Grievance titles get ‘broken’ papers published Project exposes political corruption
Mein Kampf and intersectional feminism aren’t usually lumped together in many people’s minds, but if linked with the right language and buzzwords, leftwing academic publications apparently will accept the combination as scholarship.
That’s the conclusion reached by a trio of self-declared “left-wing academics” who ran a research project exposing what they call higher education’s burgeoning field of “grievance studies.”
Led by Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University in Oregon, they submitted what they called “intentionally broken” papers to leading publications on gender, race and sexuality.
By August, seven of their papers had been accepted for publication, they said. One of them — exposing “rape culture” by studying the sexual activities of dogs at dog parks in Portland — has even “been honored as excellent scholarship.”
“We did this to expose the political corruption that’s taken hold of the university,” James Lindsay, a mathematics doctorate, says in a video featuring him and his collaborators, Mr. Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose, an English literature professor.
In a conference call last week from Portland, the three said they do not consider the papers as hoaxes but grotesque exaggerations. The goal was not to discredit the fields, which all agree are worthy of study, but to warn that a political bias has so badly infected them that it is becoming impossible to trust some of the work being conducted.
In other words, not that the emperor has no clothes, but that his threads are ratty.
“It’s not the total university where this has happened, but just in the areas of scholarship we’re concerned about,” Ms. Pluckrose said.
Publications such as “Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography” and “Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy” accepted the papers. The former published the dog park study.
Those publications are regarded as top-shelf in their fields, the three said, and getting published in them exceeded their hopes.
“I am deeply disappointed to learn that two papers that were recently submitted to Hypatia are apparently hoaxes. The journal relies on a double anonymous peer review process to inform editorial decisions, and our reviewers provided each author with thoughtful comments on how to revise their work. 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 Hypatia’s interim editor, Ann Garry.
Esther Rothblum, a women’s studies professor at San Diego State University and the editor of “Fat Studies,” which published a piece claiming bodybuilding discriminates against obesity, did not respond to a request for comment.
All of the published essays were peerreviewed, although some were removed by the publisher after their authors went public.
When they began, Mr. Boghossian said, he and his colleagues were “resigned to the state of the university” and consequently never doubted that they would meet with a depressing degree of success.
Still, they were astonished at times by the degree of acceptance.
In the video, the three are shown convulsed with laughter at the acceptance of the dog park piece. Mr. Lindsay read aloud that one reviewer worried that the researchers had invaded the canines’ privacy by inspecting their genitalia.
That such absurdities could not only be accepted for publication but also win praise underscores the real problem, they said, which is that “grievance studies” have subordinated the truth to only acceptable political positions.
“It’s like there’s a religious architecture in their mind, where ‘privilege’ is sin, ‘privilege’ is evil,” Mr. Lindsay said in the video.
Using aliases, they wrote 20 papers, and the publications sent all but one to full peer review. Seven have been accepted and four have been published so far.
Had their work not been exposed by The Wall Street Journal and background checking that failed to verify some of the pseudonyms’ credentials, at least a dozen of the pieces would have been published, the scholars believe.
The three have written a longer piece about their project — “Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship” — published in Aero magazine, of which Ms. Pluckrose is the editor. The news wasn’t all bad for the journals. When they started their project in August 2017, Mr. Boghossian and his collaborators wrote completely bogus papers, hoaxes such as the one New York University physicist Alan Sokal famously got published in “Social Text” in 1996. But those were rejected, and by Thanksgiving Mr. Boghossian said his team was starting to fret.
So they jettisoned the fake papers in favor of using real material, twisting it to an absurd end, and then presenting it with fancy language that pressed the appropriate political buttons.
Labeling the field “grievance studies,” the trio would take a genuine topic — Plato in one instance, elementary school teaching practices in another — and then press it through a filter of slogans such as “white privilege” or “rape culture.” The doors suddenly opened.
By taking intellectual pursuit hostage, much of the work produced by university academic departments such as queer theory and race studies has veered more toward propaganda than intellectual rigor, and in the process perverted the noble goals they purport to uphold, Mr. Lindsay said.
“This does not continue the work of the civil rights movement; it corrupts it,” he said, calling the scholarship peddled by “grievance studies” departments a “social snake oil.”
The reaction among their colleagues has been mixed, the three said. While some scholars have embraced their work as a necessary wake-up call, others have criticized it as mischief or unethical.
In the Wall Street Journal piece, the three predicted a dire future for themselves within the academy. Ms. Pluckrose predicted that she won’t be accepted into a doctorate program, and Mr. Lindsay expects to become “an academic pariah.”
Mr. Boghossian, who has published a book labeled “a manual for creating atheists,” said he feared he might be fired, but he said by Wednesday night that he had not heard from administrators.