What goes with anti-vax, flat-earth, and cancer quackery?

Classic conspiracy theories galore at this facebook page, United 4 Truth. But also this:

Do you want the explanation that goes with this? No? Too bad, I’m going to inflict it on you anyway.

How does human DNA in vaccines contribute to the rise of gender identity confusion?

WI-38 is the cell lines from a FEMALE aborted fetus, used to cultivate viruses used in vaccines. When you inject the DNA from a FEMALE (carrying two X chromosomes) into a MALE (who already carries one X chromosome and a weaker Y chromosome) you now have an overload of the X chromosome.

Now we have an onslaught of BOYS who think they should be GIRLS.

Do we have male DNA in vaccines? YES! MRC-5 is the code given to the fetal cell line also used to cultivate vaccine viral components, and it comes from a MALE aborted fetus. Do we have girls thinking they are boys? YES! Is it as prominent as boys wanting to be girls? NO!

Why? Because girls have two dominant X chromosomes. When they are injected with a vaccine containing MRC-5, they aren’t just getting a Y chromosome, but yet another dominant X chromosome, on top of the two they already have. That’s why you don’t see as many girls wanting to be boys as you do the other way around.

These vaccines contain negligible amounts of human material — the cells are used to produce the viruses that are purified for injection. Also, even if you are injected with fragments of human chromosomes, that doesn’t imply that your cells will incorporate them into their genome, so chromosome dosage is irrelevant.This is like suggesting that if you drink milk, you’re actually swallowing whole cows, and this explains why some people say “moooo.”

Labels, and the saga of Cornerstore Caroline

Related to my previous post, the latest tale of a white woman calling the cops on black people is the story of Cornerstore Caroline. A video went viral of her on the phone, calling the police on a black child, accusing him of grabbing her sexually in a bodega. We since have the surveillance video from the store that shows that, at most, a child brushed against her while walking by. She berated the whole family for this imaginary offense so loudly that the kids were crying.

Well, now she’s got an excuse. Or rather, multiple excuses.

The self-described unemployed “feminist and a humanist” variously insisted she was groped in the bodega and acknowledged the boy had only touched her accidentally — and accused his mom of pretending to be a cop, then later leaving a threatening message for her.

“I would like to apologize to her daughter and her son but not to her. She could have walked away, but she didn’t. I’m also a Buddhist, [but] I let my temper show,” Klein said.

“I’ve been called racist before, and I’m not.”

So…she couldn’t be bad because she’s a 1) feminist, 2) humanist, 3) Buddhist, 4) not a racist. OK. We all know no member of those tribes could possibly be wrong. I guess the camera was lying.

I’m going to get a button that says “GOOD HUMAN” to cover all my bases and get exempt from all accusations of wrong-doing.

Why I banned Andy Lewis, Maria Maclachlan, and Alan Henness

Last week, I banned Andy Lewis, Maria Maclachlan, Alan Henness and a few of their friends. Oh, the weeping and wailing and rending of robes! The grief at this cosmic injustice! I have received so many messages of concern: Lewis/Maclachlan/Henness are so nice, so rational, such good skeptics and humanists, such upstanding members of the community, how could I possibly do this? And there lies the problem. Once someone joins a tribe, all the other members of the tribe are expected to assume that they’re good and nice and rational, and bugger all the evidence.

Andy Lewis is not nice and not rational. As evidence, I give you this: his response after being banned.

No one was banned for being in a relationship, which is simply stupid and absurd. I only noted that they were using the same IP address when I was trying to untangle the snarl of strange people brawling in the comments. Likewise, no one was banned for being the victim of a crime. This is all blatant dishonesty intended to stir up sympathy for these poor, innocent people who did nothing at all but love each other and get beat up by bad people. It’s hard to believe that anyone would fall for it, but they did — they were stumbling all over themselves in a rush to tell me what good skeptics they all are and gosh, aren’t they just the sweetest couple?

I’ll just point out that that tweet is such an obvious lie that it calls your judgment into question if you accept it.

Here’s what really happened. An anti-transgender activist (TERF) who has never commented here before found a post he didn’t like, and started trolling the group with aggressive and fundamentally dishonest comments to stir up conflict. His very first comment was disingenuous and misleading: Are we all so devoid of scepticism and full of misogyny that all here cannot bring themselves to accept the objective, material existence of women?

This was a thread about acceptance of transgender individuals, not about debating the existence of women. It is not misogyny to recognize the rights of transgender men and women. But Lewis just barreled in with misrepresentation as his opening gambit.

Note also: he kept this up, making 72 comments over less than a week, constantly stoking the flames and bloating the thread up to over 350 comments, many of which are addressing bogus issues he brought up. It’s a classic example of trolling. Andy Lewis is a troll, and also kind of an obsessed bigot about transgender people.

Furthermore, he recruited his friends to join in. It was a boiling wrangle with multiple TERFs raging when I finally stepped in and shut it down.

So, for instance, we quickly got mariamaclachlan jumping into the fray, and it’s an excellent representative of the fallacious arguments used throughout.

Oh for crying out loud, PZ! The word ‘woman’ means adult human female. Women do NOT have penises.

No, women don’t stop being women if they lose their ovaries any more than you stop being a man because your dick gets lopped off. Your sex is defined according to which of the two reproductive classes you were born into – you KNOW this really but you’ve drunk the ideological kool-aid and are in denial.

Thankfully, there are still some like Angelos who haven’t.

ALL SWANS ARE WHITE! If you find a black swan, we’ll just use our definition to exclude them from the category of swans. It’s an argument as old as Aristotle, and you would think that a skeptic would be familiar with the dangers of an argument from false premises. You don’t just get to blithely wave away counter-examples by referring to a cherry-picked definition.

I also don’t accept the automatic equating of “female” with “woman”, of confusing sex with gender. It also baffles me that anyone would do that: are they in the habit of checking the genitalia of every person they meet? There are almost 7½ billion people on the planet; I’ve met thousands of women; I work regularly with hundreds of them. I have never once asked any of them to show me that they don’t have a penis before accepting their gender. In fact, I’ve only seen the genitals of a handful of human females in my life; should I be skeptical of the identity of every other woman on Earth? How awkward.

I also don’t ask for a karyotype, or a demonstration of what kind of gametes they make.

The fact is that “woman” is a rich cultural artifact with many cues used to designate that aspect of their identity — I accept the reality of girls’ names, women’s styles, women’s manner of speaking, women’s traditional roles, women’s typical careers, women’s make-up — all the signals that people use to mark their gender. I don’t freak out when a girl is named “Mike”, when a woman is a fighter pilot, when a man uses eye shadow, when anyone uses vocal fry, when a woman interrupts a man. We’re seeing people break out of the stereotypes we impose on men and women in many ways, and I think that’s a great step forward. Let’s treat people as individuals rather than representatives of only two allowed gender classes.

The presence or absence of a penis is possibly the worst gender signal ever, because we keep those hidden in almost all of our social interactions. I’d have to be really close, very intimate friends with a woman before she’d show me her penis.

And then, in that comment, one of the most annoying, bullshit argument tactics ever: the declaration that she KNOWS exactly what I know. I’ve heard this from creationists, too, the claim that since I’m a biologist, I must know that all the evidence for evolution is false, and I must deep down agree with them except that I’ve drunk the ideological kool-aid, or possibly, am in the thrall of all the money from Big Science.

You are incorrect, Ms MacLachlan. I am a developmental biologist, which means I know that sex is not a unary operation. It is not decided by a single gene or chromosome, or a single hormone, or a single organ, and is a layered complex process of interlinked interactions. The path from SRY to brain development is not linear and fixed, and other genes and environmental factors can shift the pathway both subtly and profoundly. Sex is not one decision that splits the population into precisely two types. It is a multitude of decisions that modify a multitude of traits and produces a range of complex outcomes. That this process is strongly canalized developmentally to produce a majority of two reproductive types does not mean that variation is excluded, or that we should simply ignore or discriminate against anyone who differs. Biology doesn’t say what you claim it says, and it’s extremely obnoxious to claim the authority of science for your bigotry.

I’m not even getting into gender. That’s the domain of psychologists and sociologists, and to even pretend that human beings emerge from the complexity of biological sex determination to then find a binary simplicity and clarity in psychology and culture is ludicrous. The only reality behind that is that there exist some gatekeepers who are deeply committed to the idea of there being only two allowed types of people, and who try desperately to enforce their narrow preconceptions by harassing people at transgender events or by trolling blogs. Or, I suppose, in some societies or in history, setting the deviants on fire.

So please, don’t tell me what I “KNOW”, and imply that I secretly agree with your anti-scientific bullshit. I don’t. It’s a great way to antagonize me and get yourself banned, unlike, for example, being married.

The whole is like that: the TERFs interject their standard bad arguments, equating sex and gender, insisting that transgender individuals believe they have gametes corresponding to their professed gender, suggesting that transgender women are trying to violently oppress “True” Women, bringing up anecdotes of criminals who dressed as women, etc., etc., etc. The regular commenters here were ably responding to it all, so I just stayed out of it, and they also seemed to take my absence as cowardice on my part and permission for them to amplify their lies. That led to me finally shutting them down.

Let me be crystal clear on this. TERFs tend to be assholes, and I’m not particularly impressed when you try to tell me that this particular set of TERFs are “nice” or “rational”. Biology does not support your gender essentialism, so quit pretending it does. Your species is specified by your genetics (and sometimes even that is fuzzy), but it is not the entirety of your identity, and the people who claim that who you are is a product of a chromosome or a single organ are simplistic to the point of simplemindedness, and given that these same people are often quite intelligent, I have to assume that they are motivated by prejudice or malevolence, and I don’t want them hanging around here.

I’m also not impressed by your membership in a particular tribe, whether it’s skepticism, atheism, humanism, or Catholicism.

Harris’s devious rhetoric dissected

Uh-oh. Brace yourself for waves of outrage and rationalizations from Sam Harris and his fan boys. Eli Massey and Nathan Robinson tackle Sam Harris, and oy, it is not gentle. One quick sample:

Each time Harris said something about Islam that created outrage, he had a defense prepared. When he wondered why anybody would want any more “fucking Muslims,” he was merely playing “Devil’s advocate.” When he said that airport security should profile “Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it,” he was simply demanding acknowledgment that a 22-year old Syrian man was objectively more likely to engage in terrorism than a 90-year-old Iowan grandmother. (Harris also said that he wasn’t advocating that only Muslims should be profiled, and that people with his own demographic characteristics should also be given extra scrutiny.) And when he suggested that if an avowedly suicidal Islamist government achieved long-range nuclear weapons capability, “the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own,” he was simply referring to a hypothetical situation and not in any way suggesting nuking the cities of actually-existing Muslims.[6]

It’s not necessary to use “Islamophobia” or the r-word in order to conclude that Harris was doing something both disturbing and irrational here. As James Croft of Patheos noted, Harris would follow a common pattern when talking about Islam: (1) Say something that sounds deeply extreme and bigoted. (2) Carefully build in a qualification that makes it possible to deny that the statement is literally bigoted. (3) When audiences react with predictable horror, point to the qualification in order to insist the audience must be stupid and irrational. How can you be upset with him for merely playing Devil’s Advocate? How can you be upset with him for advocating profiling, when he also said that he himself should be profiled? How can you object, unless your “tolerance” is downright pathological, to the idea that it would be legitimate to destroy a country that was bent on destroying yours?

Yeah, that’s the man. He is incapable of speaking plainly because he knows his ideas are patently ugly, so he’s got to wrap them up in layers of plausible denial. I’ve just given up on him, because wading through glop to get to the heart of his arguments, which he’ll always deny, just isn’t worth it anymore.

If only he could show the slightest glimmering of change and growth in response to criticisms…but no, instead he has a cuddle-party with his fellow right-leaning dickheads to reassure each other they’re right and everyone else is a big meanie.

Where is all this BS coming from?

I was introduced to another good take-down of that silly anti-“grievance studies” campaign. What I particularly appreciated is that this one recognizes the role of a key disseminator of bad science: Steven Pinker.

The obscure venue of choice for their account of the hoax, Areo Magazine, models itself on the magazine Aeon but in fact contains low-grade content obviously too petty or pedestrian even for Quillette (“Not All Men is Not a Fallacy. It is Humanism”). Yet what generated the Areo article’s viral lift were strong endorsements from the usual suspects—Steven Pinker and Jordan Peterson, both senior psychology professors—and the budding reactionary Yascha Mounk, a Harvard lecturer in government but also head of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. The orthodoxy these men represent is not an orthodoxy of scientific legitimacy but rather the emerging consensus of tech bros, Davos billionaires, and alt-right misogynists. Each of these groups has its own reasons to hate feminist and other critical scholarship—whether for ideological reasons, positivist data fetishism, or the perception that they are uncommodifiable and hence worthless.

I hadn’t heard of Mounk…but the Tony Blair Institute? I distrust him already. But we haven’t gotten to the real skewering yet.

It is hard to imagine a form of scholarship less rigorous, more motivated by nonscientific concerns, and more warped by political hobbyhorses than what these men practice. Steven Pinker routinely misrepresents the scholarship he relies on in his books; a 2013 meta-analysis of the burial sites he studies in his argument on the decline of violence reveals that nearly every one of them has been misunderstood or distorted, without any noticeable impact on its popularity. Yet he can never be effectively corrected by any fellow scholar, because the outsized power he wields due to his media platform will always give his views more visibility. Peterson is even worse, a neo-Jungian fantasist whose basic ideas about animal and human behavior are so egregiously wrong he no longer even bothers to justify them through standard scholarly practice. Mounk catapulted to media prominence entirely on the basis of a conveniently-timed claim that recent survey data showed an alarming collapse in support for democracy in Western societies; though critics soon called his analysis cherry-picked and inaccurate, his reputation as the premier pundit of the liberal-technocrat class remains untarnished. In each of these cases, it is celebrity, status, and money that immunize a would-be scholar from criticism and disincentivize any revisions to their views. These extra-academic factors have a much greater effect on shaping our own daily lives than the private politics of most fat studies scholars, for they spread incorrect conclusions to a very wide audience and give it the imprimatur of elite academic institutions.

It doesn’t even mention his efforts to prop up that bullshit discipline, evolutionary psychology. Why didn’t the hoaxers target the evo psych journals? They’d be an easy get, because so many of the papers in them are already garbage.

Apparently, the key to fame, fortune, and glory is to always support the status quo and tell the wealthy of the world what they want to hear. Dammit. I keep missing the money train because I’d rather dynamite the tracks, so I only have myself to blame.

As for Peterson, have you seen the The Wisdom of Jordan Peterson, a word salad generator? He’s as easy to dismiss as Deepak Chopra.

Sure looks like design to me!

I attended a lecture by Dave and Mary Jo Nutting of the Alpha-Omega Institute, a creationist…well, I was going to say “think tank”, but it’s really just an apartment in a building that also houses a cleaning service, and is nothing but Dave & Mary Jo promoting themselves as speakers, and there isn’t much thinking going on. What is it with creationists putting pretentious labels on their homes?

Which reminds me…I’ve got to get that sign for the “Institute of Eight Legged Freaks, Departments of Mollusca and Arachnida, and the Academy of Pharyngula Studies” made up for my lawn.

Anyway, it was terrible. Godawful boring and repetitive. Two and a half hours long. Fucking dreadful, even for the low expectations I have for creationists. I sat through the whole thing, seething, until I erupted a little bit in the Q&A.

My wife doesn’t go to these things, but this time Mary came along. I think she wanted to make sure I didn’t misbehave. She doesn’t like to make a scene, so when I started chewing out these ignorant frauds, she was right next to me, drilling her elbow into my ribs. It was a bit uncomfortable, but I persevered. But ow, my side aches today.

Anyway, you probably don’t want to listen to the whole thing, even though I recorded it all. I can summarize it for you: Dave briefly shows an example of a scientific discovery, like the blood clotting pathway, or dolphin countercurrent exchange systems, or DNA repair mechanisms, and then announces, Sure looks like design to me! Over and over. He doesn’t actually address any of the mechanisms behind any of the phenomena, or discuss the evidence, or fairly present the evidence for their evolution — he relies entirely on the pretense that complexity and/or function are synonyms for design. So he throws up an abridged slide of the clotting pathway, and then slaps a label on it claiming it’s all evidence for creation.

It was a poorly attended talk, and I can understand why — they were utterly inane. The Q&A got a little more interesting, largely because every question was pushing back against their claims. If there were attendees who were pro-creationism, they were utterly silent the whole long evening.

At the end, in the Q&A, I rudely called bullshit on them. Look: complexity and functionality are outcomes of a process. We all agree that biological systems are functional and often complex. The question is about the nature of the process. Biologists say there are natural mechanisms that can generate those outcomes, and we have bucket loads of empirical evidence that allow us to explain how functionality and complexity are generated, to widely varying degrees of thoroughness. Creationists say there is one explanation, an explicit act of intentional creation by a designer, and have no evidence whatsoever for it, other than a Gomer Pyle-like expression of incredulity that revels in their ignorance of what the scientists have said.

When I pointed out this disconnect between evidence and their conclusion, and that they are falsely equating complexity with intentional design, Mary Jo denied it. Then she said it wasn’t just complexity, but the intricacy and interconnectedness of organization, which is just throwing out some new nouns and adjectives that say exactly the same thing: complexity equals design. They really have no idea about what they’re talking about.

This was demonstrated perfectly in the first question, at about 1:40. What is it exactly about finding a watch on the beach that tells you it is designed? The reply: I see organizational structure. I see function. A follow-up question was roughly, “if everything is designed, how would you recognize something that wasn’t designed?” To which they said there is also some randomness, giving them an excuse to babble about a tornado in a junkyard assembling an airplane.

The second questioner asks for a clarification: that they’re talking about these crazy complex systems to show that chance is insufficient to explain them. I believe things are too complex, so there must have been a designer. Then he asks about the possibility that design is simply an interpretation based on human bias and experience. They don’t seem to understand the point: Mary Jo goes on about how a building must have a builder. Dave’s answer is familiar: Based on what we see and know, it sure looks designed. Then he goes on to say it taxes credulity to think it could have happened by accident. Wooooooosh, way over his head.

The third question asks whether they understand the argument from ignorance, or the argument from personal incredulity. Nope. They had to ask him to explain it. In a follow-up, he points out that he can’t see the difference between their argument, and saying a magic pixie did it. Mary Jo counters by saying that they have to use other evidence, like historical evidence…by which she means the Bible.

She keeps talking. The talk was long-winded, their answers were equally long-winded. She starts off with the complexity thing again, saying that molecules bouncing around randomly can’t explain complexity.

That’s where I finally erupt and tell them they can’t do that — it’s an invalid argument to simply claim complexity is sufficent to justify the design explanation. (Warning: I come off very loud, like the voice of God, but it’s only because my recorder was sitting on the desk directly in front of me). She replies by saying it’s not just the complexity, it’s the ordered complexity. Jesus fuck, they are dense. Systems, machines, computers. Mindless buzzwords.

Another question: what about species that go extinct? Guess what the answer is?

Yeah, The Fall. The Flood.

A follow-up: Given the Flood, how did organisms repopulate the earth? Perhaps they hopped.

There was another question about biogeography after the flood. I felt like shouting, stop pandering to their delusions. There was no flood. It just gives them opportunity to meander on with Bible stories.

Next question: Why do you prioritize supernatural answers over natural ones, when we’ve never seen anything propely answered with supernatural explanations? The supernatural makes more sense to us. Also, an admission: we have no evidence.

Next: questioner brings up an example Nutting used, of a sea slug that eats anemones and recycles nematocysts for their own use. Did that happen before or after the Fall? They don’t know.

It came around to me again. I demanded that they show evidence for design other than reiterating the mantra of complexity. Their argument, after I told them that just claiming evolution relies only on chance is dishonest, was to argue that natural selection can only act on what is already there. I mentioned biology as a property of chemistry; they claimed that chemistry is evolution. What I didn’t bring up, and should have, is that they’ve just pushed back their unanswerable questions of evolution to prebiotic chemistry, which doesn’t fit with their claims of a 6000 year old earth and a global flood.

The next question is a conciliatory comment in which the questioner says he appreciates the sincerity of their beliefs. But then he asks a really good question. He asks how they explain that their position is becoming less popular. And that’s true: there might have been 20 people in the audience, and judging by the questions, almost all of them completely disagreed with the Nuttings.

Their answer is that all that’s taught at the university is naturalism. They also blame separation of church and state. You’ve been brainwashed, sheeple!

Next question: The Nuttings believe as they do because of personal experiences; the questioner accept the concensus of science. Do they believe personal experience over empirical evidence? They waffle pointlessly. They don’t reject empirical evidence (which wasn’t the question) they just…I don’t know what. So the question gets repeated. There’s way too much that indicates there must be a designer. Then he starts babbling about the Bible.

I count that as a total non-answer.

Next: it’s pointed out that science doesn’t work the way they claim. It’s not a collection of facts followed by interpretation, where every interpretation is equal. Science builds on progressive hypothesis testing; they put up slides of the end conclusions of a lot of work to giggle over, but that was all based on a lot of legitimate work that they didn’t show. Mary Jo offers vague agreement that there is a process of science, but claims it doesn’t tell us how it got there. I’d say it does; they just intentionally neglected to discuss it. In follow up, the questioner points out that invoking the supernatural basically kills our ability to address the question, and returns to the initial question of how you recognize undesigned organization. It’s mentioned that the hypothesis that the devil buried all those fossils is a supernatural explanation. The moderator says that their organization (Maranatha) doesn’t believe that — which misses the whole point. How do they know?

The next question hammers on a point that had been made a few times: biology doesn’t explain the world in terms of pure chance. So why do the Nuttings keep going back to this claim of nothing but random chance? Dave replies by asking, rhetorically, if he thinks protein folding is purely chemistry and natural laws. He then claims that natural laws…are not going to do that. It’s a folding machine. (Throughout the evening, “machine” was their magical word to imply a process was artificial.)

I will also remind you all that the title of the talk asserted a dichotomy, Grand Design vs Chance. This was a fundamental issue, and they didn’t address it.

And with that, I’d had enough. We left.

You can listen to the whole thing, if I haven’t sufficiently discouraged you.

A nice day, topped with nuts

As it turns out, I’m traveling to Minneapolis today to have a pleasant time swanning about parks and such with my best beloved, so I’m probably going to drop by the ridiculous creationist talk by the Nuttings this evening. MCB 3-120 at 6:30. They always try to book rooms in the most sciencey building they can find, and MCB is short for Molecular and Cellular Biology, the antithesis of what they’ll be lying about.

“Chance vs Design” tonight — anyone want to bet they don’t understand the first and will present no evidence for the second?

Oh, and if you go, don’t expect me to draw down thunder and lightning on these frauds — I don’t debate, I’m just going to document, and later rebut the more egregious lies right here. Judging by commentary by an attendee at the previous two talks, I’ll have a lot to rebut.

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.

Give it a rest, Boghossian and pals

You’d think they’d learn. When Boghossian and Lindsay published their phony “conceptual penis” paper, they were roundly mocked and ridiculed for concluding that academia was corrupt because they got a badly written paper published in an obscure journal, proving nothing. It’s the skeptical equivalent of p-hacking — yes, if you carry out a badly designed experiment, you will sometimes get a positive hit, but you can’t conclude anything from it. No one is surprised that, in the volume of papers submitted to the peer-reviewed literature, clunkers get through. We know the system is not perfect.

But now we learn that, after their initial ‘success’ with the “conceptual penis” article, they sat down and repeated the same thing, over and over again. They intentionally flooded journals with “fake news”, and when some of it leaked through, cried triumph.

Beginning in August 2017, the trio wrote 20 hoax papers, submitting them to peer-reviewed journals under a variety of pseudonyms, as well as the name of their friend Richard Baldwin, a professor emeritus at Florida’s Gulf Coast State College. Mr. Baldwin confirms he gave them permission use his name. Journals accepted seven hoax papers. Four have been published.

What I have learned from this is that the familiar trio of frauds — Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay, and Helen Pluckrose — have a real talent for writing garbage papers, which I’d actually kind of already known from their activities on social media. Now they’ve gone beyond their original efforts of making nonsensical interpretations to making up data, as in a paper about observations made at a Portland dog park, which made a number of people suspicious, and which led to an unraveling of their game.

All of this prompted me to ask my own questions. My email to “Helen Wilson” was answered by James Lindsay, a math doctorate and one of the real co-authors of the dog-park study. Gender, Place & Culture had been duped, he admitted. So had half a dozen other prominent journals that accepted fake papers by Mr. Lindsay and his collaborators—Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University, and Helen Pluckrose, a London-based scholar of English literature and history and editor of AreoMagazine.com.

The three academics call themselves “left-leaning liberals.” Yet 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.

You know, if you’re a left-leaning liberal, there are plenty of gigantic targets you could be taking aim at: all you need to do is look at all three branches of the federal government, or police activities nation-wide, or the military-industrial complex, or the undermining of regulations by big corporations, or wealth inequality. We have no shortage of big, serious problems. But for some reason, these left-leaning liberals have decided that academia is too left-leaning, and must be exposed. And what have they exposed? A set of problems that Francis Bacon railed against in the 17th century.

Bacon was well aware that science had a weakness, that it was done by flawed humans who had their own biases (he was rather deeply flawed himself), and strove to make people self-aware of their own weaknesses and make efforts to use a rigorous methodology to circumvent those problems. Even the big name journals in technical fields occasionally publish terrible work because it meets pro forma conventions and is backed by lots of money (<cough, cough&> the ENCODE project), but you don’t see PluckBogSay going after those — instead, they have an agenda of conspiring against feminist and social science journals, which says something about their intent.

It might have been interesting if they’d chosen journals in their own fields, and written articles that satirized weaknesses in their own discipline…oh. Hey. I just realized — maybe Boghossian’s entire career has been a performance art piece criticizing how lackluster frauds can get academic jobs in philosophy. He may yet pull a valid criticism out of his hat.

But punching down at marginal journals because they have a soft spot for tendentious prattle ain’t it. It’s also exploiting a feature of academia that I rather like — trust. Even Alan Sokal has problems with what they’re doing.

This isn’t the first time scholars have used a hoax paper to make a point. In 1996 Duke University Press’s journal Social Text published a hoax submission by Alan Sokal, a mathematical physicist at New York University. Mr. Sokal, who faced no punishment for the hoax, told me he was “not oblivious to the ethical issues involved in my rather unorthodox experiment,” adding that “professional communities operate largely on trust; deception undercuts that trust.”

I could agree that many disciplines can be too trusting, and that more self-discipline is warranted. We do, however, have an ethical mechanism for addressing that problem: it’s called writing rebuttals and critical arguments that directly address bad work. It’s what I do with creationism, for instance. I’ll write a confrontational article pointing out why their claims are bogus, using knowledge of my own field to explain why they are wrong. I don’t sit down and write 20 garbage creationist articles (even though that would be trivially easy to do) and contribute to their body of work, which they’ll then use to justify creationism.

If you can find a bad article accepted for publication in a feminist journal, please do jump on it and tear it apart. That contributes to the strength of the discipline. Don’t write a bunch of bad articles of your own, which are clearly intended only to weaken the whole discipline and provide a set of easy, straw-man arguments that you can use to pretend you’re a smart guy.

They seem to know deep down that what they’re doing is wrong and unethical, and they have a rather fatalistic view of their future prospects.

Mr. Boghossian doesn’t have tenure and expects the university will fire or otherwise punish him. Ms. Pluckrose predicts she’ll have a hard time getting accepted to a doctoral program. Mr. Lindsay said he expects to become “an academic pariah,” barred from professorships or publications.

Interesting that they frame the anticipated consequences in terms of being punished or barred. That’s not the case at all. They’re going to have serious problems with a future in academia because they’re writing trashy papers that don’t further the knowledge in their disciplines at all, and seem to be more interested in policing people they don’t like than in advancing philosophy, mathematics, or literature. Maybe if there were a department of anti-feminist studies somewhere, they could fit in. Or maybe their real specialty is “grievance studies,” the very thing they are complaining about.

Otherwise, setting themselves up as martyrs is all the qualification they need to get a position in some right-wing think-tank, which is clearly the appropriate destiny for these “left-leaning liberals.”