Postmodernists pretend to be experts in what they call “theory.” They claim that, although their scholarship may seem incomprehensible, this is because they are like mathematicians or physicists: they express profound truths in a way that cannot be understood without training. [Mathematician James] Lindsay, [philosopher Peter] Boghossian, and [Areo editor Helen] Pluckrose expose this for the lie that it is. “Theory” is not real. Postmodernists have no expertise and no profound understanding.Put my way, recondite bordering on incoherent. But the anonymous referees evidently can't call nonsense nonsense. And Theory without testable implications is nonsense with fancy verbiage.
What's encouraging, though, is that at least one of the authors has a Portland State affiliation, which is to say, doing continual and fearless sifting and winnowing in the belly of the beast.
The authors wrote an explanation, it's way longer than Martin Luther's 95 theses, (and there are echoes: just stay with me) and yet it will reward careful study, in (not surprisingly) Areo.
While our papers are all outlandish or intentionally broken in significant ways, it is important to recognize that they blend in almost perfectly with others in the disciplines under our consideration. To demonstrate this, we needed to get papers accepted, especially by significant and influential journals. Merely blending in couldn’t generate the depth necessary for our study, however. We also needed to write papers that took risks to test certain hypotheses such that the fact of their acceptance itself makes a statement about the problem we’re studying (see the Papers section, below). Consequently, although this study does not qualify as being particularly controlled, we did control one important variable: the big-picture methodology we used to write every paper.It's better to ask forgiveness than permission, I suppose, and they made some really good stuff up.
Our paper-writing methodology always followed a specific pattern: it started with an idea that spoke to our 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. Therefore, each paper began with something absurd or deeply unethical (or both) that we wanted to forward or conclude. We then made the existing peer-reviewed literature do our bidding in the attempt to get published in the academic canon.
This is the primary point of the project: What we just described is not knowledge production; it’s sophistry. That is, it’s a forgery of knowledge that should not be mistaken for the real thing. The biggest difference between us and the scholarship we are studying by emulation is that we know we made things up.
One of the papers ... this from a Quillette roundup ... is Contemporary Relevance.
The flagship feminist philosophy journal, Hypatia, accepted a paper (not yet published online) arguing that social justice advocates should be allowed to make fun of others, but no one should be permitted to make fun of them. The same journal invited resubmission of a paper arguing that “privileged students shouldn’t be allowed to speak in class at all and should just listen and learn in silence,” and that they would benefit from “experiential reparations” that include “sitting on the floor, wearing chains, or intentionally being spoken over.” The reviewers complained that this hoax paper took an overly compassionate stance toward the “privileged” students who would be subjected to this humiliation, and recommended that they be subjected to harsher treatment. Is asking people of a certain race to sit on the floor in chains better than asking them to wear a yellow star? What exactly is this leading to?It's led, exactly, to any evening's programming on MSNBC. Makes the quest for hierarchy and domination on the Island of Sodor look like kid stuff, doesn't it? But perhaps Hypatia is kid stuff too. From the same roundup:
Yet the reader should know that it is a carefully guarded secret in philosophy that feminist philosophy is often not characterized by intellectual rigor and high academic standards. (The secret is so well-guarded, though, that many philosophers do not dare to admit even to themselves to know it, let alone express it publicly.) So Hypatia was a logical and easy choice for the attempt to place a fake paper in one of the well-known philosophy journals.A Minimal Publishable Unit in Hypatia, a Minimal Publishable Unit in Rivista Internazionale Numere Due di Bovini: What Difference, at this point, does it make?
But wait, there's more!
Afilia, a peer-reviewed feminist journal, also accepted one of their papers, “Our Struggle Is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism,” which is a rewrite of one chapter of “Mein Kampf.”That might have been more fun had they translated Kampf from German to French and then thrown in the ressentiments and the other sesquipedalian Frenchisms. But they had to turn out enough Minimal Publishable Units in a year to make a tenure case. (I hope the academicians among the authors already had tenure, as pulling a stunt like this in order to build a tenure dossier won't fare well.)
The good news is that the gadfly Real Peer Review Twitter account has an excellent jive detector. Back to Areo. (I can't excerpt all of the article, just go, read, understand, be angry.)
Near the end of July 2018, a clear need arose to call the project to a premature end after our “dog park” paper attracted incredulous attention on social media generated by the Twitter account Real Peer Review, which is a platform dedicated to exposing shoddy scholarship. This deserved incredulity led to small and then larger journalistic publications investigating our fictitious author, Helen Wilson, and our non-existent institution, the Portland Ungendering Research Initiative (PURI) and finding no credible history of either. Under this pressure, the publishing journal, Gender, Place and Culture, asked our author to prove her identity and then released an expression of concern about the paper. This generated further attention that eventually got the Wall Street Journal involved, and far more importantly, it changed the ethics of utilizing deception within the project. With major journalistic outlets and (by then) two journals asking us to prove our authors’ identities, the ethics had shifted away from a defensible necessity of investigation and into outright lying. We did not feel right about this and decided the time had come to go public with the project. As a result, we came clean to the Wall Street Journal at the beginning of August and began preparing a summary as quickly as possible even though we still had several papers progressing encouragingly through the review process.Gotta love Taylor and Francis, a lot of what they put out reeks of vanity press, and yet somebody didn't just blow Real Peer Review off. Integrity, dear reader, integrity.
I must conclude with an optimistic note. Here's how the troika defend what they did.
Underlying these alleged “social constructions” is the most deeply concerning of them all. This is the belief that in urgent need of “disrupting” is the simple truth that science itself—along with our best methods of data-gathering, statistical analysis, hypothesis testing, falsifying, and replicating results—is generally a better way of determining information about the objective reality of any observable phenomenon than are non-scientific, traditional, cultural, religious, ideological, or magical approaches. That is, for grievance studies scholars, science itself and the scientific method are deeply problematic, if not outright racist and sexist, and need to be remade to forward grievance-based identitarian politics over the impartial pursuit of truth. These same issues are also extended to the “Western” philosophical tradition which they find problematic because it favors reason to emotion, rigor to solipsism, and logic to revelation.Deny coherent beliefs of any kind, enjoy the incoherence.
As a result, radical constructivists tend to believe science and reason must be dismantled to let “other ways of knowing” have equal validation as knowledge-producing enterprises. These, depending on the branch of “theory” being invoked, are allegedly owned by women and racial, cultural, religious, and sexual minorities. Not only that, they are deemed inaccessible to more privileged castes of people, like white heterosexual men. They justify this regressive thinking by appealing to their alternative epistemology, called “standpoint theory.” This results in an epistemological and moral relativism which, for political reasons, promotes ways of knowing that are antithetical to science and ethics which are antithetical to universal liberalism.
Radical constructivism is thus a dangerous idea that has become authoritative. It forwards the idea that we must, on moral grounds, largely reject the belief that access to objective truth exists (scientific objectivity) and can be discovered, in principle, by any entity capable of doing the work, or more specifically by humans of any race, gender, or sexuality (scientific universality) via empirical testing (scientific empiricism). (This particular belief is sometimes referred to as “radical skepticism,” although philosophers also have other meanings for this term.) Although knowledge is always provisional and open to revision, there are better and worse ways to get closer to it, and the scientific method is the best we have found. By contrast, the means offered by critical theory are demonstrably and fatally flawed. Particularly, this approach rejects scientific universality and objectivity and insists, on moral grounds, that we must largely accept the notion of multiple, identity-based “truths,” such as a putative “feminist glaciology.” Under critical constructivism, this gains an explicitly radical political motivation.
Any scholarship that proceeds from radically skeptical assumptions about objective truth by definition does not and cannot find objective truth. Instead it promotes prejudices and opinions and calls them “truths.”
There's more good news from the aptly-named Jonathan Anomaly on the Quillette response.
Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose did not publish their articles in the top journals of core fields like economics or psychology, so some skeptics might dismiss the project as a waste of time. But their articles did pass peer review in journals from fields whose basic assumptions are shared by mainstream subjects like literature, sociology, and (increasingly) philosophy.Well, clowns and elephant trainers work hard at what they do. Perhaps, Reason's Robby Soave suggests, that's what gadfly scholars do, too.
Some of the most insidious dogmas many faculty in these fields defend include the idea that evolutionary biology can explain animal behavior but isn’t relevant to people; that differences in personality and intelligence can only be explained by education and parenting (not genes); that IQ tests don’t predict anything useful; that differences in outcomes for different groups can only be explained by oppression or systemic racism/sexism; and that five decades of behavioral genetics research can be safely ignored when it threatens environmental explanations. These are the dangers of our time. It is worth reminding those who subsidize this circus that we’re not in Las Vegas.
What happens on campus doesn’t stay on campus.
I'm not sure this proves what Pluckrose, Boghossian, and Lindsay think it proves. They seem to believe they have shown that academic journals will accept complete garbage as long as it's intersectional progressive garbage. But at least in the case of the dog park study, this was well-disguised garbage.Perhaps so, although if grievance studies frequently engages in doing things that give bullpuckey a bad name, it is more important that people, particularly anonymous referees working in grievance studies fields, have particularly effective bullpuckey detectors.
This is not the first time Boghossian and Lindsay have declared victory after finding a home for shoddy scholarship. In 2017, they succeed in publishing a nonsense paper, "The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct." But the chosen venue was essentially an academic vanity press that would only take their work if they paid a fee. Ultimately, this said more about the quality of pay-to-publish journals than it did about the gullibility of academic publishers.
The new scam is a lot more impressive: Seven hoax papers accepted for publication is a lot. This raises legitimate concerns about the academic publishing process, and much of the ridicule the "grievance studies" attract is deserved.
But it's also true more generally that if you work very, very hard at fooling people, you will often succeed—and not just in academia.