A Guest Article by: Roy Meredith 10/16/2018
In our supercharged media environment, events that happened only three weeks ago feel like old news. There’s one story, however, that you shouldn’t let slip past your radar. You may have heard of the major hoax three liberal academics played on multiple widely-respected journals in the humanities and social sciences. The trio – Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay, and Helen Pluckrose – spent a year authoring and submitting twenty fake academic papers to test the rigor of controversial disciplines such as gender studies, race studies, and women’s studies. All their conclusions were purposefully outlandish, flagrantly immoral, or both.
One of the papers they submitted rewrote passages from Mein Kampf using the terminology of intersectional feminism. Affilia, a social work journal, accepted it. Another suggested that dog humping in public parks was evidence of rape culture, and that men could be trained out of rape just like dogs. Not only did the feminist geography journal Gender, Place & Culture publish it, the reviewers honored the article as an outstanding contribution.
By far, the most hilarious submission was “Moon Meetings and the Meaning of Sisterhood: A Poetic Portrayal of Lived Feminist Spirituality,” an autoethnography from the perspective of a bitter, recently divorced feminist scholar. Sandwiched between the meandering tangents about menstruation, capitalism, and the potential connections between witchcraft and beer were poems generated by an internet bot. The slapdash prose should have been a dead giveaway, including gems such as, “We aren’t nice women. We’re fierce and free. We’re the witches of brewsters past.” The phony paper took less than six hours to write, but you can probably guess what happened next: The Journal of Poetry Therapy published it without suggesting any revisions.
By the time the Wall Street Journal exposed their project on October 2nd, the trio already managed to have seven of their papers accepted for publication. Seven more were still under consideration. Just six had been rejected. For context, only two or three peer-reviewed articles over the course of one’s career are necessary to get tenure in many regional universities. That’s a breathtaking success rate for people with no professional background in those fields, and yes, it should worry you.
Lindsay has freely admitted that he and the others reasoned backwards from absurd conclusions, scouring academic literature for work that would buttress their claims while coddling the reviewers’ left-of-fringe political sensibilities. This is the opposite of what we expect from careful scholarship. Within several fields, however, a fashionable idea has taken hold that asperses scientific objectivity as a tool of social oppression. Don’t just take my word for it. Back in May, the Journal for Cultural Anthropology’s official account tweeted, “good morning. All research is political. Have a great day everyone!” Curricula infused with these ideas are dangerous social experiments, and not the least because a common faith in objective reality enables us to hold those in power accountable.
As a graduate student of social work, I find this troubling for another reason. Clinical social workers, for example, often partner with clients who suffer from mental illnesses that require evidence-based interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Others work as policy analysts and wield considerable authority in designing welfare programs. Who seriously believes monthly meetings in designated “womb rooms” and praying to Norse goddesses are effective interventions for women in dysfunctional relationships? Poorly-vetted material in our curricula undermines our ability to troubleshoot effectively with our clients and consider the full range of options they have for improving their lives.
I commonly encounter such misinformation at my school. Microaggression theory, for instance, is especially pernicious in its current iteration, because it encourages people to become hypersensitive to perceived slights and read them as signs of unconscious hostility. This behavior, known in clinical literature as mind reading, is widely recognized as a cognitive distortion. Why, then, is it being promoted in social work school? On some campuses, university administrators have even established bias response teams to intimidate the unfortunate faculty members who have the guile to teach engagement with opposing viewpoints.
Liberals of all stripes – especially libertarians – should recognize that such “theories” function primarily as ammunition for stigmatizing dissent. Unfortunately, many have leaked from academia into everyday parlance; it is now impossible to openly discuss topics such as potential links between cultural norms and poverty without giving offense, even though the people who suffer the brunt of these underdiscussed problems are among the most marginalized in society.
I urge my fellow university students to take notice. Don’t just sit silently in class when you hear unjust or far-fetched ideas among your peers to avoid social ostracization. Remember, too, that as students at American universities, we already enjoy many unique socioeconomic privileges. The most consequential among them is proximity to scholarship that changes lives. The impulse to protect our own reputations by taking the path of least resistance is understandable, but it is not a moral course of action. The time to speak up is now.
For more content from askalibertarian, follow us on the following platforms:
Do you have a libertarian oriented message you want to get out? Consider contacting Ask A Libertarian via messenger at https://www.facebook.com/messages/t/askalibertarian to find out how you can become a volunteer in our Journalism Department.
The author’s views and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the entire Ask A Libertarian Team or its followers.