October 3, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Ideology has all-but overtaken science in the world of peer-reviewed academic literature, according to a sting operation of sorts undertaken by three left-leaning yet independent academics.
Aero Magazine editor Helen Pluckrose, mathematician James Lindsay, and Portland State University philosophy professor Peter Boghossian detail at Aero a year-long project in which they submitted “outlandish or intentionally broken” papers to leading peer-reviewed journals to test the journals’ rigor and biases.
For over a year now I’ve been documenting @peterboghossian @HPluckrose and @ConceptualJames as they secretly submit bat-shit insane papers to peer-reviewed journals. Seven have been accepted and more are still on track for publication. FULL VIDEO: https://t.co/mR0b1vH8vA pic.twitter.com/Uiiy30CoS3
— Mike Nayna (@MikeNayna) October 3, 2018
All three told the Wall Street Journal they consider themselves “left-leaning liberals, Pluckrose defines herself as a “secular, liberal humanist,” and Lindsey’s author biography says he “thinks everybody is wrong about God.” Yet they object that “scholarship based less upon finding truth and more upon attending to social grievances has become firmly established, if not fully dominant” in several humanities fields, with so-called scholars “bully[ing] students, administrators, and other departments into adhering to their worldview.”
So the trio set out to submit their hoax papers to journals “associated with fields of scholarship loosely known as ‘cultural studies’ or ‘identity studies’ (for example, gender studies) or ‘critical theory,’” all of which they have dubbed “grievance studies” for their “common goal of problematizing aspects of culture in minute detail in order to attempt diagnoses of power imbalances and oppression rooted in identity.”
The team took care to ensure their submissions “blend[ed] in almost perfectly” with real literature, while at the same time taking “risks to test certain hypotheses such that the fact of their acceptance itself makes a statement about the problem we’re studying.”
“The goal was always to use what the existing literature offered to get some little bit of lunacy or depravity to be acceptable at the highest levels of intellectual respectability within the field,” they write. “Therefore, each paper began with something absurd or deeply unethical (or both) that we wanted to forward or conclude. We then made the existing peer-reviewed literature do our bidding in the attempt to get published in the academic canon.”
This process produced twenty papers, including one about observing “rape culture” among canine behavior in a dog park; one claiming “the reason superintelligent AI is potentially dangerous is because it is being programmed to be masculinist and imperialist using Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Lacanian psychoanalysis”; a “feminist astronomy” paper arguing the science of astronomy is “intrinsically sexist”; and even a chapter of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf rewritten with “fashionable buzzwords” to make it about feminism.
The authors add that their work presented “very shoddy methodologies including incredibly implausible statistics,” claims not warranted by the data,” and “ideologically-motivated qualitative analyses”; advocated “highly dubious ethics” such as “punishing white male college students for historical slavery by asking them to sit in silence in the floor in chains during class”; and incorporated “considerable silliness” such as feigning confusion about “why heterosexual men are attracted to women” and “why people are more concerned about the genitalia others have when considering having sex with them.”
Yet most of it was taken seriously. Ultimately, they succeeded in getting seven of their twenty papers accepted, four of which were published online. Seven were either resubmitted after requests for revisions or awaiting review. Only six of the twenty were rejected entirely as “fatally flawed or beyond repair.”
The accepted papers include the dog park study (accepted by Gender, Place & Culture), the feminist Mein Kampf chapter (accepted by women and social work journal Affilia), and a piece arguing that the professional bodybuilding unjustly discriminates against obesity (accepted by Fat Studies). Gender, Place, and Culture even honored “Dog Park” as a leading piece on feminist geography, and the group received four invitations to peer-review other papers.
“Dog Park” was an “intellectually and empirically exciting paper” notable for its innovation, analysis, and fieldwork, one reviewer said. Another reviewer concluded that the feminized prose of Nazi Germany’s dictator sought to “further the aims of inclusive feminism by attending to the issue of allyship/solidarity.”
“As we progressed, we started to realize that just about anything can be made to work, so long as it falls within the moral orthodoxy and demonstrates understanding of the existing literature,” the authors write. “The underlying questions in every single case were the same: What do we need to write, and what do we need to cite (all of our citations are real, by the way) to get this academic madness published as high ‘scholarship’?”
The “Dog Park” paper in particular gained enough public attention over the summer, including inquiries by the Wall Street Journal, that the authors decided to publicly reveal themselves early rather than lie to journalists. As a result, the paper has since been retracted and others will presumably follow, but the fat bodybuilding paper as well as papers on why men like the restaurant Hooters and the “homophobia” of straight men disliking anal penetration remain published at the time of this writing.
This is neither the first project of its kind, nor the first by these authors. Lindsay and Boghossian had already given the peer-review process a black eye last year by getting Cogent Social Sciences to publish their infamous “conceptual penis” article,
Last year, a Discover Magazine blogger using the pseudonym Neuroskeptic got four journals to accept a paper that merely rewrote Wikipedia’s entry on mitochondria to be about midi-chlorians, fictional organisms from the Star Wars movies. The WSJ notes that in 1996, mathematician Alan Sokal got the journal Social Text to publish “a pastiche of left-wing cant” quoting and satirizing postmodernist academics.
The Aero trio authors told WSJ they foresee severe consequences for the project, with the untenured Boghossian predicting his university will fire or punish him, Pluckrose predicting difficulty in getting accepted to a doctoral program, and Lindsay expecting he’ll become “an academic pariah.”
Yet “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,” Lindsey added.
The authors say they hope their project prods universities to “begin a thorough review of these areas of study” to separate good-faith pursuits of knowledge from sophists. “This will require them to adhere more honestly and rigorously to the production of knowledge and to place scholarship ahead of any conflicting interest rather than following from it,” they write.