Move over, Sokal Hoax

by Henry on October 3, 2018

Something has gone wrong in the university—especially in certain fields within the social sciences. Scholarship based less upon finding truth and more upon #slatepitching the libs has become firmly established, if not fully dominant, within these fields, and their scholars increasingly bully students, administrators, and other departments into adhering to their worldview. This worldview is not scientific, and it is not rigorous. For many, this problem has been growing increasingly obvious, but strong evidence has been lacking. For this reason, I have spent a good 45 minutes inside the scholarship I see as an intrinsic part of this problem.

I have spent that time writing an academic paper and publishing it in a respected peer-reviewed journal associated with fields of scholarship loosely known as “economics” or “political economy” (for example, law and economics) or “neo-classical theory” because it is rooted in that postmodern brand of “theory” which arose in the early eighties. I undertook this project to study, understand, and expose the reality of political economy, which is corrupting academic research. Because open, good-faith conversation around topics such as labor, power and exploitation (and the scholarship that works with them) is nearly impossible, my aim has been to reboot these conversations. I hope this will give people—especially those who believe in liberalism, progress, modernity, open inquiry, and social justice—a clear reason to look at the libertarian madness coming out of the academic and activist right and say, “No, I will not go along with that. You do not speak for me.”

I came to conceptualize this project as a kind of exercise in which I sought to uncover the hidden incentive structures of the discipline, and subject them to rigorous game theoretic analysis, obtaining validation of how absurd theses could be made acceptable to reviewers, in a manner that would be highly revealing about the state of the field. I hypothesized that economics journals had a strong revealed preference for revealed preferences arguments, in which apparent exploitation was revealed to be free exchange, leading to Pareto superior outcomes, and that statistical techniques – even if misapplied – provided a weak signal of quality. Thus led me to the conclusion that there existed a pooling equilibrium, in which self-evidently ridiculous academic claims could mingle indistinguishably with serious ones, as long as they had the right ideological and methodological smell. Papers that were outlandish or intentionally broken in significant ways could blend in almost perfectly with others in the discipline under my consideration.

My paper-writing methodology followed a specific pattern: it started with an idea that spoke to my epistemological or ethical concerns with the field and then sought to bend the existing scholarship to support it. 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.

So I just thought a nutty and inhumane idea up and ran with it. What if workplace sexual harassment wasn’t an abuse of power, but a kind of equitable market exchange? Rather than being a brutish “instrument of power and intimidation,” sexual harassment might be viewed as “an undesirable working condition that may generate a compensating pay differential.” Just as risk-accepting people are prepared to do dangerous jobs so long as they get paid more for it, so might people who didn’t really mind getting felt up by their boss or co-workers all that much accept a higher risk of harassment in exchange for more money in their weekly pay check. I found some very broad statistics, for industrial categories like ‘agriculture,’ ‘information’ and ‘Professional and business services,’ regressed them against sexual harassment charges filed with the EEOC, and bingo! I found a statistically significant positive relationship between pay and the number of reported incidents of sexual harassment. The Friedmanite magic of markets at work again, transforming an apparent pattern of sexual predation into a win-win-relationship where everyone ends up better off!

Now, people in other disciplines might have been suspicious of these findings. They might have raised any one of a number of difficult questions, asking for example, whether the reported incidence of sexual harassment might itself be a product of power relationships, so that people in badly paid jobs are less likely to report harassment and generate the indicators I was using. But proper political economists know that labour monopsony doesn’t exist! Problem solved.

My methodology is central to contextualizing my claims. I could have just submitted pieces to lots of journals, in the hope that a few would stick, and then selectively misrepresented intellectual charity as evidence of wholesale intellectual corruption. But then, I’d have taken the risk that many of my submissions would be rejected, and that people might have suggested on Twitter that I was full of shit. This is why I sought to learn about this culture and establish that I had become fluent in its language and customs by publishing peer-reviewed papers in its top journal, which usually only experts in the field are capable of doing.

Accordingly, I decided to try to get the article into the American Economic Review, universally recognized as the top journal in the discipline. This seemed daunting, but when I read an article about the experience of another japester with The Journal of Law and Economics, I wondered whether peer review was really as tough as all that. Perhaps there was an easier way into the American Economic Review? Perhaps the annual “papers and proceedings” issue? And no matter how it got in, once it got there it would be unassailable. After all, economics, for all its talk of markets, is a hierarchical discipline where everyone defers to authority.

One of my results was especially absurd – that men demanded twice as much compensation for the risk of being sexually harassed as women. If I reported this ridiculous finding, would my prank be exposed? On the one hand, it seemed so obviously wrong that it would surely be detected. On the other hand, if it somehow got through, it would show how hilariously low the field’s standards of inquiry actually were.

Reader: it worked. Compensating Differentials for Sexual Harassment is now a published article in the American Economics Review, and is cited by economists as an AER article, without any qualification. Gold standard.

I answered the underlying questions: What do I need to write, and what do I need to cite to get this academic madness published as high “scholarship”? Having spent – well, at least a good hour at this stage – writing this, I understand why this fatally flawed research is attractive, how it is factually wrong in its foundations, and how it is conducive to being used for ethically dubious overreach. I’ve seen, studied, and participated in its culture through which it “proves” certain problems exist and then advocates often divisive, demeaning, and hurtful treatments we’d all do better without.

I know that the peer-review system, which should filter out the biases that enable these problems to grow and gain influence, is inadequate within political economy. This isn’t so much a problem with peer review itself as a recognition that peer review can only be as unbiased as the aggregate body of peers being called upon to participate. The skeptical checks and balances that should characterize the scholarly process have been replaced with a steady breeze of confirmation bias that blows political economy scholarship ever further off course. This isn’t how research is supposed to work.

Though it doesn’t immediately seem obvious—because financial incentives for the researchers, for the most part, aren’t directly involved (although the publishing houses are definitely raking it in)—this is a kind of blatant corruption. In this way, politically biased research that rests on highly questionable premises gets legitimized as though it is verifiable knowledge. It then goes on to permeate our culture because professors, activists, and others cite and teach this ever-growing body of ideologically skewed and fallacious scholarship.

This matters because even though most people will never read a single scholarly paper in their lifetimes, peer-reviewed journals are the absolute gold standard of knowledge production. And these concepts leak into culture. A good example of this is the field of law and economics. Thanks to seminars funded by right wing foundations, this field has had profound consequences for judicial decision making, accounting for somewhere between 28 and 42% of the rise in judicial conservatism during the relevant period. Judges who received law and economics training at the seminars are roughly 5 percentage points more likely to rule against environmental and labor regulations than those who did not. Judges with law and economics training imposed higher sentences, and had greater racial and gender disparity in their sentencing.

As a society we should be able to rely upon research journals, scholars, and universities upholding academic, philosophical, and scientific rigor (because most academic journals do). We need to know that the hardline stand against corruptions of research taken in domains like financial and personal conflicts-of-interest will extend to political, moral, and ideological biases. My project strongly suggests that at present we can neither rely upon nor know these things in fields that bow to or traffic in political economy. The reason is because political economy based in contrarian glibertarianism (a class of descendants of cynical classical liberal philosophy) has corrupted research journals. This needs to be repaired.

[Since even the broadest parody can be misunderstood on the Internet, let me state the following explanatory information and provisos clearly. The American Economics Review article discussed in this piece was presumably written and accepted in good faith rather than as a prank. It is still not at all a good article. The large quantities of text taken nearly verbatim from the source are taken for purposes of parody. The point of this post is not that all is wonderful in this-or-that studies, or alternatively all dreadful in whatever your most hated field is. It is that the Sokal hoax genre (with the interesting exception of the original) usually conform to a specific set of stereotypes and political preconceptions and are notably less astringent with respect to fields of endeavor that are ideologically congenial to its authors. John Lott is not, in actuality, a japester. Indeed, I suspect that selective and retentive pressures mean that a ‘sense of humor’ never evolved on his home planet. The Ash, Chen and Naidu article cited at the end seems both convincing and extremely important to me but it has not been peer reviewed, and is presumably subject to the usual criticisms and queries. Had I wanted to go after Steven Pinker in particular, since he has predictably fixed upon the offending ‘research’ with delight, I’d have chosen a different, and even riper target. Two words. Satoshi. Kanazawa.]

{ 120 comments }

1

Jerry Vinokurov 10.03.18 at 7:10 pm

*golf clap*

2

Stephen 10.03.18 at 7:31 pm

Henry; you have my sympathy, but I think there might be a significant difference here.

In your clever hoax article, as I understand it (I’ve not read it, cannot find a direct reference to it and am not an economist) you reported a finding which you regarded as ” so obviously wrong that it would surely be detected”. The finding being, that “men demanded twice as much compensation for the risk of being sexually harassed as women”. Now, that would be for most people including me surprising, but why is it obviously wrong? Not having seen the (presumably fraudulent) statistics on which it pretended to be based, I wouldn’t know. But given a claim with statistics to back it, I wouldn’t call it “obviously wrong” because I find it surprising. Maybe the statistics were fake; but who would not be deceived? Maybe there were in fact no statistics: but what then were the referees doing?

By contrast, the famous Sokal hoax, and the more recent Conceptual Penis hoax (Lindsay and Boyle, Cogent Social Sciences 3:1330439, 2017, The conceptual penis as a social construct) succeeded by providing a slurry of phrases acceptable to a certain point of view, regardless of fact or meaning. To quote the Abstract:

“Anatomical penises may exist, but as pre-operative transgendered women also have anatomical penises, the penis vis-à-vis maleness is an incoherent construct. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a social construct isomorphic to performative toxic masculinity. Through detailed poststructuralist discursive criticism and the example of climate change, this paper will challenge the prevailing and damaging social trope that penises are best understood as the male sexual organ and reassign it a more fitting role as a type of masculine performance.”

Was what you wrote in your hoax really as bad as that?

3

Ronan 10.03.18 at 7:47 pm

“The point of this post is not that all is wonderful in this-or-that studies, or alternatively all dreadful in whatever your most hated field is. It is that the Sokal hoax genre”

The Sokal Hoax genre is annoying , dumb, and always ideologically loaded, but the reactions also pretty much always fall along partisan ideological lines aswell. I mean afaicr the left/liberals took the criticisms of evo psych, economics etc much more seriously than they have the critcisms of these fields, which do appear to produce a non trivial amount of nonsense aswell.

4

AcademicLurker 10.03.18 at 8:12 pm

the reactions also pretty much always fall along partisan ideological lines

Absolutely. What made the aftermath of the original Sokal hoax interesting is that it revealed a significant rift within the left that many people weren’t aware of. If the gleeful reactions had been limited to the pages of the Wall Street Journal and The New Criterion it would have been just another day in the culture wars.

5

Theodore 10.03.18 at 8:32 pm

“One of my results was especially absurd – that men demanded twice as much compensation for the risk of being sexually harassed as women. If I reported this ridiculous finding, would my prank be exposed? On the one hand, it seemed so obviously wrong that it would surely be detected. On the other hand, if it somehow got through, it would show how hilariously low the field’s standards of inquiry actually were.”

This is not obviously wrong.

6

LFC 10.03.18 at 9:59 pm

Stephen @2

You’ve missed the point of Henry’s post. You prob. have to look at some of the links, including the linked abstract of The American Ec Review article (which, as the explanation at the end of the post clearly states, was not a hoax article) to begin to understand what is going on here. The key point is made at the end re the biases of those who engage in hoaxing.

Since even the broadest parody can be misunderstood on the Internet, let me state the following explanatory information and provisos clearly. The American Economics Review article discussed in this piece was presumably written and accepted in good faith rather than as a prank. It is still not at all a good article.

(Unless of course your comment @2 is intended as a sort of meta-parody…)

Btw, Henry’s post is occasioned by a specific event/revelation/whatever, for which see the first link.

7

LFC 10.03.18 at 10:01 pm

Oops I have a feeling I neglected to delete some stuff at the end of my comment, so pls ignore everything after the first graph.

8

Pete 10.03.18 at 10:30 pm

Thank you for this service. The problem of shoddy research is too common in many academic fields. The Sokal thing being the obvious example. I was made aware of another in some of the humanities today.

My questions are: what did the listed discussants have to say about it at the annual meeting session? Also, have you done a postmortem that included a scoring of the number of papers that supported the conclusions in it as opposed to those that purport to “falsify” it? It seems to me that one way in which economics differs from the Sokal “field” and some of the humanities studies is that it can replicate and supplement datasets and analysis to falsify, at least to a large degree, phony paper results.

9

Sebastian H 10.03.18 at 11:15 pm

Are you suggesting that the economics discipline is as bad as the cultural studies disciplines? I might be able to agree with that, but not in the way you want…

10

Bill Benzon 10.03.18 at 11:18 pm

Henry, would you please clarify the following for me:

The large quantities of text taken nearly verbatim from the source are taken for purposes of parody.

I THINK that means that your OP contains text from the linked article, but you’ve not indicated in OP that you are quoting. Until the very end, where you explain all, sorta.

You write the OP as though you’ve written a parody that’s gotten published when, in fact, the article you link to is a REAL (freakin’) article that’s not at all parody.

11

faustusnotes 10.04.18 at 1:04 am

This latest hoax is really shoddy. The hoaxers are claiming to have successfully placed lots of articles, but actually most got rejected. Four of the articles used either fraudulent data or plagiarism, which is not something peer reviewers are necessarily able to catch – recall that the Lancet published Wakefield’s fraudulent study and it took years to get to the bottom of that. Also using sections of Mein Kampf with words replaced is a really teenage prank. Most academics don’t read that book because it’s shit, and most of that book is not politically controversial, it’s just rambling about political tactics and contemporary events, so there’s no reason that peer reviewers should realize that they’re being pranked. Sure the journal should use plagiarism checking software but most don’t.

Two of the actually published articles cover topics that are of genuine interest in the field and worth studying, in particular:

1.The “Metasexual” article raises interesting questions about consent, and if we are to conclude that it can’t be taken seriously then we are on dangerous ground – this means that pornography like upskirting should be treated as no more serious a crime than any other surreptitious photography, and stealing women’s underwear is petty property crime.

2. The dildos question approaches an interesting issue in sexuality, which is why men don’t use sex toys when it is known that they could enhance male sexual pleasure. Is it practical, is it because they are considered women-only toys, or is it out of some fear of being homosexual? In the latter case we might have some insight into why many people found the sex scenes in Deadpool so confronting.

The fact that the hoaxers considered these two articles to be nonsense tells us a lot about how little they actually understood the field they were hoaxing.

This leaves us I think perhaps 2-3 articles that might be considered genuinely to have passed peer review despite being terrible articles. Out of 20 articles submitted, when they are deliberately trying to hoax the journals, I would say that’s not strong evidence that there’s a big problem in the field.

12

Mark Pontin 10.04.18 at 2:16 am

‘I hypothesized that economics journals had a strong revealed preference for revealed preferences arguments, in which apparent exploitation was revealed to be free exchange … What if workplace sexual harassment wasn’t an abuse of power, but a kind of equitable market exchange? Rather than being a brutish “instrument of power and intimidation,” sexual harassment might be viewed as “an undesirable working condition that may generate a compensating pay differential.”’

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightning_Rods_(novel)

Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt was published in October 2011. It was DeWitt’s second novel, following The Last Samurai. This novel tells the story of a salesman named Joe who tries and fails to sell vacuums and Britannica Encyclopedias. As he continues to struggle, he realizes that the main issue is not with him, it is with other people. He needs to sell things people already know they need. With this in mind, he begins a business in which he contracts female workers to have anonymous sex with male employees in an office through a hole in the bathroom wall … This novelty becomes extremely popular and catches on nationwide.

13

Sebastian H 10.04.18 at 2:53 am

“Four of the articles used either fraudulent data or plagiarism, which is not something peer reviewers are necessarily able to catch – recall that the Lancet published Wakefield’s fraudulent study and it took years to get to the bottom of that. “

You’re too quick to dismiss this, because the conceptual problem with the studies WAS NOT the data. Yes, they faked the ‘data’ in the dogs humping article, but that is exactly the kind of case where a reviewer should ask questions about spurious correlations and the theory behind the data. The problem isn’t the ‘data’, the problem is that anyone remotely thought that this was the kind of connection that wanted data at all. It is like the himmicanes article. Only people indoctrinated enough in gender studies silliness to believe that the damage caused by hurricanes is related to whether or not they are named after men or women (allegedly because female named hurricanes are more treated as differently for the purpose of evacuation ?!?!?!), is going to fall for the dog humping article. The problem isn’t the ‘data’, the problem is the ridiculous theoretical underpinnings.

The Mein Kampf problem isn’t that it is ‘plagiarism’. No one is saying “ha ha they snuck a plagiarized article in”. The problem is that it is Mein Kampf whiny and blame-y gobbldeygook that is generally understood to be useless ranting.

14

Fake Dave 10.04.18 at 5:58 am

I read the linked article about the hoaxes and actually found it fascinating and hope people will learn from it. I don’t think it is entirely fair to actual social science, but if anything it may be too kind to the incestuous gibberish that often passes for “theory” in the humanities and pop sociology. That they could fake having a PhD-level understanding of the topics in question (even if they did spend a year actually learning about them) raises a lot of questions about authority and accountability in those fields. Are these authors the only ones in these journals who are just playing a part or are many of the “real” papers also trying desperately to “fit in” by using the right language and reaching the right conclusions?

Sociology doesn’t work as hard science because humans themselves are pretty soft and fuzzy and if you try to reduce them to data points you just scrub away all the complicated bits you were trying to explain. So there’s definitely a place for critical theory and subjective epistemologies. The field would be infinitely poorer if everyone was still stuck on functionalism and exchange theory. At the same time though, we need to actually tell people when the theoretical frames being used are imprecise, speculative, non-falsifiable, or generally just subjective as all hell. Sociologists are trained to look for this stuff and critique it, but flavor-of-the-month theoretical fads are still an occupational hazard.

I think this stuff gets much worse when normal people get their hands on these ideas without quite knowing where they came from or what they’re based on. People should know that “white privilege” was conceived not as the result of rigorous study or fieldwork conducted by a team of scientists, but rather by a well-meaning white Women’s Studies professor whose methodology involved talking to a few of her black colleagues, praying on it, and writing down whatever came to her.

Is white privilege still real or useful? Quite possibly, but it’s also vaguely defined, occasionally contradictory, and lacking in real descriptive power. Somehow though, it has become something everyone thinks they know about the sociology of race (that and “it’s a social construct”) and has been treated as being a vastly more important and representative of where the field is these days than it actually is. This is a problem as it also tends to be a total conversation killer as people just argue about how privilege is defined and who has it and never get on to the important stuff like “what can we do about this?” Students and the public have a right to know that this idea that seems vague to them and that they don’t really know what to do with started as a vague idea someone had that she didn’t really know what to do with. The irony is if people were told about white privilege in the same spirit of casual rumination in which it was conceived, they’d probably be a lot more receptive to it, which is a good argument for a critical theory that is honest about it’s limitations and doesn’t take itself so good damn seriously all the time.

15

faustusnotes 10.04.18 at 6:10 am

Sebastian H, have you read Mein Kampf? It’s not whiny and blame-y, and it’s not gobbledygook. There are many chapters on political organization and propaganda that are lucid and clear explanations of how he thinks. Here, for example, is one paragraph of the work they plagiarized:

Confronting it is a second class, the broad mass of the laboring population. It is organized in more or less radical Marxist movements, determined to break all spiritual resistance by the power of violence. It does not want to be national, but consciously rejects any promotion of national interests, just as, conversely, it aids and abets all foreign oppression. It is numerically the stronger and above all comprises all those elements of the nation without which a national resurrection is unthinkable and impossible

It’s relatively easy to do this:

Confronting it is a second group, the broad mass of the sexually reproductive population. It is organized in more or less radical masculinist movements, determined to break all feminine resistance by the power of sexual violence. It does not want to be equal, but consciously rejects any promotion of equal interests, just as, conversely, it aids and abets all gender-based oppression. It is physically the stronger and above all comprises all those elements of the nation without which a sexual reconciliation is unthinkable and impossible

Whether right or wrong it’s not gobbledigook, and unless you have read chapter 12 of volume 1 of Mein Kampf, it’s not identifiably Hitler. [Seriously, you should not react to Mein Kampf as simply a book to be demonized, when engaging in intellectual discussion. It’s not a great work by any means, but it’s not cartoonishly bad either, which is why plagiarizing it and presenting the results as a gotcha is a really juvenile tactic]

I should point out to you that the R&R analysis results were completely wrong, ridiculously wrong, but economists lapped it up and took it seriously for years. Identifying incorrect or fraudulent data is very easy for onlookers to do after the fact, but not so easy when they’re presented to you (see also Wakefield’s paper – it’s patently obvious now that the results he was presenting were bullshit, but for years scientists believed obviously incorrect data).

So yes, the fact that these papers contained fraudulent data and plagiarism is relevant to whether they should have been expected to con reviewers.

(Also why do you act as if it’s so preposterous that people would react differently to the names of Hurricanes? Do you think they would be taken as seriously if they were called “Hurricane Reaper” vs. “Hurricane Lollipop”? Statements that these things are obviously preposterous are a kind of political posturing, not a sign of intellectual seriousness).

16

J-D 10.04.18 at 9:06 am

To me, this paragraph was particularly interesting:

The first question has a clear answer. “Are we correct in our claim that highly regarded peer-reviewed journals in gender studies and related fields will publish obvious hoaxes?” was answered nearly unequivocally and in the negative by November. It only took us a few months and a few papers to learn that while it is possible that some journals in these fields may fall prey to an outright hoax so long as it plays upon their moral biases and preferred academic jargon, nothing like “The Conceptual Penis” would have been published in a highly regarded gender-studies journal. In believing that some might, and on having said so in the wake of that attempt, we were wrong.

17

Pete 10.04.18 at 11:54 am

As with so many highly publicised twitter disputes: what if both sides are wrong?

It’s quite possible that there’s a third confounding factor, which causes both economics and gender studies to be plagued with poor quality papers that are politically convenient and/or produced solely to increment one’s impact factor. And that’s the overall structure of academia and its funding.

18

Yan 10.04.18 at 11:58 am

I am shocked to learn that when group A complains about group B’s bullshit and bias, group A may also engage in bullshit and bias and, even more shocking, may be motivated by their own bullshit and bias to call out the other’s.

And I, too, believe the solution is for each group to continue wallowing in their bullshit and bias. And for each to accuse the other of whattaboutism.

Happy voting.

19

harry b 10.04.18 at 12:06 pm

Yeah, but you have to admit, nutrition science never gets anything wrong, which is a very good thing because it means that the nutrition advice we get is always good, and always improving.

20

Marc 10.04.18 at 12:17 pm

It’s also notable, and deeply disturbing, that the reviewers didn’t blink an eye at over-the-top shoddy treatment of large groups of people. Training men like dogs? Advocating that straight white men should be ignored (both in class and by email), shouted over if they speak, and made to wear chains (in an article about teaching pedagogy?)

Accepting shoddy journal articles is not the whole issue. Validating conservative stereotypes of leftists bigoted against white men should warrant more than whataboutism.

21

Donald 10.04.18 at 12:26 pm

Maybe the best defense of any academic discipline is Sturgeon’s Law. People could quarrel about whether the percentage of bovine fecal matter in a given field is higher or lower that 90 percent, but with the basic principle admitted by all, there would be less demand for Sokal style hoaxes.

22

faustusnotes 10.04.18 at 12:47 pm

Perhaps our venerable readers have forgotten that Oprah Winfrey did the whole “straight white men should be ignored” thing back in the 1990s on live tv, when she did the brown eyes/blue eyes episode, which was based on a pedagogical format for third graders. I wonder if anyone complaining about this article has read it? (I haven’t, and I almost certainly won’t, because I’m confident it’s terrible – but that doesn’t mean I’m not triggered by the performative anger of conservative snowflakes who don’t know their history).

Also, I can’t read this one because – contra marc’s claim that the reviewers “didn’t blink an eye” – it was never accepted, and suffered from 3 revise and resubmits. That’s not exactly a sterling endorsement of Marc’s outrage, is it?

23

ph 10.04.18 at 1:16 pm

24

Yan 10.04.18 at 1:51 pm

A reasonable scientific response to the replication problem is hey, this isn’t good, we should look into it and see if it reflects a broader problem in the field and, if so, try to fix it.

A reasonable response would not have been: nobody’s perfect, so what?
Nor would a reasonable response have been: anybody criticizing the harder sciences is a conservative reactionary!
Nor would a reasonable response have been: repeatability is good actually.

25

Yan 10.04.18 at 1:52 pm

*correction: “non-repeatability is good actually”

26

faustusnotes 10.04.18 at 1:53 pm

I would also like to point out that this hoax was an experiment conducted on real people (the peer reviewers and editors of the journals). Did they get any form of ethics approval to conduct this experiment? Did it go through an IRB? In my field, if I conducted an experiment on real people without IRB approval – and then revealed the data publicly in a non peer reviewed setting, without consent of the subjects – I think my career would be done for.

I think they’re cowboys.

27

Ronan 10.04.18 at 2:39 pm

“Sociology doesn’t work as hard science because humans themselves are pretty soft and fuzzy “

Sociology journals rejected everyone (6 or 7 depedning on classification) of the hoax articles put to them

28

Sebastian H 10.04.18 at 3:02 pm

Harry “Yeah, but you have to admit, nutrition science never gets anything wrong, which is a very good thing because it means that the nutrition advice we get is always good, and always improving.”

I’m inclined to agree with the comparison again. Gender studies might be as shitty as nutrition studies, which is deeply infected with group think to shut down analysis and thoroughly corrupted by private interests which want to get publicly marketed for dubious profit. Also similar to nutrition, it’s an important topic, so it’s too bad that it is thoroughly corrupted and highly fad driven.

Faustusnotes, your quoted passage sounds like whiny gobbledygook to me so it is not helping me see the counterexample. Do you think the quoted passage could be seriously and usefully understood as a straight up description of the actual facts such as would be appropriate in an academic journal? Is he accurately describing labor movements in that passage?

29

TF79 10.04.18 at 3:05 pm

You should have done more than 45 minutes of field work on this – nobody takes the papers and proceedings issue of the AER seriously. Papers aren’t peer-reviewed and are selected from presentation sessions at the annual meetings (i.e friends of the editors). But maybe “that’s the joke”? It’s kind of hard to tell. Or maybe “that’s the joke”?

30

Cian 10.04.18 at 4:17 pm

Psychology, nutrition and especially healthcare have huge problems with the quality or their research, replication, cherry picking of studies and out right fakery (in the case of medicine and drug companies), etc. This worries me rather more than gender studies.

The Sokal book was really bad. Can we all just agree on that now after the event. There are high schoolers with a better grasp of epistemology than that man.

31

AcademicLurker 10.04.18 at 4:48 pm

Yan@24

The closest equivalent to this in the hard sciences was the Bogdanov affair, where some (possibly deliberate, I think this point is still unclear) mathematically nonsensical papers on quantum gravity were accepted to some physics journals including Annals of Physics, which is pretty respectable.

In the affair’s aftermath, the editor of Annals apologized to the journal’s readers and pledged to undertake a thorough reassessment of its peer review practices. The contrast with the response of the Social Text editors in the Sokal affair and with the responses we’re seeing now is telling.

32

dilbert dogbert 10.04.18 at 5:45 pm

Anyone want to take a whack at this guy? Sigmund Freud

33

T 10.04.18 at 6:18 pm

Shoddy work Henry. As TF79 @29 has pointed out, this paper not peer reviewed. Anyone who knows a bit about the sociology of the econ biz would know how the AEA Papers and Proceedings Issue is put together. That said, you shouldn’t have trouble finding a peer-reviewed paper that fits your criterion.

34

Cian 10.04.18 at 7:18 pm

Faustusnotes, your quoted passage sounds like whiny gobbledygook to me so it is not helping me see the counterexample.

The fact that you disagree with it does not make it gobbledygook. I couldn’t give a damn about gender studies, or cultural studies, but I had no problem understanding what the paragraph is saying. And Faustusnotes point stands – I would never have guessed that it came from Mein Kampf. There’s nothing obviously fascist, or racist, about the paragraph. It’s a very juvenile exercise.

Do you think the quoted passage could be seriously and usefully understood as a straight up description of the actual facts such as would be appropriate in an academic journal? Is he accurately describing labor movements in that passage?

I think you’ve missed the point. Nobody is arguing that Mein Kampf should be publishable – merely that taking Mein Kampf passages, but changing the topics, is not the gotcha that they seem to think it is. The gender studies version is a lot more reasonable – and there’s certainly nothing fascist about it.

I also really dislike the argument that certain topics/arguments are out of bounds because they’re ‘obviously’ not true in fields like gender studies, or political studies, or philosophy, or whatever.

35

Cian 10.04.18 at 7:23 pm

Sebastian: “Also similar to nutrition, [gender studies is] an important topic, so it’s too bad that it is thoroughly corrupted and highly fad driven.”

Unlike presumably political science, economics, International Relations, or any other field that is highly political, and where many arguments can never be truly settled (and are as much rhetoric as anything). I don’t know enough about gender studies to say if the entire field is worthless. Maybe it is – but stunts like this one don’t exactly make that case.

36

Cian 10.04.18 at 7:27 pm

@AcademicLurker:

The nice thing about mathematics is that it’s either wrong, or it isn’t. There are things you can do to review mathematical submissions. It’s not really clear to me what the journal editors should do differently in the OP? Check to see if Mein Kampf has been plagiarized? Assume that everyone submitting is trying to catch them out?

Or maybe the implication is that the entire field is worthless and that these hoaxes are no different from the stuff which is normally submitted, in which case presumably you’re suggesting that that they should quietly euthanize themselves.

37

Bob 10.04.18 at 8:23 pm

It occurs to me that these papers are not really hoaxes. It would be a hoax if you reported some really edifying and interesting findings in your field based on quantitative and/or qualitative data that, in fact, didn’t exist. The journal that accepted your paper could be accused of being naive, or failing to exercise sufficient due diligence, but they could still claim to have been victims of a hoax–that they are honest people, too trusting perhaps, that acted in good faith and were duped. But if you accept a paper based solely on the arguments that it makes, and the way that those arguments are supported by the larger theoretical frameworks of your field, then don’t you own the decision? How can you claim to have been hoaxed?

Put another way, why are these papers only embarrassing, or regretted, *now*, when the persons who wrote the papers have said that they were “just kidding”? By what alchemy has this happened? If we found an until-now sealed letter signed by Jackson Pollock claiming that *he* was just kidding, that his art was a hoax, what would that change? Would those of us who admire and enjoy his work suddenly have to “un-like” it?

38

Haftime 10.04.18 at 9:02 pm

I read the Dog Park paper – ‘training men like dogs’ isn’t what they wrote. What they wrote was:
“Certainly, just as the behavior of dogs improves through dog training and obedience instruction, human men could benefit likewise from being socialized not to rape, not to abuse women (or dogs) and to become active bystanders in public and private spaces.”

39

Bob 10.04.18 at 9:16 pm

Sorry, please ignore my “Here’s what” comment. I hit “submit” by mistake when I was preparing another comment.

40

Faustusnotes 10.04.18 at 10:52 pm

Sebastian H, please don’t try and pretend you know anything at all about nutrition research, but please do tell us what “private interests” have corrupted gender studies. Did Big Feminism buy off the deconstructionists with the money they stole from aggrieved white men? Maybe it was the Clinton foundation? Seriously, what kind of a joker are you?

I don’t know if the quoted Hitler paragraph adequately describes Germany in 1923, but I do know it’s not whiny (perhaps you don’t understand what that word means?) And it’s not gobbledygook. Indeed,it pretty much says what people like you say all the time when you’re losing in politics, and if it had been written about America in 2016 it could have been titled “the flight 93 election” and broadcast widely.

I’ve written a blog post looking at some of the papers in more detail and describing the obvious flaws in this hoax. It’s a joke, and gender studies people should probably be proud of the results. Imagine if the economics profession could improve the quality of their work to the point that only 35% of their work was a shoddy mess!

41

Sebastian H 10.04.18 at 11:17 pm

Cian, you write “I think you’ve missed the point. Nobody is arguing that Mein Kampf should be publishable – merely that taking Mein Kampf passages, but changing the topics, is not the gotcha that they seem to think it is. “

I think you don’t understand the gotcha they think it is. It isn’t “gotcha this was plagiarism and you didn’t catch it”. It isn’t “you should have recognized this was from Mein Kampf, zing”. It is “this is inflammatory propaganda used to demonize the other”. It is perfectly understandable as inflammatory propaganda used to demonize the other. But that isn’t what academic gender studies is supposed to be about. Saying that it isn’t bad that they didn’t recognize it as being from Mein Kampf is fine but unresponsive. They didn’t recognize it as being inflammatory propaganda used to demonize the other, but instead took it as a run of the mill publishable academic gender studies paper.

42

mrmister 10.04.18 at 11:30 pm

For reference, the papers are available here: https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/1cJLr_o04R-zpHcMNaIWPGs7Ue_i-tkCw

and the reviews are available here:
https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/1t5zlnYWzHvmplQmkaNDAFn9ZwGiwXw4m

In my own view the accepted Hypatia paper (the biggest score for the hoaxers, judged from within the philo perspective) is indeed very bad, and bad in a way that should be embarassing–not because the conclusions are obviously ridiculous, but just because the article itself is almost 50% direct quotations and the argument, such as there is, is either absent or just a catastrophe. It’s entirely plausible to me upon reading that this was accepted because it 1) cited favored literature, even though it did so in the least useful way possible and because 2) its conclusion had a “truth-y” ring to the reviewers/editors. That’s a bummer.

The whole exercise here was clearly designed to be media-friendly and it’s catnip to people’s preconceptions. Everyone already seems to have reacted in the most predictable way possible. Oh well.

43

Heliopause 10.05.18 at 12:21 am

Though I don’t deny its soporific qualities it seems like Mein Kampf ought to be required reading for any graduate student, if for no other reason than that it’s the most obvious target for hoaxers of the type described here.

44

PatinIowa 10.05.18 at 1:14 am

@Fake Dave

You’re right, of course, that “white privilege” was first used as a term to describe, for example, intuitions about the racial composition of Congress or your local state prison. So, yeah, it was vague and contradictory and unconvincing.

I’ve always thought it was something like “American Exceptionalism,” a organizing heading–could we call it a paradigm, that when considered, leads to more precisely stated questions, which can investigate the implications of the overarching concept.

For example, for “white privilege,” one could ask, “Do white people get better pain management in hospitals?” And someone did ask that question, actually more than one person: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1526590009007755. (It’s a review article..)

Or American Exceptionalism. One could ask, “Does the United States offer more opportunity for social mobility than other countries?” Again, this is a review, not the actual research, but you can see that people have been following up with real scholarship that conforms to the strictures of the disciplines they work in: https://www.brookings.edu/research/thirteen-economic-facts-about-social-mobility-and-the-role-of-education/. You can go to the articles and do all the things one does when assessing their quality.

I live in a Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies Department two-thirds of my time. Because it’s interdisciplinary everybody in the department has another departmental appointment, including the tenure track faculty. And guess what, the historians publish in good history in good peer reviewed history journals, the anthropologists in anthropology, the nurses in nursing, even the evolutionary biologist in evolutionary biology. And all of us complain when students, (and especially politically motivated legislators) make a parody of the real work that is being done.

(By the way, as I learned as an undergrad in the seventies, if you want to see real silliness, take three 19-year-olds, tell them about Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, and hand them a bong. That doesn’t mean that logic is silly or philosophy is bogus.)

Like poems or novels or paintings, most scholarship–in any field from STEM to art history–isn’t very good: some of it is useful and there are a few exceptional accomplishments. If we’re going to judge a field by its worst examples–say judging medical research by the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment–then we might as well fold up the whole exercise and go home.

I’m with Pete at 17. We’ve increased the amount of ambient crap by the way we award tenure and reward research. The success of various hoaxers has, in my opinion, more to do with the incentives for reviewers and editors and authors than the inherent value of any particular field.

Finally, I’ve always found the move, “You believed me when I lied to you! You suck!” kind of nauseating. YMMV.

45

J-D 10.05.18 at 1:18 am

There’s something that’s puzzling me, and I’m wondering whether there’s somebody reading this who knows something from the inside about the process of getting academic papers published in academic journals and who can shed some light on this. (If not, I’ll try asking some academics I know.)

I imagine myself in the position of somebody at the journal receiving a submission from somebody who states an affiliation with the ‘Portland Ungendering Research Initiative’. ‘I never heard of the “Portland Ungendering Research Initiative”‘, I say to myself. ‘What’s that?’ So I try looking it up, but can find no information at all. ‘That’s odd’, I say to myself. According to Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian, something more or less like that did happen eventually, and brought their experiment to a halt sooner than they had planned; except that it wasn’t the journal editors who tried to find information about the Portland Ungendering Research Initiative and discovered a blank. My imagined hypothetical version of me, unable to find information about the Portland Ungendering Research Initiative, sends a message to the author of the submission, saying: ‘I can’t find any information about the Portland Ungendering Research Initiative. Can you tell me more about it?’ At this point, presumably, Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian would have the options of: (1) admitting there was no such institution and that the paper was a hoax; (2) trying to fabricate evidence to demonstrate the Portland Ungendering Research Initiative was real (surely extremely difficult to get away with?); (3) clamming up (also surely extremely difficult to get away with?). Yet apparently none of that happened. Why not?

In my own work I do encounter the names of many institutions that I haven’t previously heard of, and if they’re not on the list in the database I’m working with my impulse is to look them up online, even though strictly speaking I’m not required to. I’m not expecting journal editors to be suspicious by default of the genuineness of those who submit papers, but to me a little curiosity about an institution never previously heard of would seem normal in the situation. What am I getting wrong?

46

faustusnotes 10.05.18 at 1:19 am

Bob makes a good point, and I think some of these papers could only be considered preposterous if, for example, you considered the study of why men go to “breastaurants” to be a patently dumb study. I make the point in my blog post that the “metasexual violence” question in the paper they refer to as “Masturbation” is actually important, and that sexual violence has already been extended to thought crimes, so their thesis that this is a terrible extension of theory is completely wrong. These hoaxers don’t really understand the field, and have embarrassed themselves by submitting articles on interesting topics and then claiming they’re doing something terrible.

Heliopause is absolutely right that Mein Kampf is soporific. I’ve been slowly reading it for 18 months now, I only read it on airplanes, and it knocks me out flat within an hour every time.

Sebastian H, you’re missing my point about the part of Mein Kampf they used. Chapter 12 volume 1 is not “inflammatory propaganda used to demonize the other”, it’s largely a description of the political environment of Germany in 1920, and in fact huge swathes of Mein Kampf are largely unobjectionable. The parts on political organization should probably be required reading for people who want to be effective activists, and some of his thoughts on what is important to build a successful movement probably could be found mirrored in any decent pamphlet from the 1960s and 1970s on how to do direct action. Of course just saying “Mein Kampf” offers people an opportunity to get all apoplectic about how terrible the reader is, but if you read this book you’ll find it’s not at all what you expect. The real work of demonization was done in der Sturmer and his speeches, not in Mein Kampf, which is a dry text about how to win at politics from the outside.

If you think Mein Kampf is a demonizing screed, you are 100% vulnerable to being punked by people using it.

47

faustusnotes 10.05.18 at 2:53 am

J-D that depends on a lot of things, including whether or not the articles are blind reviewed. Usually when I peer review, I don’t check the institutional details of the authors. I try not to stalk authors I’m peer reviewing, and I try to assess them in isolation (after all it’s the content of your arguments, not who you are, that counts, right?) Sometimes I receive blinded reviews (so I don’t know who wrote the article). I assume that basic diligence on whether it’s a real institution is done by the handling editor.

But really, this is an important part of the hoax: everyone in the academic publishing process is making a basic assumption of good faith. The peer reviewer assumes that the authors are real, that they have done genuine research that they genuinely want to publish, and that they have a legitimate place in the world of ideas. In turn, the authors assume that the journal genuinely wants to publish research, and that the peer reviewers are giving them a fair hearing. So peer reviewers don’t need to check if people are lying about basic things like their name and whether they really did the research. In that environment it is very easy to hoax people, as Andrew Wakefield showed when he published his fraudulent and socially destructive work in the Lancet.

48

Neville Morley 10.05.18 at 4:19 am

@J-D #45: the principle of academic journals is that submissions should be considered on their merits, not by the identity of their authors; so, just as you wouldn’t assume that someone from Yale must have written a great paper (even if there’s a temptation to do so that you ‘re conscious of needing to keep under control), you would be careful to avoid pre-judging something written by someone from somewhere you’ve never heard of, to the extent that googling their hitherto-unknown affiliation might be avoided as being such a pre-judgement. As mentioned above, the basic assumption is that people are acting in good faith; this may of course start to change…

49

J-D 10.05.18 at 4:27 am

Hoaxes, pranks, and practical jokes generally provide an opportunity for people to bond with each other through shared mockery of the butt of the joke or a shared sense of superiority over the sucker. It seems to me that Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian indicate that something of the sort was their purpose (although they don’t use those words) in this paragraph:

We undertook this project to study, understand, and expose the reality of grievance studies, which is corrupting academic research. Because open, good-faith conversation around topics of identity such as gender, race, and sexuality (and the scholarship that works with them) is nearly impossible, our aim has been to reboot these conversations. We hope this will give people—especially those who believe in liberalism, progress, modernity, open inquiry, and social justice—a clear reason to look at the identitarian madness coming out of the academic and activist left and say, “No, I will not go along with that. You do not speak for me.”

Think about what could possibly be meant by the expression ‘reboot these conversations’, given that you can’t literally turn a conversation off and then on again. The exercise in which Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian have engaged does not give them (or people who believe in liberalism, progress, modernity, open inquiry, and social justice) anything new to say about topics of identity such as gender, race, and sexuality. Their aim can’t be to induce a change of position in the people responsible for what they describe as ‘identitarian madness coming out of the academic and activist left’, because you don’t induce people to shift their position by publicly hoaxing them, or by describing them as responsible for corrupting scholarship and making discussion in good faith impossible. Levelling accusations like that at people after hoaxing them confirms enmity. Apparently what Pluckrosek, Lindsay, and Boghossian are trying to do is draw the conversation, or in other words the people conversing, away from their enemies, who are to be isolated, and towards themselves. When you shock me with a joy buzzer or give me a hot foot, you ‘reboot the conversation’; now it’s all about my discomfiture as the crowd laughs along with you at my expense, and I’m excluded.

50

Peter T 10.05.18 at 5:07 am

The hoaxers’ aim is to destroy trust in this field of study. That, in the process, they also destroy the trust underpinning academic conversation in general is of little moment to them. They are in the same class as Fox News and trolls, and should be treated with the same disdain.

51

Fake Dave 10.05.18 at 5:12 am

@ Ronan 27.

I didn’t mean to slag Sociology. Its the field I’m trying to build a career in and enough people have attacked it already. I should have specified that I’m writing from the perspective of someone who is sick of trying to defend it from people who think it’s unscientific and at this point I’m ready to meet them half way and say that it strives to be as empirical as chemistry and physics but is a younger field with a particularly squirmy object of study that just doesn’t have any equivalent to the Standard Model or the Periodic Table to act as a stable foundation. The absence of that sort of binding framework means it’s much more susceptible to theoretical fads and turf wars and even the best articulated and most explanatory theories have to continuously reaffirm their validity in the face of rival models. It’s an exciting field in a lot of ways, but it feels unfinished and like too many people have tried to be the Darwin of Sociology and wound up being the Lamarck.

@PatinIowa 44.

Yeah you’re right about Sturgeon’s law and perhaps I should have l should have been fairer to the various branches of critical/conflict/poststructuralist theory. I certainly should have acknowledged (as the hoaxters failed to) that much of the work done in *studies departments doesn’t fall under any of those labels. I’m still not sure if their thesis is that all standpoint-derived critical theory is inherently rotten or if it has merely become a haven for a lot of crap. I think the field definitely has a problem with political screeds, weak anecdotal evidence, and self-indulgent ruminations hiding behind standpoint epistemology. But we lose a lot of vital work if we just throw it all out. Better to be honest about the subjectivity of it all than exaggerate the authority of what is often just opinion and risk discrediting the whole field.

52

magistra 10.05.18 at 5:30 am

J-D@45:

I imagine myself in the position of somebody at the journal receiving a submission from somebody who states an affiliation with the ‘Portland Ungendering Research Initiative’. ‘I never heard of the “Portland Ungendering Research Initiative”‘, I say to myself. ‘What’s that?’ So I try looking it up, but can find no information at all.

I’ve never edited a journal, but I’ve published a fair amount of academic work and in my view an editor shouldn’t be looking up affiliations – because that’s unconsciously likely to bias them to judge the submission based on the prestige of the institute, not on the actual quality of the work.

For example, I publish on medieval history, but I work as a librarian at a university that doesn’t have a history department. If I used that affiliation (I also have an honorary one at a more prestigious university) and an editor looked it up, they might be more likely to feel that my article should probably not be taken seriously and that will influence their reading of it.

In the humanities, where a lot of scholars have not been able to get academic jobs and in fields where social justice is important (and so they’re aware of prestige bias problems), there’s likely to be a particular wish to avoid judging people’s scholarship by their institutional affiliation, and the easiest way to do that is by ignoring whether or not it’s an institution you’ve heard of.

53

taxpayers 10.05.18 at 6:16 am

look prof, I don’t give an fuck.

I think there’s a social contract between you and I where you say you will police academia if I will fund it, and the result will be good shit for society.

Near as I can tell you are failing to perform on both parts of your obligation.

So fuck you, I say shut it down.

you can call me a trumpist, but the truth is I am a never trumper democrat, and you are fucking around with my dollars and promoting social bullshit.

54

Sebastian H 10.05.18 at 7:23 am

Faustusnotes, you’re sidestepping from the particular to the general in unhelpful ways. We could have an argument about whether or not broad sections of Mein Kampf are just unobjectionable descriptions of political organization. But who cares, when the actual portions used are the demonizing screed parts. Lets look at the portion you carefully selected as allegedly non-problematic and suitable for reproduction in academic papers.

Confronting it is a second class, the broad mass of the laboring population. It is organized in more or less radical Marxist movements, determined to break all spiritual resistance by the power of violence. It does not want to be national, but consciously rejects any promotion of national interests, just as, conversely, it aids and abets all foreign oppression. It is numerically the stronger and above all comprises all those elements of the nation without which a national resurrection is unthinkable and impossible

So let’s look at the laboring class in Germany in and around 1918.

Was the laboring class organized in more or less radical Marxist movements? As a whole no. The Communist Party was polling in and around 10%. That was Hitler trying to ‘other’ his political enemies.

Was the laboring class determined to break all resistance using violence? No, that was demonizing propaganda.

Did the laboring class reject nationalism? Generally no.

Did the laboring class in general aid and abet foreign oppression? No, that was not a fair characterization.

So in general, the used portion was not the kind of academic description of the political environment of Germany that might be suitable for an academic paper.

Also I’d like to note that you define Chapter 12 as “not inflammatory propaganda used to demonize the other…” when it contains gems like
“But this reproach applies just as much to the politicians on the Right. For, thanks to their miserable cowardice, the Jewish rabble that had come to power was able in 1918 to steal the nation’s arms.”
and
“It is different with the masses of our internationally minded comrades. In their natural primitiveness, they are snore inclined to the idea of violence, and, moreover, their Jewish leadership is more brutal and ruthless. They will crush any German resurrection Just as they once broke the backbone of the German army. “
and
“Anyone who wants to free the German blood from the manifestations and vices of today, which were originally alien to its nature, will first have to redeem it from the foreign virus of these manifestations. Without the clearest knowledge of the racial problem and hence of the Jewish problem there will never be a resurrection of the German nation.”
and
“It must, over and over again, be pointed out to the adherents of the movement and in a broader sense to the whole people that the Jew and his newspapers always lie and that even an occasional Ruth is only intended to cover a bigger falsification and is therefore itself in turn a deliberate untruth. The Jew is the great master in lying, and lies and deception are his weapons in struggle.”
and
“The Jew knows this best of all. He, whose great men are only great in the destruction of humanity and its culture, makes sure that they are idolatrously admired. He attempts only to represent the admiration of the nations for their own spirits as unworthy and brands it as a ‘personality cult.'”

All of this from the very chapter that you describe as “not inflammatory propaganda used to demonize the other”. We will have to agree to disagree, I would say that the above is exactly what you would expect from my description–it is an attempt to describe the ‘other’ in an extremely uncharitable and propagandistic light in order to dehumanize them.

55

John Holbo 10.05.18 at 8:22 am

Clap. Clap. Clap. This is a great post!

56

Z 10.05.18 at 8:24 am

@AcademicLurker The closest equivalent to this in the hard sciences was the Bogdanov affair, where some (possibly deliberate, I think this point is still unclear) mathematically nonsensical papers on quantum gravity were accepted to some physics journals including Annals of Physics

The Bogdanov brothers adamantly maintain that their work is sound and have upon occasions initiated legal actions, in defamation or in copyright violation, against people stating the converse (and in fact have won at least once, I think). Since this has been going on for more than 20 years and since the two brothers have done quite well for themselves since, I think we can settle on “not a deliberate hoax” in that instance.

57

Z 10.05.18 at 8:46 am

J-D I imagine myself in the position of somebody at the journal receiving a submission from somebody who states an affiliation with the ‘Portland Ungendering Research Initiative’. ‘I never heard of the “Portland Ungendering Research Initiative”‘, I say to myself. ‘What’s that?’

I think it is an extremely important standard that papers be treated for themselves, and not as a function of their authors and of their academic affiliations. And I think that standard is generally upheld quite well by academics.

Anecdotally, I have done works in two very different fields of studies, one in which I’m somebody, one in which I’m nobody from a University with no department in that field. Editors and reviewers have always treated me extremely fairly in that second field, even though neither my name nor even my affiliation could possibly mean anything to them.

58

faustusnotes 10.05.18 at 9:11 am

Sebastian H, what are you talking about? The communist party in Germany was founded in December 1918, so how do you know what it was polling? And how can you say that Marxism wasn’t popular when there was a revolution in 1918? That ended the war? In 1919 the conservatives formed Freikorps to fight the communists on the streets.

Again, I’m not saying he’s right, just that he’s not spouting gobbledigook. With a few careful word replacements you can disguise the nature of the original text and punk people with it. It doesn’t make you smart or insightful, it makes you an arsehole.

(I haven’t read the article that is based on this copy-paste shenanigan, and I can’t be bothered. I might try later, once I have had a lot of beers).

59

ph 10.05.18 at 10:59 am

As far as academia goes, the hoax is of little importance. The problem is that the timing couldn’t be worse. Academics are in the news already for all the wrong reasons:

https://www.thewrap.com/georgetown-university-condemns-professor-who-called-for-ca/

That’s a Georgetown prof calling for the castration of white males, and if you think that little nugget hasn’t focused the attention of the right, you’re really dreaming. And where’s the condemnation for this kind of violent rhetoric?

The Georgetown administration has stepped-up, but as far as I can tell, few academics are publicly willing to remain neutral over the BK nomination. Rand Paul, having been attacked, is now running from protesters. Ted Cruz and his wife are chased out of a restaurant. Steve Scalise was shot by a Sanders supporter.

Academics are supposed to be thoughtful, sober, and fair-minded. John Holbo allowed himself to brand BK a sexual predator on the basis of conjecture and some odd math, before withdrawing the charge. But why go there in the first place? Then a normally sane member of the CT community made the identical charge, and the comment passed moderation. Giving into their worst impulses, the Georgetown prof and people we’d expect to be sober, have managed to motivate the GOP base almost in time for the mid-terms. No academic here seems to have accused BK of pedophilia, but the press did.

@53 is not an exception. Academics too often fail to live up the standards they employ to judge others, and there’s little doubt the peer-review process has broken down in a number of disciplines for reasons outlined well here.

The Mein Kampf reference is significant because it ties academics broadly to the real public call by a Georgetown prof for white males to be castrated, and the Evergreen debacle, where the university president was essentially held hostage. Trust in cultural and gender studies may be high among those familiar with the discipline. That’s a small percentage of the population. An extremely vocal minority can do a great deal of damage. Yes, the hoax wastes time, but that doesn’t mean it was a waste of the hoaxers’ time.

There’s a real sense among a significant subset of the population that universities train young people to hate their parents, their country, and the tax-payers and others footing the bill for their education. The response of some here seems to be – so what?

So – November. So – 2020. So, BK with a grudge and a seat on the SC. So, President Pence.

60

Louis N. Proyect 10.05.18 at 11:37 am

At first I welcomed Sokal’s hoax but eventually learned that it was inspired by a rightwinger who hated the sort of analysis found in Lewontin and Levin’s “The Dialectical Biologist”.

http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/modernism/sokal2.htm

61

Bill Benzon 10.05.18 at 1:29 pm

While I’ve got some sympathy for these hoaxers, if Sabine Hossenfelder is right, then the problems in so-called “grievance studies” are small potatoes compared to the situation in the foundations of physics. Who’s Sabine Hossenfelder? She’s a mathematician turned theoretical physicist who’s just published Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray. Her argument is simple: The foundations of physics – general relativity (space and time) and the standard model of particle physics – is in trouble because it has become besotted with beauty. Theory no longer generates testable prediction. It just generates more and more theory. And it’s been doing this for decades.

I’ve not read the book, but I’ve read reviews, and I poke around in her blog, Backreaction, most of which is too technical for me. And I attended a talk she gave at Stevens Institute this past Wednesday. She gives a good presentation, that’s something I can judge.

The criticism isn’t new. John Horgan made it in his 1996 book, The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age, which was about more than theoretical physics. But Hogan is just a science journalist (FWIW, I believe he was an English major). Hossenfelder’s a scientist. She can do the math.

Alas, most of us can’t. The social sciences and humanities are easy targets. We’re all human, we all know something about human behavior, we’ve all got opinions. It’s easy for us to take potshots at research that doesn’t make sense to us. But physics, we pretty much take physics at face value. We trust that the experts know what they’re doing. After all, they built the bomb, didn’t they?

Besides, Multiple universes? Cool!. Maybe cool for science fiction. But if it doesn’t lead to testable predictions, why are we funding this “science” to the tune of billions of dollars a year? According to Hossenfelder, none of the theoretical predictions made for the CERN Large Hadron Collider, have born out. But so far few of those theorists have begun to think that maybe they’re doing something wrong, deeply wrong. They just keep on, you know, keeping on.

Oh, sure, you tell me, there’s the Higgs boson. Yep, they got a hit, a big one. It was theorized back in the mid-1960s. The newer ideas aren’t faring so well.

62

bianca steele 10.05.18 at 2:03 pm

If I can say something against the hoaxsters without appearing to defend everything in those journals (probably I can’t), they’ve done what every conservative critic of scholarship does. Their argument is “I think this text implies A, they say on the contrary it doesn’t imply B. Oh no! Everything is up for grabs!”

A paper that carefully lays out a summary of previous research but gets squishy in the conclusion doesn’t seem inherently unworthy of publication to me, unless there’s a reason the conclusion has to meet a certain point of view. It sounds like they did a *lot* of work to create a good paper on a topic they had no respect for. “A” students have done less.

Where there’s a problem is if the publication intentionally promotes what they publish as something other than it is, or to people who believe it’s other than it is. Since these are obscure publications, read by people who understand how to read them critically, it’s unclear what the problem is. One can take issue with the opinions and conclusions of the editors without saying they’re intellectually dishonest.

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roger gathmann 10.05.18 at 2:12 pm

I’ve never quite gotten my head around why Social Text being hoaxed meant post-modern analysis is crap, but Tumor Biology – which had 107 articles retracted in 2017 and was delisted from Clarivate Analytics – does not prove that oncology is a hoax.
Wonder why? https://retractionwatch.com/category/by-journal/tumor-biology/
In any case, none of the hoaxers ever seem to have heard of a “control”. If the hypothesis is that a particular form of leftist ideology makes journals in certain areas more susceptible to nonsense, you have to see how susceptible journals are to nonsense period. Thus, you’d have to compare this to other hoaxes. And you’d have to send them in. To test say physics journals, you could send in articles that build on this letter – https://www.nature.com/articles/nmat4795 – which was later retracted, and see how many journals catch it. But this is never done. So the point of sokal like hoaxes boils down to ideology. This is not how you prove a social science point.

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bianca steele 10.05.18 at 2:24 pm

I did think “grievance studies” was going to be the psychologists who complain about people who complain about people who hack p-values.

65

Faustusnotes 10.05.18 at 2:31 pm

Yes pH, Hitler called for the castration of white men. And you are a serious intellectual.

66

Linnaeus 10.05.18 at 2:46 pm

Here’s Yascha Mounk piling on in The Atlantic:

For one, Lindsay, Pluckrose and Boghossian describe themselves as left-leaning liberals. For another, it is nonsensical to insist that nonsense scholarship doesn’t matter because you don’t like the motives of the people who exposed it, or because some other forms of scholarship may also contain nonsense. If certain fields of study cannot reliably differentiate between real scholarship and noxious bloviating, they become deeply suspect. And if they are so invested in overcoming injustice that they are willing to embrace rank cruelty as long as it is presented in the right kind of progressive jargon, they are worsening the problems they purport to address.

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Sebastian H 10.05.18 at 3:16 pm

Bianca “A paper that carefully lays out a summary of previous research but gets squishy in the conclusion doesn’t seem inherently unworthy of publication to me, unless there’s a reason the conclusion has to meet a certain point of view. It sounds like they did a *lot* of work to create a good paper on a topic they had no respect for. “A” students have done less.”

That isn’t what they did. In the ones where they faked data, the data is clearly not related to the conclusions. You really should read the papers, especially the dog rape one, they designed it intentionally such that the data tables don’t matter. They are conclusions liked by the field, so they are exposing motivated reasoning in those hoaxes. In the summary articles they do similar things, but amp up the rhetoric to what should be ridiculous levels (like wanting to chain white children down in school).

So these aren’t hoaxes in the sense of using faked data to try to fool readers into beliefs are based on things that won’t replicate later.

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AcademicLurker 10.05.18 at 4:01 pm

roger gathmann@63 and other:

Whenever Sokal comes up I refer people to John Guillory’s The Sokal Affair and the History of Criticism, which IMO is one of the few thoughtful things written on the subject.

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bianca steele 10.05.18 at 5:54 pm

Sebastian,

People have claimed that’s what they did in one of the accepted papers. I don’t think the paper you’re referring to was ever revised by them into an acceptable form, unless I’m remembering incorrectly. In other words, no one agreed to publish a paper that said children should be chained in the classroom. Their complaints with that paper, and most of them, are that reviewers were excessively civil. They hung the answer to “did we get away with it?” on the answer to “did someone call us morons to our face?”

I haven’t read the paper and don’t know how they’re presenting their empirical data. Are they claiming they’ve written a normal social science paper with statistics and accepted experimental design, or is their data just an example in a journal that doesn’t present itself as publishing that kind of experimental result? If the latter, it’s not really a hoax on the journal. It would be more of a troll designed to get the editors to defend themselves one way or another, on the assumption they’re going to look bad either way.

In any case, they got mostly rejections and are crowing about having “tricked” one journal into publishing a paper about hoaxes that everyone agrees was the best of the bunch. I think you should direct your “motivated reasoning” challenge at someone who’s better informed than I am and actually has something at stake.

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Sebastian H 10.05.18 at 6:11 pm

In case anyone has specific questions about the papers or the reviewer comments, all of the papers and all of the comments can be found here (all papers all comments).

Bianca, I was directing my “motivated reasoning” challenge at the reviewers and editors of the journals, not at you. I’m sorry that I wasn’t clear enough about that.

71

Fake Dave 10.05.18 at 6:47 pm

@ Bianca Steele 87

Actually, of the twenty papers, only six had been outright rejected when they went public. Seven had been accepted and seven more were still in some stage of review (at least nominally). They assert that at least a few of the ones under review seemed poised for acceptance following revision. Others were probably dead. There’s a good argument that those at the revision stage might have required enough work to be accepted that they wouldn’t really qualify as hoaxes by the end of it, but they never got that far. Still, we can’t say how many of the seven would have gotten through. My gut says most of those papers were dead, but we just don’t know.

If you go by the ones that finished the process one way or another, the majority actually were accepted. The premature end of the project makes it hard to draw any firm conclusions from that either way, but I think it’s safe to say say that even seven acceptances is too many. It gets especially grim when you take the sociology journals (which didn’t accept anything) out of the equation and look at the ratio for the other fields.

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Mark 10.05.18 at 8:37 pm

Sebastian H @ 67:
“You really should read the papers, especially the dog rape one, they designed it intentionally such that the data tables don’t matter.”

Their paper “Human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog parks in Portland, Oregon” contains no data tables, so perhaps you’re not really in a position to be telling people to give these articles a close reading.

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Bob 10.05.18 at 9:37 pm

1. When I read the OP I had images in my mind of the immune system furiously rejecting a foreign body. I thought, “Methinks he doth protest too much.”

2. Or from Wallace Stevens: “…In a kind of uproar, because an opposite, an contradiction, / Has enraged them and made them want to talk it down.”

3. Quick! Change the subject! Economics is just as bad! Yes, but there are well-developed left/liberal critiques of neoclassical economics. Is it not possible that the authors of the hoax are, at least partially, on to something? Yes, the right is making gleeful hay out of this. But maybe we need a serious and more sustained left/liberal critique of this area of academia (Cf. Brian Leiter and Adolph Reed). It seems to harbor some decidedly counter-progressive tendencies.

4. Two of the three authors are of the humanities; all three self identify as “left-leaning liberals.” (Sokal also described himself as being on the left.) So why are people who are not right wing provocateurs, and insiders to the humanities, doing this? How did Rebecca Tuvel, who was not a hoaxer, and not a right wing provocateur either–no one could have been more thoughtful or earnest–end up on the receiving end of very similar criticism from this same academic community? I think that these are important questions. Is it all just a huge misunderstanding? Cherry-picking exaggeration? Or is there some basis to this, some grain of truth. I personally am too far removed from it to know. When this kind of academic goofiness surfaced in the mainstream media from time to time in the past, I tended to give people the benefit of the doubt, I tended to see in the clearly politically-motivated criticism from the right an unhealthy anti-intellectualism. But I am starting to wonder.

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J-D 10.05.18 at 10:11 pm

The conclusion of the ‘Dog Park’ paper is that there is a possibility that study of how humans interact with dogs will shed light on some of the ways humans interact with each other, and that this might even lead to ideas about how to improve life both for humans and for dogs.

That’s a paraphrase in less elaborate language, but it’s not a distortion.

That conclusion is true; given its weakness, it doesn’t require much evidential support; if the information in the body of the paper weren’t complete fabrication, it would provide evidential support for the conclusion.

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Faustusnotes 10.06.18 at 1:01 am

Bob, re your point number 3: are you aware of the concept of a control group?

76

Fake Dave 10.06.18 at 1:21 am

It’s also kind of funny that “humans can/should be trained like dogs” wasn’t that far from the mainstream during the bad old days of Behaviorism. Opposition to that sort of cavalier disregard for human agency and autonomy was one of the things that animated critical theory in the first place.

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ph 10.06.18 at 1:56 am

@65 You need help, if you can’t understand the connection. Reading the link would have helped a neutral reader the castration of white men – Hitler – academics connection. You’re proudly not.

So, here’s an example of the ‘teacher as Hitler and white male youths as the sub-humans’ snatched from real life. … ‘One boy said he’d vote for Ukip and the teacher said “all Ukip voters are racist”, so my boy came in and said, “I’d vote for Ukip and I’m not racist.” ‘He was given a detention, [with] the three boys that said it, and when he came home and told me I didn’t believe him.’

Paul later phoned his son’s head of year to complain about the incident. He said the teacher in question was later reprimanded and the family received an apology from both the teacher and the school… Ukip people have told me that teachers have told their children that their parents “belong to a Nazi party”. ‘It’s happening because the teaching profession is under the domination of the extreme Left who are the real fascists in modern-day Britain.’ So, that’s the belief on the right: teachers have a political agenda of their own, want to instill values many others do not share, and will punish dissent.

I disagree, of course, but that’s the context for the academics can’t be trusted and are coming for our kids, a meme that’s alive and well in many western countries.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6246093/Schoolboy-15-given-detention-backing-UKIP-classroom-debate.html

A female Georgetown U professor calling for the castration of all white males is going to do little but play into the narrative that academics/teachers are violent, crazed, sexist, and racist. Nor does it help that the university initially backed the prof.

https://www.westernjournal.com/georgetown-u-backs-prof-calling-gop-senators-castrated-fed-pigs-kavanaugh-support/

To clarify: the prof in question is not calling for the execution and castration of all white men, just those who hold opinions she considers wrong. So, not so bad.

The new Sokal Hoax is the crap icing on the crap cake. Academics can and must do a better job of sorting out the problems of peer review, that was the case before the recent hoax, and its certainly still the case. I find it very hard to believe an attack by a male academic calling for the rape and murder of Ford’s supporters would result in anything but immediate suspension, and disciplinary action leading to firing, btw.

I’m hoping Henry will find the time to posit some possible solutions to the peer-review problem. Hope this helps.

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J-D 10.06.18 at 2:01 am

Bob

So why are [they] doing this?

That’s an excellent question, possibly even the question. Their stated aim is not the only possible starting point for an investigation of it, but it’s an easy and simple one. I quoted in an earlier comment what they wrote about their aim being to ‘reboot these conversations’, and I discussed in that comment what sort of ‘reboot’ of a conversation is likely to be the aim or the effect of perpetrating a hoax. Have you considered the possibility that I might be on to something?

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Faustusnotes 10.06.18 at 2:53 am

Yes pH because Hitler thought all nationalist boys should be put in detention.

80

Faustusnotes 10.06.18 at 2:55 am

Also I’m sure that UKIP boy story really happened and isn’t just a radio call in hoax.

81

Aidan 10.06.18 at 2:59 am

I think this should be put to the test. Would any economist believe you if you told them this study was a hoax? I’d say not.

I’m only an undergrad econ major, and as soon as I saw the abstract of the paper it was clear that the paper is legitimate. I was primed to believe it was fiction, you told me it was fiction, but the argument spoke for itself–your argument from authority was not as compelling as the paper itself.

That’s what separates serious scholarship from nonsense: the argument stands or falls based on its merit, not based on its speaker’s authority or agenda. Of course there’s bias and uncertainty in every field, and of course prestigious speakers get a benefit of the doubt.

But I don’t think you could fool the AER with a laughable parody of economics. If you disagree, it could be worth testing, even on a lower level: try to fool some known econ bloggers, I’d bet they’d catch you.

82

Collin Street 10.06.18 at 4:09 am

But I don’t think you could fool the AER with a laughable parody of economics.

Mate, go and talk to an electrical engineer — someone who designs analogue amplifiers or filters — about your equilibrium analyses and the systems of equations you run them on.

83

Bill Benzon 10.06.18 at 4:31 am

@J-D #49: The exercise in which Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian have engaged does not give them … anything new to say about topics of identity such as gender, race, and sexuality.

Right. It’s easy to poke fun at people who are (perhaps doing a poor job in) dealing with difficult issues. It’s much harder to make a positive contribution.

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Linnaeus 10.06.18 at 6:29 am

@Bill Benzon #83:

Bingo. If Pluckrose, et al. say that they want to “reboot the conversation”, then presumably they have something interesting or new to say about what “grievance studies” purport to address. So let’s hear it. With appropriate rigorous academic standards applied, of course.

85

Richard A Melvin 10.06.18 at 3:41 pm

> presumably they have something interesting or new to say about what “grievance studies” purport to address.

Why is it necessary or likely that the correct answer is something interesting or new, as opposed to the boring and established conclusions of anthropology and sociology?

Someone upstream suggested that perhaps one day someone working in those fields would one day discover something amazing, new and true. The problem is, if they did, it would be discarded and ignored six months weeks later when someone else published something newer, more interesting, and entirely false.

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Cian 10.06.18 at 4:05 pm

@Aidan – the joke is that these were serious papers published in an economic journal, that are almost certainly garbage. The seriousness with which the economics profession takes itself is not necessarily shared by others – talk to a mathematician sometime about economists’ use of mathematical models.

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Cian 10.06.18 at 4:08 pm

PH – the Daily Mail makes up many of its stories. It’s notorious for this. Quoting the Daily Mail is like quoting the National Enquirer.

88

Cian 10.06.18 at 4:09 pm

Fake Dave: It’s also kind of funny that “humans can/should be trained like dogs” wasn’t that far from the mainstream during the bad old days of Behaviorism. Opposition to that sort of cavalier disregard for human agency and autonomy was one of the things that animated critical theory in the first place.

So your complaint is that they published an article with bad politics? Not that it was wrong, but that it expressed a bad viewpoint.

89

Cian 10.06.18 at 4:20 pm

This is from one of the reviews on the masturbation paper:
I was also trying to think through examples of how this theoretical argument has implications in romantic consensual relationships. Through the paper, I was thinking about the rise of sexting and consensual pornographic selfies between couples, and how to situate it in your argument. I think this is interesting because you could argue that even if these pictures are shared and contained within a consensual private relationship, the pictures themselves are a reaction to the idea that the man may be thinking about another woman while masturbating. The entire industry of boudoir photography, where women sometimes have erotic pictures taken for their significant other before deploying overseas in the military for example, is implicitly a way of saying, “if you’re going to masturbate, it might as well be to me.” Essentially, even in consensual monogamous relationships, masturbatory fantasies might create some level of coercion for women. You mention this theme on page 21 in terms of the consumption of non-consensual digital media as metasexual-rape, but I think it is interesting to think through these potentially more subtle consensual but coercive elements as well”

This is actually an interesting and thoughtful response (very generous response too), which suggests that while the paper may have been bad, the TOPIC is actually an interesting one that is worth exploring.

But the original hoaxers would claim the whole idea of the paper is ludicrous. Which I think gets to the heart of their project – they’re trying to rule out whole areas of enquiry. They’re not trying to improve a field of discourse, they’re trying to wall of areas of enquiry.

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Cian 10.06.18 at 4:26 pm

Incidentally, Faustusnotes blog post on this topic is worth reading for anyone who wants to think seriously about this topic, rather than just score cheap points.

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roger gathmann 10.06.18 at 4:43 pm

66. I have little sympathy for the hoaxers and their method with those journals. But I do love the way they hoaxed Yascha Mounk into thinking they were left/liberal. Well played! Although this isn’t an uncommon move: the New Republic, before its new management, used to do that one all the time, and Alan Dershowitz is still rocking it.
But even if its a chestnut, it is the kind of chestnut the Atlantic magazine would relish.

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Patrick 10.06.18 at 4:55 pm

“But the original hoaxers would claim the whole idea of the paper is ludicrous. Which I think gets to the heart of their project – they’re trying to rule out whole areas of enquiry. They’re not trying to improve a field of discourse, they’re trying to wall of areas of enquiry.”

I think you’re half right.

I do think that gets to the heart of their project. They farted out a bunch of think pieces that they think are only “valuable” in that they’re fashionable blather. They had some success in getting them published, and for the ones that were not published, they received comments treating the parts they felt were stupid but fashionable blather as if it were serious scholarship, while primarily critiquing the papers on other grounds.

And the heart of the disagreement is that some people agree with them, and some people agree with the reviewers.

Or to put it bluntly, some people think a think piece on “hey, maybe men would be less transphobic if they stuck dildos up their butts and ruminated on that for a bit” or “wouldn’t it be cool if we could teach these little white dirt bags what they deserve by chaining them up and treating them like garbage as part of their curriculum” is a valuable academic contribution, so it’s unfair for them to write it up and then go “psyche! We don’t believe that!” And some people think it isn’t and it wasn’t

I think your “walking off inquiry” framework is either uncharitable, or worse, displays that it is actually you who is desperate to wall off inquiry, as much as possible, maximally, while wailing that you’re not doing that.

Because, well… I think we all know damn well that a similarly evidenced think piece of “maybe all this think piece stuff is total crapola and represents nothing of worth or value” would be dead on arrival in all of these journals. Thats a pretty darn widely held view, it is wholly excluded from these fields, and literally no one can articulate a coherent ground for why that is.

So the status quo looks awfully walled off as is, and you look like you’re the one manning the walls.

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Linnaeus 10.06.18 at 5:38 pm

Richard A Melvin @85:

Why is it necessary or likely that the correct answer is something interesting or new, as opposed to the boring and established conclusions of anthropology and sociology?

I’m taking the authors at their word. If they wish to “reboot the conversation”, then they’re saying that there’s a conversation to be had about the issues that so-called “grievance studies” examine. So maybe they should offer some more detail on what a “rebooted” conversation would sound like. If they don’t have anything to say about that, maybe they could point to someone who does.

If, on the other hand, they think the existing scholarship has effectively settled questions of gender, sexuality, etc., they should say so.

Regarding anthropology and sociology, I’m skeptical that the authors think highly of the established conclusions of those fields, given that they tried to punk sociology journals and were surprised when they failed to do so. This kind of thing isn’t going to stop at “grievance studies”.

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Hexatris 10.06.18 at 8:49 pm

Okay, but if you’re trying to convince everybody that a field isn’t a rat’s nest of ideologically-biased nonsense, trying to compare it to economics (of all things!) is jumping bar so low that you need a bathysphere to visit it.

That’s the whole issue here: not whether a field is susceptible to hoaxes or has bad methodology, but whether a field has those issues because it’ll publish any old thing as long as it suits an ideological purpose. It’s why the susceptibility exists that is the interesting question, and the one being (ever so carefully) deflected here.

After all…if the fields critical of economics’ nostrums are no better, or even worse, what the hell are we to do? Shrug our shoulders and hoist the black flag?

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Collin Street 10.06.18 at 8:51 pm

How big a barrier is “publishable”, anyway? Not an academic, so I’ve never seen the process from the inside, but…. I guess the process is biased in favour of publication, right? Better to get a bad paper on a potentially-interesting subject than nothing, and if it’s really worthless then it can just get ignored.

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AcademicLurker 10.06.18 at 11:33 pm

Colin Street@91:

“Publishable” is not a useful term by itself. I and every academic get multiple emails every day from scammer journals that will publish anything if you pay their fees. So the fact that you were able to publish your hoax article in “a journal” means literally nothing except that your credit card went through.

Social text was a widely regarded and highly sought after venue for publication in cultural studies, and many of the leading people in the field were published there, which is part of what made Sokal’s hoax significant. I don’t know about the other journals in this case, but Hypatia seems to have a reasonable reputation.

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J-D 10.07.18 at 12:40 am

Richard A Melvin

Some people may hypothesise that cultural studies, gender studies, and other related fields have no findings to make, no insights to contribute, no light to shed–in/to/on the subjects with which they are concerned–that aren’t made/contributed/shed as well or better by sociology and anthropology. Perhaps Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian are among them: but even if so, that’s not the hypothesis they set out to test. They state in their paper what hypothesis they set out to test, and they also state that their original hypothesis was disproved.

The exercise that Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian actually conducted would have no value as a test of any hypothesis like the one I described above, if that’s what you were interested in.

Someone upstream suggested that perhaps one day someone working in those fields would one day discover something amazing, new and true. The problem is, if they did, it would be discarded and ignored six months weeks later when someone else published something newer, more interesting, and entirely false.

What’s the basis for that conclusion? It’s not supported by the work of Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian.

98

roger gathmann 10.07.18 at 11:12 am

94. Actually, to prove your claim, you would have to send in papers making a conservative point (with absurd arguments) as well as a feminist-left point. So the trio should have written a paper about woman as chaos, a la Jordan Peterson, or some incel nonsense. If that got through the reviewing process and was slated for publication, you would then disprove the ideological thesis and you would have to pursue another thesis (lax reviewing process, eagerness to print controversial papers, etc.).
As it is, though, the hoax simply demonstrates that anti-feminists will do anything to win. Which, this week, we have seen amply demonstrated on a whole other scale.

99

Cian 10.07.18 at 4:05 pm

Because, well… I think we all know damn well that a similarly evidenced think piece of “maybe all this think piece stuff is total crapola and represents nothing of worth or value” would be dead on arrival in all of these journals. Thats a pretty darn widely held view, it is wholly excluded from these fields, and literally no one can articulate a coherent ground for why that is.

We know this how exactly? Has anyone tried. And who holds these “darn widely held views” and why are their views worth taking seriously? How familiar are you with the field? Do you follow debates in it? Are these journals representative of the field as a whole, or one particular ideological corner of it? Do you know the answers to any of these questions, or are just another person with opinions on a subject you know very little about?

100

Cian 10.07.18 at 4:09 pm

Bob: Two of the three authors are of the humanities; all three self identify as “left-leaning liberals.” (Sokal also described himself as being on the left.)

Two of the authors are all over the internet expressing fairly strong anti-feminist opinions (maybe all three are – I didn’t invest a huge amount of time into this search). Whatever their views of the labour theory of value, they’re certainly not on the left on issues of social identity.

Incidentally a very common tactic used by right wingers when making these kinds of critiques is to claim to be members of the left. It’s generally best not to take people at their word on these kinds of issues.

And yes Sokal is of the left, but that whole debate was more of a slug fest between scientism and a rather extreme form of social constructvism. Political ideology wasn’t hugely relevant, despite Sokal’s claims to the contrary. As someone who finds value in STS (both Edinburgh school and Latour), but thought critical theory was pretty bonkers, I feel that we all lost in that particular fight…

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Cian 10.07.18 at 4:13 pm

That’s the whole issue here: not whether a field is susceptible to hoaxes or has bad methodology, but whether a field has those issues because it’ll publish any old thing as long as it suits an ideological purpose. It’s why the susceptibility exists that is the interesting question, and the one being (ever so carefully) deflected here.

Well if that’s the hypothesis then it was disproven. They didn’t publish any old thing, and most of it need substantial changes in order to get published.

I think there is a debate to be had around this if people really want, but it’s not the debate that the authors want to have. Their methodology was shoddy, their approach was mean spirited and unethical, etc. But yes there were definitely some failures on the part of the journals which they should address. But journals publish shoddy/fraudulent work should not be news at this point, and it seems to be pretty universal in all fields.

102

Chris Bertram 10.07.18 at 4:16 pm

IIRC Boghossian self-identifies as a “classical liberal”, which is usually code for libertarian and doesn’t normally denote a position on the left. Pluckrose has a sophomoric essay on her vanity site Aero which goes on about “Enlightenment values” in a vaguely Pinkeresque vein.

103

Dipper 10.07.18 at 4:43 pm

abusing people’s good nature and trust is never a good idea and it isn’t in this case. There are lots of valid criticisms to be made without showing you can behave fraudulently and get away with it. As someone who politically has more in common with the three authors and does not particularly like left-wing academics, this stunt is embarrassing and unhelpful.

“One of my results was especially absurd – that men demanded twice as much compensation for the risk of being sexually harassed as women.”. Like others, I don’t see why this is absurd.

Fraudulent behaviour pops up in birdwatching with people reporting rarities they haven’t seen. It even has a name – “stringing”. The most famous example is the Hastings Rarities, but people still try it on now tweeting photos they have taken on holiday and reporting them as being from their local patch. At least one attempt was found out by the fact that North American barbed wire and European barbed wire are not the same.

In no cases do these hoaxes prove anything other than the hoaxer is an annoying time-waster.

104

Sebastian H 10.07.18 at 5:23 pm

“IIRC Boghossian self-identifies as a “classical liberal”, which is usually code for libertarian and doesn’t normally denote a position on the left. Pluckrose has a sophomoric essay on her vanity site Aero which goes on about “Enlightenment values” in a vaguely Pinkeresque vein.”

Doesn’t this kind of response validate the problem we’re talking about. We should listen to them if they were Marxist but not if they are the wrong kind of liberal or maybe even (stage whisper) think to the right on an issue or two!!?!?

105

Chris Bertram 10.07.18 at 6:01 pm

@Sebastian … no I wasn’t saying that at all, I was merely intervening on the narrow question raised by Bob and Cian above of whether they are “on the left” or not.

106

Kiwanda 10.07.18 at 9:04 pm

I would be interested to see a sophisticated analysis of Pluckrose’s sophomoric article. Does it contrast so badly with, e.g., this deep wisdom?

107

Sebastian H 10.08.18 at 4:49 am

Ok, good. So Bob and Cian, are you arguing over that as a purely academic point? Or is it important for some reason to figure out where they fall on the political scale before we continue it.

108

Hidari 10.08.18 at 7:58 am

The point is not about politics per se. The point is (as per the Slate article I quoted on the ‘other’ hoax thread by Daniel…link here: https://slate.com/technology/2018/10/grievance-studies-hoax-not-academic-scandal.html) that Boghossian in particular seems to have a long-standing animus against women in general and academic feminists in particular. Whatever The Usual Suspects might have inferred, this hoax says nothing (and was intended to say nothing) about cultural relativism, postmodernism, French theory or what have you. Nor does it say much about issues to do with race or class. It is academic feminism (‘gender studies’) that Boghossian has it in for. And (as he has more or less made clear) he doesn’t want gender studies revised, or made more rigorous, or for it to have greater scientific rigour.

He wants it to stop. He wants academic feminism ended.

One must wonder why this is, and why a white (presumably) heterosexual male in Trump’s America, in the wake of #MeToo, Kavanaugh, ‘grab ’em by the pussy’ etc, thinks that the major problem facing American society (a ‘problem’ which he has spent literally years ‘combating’) is academic feminism.

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Susanc 10.08.18 at 8:53 am

@95: if “publishable” means some journal – of whatever quality – will publish it, then almost literally anything is publishable. (Obscenity, libel etc. might be barriers to getting it out, but quality of argument isn’t).

On the other hand, by “publishable” we’d usually mean it would be accepted by journals that are highly ranked in exercizes such as the REF, and the barrier is high. (Possibly too high – I can see the case for accepting more “possibly wrong but really interesting” stuff)

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Faustusnotes 10.08.18 at 9:09 am

It’s important Sebastian because the hoaxers claim to be liberals trying to rescue the debate over race, gender and power. Establishing whether they’re telling the truth about that is relevant to their honesty in describing both their motives and other aspects of the work (like whether the number of reviews and rejections they received is true). They specifically claim to be liberal in order to indicate that this is not just a cheap political hit job. Others claim they’re liberal in order to help make specific points ( in particular that it can’t be just dismissed as a bit job).

Given your earlier erroneous reference to data tables in a paper that had none, and now your pretense that their political position has only been raised by people here, not the hoaxers themselves, I wonder if you are actually reading anything before you comment here?

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Sebastian H 10.08.18 at 2:38 pm

Faustusnotes, you are the one who in this very thread said that chapter 12 of Mein Kampf wasn’t inflammatory, characterizing it as an unobjectionable description of the political environment, until you made me read it and I outlined a bunch of grossly anti-Semitic stuff from that chapter which was interwoven deeply with everything else, not to mention that his trade union stuff was largely wrong. See comment 54.

Until you respond to that, it looks safe to say that your ability to determine nuances in reading is politically charged documents might be lacking. Making me back up my position that Mein Kampf is a work that tries to demonize the other, and then dropping the whole issue when I quote from the section you incorrectly think is unobjectionable, is how internet trolls operate.

Yes I improperly gestured toward ‘tables’ instead of ‘data description’ when saying that I didnt expect reviewers to catch data fraud, but I expected them to catch the fact that measuring dog behavior wasn’t relevant to the alleged conclusions. That was foolish.

How about that description of Mein Kampf again?

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Hidari 10.08.18 at 3:41 pm

This is a blog post so caveat lector, but interesting if true.

‘The current hoax features papers which are certainly outlandish. But Pluckrose et al admit they were not able to achieve a ‘conceptual penis’ style hoax with the journals they targeted this time, and had to produce much ‘less obvious’ papers which, in many cases, involved inventing datasets and citing relevant literature. Furthermore, some of the papers are simply based in premises (e.g. social constructionism) or political principles (e.g trans inclusion) that the hoax authors find hard to accept. For instance, a paper entitled ‘An Ethnography of Breastaurant Masculinity’ argues that establishments such as Hooters help to construct problematic forms of masculinity (whereas Pluckrose et al seem to think that men are just biologically programmed to like looking at breasts). In their description of the aims of this particular hoax, they say, ‘to see if journals will publish papers that seek to problematize heterosexual men’s attraction to women’. Well, yes – problematising heterosexual attraction is a key premise on which gender studies scholarship is based.

Like the hoax itself, their reporting of it is also riddled with misrepresentation. Editors of one of the targeted journals tell me that the paper submitted to them was recorded as a desk reject and did not go out to reviewers and was not, as the authors claim, given a revise and resubmit. Michael Keenan notes that another paper was rejected by the journal Hypatia three times, with very critical reviewer commentary, but Pluckrose et al describe the journal’s response as ‘warm’ and place this alongside details of a paper which was accepted, which is very misleading. They also report they received four invitations to peer review other papers ‘as a result of their exemplary scholarship’, but neglect to mention whether these were merely auto-generated from a list of previous submitters to the journals in question.

The exposure of the hoax ends with a demand that all major universities review various areas of study (gender studies, critical race theory, postcolonial theory and other disciplines such as sociology and anthropology) ‘in order to separate knowledge-producing disciplines and scholars from those generating constructivist sophistry.’ This is a chilling statement which will certainly feed right-wing attacks on gender studies such as those which have recently happened in Hungary, as well as the targeting of feminist and critical race scholars by the ‘alt’-right. Pluckrose et al claim this is not their intention, but given their various misrepresentations, you’ll forgive me if I don’t believe them.

As a scholar in ‘grievance studies’ myself, I think the hoax says more about conditions in the sector than anything else. Pressure to publish has created an increasing volume of submissions (and arguably also a drop in standards). Unpaid peer review often has to be squeezed in between swelling workload demands. If we’re truly worried about academic rigour, we might want to start there. Alternatively, we could think less about the flaws of ‘grievance studies’ and more about how academic work has contributed to legitimate grievances by bolstering neoliberal economic reforms or neo-imperialist foreign policy. To me, that’s corruption of scholarship.’

https://genderate.wordpress.com/2018/10/04/grievance-studies/

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TM 10.08.18 at 5:51 pm

“Of course just saying “Mein Kampf” offers people an opportunity to get all apoplectic about how terrible the reader is”

There are more interesting examples of this. Right-wingers have fabricated alleged Hitler quotes that are then used to smear the left (an example is documented in the links below). The logic is quite contorted when you think about it but it works on right-wingers because they don’t “think” about it. Actually, neither do the journalists reporting on it. In the case documented below, the journalists neither noticed the fact that the quote was fabricated nor did it make any difference when it was pointed out to them.

https://arkansasmediawatch.wordpress.com/2011/07/25/republican-hitler-quote/
https://arkansasmediawatch.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/nate-bell-hitler-quote-update/

The fake quote was:
“As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation.– Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler”

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Cian 10.08.18 at 6:55 pm

One of the contributors to this article is the editor of Areo Magazine. I was trying to remember why the name of the magazine was familiar. Then I remembered this abomination:
https://areomagazine.com/2017/11/29/evolution-rape-and-power-why-understanding-human-nature-matters/

So she either doesn’t know what good scholarship looks like, or doesn’t care so long as she can own the SJWs. The whole magazine is like that. These guys probably think evolutionary psychology is a serious discipline though.

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J-D 10.08.18 at 7:55 pm

Sebastian H

I didnt expect reviewers to catch data fraud, but I expected them to catch the fact that measuring dog behavior wasn’t relevant to the alleged conclusions

The paper didn’t report on dog behaviour, it reported on human behaviour, and if the reports of behaviour had been genuine and not fabricated they would have been relevant to the stated conclusion of the paper.

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faustusnotes 10.09.18 at 1:54 am

Sebastian, it is absolutely ridiculous of you to be demanding anyone else reply to your earlier points, given that you have a long history here of drive-by comments that get shown to be utter crap and that you don’t return to defend. But since you ask, yes chapter 12 turns out to be more inflammatory than I thought, because I haven’t read that part for a long time (I’m up to chapter 12 of volume 2), and only skimmed the link I shared earlier. Also your position on the political state of Germany in 1918 is wrong (see my comment above about it having just gone through a revolution). But my point remains that the much of Mein Kampf is boring blah about political organization and contemporary events (there is a whole chapter, ffs, about how he joined the movement and merged a few other volkisch organizations into his own that will put you to sleep in five seconds flat), and it’s not enough to say “haha you published Mein Kampf.” You have to present the specific contents of the hoax, and explain how they are inflammatory. For example if I get a paragraph from Mein Kamp about how democratic socialists are violent thugs and replace every instance of the word “democratic socialist” with “proud boy”, it will be a perfectly true paragraph.

So as I said earlier, if you think that the result of the word replace of Mein Kampf was genuinely inflammatory, dehumanizing stuff, then show it here. It’s not enough to say “ooh they published Mein Kampf they’re bad” and it’s certainly not enough to say that it’s gobbledigook or that it’s factually wrong (since word-replace renders such a claim moot without evidence).

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Sebastian H 10.09.18 at 2:42 am

“The paper didn’t report on dog behaviour, it reported on human behaviour, and if the reports of behaviour had been genuine and not fabricated they would have been relevant to the stated conclusion of the paper.”

I don’t think so, and I’ve read the paper. Would you care to explain how the observations if real would have led to the conclusions?

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Z 10.09.18 at 7:52 am

Sebastian H I didnt expect reviewers to catch data fraud, but I expected them to catch the fact that measuring dog behavior wasn’t relevant to the alleged conclusions

J-D if the reports of behaviour had been genuine and not fabricated they would have been relevant to the stated conclusion of the paper

I don’t know who between the two of you will feel vindicated by this observation, but as far I can see, the Dog Paper lacks a stated conclusion (sentences in the concluding section either refer to potential future research or tentatively express conditional statements, which is bad in its own way of course, but worse things routinely happen*).

*Three cases which dwarf anything that could be possibly published in Gender, Place and Culture this summer only in my own field, which is held as the standard of rigor against all others are measured.

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J-D 10.09.18 at 1:11 pm

The conclusion of the ‘Dog Park’ paper is that there is a possibility that study of how humans interact with dogs will shed light on some of the ways humans interact with each other, and that this might even lead to ideas about how to improve life both for humans and for dogs.

That’s a paraphrase in less elaborate language, but it’s not a distortion.

The paper reports (as we know, the reports are fabrications) that humans typically intervene when dogs fight with each other, but may intervene less frequently when one dog sexually penetrates another, or attempts to do so: specifically, women typically intervene in such cases but men typically do so only when the dog being penetrated is another male dog, often not intervening when a male dog sexually penetrates a female dog, or attempts to do so.

If there was such a difference in the pattern of human interactions with dogs (and it’s possible that there is: Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian don’t know whether there is because they didn’t check), with variation depending on the gender of the humans, the gender of the dogs, and the sexual dimension of canine behaviour, then it would suggest the possibility that if we knew the reasons for the pattern of this human behaviour it might shed some light on patterns in human-only interactions. A possibility is all the stated conclusion asserts. If somebody reallly did make observations in a dog park and really did find the pattern that Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian only fabricated, I would say it was an interesting pattern and it might be even more interesting to find out the reason for it, which might tell us something about human behaviour. Would you disagree?

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Faustusnotes 10.10.18 at 12:26 am

I bet when they conceived that paper the hoaxers were sparked by things they’ve witnessed in dog parks. “my friend gets really grossed out when male dogs try to fuck her male pooch.” “Hey we could use that for one of our hoaxers
Pass me another triple vodka and I’ll explain my ‘idea’.”

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