Griev­ance ti­tles get ‘bro­ken’ pa­pers pub­lished Project ex­poses po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY JAMES VARNEY

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.

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