In our era of absurdity, it is both fitting and depressing that the professor behind a study that exposed how preposterous research papers could find their way into prestigious academic journals now finds himself in hot water. Peter Boghossian, author of the so-called “Grievance Studies Hoax,” is the academic version of a whistle-blower — but now he’s the one facing backlash.
Boghossian and his partners, researchers James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose, teamed up in 2016 to draft outlandish papers that analyzed rape culture in dog parks, blamed “the conceptual penis” for climate change, and suggested silencing white males in college classrooms. (This paper counseled they should be made to sit on the floor in chains to experience “reparations”). The trio’s papers demonstrated that literally anything can earn the imprimatur of “research” as long it adheres to a certain progressive narrative.
The group’s coup de grace was tricking a feminist journal into accepting a paper using exact phrases from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf with “fashionable buzzwords switched in.” (The words “Our Struggle is My Struggle” appeared in the bogus paper’s headline, offering an overt clue as to its provenance.)
Of the 20 papers authored by Boghossian and his partners, seven were accepted, four were published, and seven more were still “in play” when their cover was blown.
The paper that purported to show that research conducted at dog parks suggested training men like dogs in order to reduce “rape culture” in society received rave reviews: One peer reviewer called the study, submitted under a female pseudonym, “incredibly innovative, rich in analysis, and extremely well-written and organized given the incredibly diverse literature sets and theoretical questions brought into conversation.” This paper was not only published, it was cited as one of the best 12 works in the 25-year history of the academic journal Gender, Place, and Culture.
Naturally, Boghossian’s hijinks have not been viewed kindly by the academic community they skewered. In December, Portland State barred Boghossian from leading further research for allegedly violating “human subject” research rules by not gaining prior consent from his institutional review board. According to the university, the academics who reviewed the papers weren’t told they were being studied, and thus a research rule was violated. Boghossian was told to cease all research until he completes “human subjects research training.”
Yet research is conducted regularly in which an academic misrepresents some aspect of his or herself in order to test society’s reaction to a variable; for example, one recent study by a Harvard University researcher sent out 1,600 resumes for entry-level job openings – some of the resumes were “whitened” to determine whether employers were more or less likely to call back minority job applicants if they hid their race. (Spoiler: They were.) Boghossian told me this is how he viewed his research.
“I really didn’t want to make this a right-left issue,” Boghossian told me, although he conceded it is the left that is driving this faulty social science. “To me, this is not a political issue, it is an issue of scholarship and scholarly rigor.”
The Grievance Hoax researchers are still awaiting resolution of charges by Portland State that they “fabricated” research. It is true, Boghossian and his co-authors did not actually inspect the genitals of “nearly 10,000” dogs at the Portland dog park and then ask their owners about the dogs’ sexuality.
But the bogus research was the whole point of the study — there is value in knowing what nonsense people will deem true just because it fits their ideological predispositions. (There are, for example, still people who think Mexico is going to pay for a border wall. But I digress.) Further, none of the research was going to be allowed to stand once the study was complete.
Given universities’ stated allegiance to “academic freedom,” further sanctions against Boghossian by Portland State would be unconscionable. He exposed the fraud and corruption within the publishing arm of academia, where the “publish-or-perish” culture forces faculty into, in his words, “pushing a kind of social snake oil onto a public that keeps getting sicker.”
Boghossian believes what the university does with him “will tell you what kind of university they want to be.”
“Do they want to be a social justice university,” he asked, rhetorically, “or do they want to be a truth-seeking university?”
A study successful in rooting out fraudulent scholarship should not itself be attacked as shoddy research. These academics are wasting taxpayer money and university resources in their quest for intellectually homogenous campuses, and yet they rest comfortably outside the public’s glare. Exposes such as Boghossian’s should be embraced, not shamed.