As readers to the Pursuit of Happiness blog know, one of your humble author’s trigger points is shoddy, if not downright deceitful, scholarship. Especially when said scholarship is the basis for making rules and regulations that have an effect on our daily lives.
But the real problem with bad scholarship is a little simpler, and frankly scarier. We are the dumber for it. Remember the Brawndo scene in “Idiocracy”? Well, that’s what’s happening far too often in our state-supported (and private) institutions of higher learning.
Three, not right wing, professors decided to see if they could punk the Educational Establishment with bogus research papers. And you know what? They succeeded.
An academic journal named Gender, Place & Culture published a peer-reviewed paper last May whose author claimed to have spent a year studying the rape culture in Portland, OR dog parks. Not human rape culture, but canine rape culture.
The paper claims dog parks are “petri dishes for canine ‘rape culture’ ” and issues “a call for awareness into the different ways dogs are treated on the basis of their gender and queering behaviors, and the chronic and perennial rape emergency dog parks pose to female dogs.”
Ummm. OK? Dog parks are places that female dogs can get raped. Gotcha. This is insane!
In fact, the paper was so out there that a journalist with the Wall Street Journal started sniffing around. The first thing Jillian Kay Melchior did was to do a quick search on the paper’s purported author, a woman named Helen Wilson. Ms. Wilson claimed to have a doctorate in feminist studies, but none of the institutions that offer a PhD-level program had a record of her attending or graduating.
Jillian Kay Melchior decided to email Helen Wilson, only to receive a reply from James Lindsay, a math doctorate and one of the real co-authors of the dog-park study. He and his two collaborators -- Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University, and Helen Pluckrose, a London-based scholar of English literature and history and editor of AreoMagazine.com--admitted to punking Gender, Place & Culture, along with half a dozen OTHER publications.
Wow. Seven academic journals got fooled into publishing bogus scholarship. These papers were peer-reviewed, which should really scare you.
Dr. Lindsay and his friends describe themselves as left-leaning, and they had become dismayed with how scholarship has devolved into “grievance studies”, rather than true study. “I think that certain aspects of knowledge production in the United States have been corrupted,” Mr. Boghossian says. Anyone who questions research on identity, privilege and oppression risks accusations of bigotry.
We’ve seen this recently where a couple of mathematics journals pulled a couple of statistical studies on intelligence distribution in males and females, because the journals felt they smacked of racism and sexism. Statistical studies. Looking at numbers.
The trio decided that enough was enough, so starting in August of 2017, they wrote 20 hoax papers, submitting them to peer-reviewed journals under a variety of pseudonyms, as well as the name of their friend Richard Baldwin, a professor emeritus at Florida’s Gulf Coast State College. Mr. Baldwin confirms he gave them permission use his name. Journals accepted seven hoax papers. Four have been published.
Folks, they had a 35% hit rate on peer-reviewed papers. That’s pretty exceptional.
This kind of hoaxing is unethical, but Lindsey, Boghossian, and Pluckrose defended themselves saying that it was the only way they could do immersive research into this culture of grievance studies.
Each paper “combined an effort to better understand the field itself with an attempt to get absurdities and morally fashionable political ideas published as legitimate academic research,” Mr. Lindsay wrote in a project summary. Their elaborate submissions cited and quoted dozens of real papers and studies to bolster the hoax arguments.
Let me translate that for you—the papers’ authors picked an incredibly absurd topic, and then used stuff that had been actually published for real, to support the bogus claims.
What are some example of the bogus papers, you may ask.
One of the trio’s hoax papers, published in April by the journal Fat Studies, claims bodybuilding is “fat-exclusionary” and proposes “a new classification . . . termed fat bodybuilding, as a fat-inclusive politicized performance.” Editor Esther Rothblum said the paper had gone through peer review, and the author signed a copyright form verifying authorship of the article. “This author put a lot of work into this topic,” she said. “It is an interesting topic, looking at weight and bodybuilding. So I am surprised that, of all things, they’d write this as a hoax. As you can imagine, this is a very serious charge.” She plans to remove the paper from the Fat Studies website.
A hoax paper for the Journal of Poetry Therapy describes monthly feminist spirituality meetings, complete with a “womb room,” and discusses six poems, which Mr. Lindsay generated by algorithm and lightly edited. Founding editor Nicholas Mazza said the article went through blind peer review and revisions before its acceptance in July, but he regrets not doing more to verify the author’s identity. He added that it took years to build credibility and get the Journal of Poetry Therapy listed in major scholarly databases. “You work so hard, and you get something like this,” he said. Still, “I can see how editors like me and journals can be duped.”
Affilia, a peer-reviewed journal of women and social work, formally accepted the trio’s hoax paper, “Our Struggle Is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism.” The second portion of the paper is a rewrite of a chapter from “Mein Kampf.” Affilia’s editors declined to comment.
Holy crap! They rewrote a chapter of “Mein Kampf” as part of a feminist philosophy, and these over-educated, indoctrinated morons of editors didn’t even notice?
The authors of these hoax papers have a point about scholarship being so transformed as to be almost meaningless. Earlier in 2018, the Gender, Place & Culture journal published a serious study on the “feminist posthumanist politics” of what squirrels eat. Hypatia, a journal of feminist philosophy, published an analysis of a one-woman show featuring “the onstage cooking of hot chocolate and the presence of a dead rat.” This was supposed to represent a portrait of poverty and its psychological fallout. Huh?
Lindsey, Boghassian, and Pluckrose point to the fact that their papers all sailed through peer-review, acceptance, and publication, despite having serious problems, as supporting their hypothesis that scholarship has been replaced with “grievance studies.”
In the dog park rape culture paper, for example, the data presented was so outlandish that it should have been requested by the editors to be examined by others. It was not.
Another paper submitted to Hypatia proposed a teaching method based on “experiential reparations”. It suggested that professors rate students’ levels of oppression based on race, gender, class and other identity categories. Students deemed “privileged” would be kept from commenting in class, interrupted when they did speak, and “invited” to “sit on the floor” or “to wear (light) chains around their shoulders, wrists or ankles for the duration of the course.” Students who complained would be told that this “educational tool” helps them confront “privileged fragility.”
The two people who reviewed that paper actually thought these were good ideas. One commented “I like this project very much,” one commented. Another wondered how to make privileged students “feel genuinely uncomfortable in ways that are humbling and productive,” but not “so uncomfortable (shame) that they resist with renewed vigor.”
To its credit, after the peer review, Hypatia didn’t accept this paper. However, it did accept another hoax paper entitled “When the Joke Is on You: A Feminist Perspective on How Positionality Influences Satire”—an argument that humor, satire and hoaxes should only be used in service of social justice, not against it.
I’m glad these three decided to show up the grievance culture, but there will be fallout for them. Dr. Boghassian says that he’s pretty sure he won’t get tenure and Portland State will probably fire him. Ms. Pluckrose says she probably won’t get accepted into a doctoral program; and Dr. Lindsey expects to become an “academic pariah”, and not be considered for professorships or publications.
Yet they all say the consequences will be worth it. As Dr. Lindsey says “For us, the risk of letting biased research continue to influence education, media, policy and culture is far greater than anything that will happen to us for having done this.”
This is bravery folks. More power to them.
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