Fake News and The Academy

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Fake News and The Academy

Aca­d­e­mic pub­li­ca­tions don’t let the facts stand in the way of a good story, par­tic­u­larly when an arti­cle pro­motes a dis­tinctly left­ist line.

For the past year, sev­eral schol­ars sent fake papers to var­i­ous aca­d­e­mic jour­nals they describe as spe­cial­iz­ing in activism or “griev­ance stud­ies.” Their stated mis­sion was to expose how easy it was to get “absur­di­ties and morally fash­ion­able polit­i­cal ideas pub­lished as legit­i­mate aca­d­e­mic research.”

The three schol­ars included Helen Pluck­rose, who stud­ies medieval reli­gious writ­ings about women; James A. Lind­say, an author and math­e­mati­cian; and Peter Boghoss­ian, an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy at Port­land State University.

Some­thing has gone wrong in the uni­ver­sity — espe­cially in cer­tain fields within the human­i­ties,” the three authors of the fake papers wrote in an arti­cle in the online jour­nal Areo explain­ing what they had done. “Schol­ar­ship based less upon find­ing truth and more upon attend­ing to social griev­ances has become firmly estab­lished, if not fully dom­i­nant, within these fields.”

The prob­lem is par­tic­u­larly ram­pant in the social sci­ences where it is often dif­fi­cult to repli­cate the “exper­i­ments” cre­ated in the arti­cles. More­over, social sci­ences tend to empha­size qual­i­ta­tive meth­ods, which often use open-​ended ques­tions to inves­ti­gate why peo­ple think the way they do, rather than quan­ti­ta­tive meth­ods, which use spe­cific ques­tions to inves­ti­gate what peo­ple do or think. Also, social sci­ence researchers often engage in con­fir­ma­tion bias through which there is a ten­dency to ignore data that con­flict with the core beliefs of the author.

These and other issues are what the self-​described “lib­eral” researchers tried to uncover.

For exam­ple, Gen­der, Place & Cul­ture, a monthly jour­nal on “fem­i­nist geog­ra­phy” pub­lished one of the papers on how dog parks empha­sized the cul­ture of rape.

The paper claimed that dog parks are “petri dishes for canine ‘rape cul­ture’” and issues “a call for aware­ness into the dif­fer­ent ways dogs are treated on the basis of their gen­der and queer­ing behav­iors, and the chronic and peren­nial rape emer­gency dog parks pose to female dogs.”

One paper, pub­lished in a jour­nal called Sex Roles, said that the author had con­ducted a two-​year study involv­ing “the­matic analy­sis of table dia­logue” to uncover the mys­tery of why het­ero­sex­ual men like to eat at Hoot­ers, or so-​called “breastaurants.”

Another, enti­tled “Our Strug­gle is My Strug­gle: Sol­i­dar­ity Fem­i­nism as an Inter­sec­tional Reply to Neolib­eral and Choice Fem­i­nism,” included part of Mein Kampf.

One paper, which received pos­i­tive reviews but had not yet been pub­lished, pro­posed a teach­ing method cen­tered on “expe­ri­en­tial repa­ra­tions.” It sug­gested that pro­fes­sors rate stu­dents’ lev­els of oppres­sion based on race, gen­der, class, and other iden­tity cat­e­gories. Stu­dents deemed priv­i­leged would be kept from com­ment­ing in class, inter­rupted when they did speak and invited to sit on the floor or to wear (light) chains around their shoul­ders, wrists, or ankles for the dura­tion of the course. Stu­dents who com­plained would be told that this edu­ca­tional tool helps them con­front “priv­i­leged fragility.”

You really can’t make this stuff up! Oh, sorry, I guess they did. In doing so, I hope peo­ple see how absurd aca­d­e­mic research has become.

Academic publications don’t let the facts stand in the way of a good story, particularly when an article promotes a distinctly leftist line.

For the past year, several scholars sent fake papers to various academic journals they describe as specializing in activism or “grievance studies.” Their stated mission was to expose how easy it was to get “absurdities and morally fashionable political ideas published as legitimate academic research.”

The three scholars included Helen Pluckrose, who studies medieval religious writings about women; James A. Lindsay, an author and mathematician; and Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University.

“Something has gone wrong in the university — especially in certain fields within the humanities,” the three authors of the fake papers wrote in an article in the online journal Areo explaining what they had done. “Scholarship based less upon finding truth and more upon attending to social grievances has become firmly established, if not fully dominant, within these fields.”

The problem is particularly rampant in the social sciences where it is often difficult to replicate the “experiments” created in the articles. Moreover, social sciences tend to emphasize qualitative methods, which often use open-ended questions to investigate why people think the way they do, rather than quantitative methods, which use specific questions to investigate what people do or think. Also, social science researchers often engage in confirmation bias through which there is a tendency to ignore data that conflict with the core beliefs of the author.

These and other issues are what the self-described “liberal” researchers tried to uncover.

For example, Gender, Place & Culture, a monthly journal on “feminist geography” published one of the papers on how dog parks emphasized the culture of rape.

The paper claimed that dog parks are “petri dishes for canine ‘rape culture’” and issues “a call for awareness into the different ways dogs are treated on the basis of their gender and queering behaviors, and the chronic and perennial rape emergency dog parks pose to female dogs.”

One paper, published in a journal called Sex Roles, said that the author had conducted a two-year study involving “thematic analysis of table dialogue” to uncover the mystery of why heterosexual men like to eat at Hooters, or so-called “breastaurants.”

Another, entitled “Our Struggle is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism,” included part of Mein Kampf.

One paper, which received positive reviews but had not yet been published, proposed a teaching method centered on “experiential reparations.” It suggested that professors rate students’ levels of oppression based on race, gender, class, and other identity categories. Students deemed privileged would be kept from commenting in class, interrupted when they did speak and invited to sit on the floor or to wear (light) chains around their shoulders, wrists, or ankles for the duration of the course. Students who complained would be told that this educational tool helps them confront “privileged fragility.”

You really can’t make this stuff up! Oh, sorry, I guess they did. In doing so, I hope people see how absurd academic research has become.