Starting in June of 2017, three academics — James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian — began writing intentionally ludicrous papers under false names and submitting them to peer-reviewed academic journals. The authors mimicked the catchphrases and buzzwords of the “grievance studies” fields they sought to expose — the language of intersectionality, privilege, and feminism.writes Benny Huang on Liberty Unyielding.
Though the papers were fake, the experiment was very real. The hoaxers wanted to see if the hallowed journals’ peer reviewers could discern twaddle from real scholarship. In short: the reviewers couldn’t, at least not when it appealed to their prejudices.
The experiment was interrupted in October 2018 when a Wall Street Journal reporter, Jillian Kay Melchior, exposed the project. Melchior had noticed one of the papers, “Dog Park,” which focused on “dog rape culture,” and found it just too ridiculous to be believed. She apparently had more sense than the staff of Gender, Place & Culture, which gladly published the confabulated paper.
By the time the Wall Street Journal blew the whistle, twenty papers had been submitted in total. Seven papers had been accepted, though only four had been published; seven others were at various stages of review and only six had been rejected.
Gender, Place & Culture even recognized “Dog Park” as “excellent scholarship,” and no wonder — its subtitle was “Human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog parks in Portland, Oregon.” I’m sure they lapped that up with a spoon.
The paper’s pseudonymous author, “Helen Wilson,” claimed to have based her findings on a data set consisting of just fewer than ten thousand canine genital inspections. This was so crazy that “Wilson” — who is actually James Lindsay — expected some much-deserved incredulity.
But it never came. Not only did the journal fail to question the data set; it didn’t lift a finger to determine the identity of “Helen Wilson,” much less to verify her credentials as an expert. They simply accepted Dr. Wilson as an authority in doggie sexuality.
“We flattered what they wanted to hear and then they told us it was an important contribution to feminist geography,” said James Lindsay.
As a college grad myself, I can tell you that this is exactly how academia works. Students learn early on that the key to academic success is to emulate the style, tone, and above all the message of their professors. If the profs are talking endlessly about the “social construction of whiteness” — or maleness, or heteronormativity — they should too. That’s how to get an A, how to get recommended for grad school, and how to get hired as an adjunct professor.
An environment like this is fertile ground for farcical “scholarship.”
And it’s been this way for years.
[Alan Sokal's 1996 paper about the social construction of gravity], and later Lindsay’s, Pluckrose’s, and Boghossian’s papers, stand as shining examples of Poe’s Law. For the uninitiated, Poe’s Law states simply that it is impossible to parody extremist views because the parody will inevitably be mistaken as a genuine expression — even by people who hold those extremist views.
… Two of the more recent pranksters, Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay, had already scored a stand-alone hoax paper “The Conceptual Penis As A Social Construct,” which was published in Cogent Social Sciences, a misnamed journal if ever there was one. The paper appeared in May 2017, which appears to be right before they undertook the more audacious twenty papers project the following month.
“The Conceptual Penis” was such an obvious gag that no one could have taken it seriously — no one except a gender studies scholar, which tells us a lot about gender studies as a field. The thrust of the paper is that penises “conceptually” cause global warming and all sorts of other really bad stuff, an obvious attempt to suck up to their reviewers’ biases.
The paper drips with misandry. Penises are bad because men are bad.
… The rush to publish anything that sounds sufficiently “woke” has an equal but opposite counterpart — the reluctance to publish anything considered reactionary.
… No paper, no matter how carefully researched and written, would ever be published if it came to the “wrong” conclusions. Conversely, no paper, no matter how sloppily written, would be rejected if it came to the “right” conclusions. Conclusions drive the research, not the other way around. …