Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose are simply incompetent hacks


There are many reasons why that inane fake article “study” was bad. Here’s a good summary from HJ.

But we also know bullshit gets published, with relatively little effort, in non-“grievance studies” journals. SCIgen is a program that automatically generates Computer Science papers. The authors were able to get one such paper accepted to a scientific conference in 2005. Eight years later, some researchers discovered that a whopping 120 SCIgen papers had been published across thirty conferences. That same year, John Bohannon submitted a paper on “medicinal lichen” that was machine translated from English to French and back again to 300 open-access journals; it was accepted in 157, and of the 36 submissions where peer reviewers caught the hoax a whopping 16 journals published the paper anyway. Not recent enough for you? While Boghossian and his two friends were toiling away on twenty papers, one person submitted an obvious hoax paper to fourteen biology journals; it got published in three journals and accepted in a further five.

Again, their core claim is that “grievance studies” journals are more prone to hoaxes than non-“grievance studies” journals. If we use my examples as controls, their hypothesis lacks sufficient evidence to be considered true; if we do not, then they don’t have control group and their hypothesis lacks sufficient evidence to be considered true.

Boghossian, Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Mounk do not have the science knowledge of an alert High School student. They should be deeply ashamed and laughed out of academia, instead of rewarded with wingnut welfare.

They used the same hatchet science denialists employ to criticize everything from evolution to climate to physics to medicine: find a few deficiencies — and that peer-review in general can be gamed is a recognized, ongoing problem — and use them to pillory an entire field of study. And like the denialists, they focus on one thing they don’t like, in this case feminism, and selectively criticize narrow, specific problems while generalizing to the whole. This is precisely the kind of game kooks play to claim that evolution is unsupported by evidence, that the earth’s climate isn’t changing, that cigarettes aren’t really that bad for you, and that the AMA is hiding a secret cure for cancer.

I agree. All of them have demonstrated a sophomoric understanding of science and a weird ideological bias that taints everything they do, and they’ve just earned a universal thumbs-down from academia.

Comments

  1. says

    There are so many things wrong with this “hoax”, and lack of control isn’t even half of it.

    BL&P tried to write a bunch of papers based on absurd premises, and they believe that the papers should have been dismissed out of hand. In one of their successful papers, the “absurd” premise is that using academic hoaxes on social justice scholarship is unethical. So apparently, the idea that they might be doing something wrong is so absurd that it should be dismissed immediately.

    Personally, I’m waiting for Alan Sokal himself to pick this “hoax” apart, just like he did with their last hoax.

  2. joel says

    Kevin Drum comments thusly:
    “my main complaint with the cultural studies field has always been simple: this is important stuff, and it deserves rigorous scholarship. But it’s not getting it . . . . [It is] those who are outside these fields but still close to them—and who perform real scholarship themselves—who need to accept what this hoax shows and help lead a cleanup of a badly polluted area of the academy. Unfortunately, what we’re probably going to get is (a) a number of knee-jerk defenses because it’s not worth getting all these folks mad at you, and (b) the usual crew of right-wingers saying “See?””

  3. joel says

    PZ wrote: “they’ve just earned a universal thumbs-down from academia.”

    No. Here is Nicholas Christakis, professor of sociology at Yale: “My prediction re this hoax of publishing many bogus “research” papers . . . is that the journals will respond by implementing procedures to make sure authors are real rather than that the research is actually real.” But then Christakis can afford to be less tetchy about this than most academics, since his field batted 1.000 with BL&P: they submitted seven papers to sociological journals, and none cleared peer review. Sociology is rigorous. Those other fields need to do some cleanup.

    Also, here is xkcd from 10 years ago:

    https://xkcd.com/451/

  4. says

    Yeah. I don’t know what to think about this hoax, but HJ’s summary isn’t a good one. There’s a crucial difference between Boghossian et al. and Bohannon: the journals selected by Boghossian et al. are, as a general rule, not marginal ones – not pay-to-publish or bottom-feeding journals, but for the most part highly respected ones in their field. And they seemed to be able to get published more or less whatever they wanted. The hoax is thus very different from Boghossian’s previous Conceptual Penis-hoax, which was indeed submitted to a shit journal.

    “BL&P tried to write a bunch of papers based on absurd premises, and they believe that the papers should have been dismissed out of hand.”

    That’s too simple. The point of the papers was to “defend” for a (seemingly) outrageous conclusion, but offer nothing whatsoever as worthwhile arguments or reasons for the conclusion. The hypothesis was that as long as your thesis was ideologically “correct”, and you cited the acceptable papers, then the papers would get through because these journals don’t care about actual scholarship, just that the authors have the correct ideological bent.

    Does the hoax show that? I don’t know, but it clearly shows something deeply problematic. Regardless of why they succeeded, that the papers are, frankly, complete nonsense (not the thesis but the absence of reasoning or support for the thesis) but still went through peer review in some of the well-respected journals in the field, usually on first attempt … Well, it shows that something is seriously problematic, and I don’t think that what it shows is that the peer review system in general doesn’t work.

    Does it seem too far-fetched to suggest a diagnosis along the lines of “when you work on politically important topics that concern the well-being of real people, it may often become hard, even for editors and peer-reviewers, to distinguish activism from scholarship”?

  5. says

    G.D. @4,
    They did not get to publish just whatever they wanted. Out of 20 papers, submitted to 48 journals, they only published 7, often after making changes suggested by referees. It is far from clear that the papers that were accepted were “complete nonsense”–the philosophy professor at Daily Nous seemed to think the one about academic hoaxes was reasonable.

    Some of the papers that were more clearly nonsense, such as the one about chaining white students, were in fact rejected. So instead of admitting the failure, BL&P brag about getting charitable referee reviews. What, so they want more hostile referee reviews? Of all the “problems” to highlight in peer review, they’re concerned that referees are too friendly as they reject papers? If you talk to academics–and that’s academics in any field–they’ll complain about overly hostile referees who would dismiss their manuscripts out of hand, without citing good reasons or trying to be constructive. And BL&P actively want to make things worse. WTF!?

    And the other aspect, is that in at least some of the papers, they fabricated data. What does it show, that a study with fabricated data can get accepted? That’s true in any field that accepts experimental work. Peer review is neither capable, nor appropriate to catch fraud. The mechanism we have against fraud, is a threat: if you get caught, you don’t just lose this one paper, you lose your entire academic reputation–a measure that I would suggest is appropriate to apply to BL&P themselves.

    Sure, there are problems in gender studies / critical theory / queer theory / whatever it is they think “grievance studies” is. But “fabrication of data” and “referees that offer constructive criticism” are not anywhere close to identifying the problems.

  6. says

    monad @5,
    Thanks for the link. If I were to identify a real problem with gender studies, it’s that they have a tendency to comb through testimonials, and without any systematic method, pull out and distort quotes so as to conform to their desired conclusion. BL&P have inadvertently shown an example of this poor methodology in action.

  7. emergence says

    joel @3

    The fact that sociology journals couldn’t be gamed by this sort of thing doesn’t help Bogossian and co. with their blabbering about “grievance studies”. A large portion of the field is about empirically studying racism, sexism, and LGBT+ hostility. Bogossian can whine all he wants that the humanities “inflame the greivances of identity groups”. The sheer number of times that results like this have been replicated suggest he’s an entitled, oblivious prick and these “identity groups'” greivances are completely legitimate.

  8. joel says

    emergence @8

    “The fact that sociology journals couldn’t be gamed by this sort of thing doesn’t help Bogossian and co. with their blabbering about “grievance studies”.”

    I’m not defending what BL&P believe. I’m defending what they did. The fact that serious peer-reviewed journals in several fields cannot distinguish bullshit from scholarship ought to be considered a crisis in these fields. That they are (with PZ’s help) circling the wagons instead is troubling.

    I part ways with BL&P when they use the term “grievance studies”. Racism, sexism, and LGBT+ hostility are important fields that need to be studied – with rigor. I’m glad sociologists are doing it. I’m sad that other fields are just pretending.

  9. Ichthyic says

    The fact that serious peer-reviewed journals in several fields cannot distinguish bullshit from scholarship ought to be considered a crisis in these fields. That they are (with PZ’s help) circling the wagons instead is troubling.

    you have serious reading comprehension issues.

    even Nature and Science accept bogus papers from time to time.

    should we dismiss all the fields they publish on?

    how about… no.

    the entire point is that submitting bogus papers to journals that get accepted SAYS FUCKALL about the quality of science people IN THOSE FIELDS are actually doing.

    to compare, look at how PZ has attempted to disect the problems with Evolutionary Psychology.

    did he try and attack the journals that publish the articles and then claim the field was trash? not at all. he did what a proper scientist is supposed to do, and attack individual papers for specific rigor (well, mostly). I don’t always agree with the conclusions made, but the approach is the right one, whereas Boggy et al accomplish NOTHING with their approach, but apparently convincing morons like yourself that they have a winning approach.

    you know nothing, and should frankly be embarrassed at defending their “approach”.

  10. Hj Hornbeck says

    G.D @4:

    There’s a crucial difference between Boghossian et al. and Bohannon: the journals selected by Boghossian et al. are, as a general rule, not marginal ones – not pay-to-publish or bottom-feeding journals, but for the most part highly respected ones in their field. And they seemed to be able to get published more or less whatever they wanted. The hoax is thus very different from Boghossian’s previous Conceptual Penis-hoax, which was indeed submitted to a shit journal.

    Ah yes, I was expecting that argument. The “highly respected” part is suspect; I’ve started plugging names into SJR, and so far the highest ranking journal I’ve found was Hypatia… which was ranked #36 when sorted by Impact Factor. Yes, they’ve set their sights higher this time, but it’s tough to see what the fuss is about when they “hoax” a mid-level gender studies journal by publishing so-so gender studies papers. My favourite analogy is Flat-Earthers trying to convince the rest of us by publishing low-quality papers that argue the Earth is round. What seems outrageous and self-defeating to them, isn’t to us.

    I was also going for a plausibility angle: yes, one case involved obvious hoax papers submitted to bottom-barrel journals, while the Boghossian et al. case involved semi-legit papers submitted to mid-tier journals, but until someone runs the same experiment on non-“grievance studies” journals (whatever they are) that’s the best comparison we’ve got. It’s why I left the door open for people who thought I was comparing apples and oranges:

    Again, their core claim is that “grievance studies” journals are more prone to hoaxes than non-“grievance studies” journals. If we use my examples as controls, their hypothesis lacks sufficient evidence to be considered true; if we do not, then they don’t have control group and their hypothesis lacks sufficient evidence to be considered true.

  11. Hj Hornbeck says

    G.D. @4:

    The point of the papers was to “defend” for a (seemingly) outrageous conclusion, but offer nothing whatsoever as worthwhile arguments or reasons for the conclusion. The hypothesis was that as long as your thesis was ideologically “correct”, and you cited the acceptable papers, then the papers would get through because these journals don’t care about actual scholarship, just that the authors have the correct ideological bent.

    You haven’t actually read the papers, have you? By their own admission, Boghossian et al. varied how outrageous each paper was. Unsurprisingly, it looks like the tamer ones got through. Check out my “so-so gender studies papers” link; I read through one and found the conclusion was not outrageous, and the arguments were reasonable. At the bottom I link to someone else who read through another, and concluded the same. Nor do you have to take our words for it; that trio have released all their papers to the public.

  12. says

    Clarification to my comment #6: they didn’t submit to 48 journals, they just say they made 48 new submissions. Which could just mean that the papers went through multiple rounds of referee responses.

  13. says

    I think that for many non scientist, what BLP hoaxed into journals is what “grievance studies” really are anyway.
    If the only source of knowledge about the field is main stream media showing funniest/most outrageous outliers….

    As a PR stunt aimed at out of field people BLP probably spectacurarly succeeded.

  14. qotsafan says

    What a bad comparison. The hoax papers were not submitted to pay to publish journals. What are the leading journals in developmental biology? Would they publish one of those SCIgen papers after peer review? It is well known that open access journals are full of rubbish scholarship.
    These papers were published in leading journals in the subfields of “feminist geography”, “gender studies” and “feminist philosophy”. Tenured professors of feminism and gender studies publish in these journals.This means the leading scholars of gender studies and feminist philosophy produce bad scholarship and rubbish that are indistiguishable for nonsense 3 people made up in a week.
    The papers included lessons on “rampant canine rape culture” from observing dogs in a park and a copy-paste section of Mein Kampf .
    I guess we can agree both pay to publish journals and the leading journals in gender studies are full of rubbish scholarship.

  15. says

    With regards to the Mein Kampf paper, there’s an account of that here:

    Did you read the paper in question? Or the reviews? The author’s description of “fashionable buzzwords switched in” seems to be entirely dishonest; the rewrite is extensive enough that I could barely identify which section(s?) of the relevant chapter was the source.

    Where a point that mentions “destroying enemies” occurs in MK, it is completely omitted, not buzzword-swapped or watered down or rewritten, for the paper. Consequently, the paper consists of platitudes about how feminists should be more united and try really hard to fight all kinds of oppression. Hardly deep insights (as the reviewers from Feminist Theory, which rejected it, noted), but also not reasonably described as “the basic ideology of Naziism coated in a thin layer of estrogen.”

    With regard to the canine rape culture paper… that’s one of the ones based on fabricated data. And from what I’ve heard, it’s not actually about rape culture among dogs, it’s about the behavior of dog owners. And that may be a bit silly (in a “this deserves an Ig Nobel” kind of way), but BL&P are clearly misleading you about the content of the article.

  16. qotsafan says

    @HJ Hornbeck
    Your reasoning is quite odd. I don’t think I’ve seen many discipline engage in self-criticism in the way you seem to demand.

    For example , many criticisms of psychology focus on the reproducibility crisis. Many widely accepted results in the field are not reproducible. If I was bringing up this criticism , does that mean I need to do a control group with another field with high reproducibility in their experiments?

    Many nutrition scientists criticise nutrition science for publishing industry funded research that is biased in favor of industry products (eg studies funded by the dairy industry saying milk is good for you). To bring up this criticism , do I need a control group of another field that is not industry funded?

    I’m not sure what to make of your post about needing a control group.

  17. consciousness razor says

    For example , many criticisms of psychology focus on the reproducibility crisis. Many widely accepted results in the field are not reproducible. If I was bringing up this criticism , does that mean I need to do a control group with another field with high reproducibility in their experiments?

    But we’re not talking about reproducibility here, except in a case or two where they lied to journals about their fake data. Publishing in peer-reviewed journals isn’t a perfect system, no matter which field it is — a comparison with other fields would bear that out. The formalized way that academics communicate with one another (not the methodology of the work which is being communicated) has security gaps that can be exploited by a group of determined trolls, who are acting in bad faith, have nothing to lose and don’t care about wasting everyone’s time…. To that I say “no shit, Sherlock.” If this is what we were supposed to conclude, then they could’ve shown that in an ethical way, although I still don’t think it would’ve been news to anybody.

    But they think they’ve shown a variety of things about a particular set of fields/journals, which marks them as especially bad, as different from others somehow … without doing anything that could demonstrate such a difference. If we’re focused on the actual methodology used, what do you think it would be like for someone to “replicate the findings” of Boghossian et al? How would that work?

    I think they could have formulated some coherent criticisms of genuine work that had been published in this or that journal. They could have engaged with these fields honestly, making clear arguments about what if anything is unacceptable in them. If such criticisms have merit, or if it’s at least possible for others to evaluate them in that way, then they can definitely attempt to publish about that (rather than a load of bullshit). Those fields may be better for it. It may turn out to be disruptive of who knows what or may not amount to much, but either way, it could be regarded as a legitimate and honest way to resolve academic disputes.

  18. Hj Hornbeck says

    qotsafan @15:

    These papers were published in leading journals in the subfields of “feminist geography”, “gender studies” and “feminist philosophy”.

    Uh, did you check out SJR? Right, since I’ve got to correct an error of mine, I might as well do your work for you…

    Gender, Place and Culture: #9 in gender studies.
    Sex Roles: #20 in gender studies.
    Sexuality and Culture: #31 in gender studies.
    Hypatia: #36 in gender studies.
    Affilia – Journal of Women and Social Work: #40 in gender studies.
    Fat Studies: #57 in gender studies.
    ​The Journal of Poetry Therapy: #75 in Clinical Psychology.

    My bad, I thought Hypatia was higher ranked than it was and gave up too soon. Still, the closest we get to a top-tier journal is in ninth place, and guess what? Boghossian et al. misrepresented what their own paper was about. From Siggy’s link in #16, emphasis mine:

    But other accepted papers, I think, use a trick: invent some fake data of interest to the journal, and include a discussion section with some silly digressions. The journal accepts the paper because the core is the interesting data, and then the hoax coverage says that the paper is about the silly digressions. For example, the core of the dog park paper is a fake observational study showing that humans, especially males, are faster to stop male-on-male dog sexual encounters than male-on-female sexual encounters. I think that’s fine; it is actually indicative of heteronormativity or homophobia or whatever. The paper also has an angle about canine rape culture, and that is indeed silly, but the paper is not best described, as The Chronicle of Higher Education did, as being “about canine rape culture in dog parks in Portland”.

    All you have to do to confirm that is read the paper.

    Consequently, I examine the following questions, which are underdeveloped within intersectional animal/feminist literature: (1) How do human discourses of rape culture get mapped onto dogs’ sexual encounters at dog parks; particularly, how do companions manage, contribute, and respond to ‘dog rape culture’? (2) What issues surround queer performativity and human reaction to homosexual sex between and among dogs? and (3) Do dogs suffer oppression based upon (perceived) gender.

    Human beings tend to project themselves onto other animals, so examining non-human animals sheds light on how we treat each other. The core of the paper is legitimate, yet Boghossian et al. claim it is outlandish. This is not a Sokal-style hoax, despite what the media is telling you.

  19. Hj Hornbeck says

    qotsafan @17:

    For example , many criticisms of psychology focus on the reproducibility crisis. Many widely accepted results in the field are not reproducible. If I was bringing up this criticism , does that mean I need to do a control group with another field with high reproducibility in their experiments?

    If you are arguing that psychology is less reproducible than other disciplines, then yes, you need a control group consisting of studies from other disciplines. If you are merely arguing that some psychology papers are not reproducible, then no, you just try to reproduce studies.

    Many nutrition scientists criticise nutrition science for publishing industry funded research that is biased in favor of industry products (eg studies funded by the dairy industry saying milk is good for you). To bring up this criticism , do I need a control group of another field that is not industry funded?

    If you are arguing that industry-funded nutrition research leads to more false results than in fields without industry-funded research, or nutrition research that isn’t industry funded for that matter, then yes. If you are arguing that some industry-funded research is false, then no, you just try to reproduce the research without industry backing.

    How are you getting confused on this?

  20. qotsafan says

    @consciousness razor.
    I was referring to HJ Hornbeck’s criticism that we can’t draw any conclusions from the hoax unless we have a control case. I was saying I don’t think so and I gave other examples of people giving internal criticisms of a discipline without using a control case.

    So I think the conclusion of BL&P was that the standard of scholarship in critical studies fields was generally poor. That journals would publish poorly reasoned arguments and make unevidenced assertions as long as the hoaxers used the jargon and fit the fields ideological biases.
    Peer review should have seen all of these poorly reasoned papers rejected , but 7 of them were accepted.
    I think of what they did was like a “White hat” hacking operation. They identified vulnerabilities in the field and we need to think of how to address them.
    I think we might look at ways to reduce ideological bias and emphasise evidence based thinking in the review process.

    “They could have engaged with these fields honestly, making clear arguments about what if anything is unacceptable in them.”
    They definitely have. Pluckrose has written several essays addressing topics in gender studies and critical theory and has a book forthcoming.

    And I find the “but what about [x] field” response unconvincing.
    For example , imagine a trio of economists did some internal criticism of the discipline of economics. They said that publications in the journals are rife with ideological bias and lack methodological rigour.
    In response a group of economists argues “But what about other disciplines”. ” Philosophy and Political Science have even bigger problems with ideological bias and methodological flaws than we do”.
    I mean , even if this is true , it doesn’t say anything flattering about your discipline or how to improve your discipline.

  21. says

    “They did not get to publish just whatever they wanted. Out of 20 papers, submitted to 48 journals, they only published 7, often after making changes suggested by referees.”

    True, but this was because the experiment was cut short. 7 papers in a year is virtually impossible for most working in humanities fields without bad faith, and it is far from unlikely that more of their papers would have been published if the experiment hadn’t been cut short. Given turnaround times for most of these journals, having a single paper accepted for publication a year after conception is, frankly, completely incredible.

    “It is far from clear that the papers that were accepted were “complete nonsense”–the philosophy professor at Daily Nous seemed to think the one about academic hoaxes was reasonable.”

    Justin Weinberg disgraces himself with that assessment. The paper is here: HoH1. I have read it. (I am an assoc. prof. of philosophy and should be in a position to judge, at least as well as Weinberg.) It is frighteningly bad. You’d have to be pretty incompetent or blinded by ideological commitments to come to any other conclusion.

    “And the other aspect, is that in at least some of the papers, they fabricated data.”

    That’s grasping at straws. At least in the case of the dog park paper where this observation is usually made (look for the paper in the link I gave above). No, the author didn’t make the observations she claims to have done (though you don’t need to read it very carefully to get pretty strong suspicions that she didn’t) but that is completely beside the point: Even if she had the data she had, the big issue is the interpretation of them: It should be clear to anyone using minimal reasoning or awareness of method that her interpretations of her data are completely and utterly unjustified. That’s what the peer reviewers should have picked up on.

    As for the journals, they are pretty highly ranked, or at least midlevel. Top 50 in gender studies is more than respectable, but citation counts as a measure for ranking is, moreover, known to be a bad measure. Philosophers, for instance, have a culture of not citing anything except the classics; most papers, even in top journals, never get more than maximum one citation, and the impact factors of top journals are rarely about 3 or 4. There are, in short, huge and well-known cultural differences in citation practices making citation scores in interdisciplinary fields unreliable (e.g. biased to overstate the importance of journals or papers that cater to particular subfields of the field). No, they are not the top journals, true (though in Europe Hypathia is considered top-level for funding purposes in philosophy). Perhaps the very top journals wouldn’t have published Boghossian et al.s’ bullshit. In that case, the problem is more limited than they perhaps suggest. It is still a significant problem.

    The most important point, though, that it seems plenty of people are still missing: It is not the outrageousness of the thesis that should have led to rejection of these papers. The guiding hypothesis was that the fields were driven by ideological purity with no concern for scholarship, and that papers with semi-legitimate theses with the right ideological bent would be accepted if only they cited the “right” literature, regardless of the shoddiness of the papers. In other words, the clinching issue is the total lack of argument or support for those theses in their papers. And there isn’t any. No one who had any doubts about the theses and needed conviction through argument or reason would have found anything whatsoever in the papers.

    As for the comments from peer reviewers, here I think Boghossian et al. undersell their point. The problem isn’t that reviewer comments are too friendly as they accept or reject their paper, but that they are of the form “I completely agree with your thesis, therefore it should be published.” Admittedly, I base that observation on the limited number of comments Boghossian et al. initially summed up. Perhaps the full set gives a different picture. But “I agree with your conclusion” should never be a reason to accept a paper. B et al.’s hypothesis, though, was that agreement would precisely be what would predict acceptance in these fields.

    Now, I myself have only read the dog park and hypathia papers. They’re so bad that it beggars belief that they weren’t desk rejected, even by editors with an ideological bent. Perhaps some of the others are of different quality?

    Lack of controls: no, there were no controls with papers sent to other fields. Perhaps thought that similarly shoddy papers wouldn’t have got through so quickly and with so little work in other fields is wishful thinking. If it isn’t, and they would, the only legitimate conclusion to draw is that all of sciences – or at least the humanities – is garbage, and that Republican senators are correct that it should all be defunded. It is worthless.

  22. chrislawson says

    qotsafan:

    If BPL’s hypothesis was “we can get poor articles into social science journals”, then they didn’t need a control group. But this is a spectacularly useless hypothesis because it is already known from observation that you can get poor articles in any journal, even the very top scientific and medical journals like Nature, Science, BMJ, The Lancet, and so on.

    But BPL are not representing their work honestly. They are pretending that they have demonstrated the hypothesis that “grievance studies” is a field with a particularly low editorial standards. First of all, the blanket insult towards entire fields of study shows that they’re not disinterested researchers. Secondly, if you’re going to suggest that bad studies are more prominent in a given discipline, then you do need a control group from another discipline.

    I’d also point out that not only did they fabricate data, they fabricated authorship (no, not the fake author names, but using a real author who had not contributed to the papers). This is not ethical academic practice. And it doesn’t even achieve what they claim to be achieving.

    “…they’re dismayed by what they describe as a “grievance studies” takeover of academia, especially its encroachment into the sciences. “I think that certain aspects of knowledge production in the United States have been corrupted,” Mr. Boghossian says. Anyone who questions research on identity, privilege and oppression risks accusations of bigotry.

    They say that “grievance studies” are taking over academia including the sciences. The way to test that is with a well-designed systematic literature review. They say that knowledge production has been corrupted. The way to test that is with a study of how papers are written with comparison to earlier times. They say that anyone who questions research on identity, privilege and oppression risks accusations of bigotry.* The way to test that is with sociological research. You might notice that none of these assertions is capable of being tested by submitting hoax papers to journals.

    *Also, le da effing da. If the worst thing in your academic career is “risking accusations of bigotry” then you’ve got a damn cushy job. Guess what? Even people within those fields criticise each other for unexamined assumptions about race, gender, and class. Meanwhile BPL, those self-described left-leaning purists can’t rouse themselves to fight for climate scientists being harangued by accusations of corruption in the media, stem cell researchers losing funding because of fundamentalists, public health scientists being forced by act of Congress to not study gun violence, outright suppression of environmental research that raises concerns about major mining projects / agricultural practices, or the innumerable scientists ousted from public agencies like the EPA so they could be replaced by lobbyists. Left-leaning, my ass. I mean, sure, they probably vote Democrat, which is good, but it’s clear that on issues that pertain to them directly, they’re only interested in maintaining conservative values in academia.

  23. chrislawson says

    GD@22–

    If it isn’t, and they would, the only legitimate conclusion to draw is that all of sciences – or at least the humanities – is garbage, and that Republican senators are correct that it should all be defunded. It is worthless.

    I’m not sure I believe what I’m reading. You’re actually saying that if bad papers can get through into peer reviewed journals then all research should be defunded. Are you really an Assoc. Prof. of Philosophy? This is a far more damning indictment of academic standards than anything BPL got through the peer review net.

  24. says

    GD @22,
    Glad you read a couple of the papers and came to an independent conclusion, although I hope you see that I have no reason to trust you over Justin Weinberg or vice versa. If the problem is that the arguments are poor and the interpretations of data are bad, that sounds more like the kind of criticisms I would level at gender studies. I come from a physics background, but I read gender studies papers sometimes, I know full well that they can be bad.

    Nonetheless, as discussed above, BL&P are not being honest about the content of the papers or why they are wrong. Most people who hear this story and share a laugh over it, are obviously never going to read the papers in question. If all you knew was that the paper was about canine rape culture, would you have guessed that it was a paper with a reasonable thesis and poor argumentation? No, it sounds like an absurd thesis. This doesn’t help anyone understand the (real!) problems with gender/minority studies, it just muddies the waters.

    Most people are not too familiar with the details of the Sokal hoax, but that paper was wrong in a more straightforward way. Namely, it was full of verifiable nonsense that would have immediately been caught if the editors asked anyone with a stem background. And some of that verifiable nonsense came from direct quotes of literature, which highlighted how the problem extended beyond the hoax itself.

  25. says

    @chrislawson, #24:

    You are misunderstanding my argument (which, I admit, is partially my fault). My point was not that “You’re actually saying that if bad papers can get through into peer reviewed journals then all research should be defunded.”

    The point was that if Boghossian et al. are right about gender studies, then papers are accepted purely on the basis of ideological alignment and scholarship doesn’t matter (and the evidence is not that bad papers get into peer reviewed journals, but that garbage consistently and easily get through the publication process as long as the referees agree with the thesis). That is, if the hoax worked as intended, then it shows that what they call “grievance studies” are driven purely by ideology and not scholarship (a bit of a step in the inductive argument, there, admittedly). Now, they may or may not be right about that, but if they are right, then what they call grievance studies has nothing to do with scholarship, but is pure ideologically driven activism.

    My point, then, was that if Boghossian et al. are correct in their assessment of (what they call) “grievance studies”, then the claim – suggested by many here – that other sciences (or humanities in particular) could easily be hoaxed in a similar manner would not be an argument that “grievance studies” are OK. It would be an argument that science in general (and humanities in particular) is merely driven by conformity to ideology and not scholarship, too. And if the humanities are just about ideology and politics, not scholarship, then, yeah, the Republican conspiracy theorists would have been right all along.

    I actually don’t think that point should be particularly controversial. What’s controversial is rather what Boghossian et al. succeeded in showing what they think they show about “grievance studies”.

    @Siggy, #25. You are right that Boghossian et al. are overselling their point and muddying the waters; I completely agree. And I wouldn’t say that the theses in the papers are reasonable. Indeed, they’re the kind of theses that one should really be very skeptical about, but which could, if one squint, seem to be coherent with the literature – they’re not absurd, but certainly not reasonable either. The point, it seems to me (though now I go way beyond what Boghossian et al. have actually stated), is that they’re the kinds of these you shouldn’t accept unless you were given very strong reasons or evidence. Which, of course, they don’t provide, putatively showing that acceptance could only be driven by ideology, not a commitment to scholarship. But again: I agree that you may be right that what they end up doing is just muddying the waters, given how careless they are in assessing and describing what they have actually achieved.

  26. qotsafan says

    @HJ Hornbeck
    It might be trivially true that you need a control case to make a definitive conclusion about gender studies relative to other fields of study. However you don’t make any case that we cannot do internal criticism of gender studies without a control case. People make internal criticisms without control cases all the time.
    To repurpose my example , imagine a trio of economists did some internal criticism of the discipline of economics. They said that publications in the journals are rife with ideological bias and lack methodological rigour.
    In response a group of economists argues “But what about control cases in other disciplines”. ” It may be Philosophy and Political Science have even bigger problems with ideological bias and methodological flaws than we do”.
    Even if true it does nothing to rebut the criticism or improve the discipline.

  27. says

    fFs: Let’s not forget who these people are. Pluckrose is the editor of Aero magazine, and as such the most responsible for the bullshit Aero piece on trans rights discourse she co-wrote with, let’s see, who would that be? Oh, right: James Lindsay!

    I took that apart months ago, but the takeaway message is that they specifically billed themselves as the knowledgeable, rational, and evidence based minority in the midst of a trans* rights discussion dominated by shrill minorities.

    What was the headline?

    An Argument for a Liberal and Rational Approach to Transgender Rights and Inclusion

    And what was their opening statement?

    The rights and social inclusion of trans people is a heated topic right now and, as usual in our present atmosphere, the most extreme views take center stage and completely polarize the issue.

    Yet, in this area where I have some expertise they made GIGANTIC errors. For one, the idea that trans* rights discourse is dominated by anti-trans* feminists in coalition with right wing bigots on one side who believe that

    trans identity is a delusion and that the good of society depends on opposing it at every turn

    and extreme trans* advocates on the other who believe that

    everyone else must be compelled to accept this, use corresponding language, and be fully inclusive of trans people in their choice of sexual partners

    Yet is there any evidence that the discourse is dominated in significant part by people who believe there should be no freedom in selection of sexual partners? Of course not. Is there any evidence that the discourse is dominated in significant part by TERFs? Of course not.

    Now, granted there are a hell of a lot more right wing bigots with the ability to get quoted in the New York Times than there are TERFs or no-freedom-of-choice-in-sexual-partners trans advocates, but still — do they dominate debate to the point where other perspectives are not allowed to be heard? That is, after all, the first and central claim of Pluckrose and Lindsay.

    The truth is that media outlets from talk radio to the panel on The View to local TV news to the Washington Post to alternative weeklies to ESPN were covering the North Carolina anti-trans* bathroom bill saga. While there might be a fair few right wing bigots who believe “trans identity is a delusion and that the good of society depends on opposing it at every turn” in talk radio, with a media spectrum that vast it can’t possibly be said to have been dominated by them. And as for TERFs, there’s no evidence that they had a significant impact on the media coverage at all, which frequently discussed things like economic losses due to loss of convention business and sporting events when out-of-state organizations didn’t want to be associated with a bill based on stereotyping and animus to the detriment of a despised minority with no research at all to show that there was a legitimate governmental aim that would be successfully furthered by the bill.

    In short, they pronounced themselves the reasonable ones in a particular conversation while being unfamiliar with the vast majority of speakers and perspectives represented in the conversation, entirely deluded as to the dynamics of the discourse, and utterly without anything like the necessary evidence to back up their premises or their conclusions.

    Even if you can’t make a knowledgable statement about the current dynamics within gender studies scholarship, you can at least recognize that you, personally, have almost certainly had conversations about trans* rights without having anyone tell you that you can no longer pick your own sexual partners without first getting some sort of approval of that partner’s gender.

    These are people who make false claims. Repeatedly. They seem especially fond of falsely portraying themselves as the knowledgeable and rational islands in a see of irrationality and unreasonableness. When those claims, in the past, have proved to be so far from the truth that those claims and the truth can’t possibly be contained by the same galactic local group, why would you give any credence to their similar claims here?

  28. Ichthyic says

    You’re arguing with someone (qotsafan) who very clearly has never read any sociology journal, EVER, let alone any relating to gender studies, nor have they read any of the fake papers produced by Boggy, et. al.

    why bother?

    waste of time.

  29. says

    @crip dyke,
    Did you see that one of the papers they submitted was about dealing with cisnormativity in the workplace? It was rejected. I’m not going to bother reading it to see what was supposed to be absurd about it.

  30. says

    The Bogdanov brothers had a much better success rate: They got five out of five bullshit papers published in physics journals, and they got PhDs for their “work”. The lid got blown off their operation in 2002. Sixteen years later, I’m still waiting for Steven Pinker to declare that it proves mathematical physics to be postmodern nonsense.

    Hj Hornbeck at 19:

    The core of the paper is legitimate, yet Boghossian et al. claim it is outlandish.

    This reminds me of a thought that occurred to me during the first go-around last year. They present “The Conceptual Penis as Social Construct” as self-evidently ludicrous … but the concept of “penis” is, obviously, a social construct! The definition of penis, the fact that we apply the same word to an organ that contains a baculum or is missing a foreskin, that we see bits of spotted hyenas or of barklice and relegate them to “pseudo-penises” — these are social constructions as all facts about language are. Nor is it a stretch to see an overlap between machismo and anti-environmentalism.

  31. says

    And HJ shows the dishonesty in B, L & P’s reporting in detail confirming with actual analysis of the current papers what i suspected based on the evidence of their past work.

    Fuck them.

    @Siggy:

    No, I hadn’t seen that, and as for the paper itself I haven’t read it. I might be willing to, however. Part of my consulting work has been on constructing trans*-inclusive spaces, and though I rarely used words like cisnormativity in my writing or workshops (mostly because you’re trying to come across as accessible and friendly to the people who are seeking to change their organizations for the better), challenging the cisnormativity of social service spaces for both employees and service-seekers would be the academic way of describing that work. Along the way I deliberately challenged other oppressions as well – including heteronormativity. So challenging heteronormativity in the workplace is something that I’ve actually done professionally, even if it was secondary to challenging cisnormativity. I’d probably be competent to read and review it. Makes me a touch interested. But it’s still a B, L & P paper, so… that makes me much less interested.

    I don’t know, maybe I’ll seek it out, but probably not.

  32. qotsafan says

    @Blake Stacey
    the Bogandoff brothers maintain they were doing legitimate work, they just wrote bad papers because they were bad researchers. Note the response from the physics journals when the Bogandoff papers were criticised. The journals looked at the papers ,said they were bad and never should have been published and they revised their standards to get more academic rigor in future submissions.
    Imagine if the physics journals instead said the Bogandoff brothers were bigots and they were not going to change their standards even though shit papers get published. I would say this was a shit journal that’s not concerned with good scholarship. Yet that is exactly the response we get from gender studies journals.

  33. Hj Hornbeck says

    Blake Stacey @31:

    The Bogdanov brothers had a much better success rate: They got five out of five bullshit papers published in physics journals, and they got PhDs for their “work”.

    I’m a superposition of “but HOW?!?!” and “of course it was in theoretical physics.”

    This reminds me of a thought that occurred to me during the first go-around last year. They present “The Conceptual Penis as Social Construct” as self-evidently ludicrous … but the concept of “penis” is, obviously, a social construct!

    Boghossian and friends have a very peculiar definition of “absurdities and morally fashionable political ideas.” My favorite example (bolding mine):

    Summary: That it is only oppressive cultural norms which make society regard the building of muscle rather than fat admirable (“the fat body is a legitimately built body”) and that both bodybuilding and fat activism could be benefited by including fat bodies displayed in non-competitive ways as a part of professional bodybuilding.

    ….. Oh, where to start with that.

    Crip Dyke @32:

    Fuck them.

    Hear hear! Between what I and others have uncovered, plus their show of wailing about being kicked out of academia, I figure this is a scam to earn some wingnut welfare.

  34. says

    @HJ:
    Yeah, I was thinking that they must already be receiving some wingnut welfare if they were able to do this for a year, but who knows?

    @qotsafan:

    Imagine if the physics journals instead said the Bogandoff brothers were bigots and they were not going to change their standards even though shit papers get published. I would say this was a shit journal that’s not concerned with good scholarship. Yet that is exactly the response we get from gender studies journals.

    From which gender studies journals? The ones that rejected their work as bad scholarship not worthy of publication? Why should they change their standards if they rejected the fake papers?

    The ones that published? Which ones were those? Are they vanity presses that publish (almost) anything so long as you pay?

    Why not actually quote the statements and provide links? You have a problem with actual evidence or something?

  35. DanDare says

    So now friends of mine who have chips on their shoulders about gender studies are telling me “a bunch of students wrote a paper based on Mein Kampf disguised as gender studies. They got it published without question in all these feminist journals.” Fuck. Now I have to detail the actual events and put up with the “your just being defensive etc”.

  36. qotsafan says

    “From which gender studies journals? ….The ones that published? Which ones were those? ”
    Yeah the ones that published their papers.
    Gender, Place, and Culture , Hypatia, Affilia, Sexuality and Culture, Fat studies, Sex roles
    “Are they vanity presses that publish (almost) anything so long as you pay?”
    No. Gender Place and culture is the leading journal of feminist geography , Fat studies is the leading journal in fat studies , Hypatia is the leading journal in feminist philosopher and the rest are well regarded in their subfields.
    However yeah the level of scholarship in them is not very good.

    This article has quotes.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/04/arts/academic-journals-hoax.html

  37. says

    @quotsafan:

    And I’ve now read the article. You lied.

    There are 2 quotes from persons associated with the journals in question. They are these:

    Ann Garry, an interim co-editor of Hypatia, a leading feminist philosophy journal that had accepted but not yet published the paper “When the Joke’s on You” (a feminist critique of “unethical” hoaxes, as it happens), said she was “deeply disappointed.”

    “Referees put in a great deal of time and effort to write meaningful reviews, and the idea that individuals would submit fraudulent academic material violates many ethical and academic norms,” said Ms. Garry, a professor emerita of philosophy at California State University, Los Angeles.

    “Although a valuable point was learned regarding the authenticity of articles/authors, it should be noted that the authors of the ‘study’ clearly engaged in flawed and unethical research,” Mr. Mazza said.

    Neither person insists that nothing will change, and neither calls B, L or P bigots.

    Why do you feel your case is enhanced by lying?

  38. says

    As a reminder for those who need it, this quote contains the false claims by qotsafan:

    Imagine if the physics journals instead said the Bogandoff brothers were bigots and they were not going to change their standards even though shit papers get published. I would say this was a shit journal that’s not concerned with good scholarship. Yet that is exactly the response we get from gender studies journals.

    Whoops! Too bad qotsafan’s own cited evidence refutes this.

  39. qotsafan says

    @Crip Dyke
    My bad. I conflated the response of academics in gender studies with the response of the journals themselves when I was writing the comment. It would be more accurate to say.
    “Imagine if the physics journals instead said the Bogandoff brothers were bigots and they were not going to change their standards even though shit papers get published. I would say this was a shit journal that’s not concerned with good scholarship. Yet gender studies journals refuse to acknowledge how their lack of standards got those papers published or commit to raising standards, and gender studies academics call them bigots “

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