Dear Portland State students,
What should we make of the recent rash of hoax articles that supposedly “[reveal] deep problems in social sciences” and show “something has gone wrong in the university?” What does this mean for your education?
Some—including the authors of these hoaxes, Peter Boghossian, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsey—have compared this rash of hoaxes to the notorious Sokal affair. In 1996, esteemed physics Professor Alan Sokal entered the so-called Science Wars by submitting an article that was largely nonsense purporting to be a postmodernist take on theoretical physics to a leading humanities journal, Social Text. The journal, which is not a peer-reviewed publication, published it.
A New Sokal Affair or Just a Sucker’s Affair?
Let us be clear. We’re not necessarily opposed to a well-executed hoax. But we must ask: What are the contributions of the recent hoaxes? How do these recent hoax papers reflect any understanding of the academic disciplines they aim to critique?
The first attempt by Boghossian and others, posting a concept called the “conceptual penis,” aimed to demonstrate the field of gender studies was without quality standards and biased against men. It was rejected by these journals, which presented an enormous problem. The paper instead went to a so-called generalist social sciences journal for publication, a journal so esteemed one of us recently found a blanket invitation to publish there in our email spam folder.
Seeking to conceal the fact that no serious scholar would view this sort of hoax as having much value, the authors railed against the dangers of online pay-to-publish journals as well as the field of gender studies. The first is a genuine, if entirely unoriginal, concern. The second claim is utterly inappropriate given the hoax failed.
Undeterred, Boghossian and his coauthors crafted more fake pieces to flood the journal-scape, further clogging the pipeline for scholars who want to publish actual research. Some of the junk pieces were “theoretical” pieces, providing so-called theory willfully designed to obfuscate, while other papers actually involved completely falsified data, a thing that we ought to call by its name: fraud.
Since there were 20 or more pieces and journals of any quality require at least two peer reviewers—a job that academics perform without pay because they actually care about improving their disciplines—we can deduce these junk papers involved the authors knowingly wasting the time, effort and goodwill of at least 40 reviewers and at least 20 editors.
We cannot conclude there was some kind of intellectual value provided by the non-research papers, but we can identify the drain on valuable unpaid time of real scholars these “hoaxes” directly produced. Some of your own professors are likely to be among those doing this unpaid work; this is part of the workload competing with their teaching and mentoring activities.
Further, in all research fields, rules of scholarly conduct exist. In the social sciences particularly, the recent “hoaxes” likely constitute a form of academic dishonesty. Just like students, faculty have a code of conduct. In fact, the very first standard in this code reminds faculty members to practice “intellectual honesty, seeking and stating the truth as [they] see it; [They] devote [their] energies to developing and improving [their] scholarly competence.” Moreover, a faculty member is supposed to be a good colleague. By purposefully wasting colleagues’ time and goodwill, Boghossian and his coauthors failed to follow any of these guidelines.
While many would normally consider these non-research, educationally-irrelevant “hoax” activities to be unworthy of addressing, credulous journalists interested mainly in spectacle have taken these frauds and introduced them to the broader world. When supposed scholars repeatedly engage in fraudulent behavior violating acceptable norms of research in any discipline, we have to start asking what the purpose is. Desperate reasoning, basic spite and a perverse interest in public humiliation seem to have overridden any actual scholarly goals.
Nothing about this affair suggests anything but academic dishonesty and flat out disrespect of colleagues. This is why Boghossian does not design and conduct studies to weigh in on biology and gender—instead he is continuing the pattern he began in previous years of provocation for the sole purpose of self-aggrandizement. His invitation of former Google engineer James Damore to tell us why women are incapable of excelling in tech fields was certainly disrespectful of all of his colleagues who identify as women—Damore proved barely articulate, much less a serious gender scholar. Similarly, in asking slyly “Is Intersectionality a Religion?” as he has in public presentations, Boghossian shows he less interested in the hard work of scholarship and more interested in scoring cheap political points without actually engaging pivotal concepts.
In this context, the “hoaxes” are simply lies peddled to journals, masquerading as articles. They are designed not to critique, educate or inspire change in flawed systems, but rather to humiliate entire fields while the authors gin up publicity for themselves without having made any scholarly contributions whatsoever. Chronic and pathological, unscholarly behavior inside an institution of higher education brings negative publicity to the institution as well as the honest scholars who work there. Worse yet, it jeopardizes the students’ reputations, as their degrees in the process may become devalued.
What must be done?
The 1990s were a time of debate and exploration in the field of philosophy of science that rendered Sokal pivotal. However, gender studies, ethnic studies and Black/African American studies programs are not new and have had to fight for their claims to knowledge against an academy designed to minimize them. These intellectual fights are long done (although the political ones rage on), which is why the clown car of hoax writers does not bother engaging with them—the goal, in the contemporary bullying style of Trumpist politics, is to ridicule others for personal gain.
Some faculty practice education in bad faith right in your own backyard. This is to the detriment of the university’s reputation and the serious scholars trying to make PSU an excellent place to seek higher education. Unfortunately, education in bad faith seems more newsworthy than all of the great things happening here. These types of fraudulent, time-wasting, anti-intellectual activities are something we are becoming nationally known for under the guise of free speech or academic freedom.
Make no mistake: We are some of academia’s biggest critics. But we also believe in the core value of education and are pained by the amount of attention being diverted toward unscholarly activities done for individual self-aggrandizement.
PSU Pro-Educational Editorial Collective:
Assistant Professor, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Associate Professor, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Faculty, School of Social Work
Assistant Professor, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Assistant Professor, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Professor, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Adjunct Professor, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Professor, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Associate Professor, Humanities
Ph.D. Student, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Assistant Professor, University Studies
Professor, Urban Studies
*We have opted to communicate our concerns through a collective identity rather than individually. Boghossian has not only indicated his less-than-collegial attitude through his hoaxes, but has actively targeted faculty at other institutions. None of us wish to contend with threats of death and assault from online trolls.
Editor’s note: The print and earlier online versions of this letter incorrectly identified Helen Pluckrose’s name as Heather.
What Boghossian’s “hoaxing” work reveals is that performativity has always been at the heart of all these analyses into culture. A certain long-time U.C. literature department chair would frequently ask visiting academic speakers, “what was the purpose of the performance of this certain reading?” More than half would flinch as if to say “my reading isn’t performative! It’s objective rational interpretation.” The reaction above is a bit of that flinching.
Of the other essays which claim certain data, sure that’s a bit disingenuous.
Seems that the authors of this letter have failed to recognize that this Letter To The Editor/Collective Opinion Piece is also performative, attempts to protect their collective good name and the pay-to-have-a-prof-not-engaged-in-their-own-research-deny-your-paper/play by slandering Boghossian and Co., as if their claims are not baseless and defensive af.
To not see the objective value of this EXPERIMENT should be evidence enough of the duplicity, willful blindness, and disenginuity of the Opinionated Authors.
As a PSU alumn, it’s laughable to read of anonymous professors pretending that what Boghossian is doing is devaluing their field and not their own cowardly behavior: if it were solid scholarship, it wouldn’t be devalued by “false scholarship” that reveals how badly vetted the “solid scholarship” THEY PRODUCE is.
Of course, it’s always rough to have revealed that your role in an academy is mostly a commercial commodification and your scholarship built on optimistic idealism, prescription, and avoidance of novel conflict…
Peter Boghossian, Heather Pluckrose and James Lindsey are indeed stating the truth as they see it; they are revealing the woeful state of humanities scholarship by submitting what is essentially academic satire and having it taken seriously. Their purpose is only reinforced by the reactionary nature of this article.
This statement in particular: “the clown car of hoax writers does not bother engaging with them—the goal, in the contemporary bullying style of Trumpist politics, is to ridicule others for personal gain,” is pure projection. It is doing the very thing it condemns: it fails to engage in the substance of the controversy and instead stoops to ad hominem ridicule. It’s discouraging that so many professors have signed off on a piece that is not only profoundly ideological but also blatantly hypocritical and poorly reasoned. It only serves to reaffirm the point the hoax papers seek to make about the regrettable state of higher education. You’re making their point for them.
Their papers are the scholarly equivalent of Sacha Baron Cohen’s trickster deception. They are doing our institutions a service by testing their integrity and effectively vaccinating them against more egregious infractions.
Here is a piece outlining the Grievance Studies affair for anyone who is interested: https://areomagazine.com/2018/10/02/academic-grievance-studies-and-the-corruption-of-scholarship/
I apologize for getting the names wrong. I made the mistake of copy/pasting from the letter, the collective work of thirteen professors. Embarrassed for PSU.
*that is, ten professors, a PhD student and “faculty,” and the editorial collective they comprise
I am a female math undergraduate, and I just crossed PSU off my list of potential grad schools. The sloppiness in this letter–including not even getting the names right–is appalling. Furthermore, the attempt to gaslight women interested in STEM and technology by lying about what Damore said is disgusting. The entire talk is online, and he said absolutely nothing remotely like what you’ve attributed to him here. Only evolution denialists would expect women and men, with their vastly different roles in procreating, to evolve into identical populations. One wonders if these cowards are all believers in special creation? A group of university professors who pay so little attention to details that they can’t even get names right and whose ability to listen to someone they disagree with is so poorly formed that their interpretation is indistinguishable from flat-out lying give enormous credence to the grievance studies audit. I will definitely avoid PSU when choosing a PhD program and urge all of my female friends in STEM to do the same.
Bravo, Holly! 🙂
Well said Holly.
Lucky for you, by the time you finish your PhD you’ll be able to enter a job market knowing that you’ll be less likely to be discriminated against because of your “different role in procreating”. All thanks to decades’ worth of work of people you call “evolution denialists”. Without their efforts, all you would be able to do is dream about going to university while fulfilling your “evolutionary role” of a baby incubator and your husband’s unpaid servant/cumbucket.
Anonymous denunciations in modern America? Really?
I thought inquisition-style allegations like this screed were last in fashion during the McCarthy era and are as cowardly, bullying and intellectually shallow now as then.
The “PSU Pro-Bullying Editorial Collective” don’t deserve their own self penned title.
The PSU should be ashamed by their staffs anonymous bullying actions.
Could do better.
This piece is hilarious… it’s more indicative of how deeply and easily offended the authors are at Boghossian et al’s work exposing the shallowness of their disciplines. Instead of recognizing the value of these hoaxes, aka exposing journals that accept theoretically-vapid papers or ones with clearly fabricated data, all of which took 10 minutes or less to write, they attack Boghossian as scoring “cheap political points”, and more puzzlingly, the president, who has nothing to do with these hoaxes lol.
Some humility would have been more appropriate: “We were not aware that such papers could by-pass what we thought were rigorous admission standards in our journals. We will reflect on our policies so future accepted papers are less likely to be hoaxes” or “Boghossian and his team have exposed an achilles heel in our standards we were not aware of, we would like to thank him for bringing this to our attention and will work with him to strengthen future paper-acceptance standards”<- literally any statement with a shred of intellectual humbleness would have been better than what they wrote in this piece.
Lastly, they say they are academia's biggest critics… maybe they should be their own fields' biggest critics instead. That way, maybe their journals wouldn't be prone to hoaxes that took less time to right than taking a shower.
I actually think this letter is itself a hoax, carried out by yet another group of researchers. Maybe Sokal himself. It’s probably a test to see if an anonymous hit piece would be published in a mid-tier student newspaper. Bravo!
You are too kind to this Boghossian fellow.
He is not just wasting the time of academics and intellectually dishonest.
His performativity is literal Nazi necromancy.
I pray for the safety of your anonymous bravery as well as for the safety of all who hide their identities on the internet.
Unless you are atheists, and then I can only hope you have a Patreon where your courage can be rewarded.
Thanks for giving him one right in the gizzard.
No, LITERAL Nazi necromancy would be a character in, say, a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with a Lich King who was also a Nazi. This is an academic dispute.
Colleges of Arts and Sciences are absolute cancer and I’d rather my child study to become a plumber or electrician that join that fascist postmodern cult …. This is a joke of a letter from a collective of cowards … definitely showed Boghossian in a way better light to anyone who is actually functional and sane, keep it up Pete!
It’s a shame PSU hasn’t learned anything. They could very well suffer the same fate as Evergreen or something similar. It blows my mind how illiterate professors are these days.
Speaking of hoaxes, let’s all take a moment to remember Rolling Stone’s hoax on the American people, the UVA rape hoax.
Needless to say, they backtracked bigtime on this post and put a shit-ton of disclaimers on it. But go past them and read what they were really saying at the time.
“We have opted to communicate our concerns through a collective identity rather than individually.”
In other words, we are pussies as well.
pretty gutless to not put your names to this. how do you expect to be taken seriously?
This article doesn’t really address the academic concerns raised by the hoaxers’ activities in a meaningful way. It basically just yells at them for wasting people’s time. Which may be true, but it’s not really the point.
In all honesty, this article feels like a rather desperate and angry response by a group of people whose profession has been revealed to be charlatanism.
Well that was a waste of my time .
Why would James Damore’s opinion be disrespectful of female colleagues? Is intersectionality a religion? Again and again, you shoot the messenger and never address the hilariously pseudoscientific disciplines. Intersectionality is the academic equivalent of Scientology. You have to accept it… just because; and if you question it, they’ll black blackmale you and threaten to out you for being gay.
Please get their names right, first off. Also, try crafting reasoned–and preferably evidence-based–arguments against these authors. Finally, please refrain from the ad hominem attacks and emotional reasoning; those aren’t arguments. It’s so disappointing that this anonymous collective response fails to adequately address any of the things these three authors actually wrote. This could have been an opportunity to level a cogent argument demonstrating the best of what these fields have to offer by way of knowledge and scholarship. Instead, you all chose hyperbolic hand-wringing, fear-mongering, and whining. Also, check this out from one of the authors you criticize (Helen (not “Heather”) Pluckrose: https://areomagazine.com/2018/11/12/a-response-to-portland-states-vanguards-anonymous-letter/
I’m sorry, but I don’t see the connection between the statement that Boghossian has “actively targeted faculty at other institutions” and the site that statement links to: https://academeblog.org/2017/11/10/statement-in-support-of-dr-farhana-sultana/
How was Boghossian involved in this?
Helen Pluckrose ( not Heather, as in this piece) has a wonderful response over at Areo magazine
Anonymity and “collective identity” is pure cowardice.
Hey, Vanguard, only 1 comment as of November 12, 6pm Pacific?
You aren’t hitting the ‘delete’ button on comments you don’t like, are you?
Sounds like some people are a bit embarrassed to have the light shined on them. While transgressive, Boghossian, Pluckrose and Lindsay’s project has revealed important phenomenon. The best response for academics in the relevant fields would be to self-reflect. Some of you emperors aren’t wearing much clothing, and now it has been pointed out.
“Seeking to conceal the fact that no serious scholar would view this sort of hoax as having much value.” Aren’t you begging the question here? I don’t think you’ve established your premise. “Railing against” is emotional, rhetorical language. The secondary argument is that the the hoaxers wasted everybody’s time. Surely you should be more concerned that the hoax articles weren’t spotted as hoaxes and be asking yourself, why weren’t they?
What all of these anonymous professors do not understand is that while the hoax did not end up finding fault in social sciences per se, there are a number of very real disciplines (“critical X studies/theory”) that do not have an organized methodology, do not do rigorous work, and are actively promoting ideology over serious scholarship. These “grievance studies” departments and schools of thought are very real, and they manifest their “theory” in many aspects of everyday life. They routinely equate their work with helping to develop an equitable society, and criticism of their work is seen as justification for its existence.
The argument that the hoax papers wasted some people’s time- while true- and arguably unethical, is beside the point that they would not have gotten published if the people whose time being wasted had the intellectual training and background to detect nonsense. They do not. Fake names do not make a paper more likely to be published.
Insofar as you speak the language of smashing patriarchy, overcoming whiteness, checking privilege, etc. you can publish and participate in their religion until you misbehave.
I’m sure this is exactly what the Emperor’s press secretary wrote about the Emperor’s magnificent wardrobe when a rude child pointed out that he was wearing no clothes.
LOL! You nailed it.
The “collective identity” team might find the work of Max Weber on the institutionalization of charisma to be of interest. See his book: On Charisma and Institution Building.
Wow. You guys really just need to take the L on this one. And if not, at least put your name on it. Why wouldn’t you if you have a strong case?
“*We have opted to communicate our concerns through a collective identity rather than individually…”
-Group of cowardly professors trying to save their dying form of acedemia.
As a former PSU student who left he school due to a total lack of intellectual diversity and a total lack of quality professors, I find this article both incredibly misleading and disgusting. Boghossian is a top-tier professor whose achievements and overall impact cast a shadow on this list of unaccomplished “concerned professors” who choose to so bravely stay anonymous.
Gender studies might actually be useful if the discipline taught the science around sex differences, evolutionary psychology and human gene-culture co-evolution. There are a million reputable scientific studies around sex and culture that gender studies departments seem completely unaware of. Maybe someone could read Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” and rethink this academic discipline.
This is so disgusting. I’m not to worried though, if they keep this up they will go the way of Evergreen State. The public just love it when anonymous collectives of the thought police throw stones.
Is this letter another hoax penned by Boghossian?
Most likely. But it is such a send up on the way they really think and act.
How do I know this article wasn’t written by single person who wanted to give their opinion more weight by claiming that it was penned by eleven faculty members and a graduate student? Surely this episode has taught us a healthy skepticism, to not take anything at face value but be kicking tires and asking questions.
“Editor’s note: The print and earlier online versions of this letter incorrectly identified Helen Pluckrose’s name as Heather.”
The editors might have corrected James Lindsay’s name while they were at it. Man that’s sloppy.
Collective Identity is a concept utilized by intersectionality to group together the unjustly persecuted. Problem is, that groups are almost never innocent. And the word “unjustly” is actually important in that first phrase. Diversity per definition includes the despicable. And this letter is despicable because it is slanderous, poorly sourced, poorly researched and obviously political. It is a prime example of everything wrong with social constructivism, post-structuralism and the fields that rely on those outdated theories and their ilk. Individual accountability is apparently difficult for a bunch of professional bigots. And I use the word bigot because it refers to people who use one standard for their in-group and another for the out-group, that’s all it means. These people should learn that 1984 was not a template. F-ing Muppets.
The peer reviewers were not paid? That sounds about right.
Do these cowardly losers really want to know the purpose of these hoaxes? The hoaxes expose them as the useless pseudo-intellectual grifters, frauds and parasites they are. Their whole field of studies is a fraud. Deal with it!
Amazing that they’d make a lame appeal to authority by posting the department affiliations, as if that somehow covers their cowardly lack of scholarship which they refuse to stand for. Peter et al. gone to enormous efforts to debate the incestuous gender-studies crowd, and proves that peer-review is absent these unproductive fields. Bottom line…don’t send your kids or write a check to PSU…ever. Of course, you’ll get the same shit at U of Oregon but they had somekind of reputation to begin with…
I love a good hoax. So I began to read the papers, hoping for a good laugh. Have any of you who are jumping on the look-how-stupid-liberal-profs-are bandwagon actually read the papers? Read the one studying use of dildos among men or the dog park paper. If you do, you might come to different conclusions. These people put A LOT of work into making fake data sound credible and reasonable. A LOT OF WORK. By the time I was done reading the dildo paper, I felt that the writers counted on nobody other than the peer reviewers reading the papers so that the papers could be summarized into misleading soundbites (dildos! Anal sex in an academic journal! Scandalous! The word “humping”! Ha ha!). If you come into it already wanting to laugh at research and activism on human sexuality, gender, and cultural norms, then you’ll hear the paraphrased versions of the paper and conclude what you’ve already concluded about some alleged new orthodoxy. Read the papers, people. You may come away feeling as I did: sad that these people worked so very hard just to try to humiliate sincere people exploring reasonable areas of research.
“We have opted to communicate our concerns through a collective identity ”
In other words, unverifiable anonymous stalinesque denunciations.
60 million people who died under a Stalinist regime (the actual one) were unavailable for comment.
The news that philosophy of science was a new or even new-ish field at the time of the slurpworthily delicious Sokal hoax, is greatly exaggerated.
Anyhow, a discipline’s age bears zero relevance to its need for quality control.
Every discipline, just like every restaurant, needs periodic unannounced inspections to keep it from growing moldy.
What is the price of quality?
Is it (a) eternal vigilance, or
(b) outlawing satire?
What Boghossian has simply pointed out is that a particular contingent in academia is not thinking critically. His hoax is pretty harmless. The reaction to his work is humorless and spiteful, born, it would seem, out of embarrassment. How dare this man suggest that professors with PhDs lack critical thinking skills! The very idea is scandalous.
But alas, no one should presume that academia is a world that nurtures, let alone rewards, critical thinking among it’s members.
I am about to review a journal article. Through their hoaxes, Boghossian and his colleagues have reminded me to be alert and critical; to be vigilant against my tendencies to intellectual somnambulism. Maybe the article I am reviewing is a hoax. The very idea keeps me on my toes and alert. A splash of cold water in my face. It might be bracing but it sure helps me refocus on the essentials of argumentation, reasoning, and evidence.
These hoaxes are salutary– they reinvigorate our critical thinking skills which have been dulled by businessification of the university and it’s demands of self-promotion and hyperspecialization which lead to an avoidance of risk-taking (genuine questioning), and parochialism. Today’s academy is especially vulnerable to group-think, fads, insularity, and incest.
It is hard work not to believe everything that we think. To react to this intervention in the manner that these professors have is counter productive and entirely misses the point. Boghossian’s intervention is Socratic and it’s intention, as far as I can tell, is to strengthen, not weaken the academy.