College newspaper hoax shows grievance our new obsession


In a photo provided by Mike Nayna, from left to right: James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose and Peter Boghossian, who wrote 20 bogus scientific papers and had several accepted and published in journals.

In a photo provided by Mike Nayna, from left to right: James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose and Peter Boghossian, who wrote 20 bogus scientific papers and had several accepted and published in journals.


Do dogs suffer from “(perceived) gender-based oppression”? Can observing human-dog interactions help us to disrupt “hegemonic masculinities”? Obviously, there is a dearth of academic research on this topic. This is probably why the journal Gender, Place, and Culture was so excited to publish an academic article titled “Human Responses to Rape Culture and Queer Performativity in Portland’s Urban Dog Parks,” Oregon ”- to make an important contribution to literature.

Well, sort of.

It turns out the document was part of a huge hoax. Three academics – Helen Pluckrose, James Lindsay, and Peter Boghossian – spent 10 months writing 20 bogus and absurdly performative academic papers and submitting them to identity studies and critical theory journals. The trio sought to expose the excesses of what they called “grievance studies”: academic fields that they believed had shifted from seeking the truth to promoting a narrow band of progressive ideology. , using impenetrable jargon.

The hoax submissions were absurd, albeit in a perfect tone. One of them – “Entering the Back Door: Challenging Male Homohysteria, Transhysteria and Transphobia Through the Use of Receptive Penetrating Sex Toys” – examined whether straight men should self-penetrate. by anal way to fight against the culture of rape. Another suggested that “Western astronomy” was a sexist, colonialist enterprise that should be corrected by queer astrology. An article titled “Our Struggle is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Response to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism” was literally a partial chapter of “Mein Kampf” rewritten using the buzzwords of women’s studies.

Yet by the time Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian were surprised by the Wall Street Journal, seven of their fakes had been accepted for publication in genuine academic journals.

Not surprisingly, conservatives have touted these successes as evidence of academia’s dangerous decline towards leftism, while liberal academics have tried to downplay their implications. But for such a remarkable outing in the Culture Wars, the “Sokal Squared” hoax – so named in honor of the original scam of this genre, executed by physicist Alan Sokal in 1996 – did not attract so much attention. be careful than you might have imagined.

Why? Perhaps because much of America has been consumed by the political theater of the Supreme Court upholding struggle, which has turned out to be a savagely partisan confrontation centered on gender, sex and gender. to be able to. For weeks the Liberals and Conservatives have been throwing out ideological buzzwords and inflammatory proposals, seeking to make a point the other side either does not understand or will not understand.

Hmm. Sounds familiar.

In an essay describing the reasoning behind their hoax, Pluckrose & Co. said, “The stock market based less on seeking the truth than on dealing with social grievances has become firmly established, if not totally dominant” in some areas. Replace “scholarship” with “political,” and it becomes a perfect critique of our current national discourse – with left and right at fault.

The key elements of the grievance study hoax mirror those of the events of the past week. In the battle against Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh, two tribes organized themselves around tightly held identities that were based on narrow concerns (Liberals: “Believe the women!; Conservatives:” Roe v. Wade! “). The dysfunction that followed was the result of efforts to buttress these positions rather than seeking a real common good – that’s what, I’ve heard, politics are in fact for.

With Sokal Squared, the supposedly harsh left-wing newspapers were too willing to accept any nonsense that matched their obsessions. Meanwhile, the researchers, attacking from the right, were prepared to act unethically to get their “point of view” across. The final result ? No truth gathered, no new knowledge shared. An exercise in cynicism rather than creation, sowing doubt on academic enterprise at a time when truth and education are already under attack.

The Kavanaugh debacle was a similar failure. Both sides – it can be argued what was more to blame – seemed to care more about their partisan concerns than what was best for the country in the long run. Democrats weren’t great – was it really helpful for a senator to order all men to “shut up”? – but the Republicans were decidedly worse. In a time of real tension and pain in women’s lives, was the most useful action really to beef up a polarizing figure tinged with sexual misconduct on the court? What we had in the end was a rise in cynicism and the degradation of an institution – here, our justice – that we need more than ever.

As usual, the academy had a head start. The Sokal Squared hoax is worth noting, if only because it is a perfect synthesis of our larger obsessions with ideology and to prove others wrong. Now, for better or worse, there is more research on our own grievances.


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