Our thanks to Paul for this piece by Rhys Blakely, Science Correspondent, in today’s Times:
The leading academics Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker have defended a hoaxer who sought to expose politically correct “nonsense” in social sciences.
Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy, faces losing his job at Portland State University in Oregon after he helped create spoof academic papers. These lampooned scholarship in various fields, including the studies of gender, homosexuality and obesity.
He and two collaborators dashed off 20 papers, each deliberately ridiculous and spiked with what the authors later described as “a little bit of lunacy”. Seven were accepted by peer-reviewed journals. One, titled “Our Struggle is My Struggle: Solidarity feminism as an intersectional reply to neoliberal and choice feminism”, was a rewrite of chapter 12 of Hitler’s Mein Kampf with feminist “buzzwords switched in”.
“Human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog parks in Portland, Oregon”, was published under the fake name Helen Wilson in the journal Gender, Place & Culture, which is owned by Taylor & Francis, the British publisher.
Its author described an investigation of the “rape-condoning spaces of hegemonic masculinity” that are public dog-walking parks, which had involved examining “10,000 dogs’ genitals”.
The paper suggested that men should be trained, like canines, to prevent “rape culture”.
“Fat Bodybuilding” showed morbid obesity as a healthy life choice. Another advanced the theory that “it is suspicious that men rarely anally self-penetrate using sex toys, and that this is probably due to fear of being thought homosexual (“homohysteria”) and bigotry against trans people (transphobia)”.
Dr Boghossian and his colleagues said that they were shocked by the ease with which the papers were accepted. “We wanted to see if these disciplines that we called ‘grievance studies’ are compromised by political activism that allows for the laundering of prejudices and opinions into something that gets treated as knowledge,” he added.
An official for Portland State University said that Dr Boghossian had studied “human research subjects” — a reference to the staff and peer-reviewers of the journals— without proper ethical approvals. A further charge relating to the falsification of data is under review and he could lose his job.
Dawkins, well known for his atheist views, wrote to the university: “Do your humourless colleagues who brought this action want Portland State to become the laughing stock of the academic world? Or at least the world of serious scientific scholarship uncontaminated by pretentious charlatans of exactly the kind Dr Boghossian and his colleagues were satirising?”
Dawkins, who is Emeritus Charles Simonyi Professor at the University of Oxford, added: “How would you react if you saw the following letter: Dear Mr Orwell, It has come to our notice that your novel, Animal Farm, attributes to pigs the ability to talk, and to walk on their hind legs, chanting ‘Four legs good, two legs better’. This is directly counter to known zoological facts about the Family Suidae, and you are therefore arraigned on a charge of falsifying data…”
Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychologist, wrote of the false data charge: “This strikes me (and every colleague I’ve spoken with) as an attempt to weaponise an important principle of academic ethics to punish a scholar for expressing an unpopular opinion.”
Dr Boghossian said: “Portland State University, like many college campuses, is becoming an ideological community and I’ve demonstrated that I don’t fit the mould. I truly hope the administration puts its institutional weight behind the pursuit of truth but I’ve been given no indication that’s what they intend to do.”
Tracy Roberts, publishing director of Taylor & Francis, said: “This was an elaborate, complex hoax which broke all accepted norms of scholarly communication.” The publisher was taking steps to avoid a repeat, she added.
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