Thursday, October 04, 2018

Sokal hoax redux

I've talked about the Sokal hoax from the mid-1990s before; it's a joke that never gets old, as far as I'm concerned, because it demonstrates the idiocy of a certain postmodernist wing of academe, which is rife with sloppy thinking and utterly unworthy of the label "academic."

Well, everyone's been buzzing about the latest prank to be pulled on humanities academe. You can read about it here. An excerpt:

The existence of a monthly journal focused on “feminist geography” is a sign of something gone awry in academia. The journal in question—Gender, Place & Culture—published a paper online in May whose author claimed to have spent a year observing canine sexual misconduct in Portland, Ore., parks.

The author admits that “my own anthropocentric frame” makes it difficult to judge animal consent. Still, 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.”

The paper was ridiculous enough to pique my interest—and rouse my skepticism, which grew in July with a report in Campus Reform by Toni Airaksinen. Author Helen Wilson had claimed to have a doctorate in feminist studies, but “none of the institutions that offers such a degree could confirm that she had graduated from their program,” Ms. Airaksinen wrote. In August Gender, Place & Culture issued an “expression of concern” admitting it couldn’t verify Ms. Wilson’s identity, though it kept the paper on its website.

All of this prompted me to ask my own questions. My email to “Helen Wilson” was answered by James Lindsay, a math doctorate and one of the real co-authors of the dog-park study. Gender, Place & Culture had been duped, he admitted. So had half a dozen other prominent journals that accepted fake papers by Mr. Lindsay and his 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

The three academics call themselves “left-leaning liberals.” Yet they’re dismayed by what they describe as a “grievance studies” takeover of academia, especially its encroachment into the sciences. “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.

Beginning in August 2017, the trio 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.


The trio say they’ve proved that higher ed’s fixation on identity politics enables “absurd and horrific” scholarship. Their submissions were outlandish—but no more so, they insist, than others written in earnest and published by these journals.

Idiots. And the revelation of this much stupidity dishonors those in academia who actually do work hard and are rigorous thinkers—people who actually earned their degrees. The point this time around, though, is the extent to which a concept like "grievance studies" has become a mind-virus in academe. The prank teaches a harsh lesson: confirmation bias is a bitch, and if you're not careful, it'll fuck you in the ass every time. What I find alarming is that science has been one of the few bastions to remain relatively unaffected by all this ambient nonsense, but the rot has begun to creep even into the closest thing we have to the pursuit of objective truth. That's alarming. Mark Steyn recently wrote that "Identity politics makes moron cultures of formerly sophisticated societies." Amen. When you're fixated on a scientist's supposedly sexist tee shirt and not on his recent discoveries, just know you're a fucking moron.


King Baeksu said...

Other academics respond over at the ever-excellent Quillette:

Charles said...

Appreciate the excerpt--apparently WSJ wants a subscription to read the full article.