold is her emphasis):

1.) Science isn’t objective. 

Modern, mainstream science finds itself deeply embedded in a supposedly objective, quantifiable worldview – one that is at best faulty, and at worst, is a form of scientism which denies new findings.

The Nobel Prize physicist Brian Josephson calls it “pathological disbelief” – a rebuffing of facts when the facts don’t fit the prescribed program of the science community writ large.

In a lecture given at a Nobel Laureates’ meeting in 2004, Josephson rallied against “science by consensus …anything goes among the physics community – cosmic wormholes, time travel, just so long as it keeps its distance from anything mystical or New Age-ish.”

He points to the theory of continental drift – proposed by Alfred Wegener in 1912 – which was long maligned and ridiculed. It has, of course, long since been accepted, but more than twenty years after his death.

Josephson points to this story as a stark reminder that the course of human history is not governed by objective truth of any kind, especially in the history of science; the truth is always shifting.

I wonder if Josephson takes advantage of the findings of science. If he really believes what he says—and I doubt he meant it the way Granfield does—then he shouldn’t be going to doctors or using GPS devices. The canard that because some conclusions change, science is a futile endeavor, ignores the fact that some findings of science haven’t changed (last time I looked, benzene still had six carbon and six hydrogen atoms, and DNA remained a double helix), and that it’s the very nature of science that its conclusions are provisional rather than set in stone for all time.

2.) Evolution is bunk. Granfield, it seems, agrees with the creationists, and that’s not an exaggeration:

One of the most obvious examples of scientism today is the theory of evolution, which is still upheld as the dominant explanation of how life generates itself. The problem is that biologists still can’t answer the most basic of questions involved, including the origin of life itself, sexual reproduction, or how species originate.

Mainstream science – despite declaring again and again that this theory explains these functions – in truth merely describes biological phenomena involved in ecosystem diversity.

The political fight over curriculum between religious Fundamentalists and neo-Darwinists has pushed any meaningful discussion of this topic off the table, as mainstream science remains stubbornly fearful of giving up ground if they admit that there are serious controversies raging around the theory of evolution as the catch-all explanation for our current existence.

It leaves no room for the possibility of Intelligent Design Theory, which posits “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause.” IDT is often made synonymous with creationism – neo-Darwinists argue that it’s just Creationism in disguise – but there are many scientists and philosophers alike that believe IDT is just as compelling a theory as evolution for “the way things are.”

“Ecosystem diversity”? In the passage above she’s espousing a Postmodernism of the Gaps argument: because we don’t yet understand things like how life began, or why organisms have sex, then evolution is crap. Well, there was a time when we didn’t have any idea how creatures changed over time, and why—the time before Darwin. Does Granfield really reject neo-Darwinism? If she does, her fellow feminists should run like hell away from her. She is, it seems, a creationist of sorts, since she approves of Intelligent Design, and doesn’t understand that it really is a form of creationism: a supernatural being directing evolution.

Nor does Granfield know anythging about “how species originate”. If she did, she’d realize that we understand plenty, and that the writer of this website wrote a big book showing what we know about it.

3.) Woo is better. I won’t summarize Granfield’s fulminating approbation for the Gaia Hypothesis, the consciousness of all matter, or the advantage of cardiac thinking, but here are a very few quotes:

The field of science is ripe with compelling counternarratives to evolution that we’re choosing to ignore, from the symbiosis between microbes and minerals that together formed earth’s diversity as shown by Robert Hazen, to Tyler Volk’s understanding of bacteria using metapatterns to generate themselves into ever more complex life, to species diversity that stabilize living ecosystems.

There’s also Lewis Thomas‘ theory that humanity could be a complex form of microbial life the planet produced in order to seed itself into the solar system.

and

As nature writer Stephen Buhner eloquently illustrates in his book The Secret Teachings of Plants, it’s now believed that when we stop thinking and start feeling with the heart, our physiological functioning becomes more balanced and calm; neuronal discharge in the brain comes into phase with the heart and lungs in a process called heart coherence.

More than half our heart cells are neural, the heart’s nervous system wired to the brain’s amygdala, thalamus, hippocampus, and cortex. The heart has its own memory and is the primary organ of sense; the brain is secondary and responsive.

We feel the world first, but when we believe – and are told, again and again – that the brain is the center of our being, our perception of our humanity and the world becomes stymied.

Oy! What is she talking about?

and

Perhaps the most egregious of all aspects of scientism is the denial of intelligence in the natural world – by everyone from evolutionary biologists to theoretical physicists—as fundamental to the universe. Many aspects of mainstream, modern science are heated battles over such an acknowledgement.

Shivers of despair course through mainstream science in its dogged quest to disprove design in the universe: Jeremy Narby’s argument that all life is sentient in Intelligence in Nature; Stephen Buhner’s Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm; the concept of an innate intelligence behind the enigma of the carbon atom and the conditions for life Paul Davies explored in The Goldilocks Enigma; the argument that if the Big Bang had been precisely any more or less powerful, atoms could never have formed; Lynn Margulis and symbiogenesis; James Lovelock and the Gaia Hypothesis. . . .

. . . The dominant belief that science itself is predicated on a denial of intelligence in the universe and the superior power of quantifiable observation is fallacious; historians are being forced to admit this as evidence comes to light that the greatest minds science has known – from Copernicus to Newton – believed in and based their work on intelligent design.

Enough. Lunchtime is almost here and I don’t want my stomach upset. Just let me finish by giving the final sentence of Granfield’s travesty—a call to reject scientific authority and find the truth in your own way, presumably through thinking with your heart rather than your brain. All those scientists, well, they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about:

It [getting insights about nature] means finding the truth on your own, not waiting for others to tell you what is right or wrong, because there is no such thing as objectivity, especially in science.

That attitude is not only stupid but dangerous. Shame on Everyday Feminism for pushing such pablum.

Evergreen State and postmodernism

June 11, 2017 • 12:30 pm

Over at Quillette, which is really the go-to place fostering progressive Liberalism and criticizing Authoritarian Leftism, Michael Aaron has a new piece on the Evergreen State College affair called “Evergreen State and the battle for modernity.” It’s a good read, and deals more with the forces behind the fracas than the messy details of campus troubles.

Aaron revises the old Left/Right dichotomy into a trichotomy: postmodernism, traditionalism, and modernism. Traditionalists are basically anti-progressivists of the conservative Republican stripe, postmodernists are Regressives who “eschew any notion of objectivity, perceiving knowledge as a construct of power differentials rather than anything that could possibly be mutually agreed upon”, and modernists are “those who believe in human progress within a classical Western tradition.” Postmodernists hew to critical race theory (see the list of its key elements on Wikipedia).

Like me, Aaron sees this mess as a turning point—or at least a “crossroads” in modern society, though that may be a bit hyperbolic. I think it may be a crossroads for how we look at student behavior, but of course those students will become the next generation of decision-making adults, so we’ll have to see (if we live!). A few of its final paragraphs (read the whole thing):

In the end, the Weinstein/Evergreen State affair poses a significant crossroads to modern society, extending well beyond the conflict occurring on campus. Evergreen State represents the natural culmination of postmodern thought—roving mobs attempting to silence dissenting thought merely based on race, informed by far left theories that weaponize a victim status drawn solely from immutable, innate traits. Unfortunately, I cannot place full blame on the students either, as they have been indoctrinated with these ideas on the very campus that is now serving as the petri dish for applied postmodernism.

It is no coincidence that, while society outside the walls of campus looks on with disbelief, administrators to this point have been siding with the students. For if they were to repudiate the actions of the students, they would also need to repudiate the ideology with which they have been brainwashing them. In other words, taking a stand against the students would require administrators and professors to re-evaluate the meaning and value of the entire raison d’etre of their adult professional careers. Holding on to madness is a way of forestalling dealing with the grief that comes with the realization that one’s higher purpose has been a fraud. I am not sure of the final outcome, as this kind of process is long, difficult, and very, very painful.

But this internal struggle serves as a microcosm for the larger battle occurring in society between the ideas behind modernism and postmodernism. And the stakes are extremely high. As Weinstein articulated in his Rogan appearance, “Let’s put it this way, I believe at the moment coalitions are unholy alliances between two things. In this case you have the real equity movement, which are people who wish to end oppression, and then you have another movement that wishes to reverse oppression, and they don’t know that they are different because until you reach equity, they are pointing in the same direction.” For the sake of basic humanity and decency, let’s all hope that the Evergreen State affair has finally exposed this vital distinction.

As Bret Weinstein has said, the Evergreen faculty may be more to blame than the students, who probably came to the school not yet indoctrinated by postmodernism, and the Evergreen curriculum is full of it. Regardless, the school needs a thorough shake-up, starting with firing President George Bridges.

 

The latest on Evergreen State College and the demonization of Bret Weinstein

June 11, 2017 • 9:30 am

The fracas at The Evergreen State College (TESC), which I think has permanently ruined its reputation, continues to gain traction in the mainstream media, though most left-wing venues have resolutely ignored the story. (Exceptions are the Washington Post and the New York Times.) I still think this is some kind of turning point that will hurt the reputation of Regressive and Authoritarian Leftists on American campuses, as the videos clearly showed them for the bullying thugs they are.  Before Bret Weinstein was hounded off campus as a “racist” for writing a polite email refusing to vacate the campus on the Day of Absence in favor of black students, hardly anybody knew about TESC. Now a lot more people do, and criticism of the thugs is coming from both the Right and Left, though the Right seizes on the story more readily. That’s a pity, as freedom of speech is a progressive value.

The bullying is particularly odious as Weinstein has a long history of anti-racist work, and is about as far from being a “racist” as you can imagine, But in these days of Purity Tests, a simple email has branded him for life, at least on his own campus. It is the videos more than anything that have shown the students—and the professors who have happily indoctrinated them with postmodern ideas—for what they really are: fascists.

Here’s a new article in The Weekly Standard, a conservative paper: “The whole world was watching“.  An excerpt:

The first of the videos featured the May 23 invasion of Weinstein’s classroom at 9:30 a.m. by about 50 angry students provoked by what they characterized as Weinstein’s racism. He had objected to a college-sponsored Day of Absence on April 10, when white students, faculty, and staff had been encouraged to make themselves scarce on campus. This video was excised from YouTube for violating the site’s “harassment and bullying” policy after protesters complained it had been selectively edited to make them look like harassers and bullies. Fortunately for the curious, the much-copied video [JAC: the link is to a shorter video I found] is available in whole elsewhere on the Internet (the website Heterodox Academy claims to offer a 12-minute “unedited” version) and in snippets on YouTube of a 6-minute interview that Weinstein gave to Fox News’s Tucker Carlson on May 25.

The 12-minute video shows the husky, bearded Weinstein, clad in an outdoorsy-biology-prof black T-shirt, trying patiently to engage the students who have shut down his classroom in a “dialectic,” as he called it. Weinstein later described himself to Carlson as a “deeply progressive person” who had supported socialist-leaning Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primaries. But the Evergreen students captured in the May 23 video were having nothing to do with Weinstein’s attempts to lift the conversation to a high-minded, fancy-word “dialectic” plane:

“This is not a discussion—you lost that one! You said racist s—! Now apologize!”

Weinstein responded: “I did not!”

“Stop telling people of color they’re f— useless! You’re useless!”

“Yeah, resign!” screamed another student.

“Resign!” screamed yet another.

The story is accompanied by a nice cartoon of George Bridges, the invertebrate College President being both cowed and filmed by the thugs who cornered and humiliated him (see video here).

Art by Dave Malin

 

After 58 Evergreen professors and 23 staff signed a “statement of solidarity” with the students, demanding a “disciplinary investigation” of Weinstein, and he and his family were threatened so severely that they had to leave their home, he and his wife Heather Heying, also a biology professor, have received lots of support from outside the College. Yet only a lone professor of biology, Mike Paros,  has issued a statement of support for Weinstein. The story is in the local paper, the Olympian, and you can see it by clicking the screenshot below:

Paros’s letter of support was published in full at The Heterodox Academy; here’s an excerpt from that letter. Like Weinstein, Paros is a brave man:

This is a story of how a Democrat voting veterinarian working with mostly Republican livestock owners became a “bigoted” professor at a left wing progressive liberal arts college.  It is about a collection of professors that are so blinded by their advocacy, that they cannot fathom different viewpoints.  It involves a newly appointed President who believes in ideological safe spaces who endorsed a strategic equity plan that will hurt the very students it is trying to help.

I recently met with a student who was angry that she was told to shut up at a student rally, based solely on the amount of pigment in her skin.  She did not comply, and was called a racist.  I asked her if this bothered her.  She said: “No, because I am not racist.”

To the faculty, too afraid to speak out:  I urge you to walk toward the fire.  After all, if this brave student is a bigot, then I guess I am too.  They are just words.  You will not lose your job, but you might lose your dignity.

The tale is about two men trying to save Evergreen.  One is an absolute coward (Bridges) and the other is an ultimate hero (Weinstein).  Who should be forced to resign?  Weinstein reluctantly went on Fox News, because no other news source would pick up his story.  His excellent op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal followed.  Videos don’t lie, Weinstein’s logic prevailed, and cognitive dissonance set in amongst Evergreen faculty.   This was the first time that I found out that those who watch Tucker Carlson are the “alt-right”.  I should probably tell my family.  Objections were made about whether Weinstein had mischaracterized Day of Absence/Day of Presence as “forcing” white students off campus.  He didn’t, but why would this detail negate everything else that Weinstein wrote?  When one is confronted with truths that contradict closely held beliefs, the mind begins to make outlandish rationalizations.  The faculty email response will someday be used in psychology textbooks as a case study in group thinking.

Then our college President saw his opportunity.  Evergreen administrators sent out ominous notices, labeling “free speech” advocates and persons who simply do not agree with “official” campus opinion as potentially violent.  It was a desperate move, using fear tactics to rally the masses and prevent students from thinking clearly.  This morning was the first time that I was actually nervous coming to campus.  Not because of threats of white supremacists, but because I was worried that someone on campus would think that I might be one of them.  And then we got the alert on campus.  I could see the fear in some of our students faces, as I helped escort a student of color to her dormitory.   Then I decided to stay on campus for a while.  An administrator approached, and asked:  “How did we get to this point?”

I guess safe spaces can be dangerous places.

Note that he accurately calls Bridges an “absolute coward”. I wonder if he’ll leave. I’ve predicted that Weinstein and Heying will, and it’s possible that TESC’s biology department will be gutted.

Finally, a few bits of news:

Evergreen students write letter of support for Weinstein (you can see the full letter here).

A group of 17 students, referring to themselves as Concerned Students of Evergreen, posted an open letter Tuesday condemning The Evergreen State College’s administration and some protesters for their actions and responsibility “in making this campus unsafe and inaccessible.”

“We reject the McCarthy-esque witch-hunting which has taken place,” the letter stated. “Simply crying racist has become sufficient to destroy credibility and empower accusers. This has been accompanied by vigilante action against those dubiously accused of racism, and this behavior has not been reined in by the administration.”

Evergreen faculty holds classes off campus. 

Some students have refused to return to the campus, which has been coping with racial tension and outside threats in recent weeks. In response, several faculty members are using coffee shops, churches — even a community theater — as emergency classrooms and offices, Eltantawi said.

There are faculty and staff members who are worried about their safety too.

Evergreen’s commencement ceremony moved:

The Evergreen State College will move its commencement ceremony to Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium because of safety issues, college officials confirmed Tuesday.

Evergreen traditionally has an outdoor commencement ceremony in its Red Square on campus. [JAC: !!!] Cheney Stadium is about 35 miles from the Olympia campus.

In an email sent to graduating students and faculty obtained by The Olympian in a public records request, college president George Bridges wrote: “Evergreen’s commencement is a celebration of achievement, and a high point of the year for our graduates, their families, and our whole community. In consideration of recent events, and in consultation with the Evergreen Board of Trustees, I have decided we will celebrate commencement at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, on Friday, June 16.

“The stadium is a great, central venue, which is secure and offers plenty of seating and parking to accommodate our community,” Bridges wrote. . .

Bret Weinstein sets up a Patreon account.

I suspect this arose because he wants to tell his story to a wider audience, and of course his family’s financial future is now unclear. As of this morning, there are 180 out of 250 supporters initially envisioned, but I hope there will be more. There are rewards at various levels for contributing, including lectures on evolution. Consider supporting him. An excerpt:

Here’s what you can expect:

The Evergreen story is the tip of a very large and important iceberg. I am quickly going to move off of the details of Evergreen’s absurd descent into madness, and shift to discussing the larger implications for academic institutions, and the breakdown in discourse across civilization that it mirrors.

Many are also telling me that you want to hear deep, evolutionary analysis. My wife and I have been hearing from students for 15 years that this material must be brought into public view, because it is transformative. I don’t believe in fate, but I am a huge fan of serendipity. If you want to know why living things, including humans, are structured as they are and behave the way that they do: Stay tuned. The story is a surprising one, and many Evergreen students have found it revolutionizing of their world view.

Here’s my TEDx talk on the personal responsibility vortex.

Later today I’ll direct you to a nice Quillette piece on the causes and wider implications of the Evergreen State affair.

Hoax or not a hoax? New paper on how “Intersectional quantum feminisms” fight the oppression of Newtonian physics

May 31, 2017 • 11:45 am

Okay, here’s a paper that appeared recently in The Minnesota Review, published out of Duke University. Is it a hoax or not a hoax? I’ll show the title (click on screenshot to go to the paper; the full reference and free link os at bottom), and then give some excerpts. 

First, I read this paper as best I could, but my eyes glazed over at the absolutely horrible postmodern writing, and it was hard to make out the paper’s thesis. Here’s part of the introduction:

I invest in Donna Haraway’s claim that “what counts as an object is precisely what world history turns out to be about” (quoted in Barad 2007, 42); that is, politics are about the hierarchies of what connections, or closenesses, are prioritized as bodily. All bodies are political gatherings, as what is understood as closely related, kin, the measured, congealing intersections of phenomena (social identity, histories, water, particles) considered legible/intelligible/singularized is always a political configuration, with systems and apparatuses (e.g., colonial sciences or clarity fetishism) set up to recognize these prioritized configurations/separations (a “cut together/apart” in Barad’s words [2010, 240]) naturalizing insidious assumptions and hierarchies of value. And so “connect[ing] what’s been dangerously disconnected” (Rich 1987, 214) is directly political. Re/cognizing the connective/constellatory bodies typically not understood as connected (e.g., across disciplines) allows for embellishing alliances not following rules of typically understood closeness or kinship (space, time, social category, eugenic lineage) while also not discounting differing mattering realities (steeped categorizations). And, possibly, deprioritizing particularly naturalized, fetishizing borders has potentials for destabilizing structures that enable hierarchical othering (which justifies sociopolitical oppression and material-discursive violence).

Her thesis seems to be that there is a kind of “quantum feminism” that overcomes the political hegemony of Newtionian physics, which itself is somehow ideologically unpalatable because it emphasizes the “binary” and thus creates “othering”, sexism, and similar us/them distinctions:

One of the most prominent and guiding sciences of that time was classical Newtonian physics, which identifies separated beings and absolute differences between particles and waves, space and time. This structural thinking of individualized separatism with binary and absolute differences as the basis for how the universe works seeped into/poured over/ is embedded in many structures of classification, which understand similarity and difference in the world, imposed in many hierarchical and exploitative organizational structures, whether through gender, life/nonlife, national borders, and so on.

Throughout the paper she uses quantum metaphors as well as the word “linearity”, applying them improperly to her view on gender politics. But somehow quantum mechanics is the key to unlocking oppression:

I refer to these allying strategies as a constellatory body called “quantum feminisms.” Hopefully, this locating-as-body can enflame some political closenesses that help shift apparatuses, allowing for energy, time, love, concentration to disperse and gather differently. That is, serve as a decent coalition, a relevant apparatus enabling conditions possible for thinking/mattering innovative transformative antioppression practices and helpful semantic/teleological tools and for checking the political salience of structures in work toward accountable, anti-oppressive transformation. I hope to unpack and highlight connectivities in which these quantum feminist posthuman tools can be explicitly relevant to anti-oppression struggles.

Look at this horrible writing! How can anybody stand to read it?

This is where the threat within feminist new materialisms gathers, as it works specifically to obstruct the abstract/material binary through (re)cognizing that which is considered metaphysical as also having mat(t)er(ial), agential intra-action. In operating away from ideas of abstraction and into materialization, teleological/metaphysical bodies/structures/phenomena/forces are acknowledged/intelligible as matter(ing), as spatializing materiality, systems, gatherings, technologies, prostheses, conglomerates becoming and holding space in/with/ through/among bodies a re-cognition I signify as metaphysicality.

I could go on and on. A few more bits should give you the bitter flavor of this piece, though perhaps not the meaning. Here she throws in “epigenetics,” a biological term:

It is not that a quantum understanding is opposed to identity politics but that it exactly operates with these differences, these concentrations. That is, metaphysical bodies are and can be recognized as differing constellations of closeness, alliance, and energy formation (agential cuts), and with this they are in mattering, diffractive, intraactive relations with the biopolitics of understood-as human bodies, racializations, affectivities. Identity works on a quantum level, it is not immaterial; neither are the spatializing bodies of history, stigma, economics, microphilia, and epigenetics.

And one more with a science-y flavor. I WANT YOU TO READ THESE!

In quantum understanding, these [strategies “need to end all forms of violence”] take familiar forms. These intersubjective, less hierarchical organizing structures are “a performance of spacetime (re)configurings . . . more akin to how electrons experience the world than any journey narrated through rhetorical forms that presume actors move along trajectories across a stage of spacetime” (Barad 2010, 240). They are intra-connective assemblages of gathering and degathering, diffracting, quantum (leaping) political constellations; quantum alliances. And the power in that is exactly what would threaten Western, Cartesian scientific systems of legitimacy and value (binary thinking, taxonomy, what have you). These intentional quantum-style political strategies that emerge, gather, and disperse, in which energy/people are in multiple movements/moments at once, exchange, have wavelike properties, simultaneously embed themselves as illegible to traditionalized subject-based understandings. And thus they are not legible in these understandings’ systems of authentification.

What is this annoying playing with words, with hyphening and neologizing? Is this the postmodernist “jouer” (playing) with words? Whatever it is, it’s damn annoying, and makes Stark’s paper very difficult to read. The science stuff, of course, is bullpucky, just a misuse of physics terms that Alan Sokal has decried so loudly.

I suspect her entire thesis could have been put into a single paragraph, but then it wouldn’t have been a whole paper. The point is so buried in garbage that I’m not sure there is a point. And that leads me to ask you:

IS THIS A HOAX PAPER OR NOT?

Answer below the fold (click on “read more”)

_______

Stark, W. 2017. Assembled bodies: reconfiguring quantum identities“. The Minnesota Review 2017 (88): 69-82. doi: 10.1215/00265667-3787402

Continue reading “Hoax or not a hoax? New paper on how “Intersectional quantum feminisms” fight the oppression of Newtonian physics”

Is this paper a hoax or not a hoax? You be the judge!

May 29, 2017 • 2:00 pm

Okay, here’s a 2006 paper from the International Journal of Evidence Based Healthcare that calls for a questioning of the need for evidence. The journal is from Wiley, a reputable publisher, but have a look at the paper (click on screenshot to go to it):

A few excerpts:

From the abstract:

Background Drawing on the work of the late French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari, the objective of this paper is to demonstrate that the evidence-based movement in the health sciences is outrageously exclusionary and dangerously normative with regards to scientific knowledge. As such, we assert that the evidence-based movement in health sciences constitutes a good example of microfascism at play in the contemporary scientific arena.

Objective The philosophical work of Deleuze and Guattari proves to be useful in showing how health sciences are colonised (territorialised) by an all-encompassing scientific research paradigm – that of post-positivism – but also and foremost in showing the process by which a dominant ideology comes to exclude alternative forms of knowledge, therefore acting as a fascist structure.

Conclusion The Cochrane Group, among others, has created a hierarchy that has been endorsed by many academic institutions, and that serves to (re)produce the exclusion of certain forms of research. Because ‘regimes of truth’ such as the evidence-based movement currently enjoy a privileged status, scholars have not only a scientific duty, but also an ethical obligation to deconstruct these regimes of power.

and

It is becoming increasingly evident that an unvarying, uniform language – an ossifying discourse – is being mandated in a number of faculties of health sciences where the dominant paradigm of EBHS has achieved hegemony.14 This makes it difficult for scholars to express new and different ideas in an intellectual circle where normalisation and standardisation are privileged in the development of knowledge. The critical individual must then resort to resistance strategies in front of such hegemonic discourses within which there is little freedom for expressing unconventional thoughts.

Rather than risk being alienated from their colleagues, many scientists find themselves interpellated by hegemonic discourses and come to disregard all others. Unfortunately, privileging a single discourse (evidence-based medicine (EBM)) situated within a single scientific paradigm (postpositivism) confines the researcher to a yoke of exactly reproducing the established order. To a large degree, the dominant discourse represents the ladder of success in academic and research milieus where it establishes itself as a weapon used against those who praise the freedom of scientific inquiry and the free debate of ideas. When only one discursive formation (EBM) finds itself on the discursive terrain (health sciences), academics and researchers constitute a united community whose ways of speaking and thinking thwart both creativity and plurality in the name of efficiency and effectiveness.

We believe that EBM, which saturates health sciences discourses, constitutes an ossified language that maps the landscape of the professional disciplines as a whole. Accordingly, we believe that a postmodernist critique of this prevailing mode of thinking is indispensable.

and

The mastery of scientific Newspeak is, for the most part, a regurgitation of prefabricated formulas (buzz words or catch words) that is informed by a single, powerful lexicon. This new guide book of scientific vocabulary, including terms connected with EBM (e.g. systematic literature review, knowledge transfer, best practices, champions, etc.), is taken seriously in the realm of health sciences, so much so that it is considered vital as a reflection of ‘real science’. The classification of scientific evidence as proposed by the Cochrane Group thus constitutes not only a powerful mechanism of exclusion for some types of knowledge, it also acts as an organising structure for knowledge and a mechanism of ideological reinforcement for the dominant scientific paradigm. In that sense, it obeys a fascist logic

Hoax or not? See beneath the fold.

Continue reading “Is this paper a hoax or not a hoax? You be the judge!”

Calvin and Hobbes and Cultural Studies

May 28, 2017 • 8:30 am

There’s been lots of pushback against Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay’s “conceptual penis” paper hoax, in which they submitted a meaningless (but ideologically correct) paper to the journal Cogent Social Sciences, where it was published. The main defenses are that the journal was a “pay to publish” open-access journal, and that one hoax by itself doesn’t prove that the entire fields of cultural and gender studies are afflicted with creeping obscurantism. Well, every journal I’ve ever published in has charged me (“page charges”, they’re called), and the second criticism is true, but there are plenty of other reasons to decry the way cultural studies have gone in universities (see here for a defense; others are on the way). A few people, whom I won’t name, have been driven into unhinged rage at the hoax, emailing and tweeting at Peter (and me!) repeatedly.

I won’t speak of this further now, but let an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon stand for what many think:

h/t: Barry

A humanities scholar rebuts criticisms of the “conceptual penis” paper

May 21, 2017 • 10:30 am

“At a time when superstitions, obscurantism and nationalist and religious fanaticism are spreading in many parts of the world – including the ‘developed’ West – it is irresponsible, to say the least, to treat with such casualness what has historically been the principal defense against these follies, namely a rational vision of the world… [F]or all those of us who identify with the political left, postmodernism has specific negative consequences. First of all, the extreme focus on language and the elitism linked to the use of a pretentious jargon contribute to enclosing intellectuals in sterile debates and to isolating them from social movements taking place outside their ivory tower… Second, the persistence of confused ideas and obscure discourses in some parts of the left tends to discredit the entire left; and the right does not pass up the opportunity to exploit this connection demagogically.”

That is a quote from the book Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science (1999) by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, written three years after Sokal’s famous “hoax paper” was published in the journal Social Text.  The quote shows the danger that postmodern scholarship in the humanities and “cultural studies” pose not only to science, but to the entire Progressive Left.

That quote appears in a new paper in  Areo Magazine by Helen Pluckrose: “Sokal affair 2.0: Penis envy: addressing its critics“. Pluckrose is identified as “a researcher in the humanities who focuses on late medieval/early modern religious writing for and about women. She is critical of postmodernism and cultural constructivism which she sees as currently dominating the humanities.” She certainly has the credibility, and the chops, to assess the “conceptual penis” paper published only two days ago by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay (B&L).

As you probably know, B&L’s paper, accepted and published by the journal Cogent Social Sciences, was a Sokal-ian hoax: a mishmash of jargon from gender studies written to demonstrate the low academic standards of some areas of the humanities, and exposing the willingness of those infected with postmodernism to promote “scholarship” congenial to their ideology. I wrote about the B&L paper on this site, and won’t go into its substance (or rather “non-substance”).  Nor will I rebut the many Regressive Leftist critics of that paper, for that’s what Pluckrose ably does in her Areo piece. You can find those criticisms everywhere simply by Googling “Boghossian Lindsay hoax”, and there’s a fair amount of criticism  in the comments following my original post.

I’ll list the five criticisms of B&L listed and dismantled by Pluckrose, giving one quote from her paper (indented) and adding a few comments of my own at the end. The bullet points are taken directly from her article; do read it to see her rebuttals. I’ve left out summaries of her rebuttals because I want you to see them in the paper,

  • The hoax isn’t really a hoax because it makes a good argument. 

 

  • The hoax targeted a bad journal which does not represent gender studies. Here’s part of Pluckrose’s response:

In stark contradiction to the criticism above, many defenders of gender studies have claimed that Cogent Social Sciences is widely known to be a bad journal and more reputable ones would not have taken it seriously. The problem with that is that it is listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), the Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI), the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS), Academic Search Ultimate (EBSCO), ProQuest Social Science Journals, the British Library, Cabell’s International and many more of the largest indices. It is not highlighted as a problem in the much-relied upon Beall’s list of predatory journals and was recommended to Lindsay and Boghossian by the NORMA journal. It is part of the highly-regarded Taylor & Francis Group which confirms that Cogent offers thorough scholarly peer review and has all the “traditional values and high standards associated with Taylor & Francis and Routledge at its core.”

Even more significantly (and as shown by the first criticism), the language and “argument” of the hoax piece is indistinguishable from sincere gender studies publications from a range of academic journals. The Twitter account New Real Peer Review, which is dedicated to highlighting ludicrous theses, spent much of the day demonstrating this.

Pluckrose then gives links from that Twitter site to real academic papers. I’ve highlighted some on my own site over the last year, including papers on the white supremacy instantiated by Halloween pumpkins, feminist glaciology, the racism of Pilates, and the “otherness” of introduced squirrels. Lest you think these are an unrepresentative sample of a large and solid scholarly literature, the “Real Peer Review” site had highlighted over 1000 ludicrous papers in only four months, and, about a year ago, offended scholars had that account briefly shut down after threatening to expose its author, who feared retaliation simply for calling attention to bizarre and shoddy publications. It’s now back up, and you should follow it.

More criticisms rebutted by Pluckrose:

  • The hoax is a one-off and proves nothing.

 

  • The hoax is just another attack on the humanities/ Social Science by science.

 

  • The hoax was transphobic and sexist.

I’ll add just a few remarks of my own. First, those who respond by saying that over a thousand articles, of which B&L’s is one, are all cherry picked from a body of substantive and meaningful scholarship, then assume the onus of demonstrating that culture and gender studies really have produced a substantive body of knowledge compared to the time and money invested in research and writing. The critics haven’t done any such thing; they’ve merely attacked B&L for cherry picking. There is ample evidence, documented for in Sokal and Bricmont’s book—and Gross and Levitt’s 1994 book Higher Superstitionthat much research in this area is trivial, obscurantist, and serves only to advance the careers of academics. The “cherry picking” claim resembles that of theologians, who say that a few examples of “bad theology” aren’t sufficient to discredit a body of work whose “best examples” are ignored. Having read a reasonable amount of theology, I’ve found this argument specious, and suspect, based on what reading I’ve done in academic humanities, that the same speciousness is true for claims in some areas of academic humanities. Again, I emphasize that much of the humanities is worthwhile: a boon to our species. But the trendy sort infected by postmodernism is a rotten edifice.

Finally, I find it amusing that those who implicitly defend cultural and gender studies by attacking B&L’s paper are often the same people who attack evolutionary psychology as a worthless discipline, despite the fact that evo psych has produced considerable insights into human behavior—far more insights, I suspect, than have been produced by postmodernist humanities scholars.

h/t: Grania

A new academic hoax: a bogus paper on “the conceptual penis” gets published in a “high quality peer-reviewed” social science journal

May 19, 2017 • 4:06 pm

It’s been 21 years since physicist Alan Sokal submitted a bogus paper to a special “Science Wars” issue of the cultural studies journal Social Text. His paper, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity“, maintained that quantum gravity was a social construct, using many bizarre quotes from postmodern scholars to make its case. Almost immediately after the paper was published, Sokal revealed it was a hoax in an article in Lingua Franca.

The “Sokal Affair” inspired a lot of debate, as well as accusations that Sokal himself was unethical in submitting the paper, but I thought it made its point superbly: much of the social sciences and “culture studies” in academia is intellectually vacuous—a repository for dumb ideas couched in bad prose.

Now we have another hoax: a piece on the “conceptual penis” published in the journal Cogent Social Sciences, self described as “a multidisciplinary open access journal offering high quality peer review across the social sciences: from law to sociology, politics to geography, and sport to communication studies. Connect your research with a global audience for maximum readership and impact.”

Here’s the article; click on the screenshot below to see it in the journal (though it will probably be removed very quickly!). The paper has, however, been archived, and you can find it here.

Have a gander!:

Like the Sokal paper before it, this one also deals with social constructs, but this time the construct is  “the conceptual penis”: a transformation of the male genital apparatus into a social meme that is harmful to nearly everyone.  You can read the paper for yourselves, and I recommend it so you can see how low the standards of some humanities journals are (this paper, unlike Sokal’s, was peer reviewed by two scholars). Here are a few choice bits:

Still, even as a social construct, the conceptual penis is hopelessly dominated by recalcitrant social constructions that favor hypermasculine interpretations of the penis as a notion unjustly associated with high male value (Schwalbe & Wolkomir, 2001). Many cisgendered hypermasculine males, for instance, seem to identify those aspects of their masculinity upon which they most obviously depend with the notion that they carry their penis as a symbol of male power, domination, control, capability, desirability, and aggression (The National Coalition for Men “compile[d] a list of synonyms for the word penis [sic],” these include the terms “beaver basher,” “cranny axe,” “custard launcher,” “dagger,” “heat-seeking moisture missile,” “mayo shooting hotdog gun,” “pork sword,” and “yogurt shotgun” [2011]). Based upon an appreciable corpus of feminist literature on the penis, this troubling identification results in an effective isomorphism linking the conceptual penis with toxic hypermasculinity.

But wait! There’s more!

Nowhere more does this problematic construction compare than with the “hegemonic masculinity and cultural construction” presented in the “essence of the hard-on” (Potts, 2000). Potts (2000) illustrates that the functioning (or lack thereof) of the [conceptual] penis “demonstrates the inscription on individual male bodies of a coital imperative: the surface of the male body interfuses with culture to produce the ‘fiction’ of a dysfunctional nonpenetrative male (hetero)sexuality.” This is clear power-dynamical repositioning to alleviate the internal psychological struggle of weakness via hypermasculinity and an essential fear of weakness that characterizes hypermasculinity itself. We therefore further agree with Potts that “by relinquishing the penis’s executive position in sex, male bodies might become differently inscribed, and coded for diverse pleasures beyond the phallus/penis,” and we insist that understanding the objective isomorphic mapping between phallus and (conceptual) penis is a necessary discursive element to changing the prevailing penile social paradigm. The constructed intersection of the anatomical penis and the performative conceptual penis defines the problematic relationship masculinity presents for male bodies and their impacts upon women in our pre-post-patriarchal societies.

And this is my favorite part:

2.2. Climate change and the conceptual penis

Nowhere are the consequences of hypermasculine machismo braggadocio isomorphic identification with the conceptual penis more problematic than concerning the issue of climate change. Climate change is driven by nothing more than it is by certain damaging themes in hypermasculinity that can be best understood via the dominant rapacious approach to climate ecology identifiable with the conceptual penis. Our planet is rapidly approaching the much-warned-about 2°C climate change threshold, and due to patriarchal power dynamics that maintain present capitalist structures, especially with regard to the fossil fuel industry, the connection between hypermasculine dominance of scientific, political, and economic discourses and the irreparable damage to our ecosystem is made clear.

Destructive, unsustainable hegemonically male approaches to pressing environmental policy and action are the predictable results of a raping of nature by a male-dominated mindset. This mindset is best captured by recognizing the role of the conceptual penis holds over masculine psychology. When it is applied to our natural environment, especially virgin environments that can be cheaply despoiled for their material resources and left dilapidated and diminished when our patriarchal approaches to economic gain have stolen their inherent worth, the extrapolation of the rape culture inherent in the conceptual penis becomes clear. At best, climate change is genuinely an example of hyper-patriarchal society metaphorically manspreading into the global ecosystem.

The reveal. Who are these scalawags who perpetrated this hoax? Well, “Peter Boyle” is none other than philosopher Peter Boghossian, and “Jamie Lindsay” is Peter’s frequent collaborator James Lindsay. And, like Sokal, they’ve revealed and explained their hoax in a paper at the Skeptic Magazine site called “‘The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct’: A Sokal-style Hoax on Gender Studies“. Here’s how Peter and James start their reveal:

“The androcentric scientific and meta-scientific evidence that the penis is the male reproductive organ is considered overwhelming and largely uncontroversial.”

That’s how we began. We used this preposterous sentence to open a “paper” consisting of 3,000 words of utter nonsense posing as academic scholarship. Then a peer-reviewed academic journal in the social sciences accepted and published it.

This paper should never have been published. Titled, “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct,” our paper “argues” that “The penis vis-à-vis maleness is an incoherent construct. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a gender-performative, highly fluid social construct.” As if to prove philosopher David Hume’s claim that there is a deep gap between what is and what ought to be, our should-never-have-been-published paper was published in the open-access (meaning that articles are freely accessible and not behind a paywall), peer-reviewed journal Cogent Social Sciences.

Assuming the pen names “Jamie Lindsay” and “Peter Boyle,” and writing for the fictitious “Southeast Independent Social Research Group,” we wrote an absurd paper loosely composed in the style of post-structuralist discursive gender theory. The paper was ridiculous by intention, essentially arguing that penises shouldn’t be thought of as male genital organs but as damaging social constructions. We made no attempt to find out what “post-structuralist discursive gender theory” actually means. We assumed that if we were merely clear in our moral implications that maleness is intrinsically bad and that the penis is somehow at the root of it, we could get the paper published in a respectable journal.

This already damning characterization of our hoax understates our paper’s lack of fitness for academic publication by orders of magnitude. We didn’t try to make the paper coherent; instead, we stuffed it full of jargon (like “discursive” and “isomorphism”), nonsense (like arguing that hypermasculine men are both inside and outside of certain discourses at the same time), red-flag phrases (like “pre-post-patriarchal society”), lewd references to slang terms for the penis, insulting phrasing regarding men (including referring to some men who choose not to have children as being “unable to coerce a mate”), and allusions to rape (we stated that “manspreading,” a complaint levied against men for sitting with their legs spread wide, is “akin to raping the empty space around him”). After completing the paper, we read it carefully to ensure it didn’t say anything meaningful, and as neither one of us could determine what it is actually about, we deemed it a success.

That last sentence is a doozy, and is so true for the field at issue. What does it say that two reviewers were taken in by this? If the authors didn’t understand what they were saying, how could the reviewers? The reviewers didn’t even check the references, as fully a quarter of them were complete fakes: references to nonexistent journals and papers. One referee even said the references were “sound”! Finally, a bit of their rationale; why did Boghossian and Lindsay do this?

Sokal exposed an infatuation with academic puffery that characterizes the entire project of academic postmodernism. Our aim was smaller yet more pointed. We intended to test the hypothesis that flattery of the academic Left’s moral architecture in general, and of the moral orthodoxy in gender studies in particular, is the overwhelming determiner of publication in an academic journal in the field. That is, we sought to demonstrate that a desire for a certain moral view of the world to be validated could overcome the critical assessment required for legitimate scholarship. Particularly, we suspected that gender studies is crippled academically by an overriding almost-religious belief that maleness is the root of all evil. On the evidence, our suspicion was justified.

Well, you can read the rest of Peter and James’s explanation. Was it ethical to fool a journal this way? I think so—especially if the journal takes the article down. Further, it makes a point far more important than any paper in that journal: it shows that over the past 21 years since Sokal’s hoax, the social sciences remain rife with obscurantist nonsense—an academic miasma. Of course, not all people or areas in social science or the humanities are full of such nonsense, but cultural studies, including women’s studies, are particularly prone to the toxic combination of jargon and ideology that makes for such horrible “scholarship.”

Yes, 21 years on and cultural studies are just as bad as ever—or worse. I’m so glad I spent my career in science, where you can’t fob off craziness so easily—and hoaxes or made-up stuff inevitably gets found out.

A reader defends the otherization and gender-shaming of squirrels

May 10, 2017 • 9:00 am

A reader who identifies himself as Bradley Levinson sent a comment about my article “More academic madness: Published feminist analysis of squirrel diets and reproduction shows that squirrels, like marginalized human groups, are otherized, gendered, and fat-shamed, ” which analyzed a truly ludicrous piece of feminist “scholarship” published in the journal Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography. Levinson’s comment, like the paper he defends, is unintentionally hilarious, but it also made me realize that this kind of postmodernist nonsense can both accrue and delude followers—just like theology! Indeed, there are many parallels between theology and postmodern humanities work, but I won’t go into them here. (One, of course, is that its adherents claim that you must be an expert in the field to say anything about it.)

The humor starts with the second word, and I’ve reproduced the comment without changing a letter:

This blog entry ridiculing a study of squirrels, place, and gender, and Practically everyone commenting on this blog, have shown their manifest and abject ignorance. You demonstrate that you haven’t the least understanding of peer-reviewed scholarship in legitimate specialized fields of study. Why would you expect to understand or appreciate a sensitive study communicated according to the rhetorical conventions of its own field? You would never make the same demands of a highly technical paper in mathematics or medicine, so why do you insist on lowbrow accessibility in this case? This is a very good journal!

Feminist geography is a field that examines how uses of space and place by human beings intersect with the broader ecological web of our existence. Yes, there is a focus on how power infuses our use of space and place, often to the detriment of the dignity of women and other marginalized beings.

Dr. Lloro-Bidart provides us with a fresh and provocative look at the complex intersection between 2 squirrel species,the humanly modified landscape, and common cultural discourses. This is a highly imaginative piece–urging us to consider new connections that might have escaped our notice before.

You should all be ashamed of yourselves for these ad hominem attacks on a scholar of stellar reputation. Don’t you have something better to do with your time than snipe at those whose ideas challenge you out of your comfortable orthodoxies? Do something positive. Get a life!

Does this need a response? Mine would be brief: although the field of study may be “legitimate” (whatever that means), the paper at issue is a ludicrous specimen of research in any field, and you don’t have to be a specialist to know that. Peer-review means nothing in a field where “scholarship” consists of verifying your preordained conclusions and couching them in impenetrable jargon. Unlike math and medicine, the layperson can perfectly well figure out what the Squirrel Paper was about. As for the journal being “very good,” well, examine it for yourself. I for one was not impressed, and although not all the papers are as dire as Squirrel Paper, there is little in the journal that I see as a lasting contribution to the knowledge of our species. The “rhetorical conventions” consist of bad writing larded with words like “otherize” and “intersectional”.

As for “our comfortable orthodoxies,” I am happy with my orthodoxy, which demands evidence rather than anecdotes, an unwillingness to buttress preconceived ideas and those of one’s peers for the sake of ideological conformity (or to engage in confirmation bias), and abjures ridiculously convoluted writing.

The rest of the comment shows that Mr. Levinson, having already drunk the Kool-Aid, is beyond redemption. There is no piece of postmodern scholarship, no matter how silly, that won’t be defended by an outraged acolyte. (Or, as in the case of Judith Butler, many acolytes.)

As for ad hominem attacks, I simply recounted Dr. Lloro-Bidart’s conclusions and mocked most of them. I did not say, “This paper is bad because the author beat her dog.” Levinson needs to learn the meaning of “ad hominem”! I went after the arguments, not the person—though of course the person constructed the arguments. To that degree, one can say that she is wasting her time with fatuous “research.” If that is ad hominem argumentation, I plead guilty!