University to Punish Professor For Showing What a Joke Academia Has Become
Last year, it was revealed that Professor Peter Boghossian, Areo editor Helen Pluckrose, and mathematician James Lindsay had embarked on a clever hoax to see if prominent academic journals would publish their nonsense studies promoting identity politics. The goal was to prove that academia’s desperate shift to the left has resulted in a lowering of standards to such a degree that the “gatekeepers” will literally release any study whose conclusions support theories of intersectionalism, postmodernism, and other forms of cutting-edge leftist thought.
And boy, did they prove it.
Their efforts were worryingly successful. The journal Fat Studies, for instance, published a hoax paper that argued the term bodybuilding was exclusionary and should be replaced with “fat bodybuilding, as a fat-inclusive politicized performance.” Another fake, “Our Struggle Is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism,” was accepted by Affilia, a journal for social workers. The paper consisted in part of a rewritten passage from Mein Kampf.
Two other hoax papers were published, including “Rape Culture and Queer Performativity at Urban Dog Parks.” This one caught my eye last June. I mistakenly presumed that it was real: Though many of its conclusions were patently absurd, and the subject—dog-on-dog rape—quite curious, it did not strike me as impossible that a weirdly obsessed and determined researcher could in fact visit dog parks and count the number of canine sexual assaults she witnessed.
The paper on dog sexuality resulted in the hoax ending prematurely; an intrepid Wall Street Journal writer decided that the paper was simply too ridiculous, even for the left, and discovered that Boghossian and his friends were actually submitting fake papers just to see if they would be published.
The exercise was extraordinarily valuable, in that it demonstrated an alarming willingness on the part of journal editors to look the other way when presented with outlandish studies that nonetheless confirm deeply-held ideological biases. But…since the academic world is no doubt embarrassed and chagrined to be called out on this fact, it is perhaps inevitable that repercussions would follow.
This week, Portland State University Vice President Mike McLellan emailed Boghossian to know that his behavior was now being investigated by the Institutional Review Board.
“Your efforts to conduct human subjects research at PSU without a submitted nor approved protocol is a clear violation of the policies of your employer,” wrote McLellan.
They are attempting to penalize (and perhaps fire) Boghossian for violating an ethical rule that mandates experimental human subjects be informed as to their participation in an experiment. This is an utterly absurd application of the rules, seeing as how those rules are in place to prevent harm coming to unwitting subjects. No harm was done to these journal editors, except perhaps to their professional pride. Furthermore, this experiment could not have been done with consent – pretty sure emailing these editors and telling them that fake studies were coming their way would have given away the game.
“This strikes me (and every colleague I’ve spoken with) as an attempt to weaponize an important [principle] of academic ethics in order to punish a scholar for expressing an unpopular opinion,” wrote Harvard University Professor Steven Pinker. “If scholars feel they have been subject to unfair criticism, they should explain why they think the critic is wrong. It should be beneath them to try to punish and silence him.”
True. This is nothing more or less than academic elites circling the wagons and, in the process, confirming that ideology and politics is more important to them than factual, scientific accuracy. If Portland State University goes through with this censure, they will do much more harm to academia than Boghossian’s original hoax. We’ll see if they care.