Hoaxed research papers prove no idea is too insane for academic publication – so long as it takes the right stance on social grievances

Hoaxed research papers prove no idea is too insane for academic publication – so long as it takes the right stance on social grievances

Postmodern academia is a warped place

CultureNovember 14, 2019 By Will Brendza

Queer theory, gender studies, masculinities studies, critical whiteness theory, intersectional feminism and fat studies.

These are not made up fields of research — at least, I didn’t make them up. Across the country these “disciplines” are being studied and propagated at universities; their principals are being published in esteemed academic journals and the ideas behind them are spreading like pink eye among some of the most liberal, and “woke” circles in America.

While they all focus on different subject specifics, they do all share a common foundation: They’re built on grievances; on the assumption that something is racist, sexist, or otherwise socially unfair to some minority group.

They’ve been dubbed “Grievance Studies” and they are particularly susceptible to fashionable nonsense.

Which is why, Peter Boghossian, Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay, decided to demonstrate to the world just how broken the process of publishing in academic journals truly is. They wanted to expose a dangerous trend in American academia for what it is: a slippery slope. One that doesn’t lead anywhere good.

So they designed an experiment of sorts. A test to see how many totally fabricated, totally absurd papers they could actually get published in real academic journals. A hoax that would become known as "Sokal Squared," and which would reveal how these grievance studies have warped academia's standards and expectations for publishing research. 

The trio drafted up 20 bogus research papers on grievance studies, written under pseudonyms or borrowed identities and dispersed them to journals around the world. Four of them were published outright, three of them were accepted but never published, seven were still under review (at the time this hoax was exposed) and only six were outright rejected.

And, to give you an idea of how ludicrous these studies were, let me give you a brief summary of those four that actually made it onto the pages of an academic journal:

The first was called, “Who are they to judge? Overcoming anthropometry through fat bodybuilding,” which questioned what it meant to “build a body” and advocated for a new form of bodybuilding, called “fat bodybuilding.” Naturally, this appeared in the journal Fat Studies.

Then there was An Ethnography of Breastaurant Masculinity: Themes of Objectification, Sexual Conquest, Male Control, and Masculine Toughness in a Sexually Objectifying Restaurant.” Which, through table dialogue and unstructured interviews analyzes what men like to eat when they're at Hooters, and asserts that "breastaurants," are an important place for "critical masculinities research." It was published in the journal Sex Roles in September of 2018.

Another, titled, “Human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog parks in Portland, Oregon” analyzed how human owners at a dog-park contributed and reacted to their dogs acting queer in public, and whether or not those canine-Americans suffered from oppression of their perceived sexual preferences. It appeared in Gender, Place & Culture in February of 2018.

But my favorite of the four articles that were published was titled, “Going in Through the Back Door: Challenging Straight Male Homohysteria, Transhysteria, and Transphobia Through Receptive Penetrative Sex Toy Use.”

This work of pure satirical genius astutely suggested that homophobic/transphobic men could overcome their fear of/distaste for homosexuals by butt-fucking themselves with dildos. Published in Sexuality & Culture in June of 2018, this masterpiece of academic anti-literature really drove home the point its authors were hoping to make: no matter how insane your idea might be, if you can draw a pro-social-justice argument from it and present it in an academic style, there’s a journal out there that will publish you.

One of the papers that was accepted but never published, titled, "Our Struggle is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism" literally presented a verbatim chapter of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf in feminist language. Which is to say, they replaced the word "Jew(s)" with words and terms like "Straight white males." Yes, really. And it was acceoted to Affilia: Journal of women and social work (though the hoax was exposedd before they published it).

Some of the leading journals in areas like gender studies have failed to distinguish between real scholarship and intellectually vacuous as well as morally troubling bullshit,” wrote Yascha Mounk, a political scientist, Harvard lecturer and professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced Studies.

He continuerd, “Any academic who is not at least a little troubled by the ease with which the hoaxers passed satire off as wisdom has fallen foul to the same kind of motivated reasoning and naked partisanship that is currently engulfing the country as a whole.”

Mounk was not alone in revering the hoaxers but not all in academia could see the light side of this experiment. To some, like Carl T. Bergstrom, a professor of biology at the University of Washington, this hoax was both “uninformative” and “straight up academic misconduct.”

Two of the four published articles were based on fabricated data or field notes; the fraud was not immediately disclosed.” He wrote in a blog post titled, “A Hollow Exercise in Mean-Spirited Mockery.”

“Publishing a bad-faith paper based on fraudulent data proves nothing more about the state of a research field than passing a bad check proves about the health of the financial system,” Bergstrom asserts.

And maybe he’s right. But, this hoax wasn’t just about proving that bullshit studies could get through the peer review process and into an academic journal. It was also, and more importantly, about the subject matter of those fraudulent papers. All of them dealt with academically wispy fields; grievance studies like “Fat Studies” and “Intersectional Feminism.”

Yes, the fact that Boghossian, Pluckrose and Lindsay got fraudulent content, full of fabricated statistics and conclusions through the peer review process, is troubling. But it’s not nearly as unsettling as the fact that these studies were published because they dealt with a certain philosophical subject matter. If that study about homophobic men ass-playing their way to tolerance, had instead argued that homosexual men should fuck the gay out of themselves by having straight intercourse, it is probably safe to wager that it never would have been given a chance at publication. If the study that plagiarized Mein Kampf had replaced the word “Jew(s)” with “black(s)” or “gay(s)” instead of “straight white male(s)” it’s doubtful it would have been published either.

Fooling the peer review system was an aspect of the hoax, but it was not the point. The point was to expose the ideological channels that these journals and academia at large is supporting. The goal was to show how a study, no matter how insane, can still be published if it takes the right stance on a social grievance.

Which is deeply concerning to many in academia.