The existence of a monthly journal focused on “feminist geography” is a sign of something gone awry in academia. The journal in question—Gender, Place & Culture—published a paper online in May whose author claimed to have spent a year observing canine sexual misconduct in Portland, Ore., parks.This is an industrial version of the 1996 Sokal Hoax.
The author admits that “my own anthropocentric frame” makes it difficult to judge animal consent. Still, the paper claims dog parks are “petri dishes for canine ‘rape culture’ ” and issues “a call for awareness into the different ways dogs are treated on the basis of their gender and queering behaviors, and the chronic and perennial rape emergency dog parks pose to female dogs.”
The paper was ridiculous enough to pique my interest—and rouse my skepticism, which grew in July with a report in Campus Reform by Toni Airaksinen. Author Helen Wilson had claimed to have a doctorate in feminist studies, but “none of the institutions that offers such a degree could confirm that she had graduated from their program,” Ms. Airaksinen wrote. In August Gender, Place & Culture issued an “expression of concern” admitting it couldn’t verify Ms. Wilson’s identity, though it kept the paper on its website.
All of this prompted me to ask my own questions. My email to “Helen Wilson” was answered by James Lindsay, a math doctorate and one of the real co-authors of the dog-park study. Gender, Place & Culture had been duped, he admitted. So had half a dozen other prominent journals that accepted fake papers by Mr. Lindsay and his collaborators—Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University, and Helen Pluckrose, a London-based scholar of English literature and history and editor of AreoMagazine.com.
The three academics call themselves “left-leaning liberals.” Yet they’re dismayed by what they describe as a “grievance studies” takeover of academia, especially its encroachment into the sciences. “I think that certain aspects of knowledge production in the United States have been corrupted,” Mr. Boghossian says. Anyone who questions research on identity, privilege and oppression risks accusations of bigotry.
Beginning in August 2017, the trio wrote 20 hoax papers, submitting them to peer-reviewed journals under a variety of pseudonyms, as well as the name of their friend Richard Baldwin, a professor emeritus at Florida’s Gulf Coast State College. Mr. Baldwin confirms he gave them permission use his name. Journals accepted seven hoax papers. Four have been published.
The Sokal affair, also called the Sokal hoax, was a scholarly publishing sting perpetrated by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University and University College London. In 1996, Sokal submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies. The submission was an experiment to test the journal's intellectual rigor and, specifically, to investigate whether "a leading North American journal of cultural studies – whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross – [would] publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions".Lindsay, Boghossian and Pluckrose not only replicated the Sokal results but they replicated them and replicated them and replicated them. And then replicated them some more.
The article, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity", was published in the Social Text spring/summer 1996 "Science Wars" issue. It proposed that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct. At that time, the journal did not practice academic peer review and it did not submit the article for outside expert review by a physicist. On the day of its publication in May 1996, Sokal revealed in Lingua Franca that the article was a hoax.
The hoax sparked a debate about the scholarly merit of commentary about the physical sciences by those in the humanities; the influence of postmodern philosophy on social disciplines in general; academic ethics, including whether Sokal was wrong to deceive the editors and readers of Social Text; and whether Social Text had exercised appropriate intellectual rigor.
The academy is riddled by postmodernist nonsense. While there remain serious scholars and good people (see Heterodox Academy) wannabe scholars who did not make the grade and instead took up administrative positions in universities have fouled the pool for everyone. And administration has been where the cost explosion has occurred. Allan Bloom was among the first to sound the alarm with The Closing of the American Mind. Regrettably, he passed away a few years after its publication and the insidious postmodernist cancer of the academic mind continued its spread.
Hopefully Heterodox Academy combined with this broadside replication of Sokal combined with the gradual collapse of the Title IX crime combined with the restoration of due process are all signs that the great American body politic is about to throw off the infection of postmodernism.