Hypatia and other Journals Successfully Tricked Into Accepting “Fake” Papers (Updated)
Three writers, working as a team and using pseudonyms, produced and submitted to academic peer-reviewed journals 20 “fake” papers—papers written with the intent to spoof certain areas of research and trick or embarrass editors and reviewers working in those areas. Seven of the papers were accepted, and four have already been published.
The authors are Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University, James Lindsay, a writer on atheism, and Helen Pluckrose, a writer who edits the online magazine Areo.
Perhaps in response to criticisms of the previous attempt at an academic hoax by Boghossian and Lindsay, this trio embarked on a much larger project and sent out articles to a wider range of journals. They spent 10 months writing 20 papers. 80% of the ones they submitted were peer-reviewed (rather than desk-rejected).
As they describe in an article about their efforts, they wrote papers that were “outlandish or intentionally broken in significant ways”:
Our paper-writing methodology always followed a specific pattern: it started with an idea that spoke to our epistemological or ethical concerns with the field and then sought to bend the existing scholarship to support it. The goal was always to use what the existing literature offered to get some little bit of lunacy or depravity to be acceptable at the highest levels of intellectual respectability within the field. Therefore, each paper began with something absurd or deeply unethical (or both) that we wanted to forward or conclude. We then made the existing peer-reviewed literature do our bidding in the attempt to get published in the academic canon.
This is the primary point of the project: What we just described is not knowledge production; it’s sophistry. That is, it’s a forgery of knowledge that should not be mistaken for the real thing. The biggest difference between us and the scholarship we are studying by emulation is that we know we made things up.
This process is the one, single thread that ties all twenty of our papers together, even though we used a variety of methods to come up with the various ideas fed into their system to see how the editors and peer reviewers would respond. Sometimes we just thought a nutty or inhumane idea up and ran with it. What if we write a paper saying we should train men like we do dogs—to prevent rape culture? Hence came the “Dog Park” paper. What if we write a paper claiming that when a guy privately masturbates while thinking about a woman (without her consent—in fact, without her ever finding out about it) that he’s committing sexual violence against her? That gave us the “Masturbation” paper. What if we argue that the reason superintelligent AI is potentially dangerous is because it is being programmed to be masculinist and imperialist using Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Lacanian psychoanalysis? That’s our “Feminist AI” paper. What if we argued that “a fat body is a legitimately built body” [is] a foundation for introducing a category for fat bodybuilding into the sport of professional bodybuilding? You can read how that went in Fat Studies.
Two of the articles they wrote were submitted to Hypatia. One was accepted. Entitled “When the Joke Is on You: A Feminist Perspective on How Positionality Influences Satire,” its thesis is that “academic hoaxes or other forms of satirical or ironic critique of social justice scholarship are unethical, characterized by ignorance and rooted in a desire to preserve privilege.” [Note: I share my opinion of this paper in Update 2 to this post.]
The other paper, “The Progressive Stack: An Intersectional Feminist Approach to Pedagogy,” received three successive revise and resubmit decisions and was never accepted. Its thesis is that “educators should discriminate by identity and calculate their students’ status in terms of privilege, favor the least privileged with more time, attention and positive feedback and penalize the most privileged by declining to hear their contributions, deriding their input, intentionally speaking over them, and making them sit on the floor in chains—framed as educational opportunities we termed ‘experiential reparations.'” [Note: see Update 3 for links to commentary on this paper.]
In an article in the Wall Street Journal about the hoax, Hypatia’s current interim editor Ann Garry (California State University, Los Angeles) was quoted saying she was “deeply disappointed” to learn the papers were hoaxes, adding, “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.”
What does this hoax show, if anything? For one thing, it shows that academic publishing is not particularly adept at engaging with those who are operating in bad faith and intending to fool the system. It also shows that a system which is set up to assess scholarship critically but charitably will have false positives.
What did the hoaxers want to show? They say that they take themselves to be exposing a problem with the social sciences and the humanities which they identify as the “belief that many common features of experience and society are socially constructed.”
But many common features of experience and society are socially constructed. So why is belief in that generic claim problematic? It turns out it is not, for as they say more, the authors reveal that their real target is the view they call “radical constructivism,” the “dangerous” and now “authoritative” idea that “we must, on moral grounds, largely reject the belief that access to objective truth exists.”
The reasoning seems to be this:
- Certain areas of scholarship are built on a foundational assumption of “radical constructivism.”
- Journals dedicated to those areas of scholarship can be tricked into accepting and publishing fake research that fits with this foundational assumption.
- If journals in an area of scholarship can be tricked into accepting and publishing fake research that fits with its foundational assumption, then its foundational assumptions should be called into question.
- Therefore, “radical constructivism” should be called into question.
I’m not sure what fields, if any, 1 is true of. But let’s just assume for now there are some fields it is true of, including some of the fields represented by the journals that Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose (BLP) targeted.
I’m not sure whether the papers BLP submitted are compatible with or illustrative of “radical constructivism.” I suspect this is harder to pull off than people tend to think, but let’s assume they are. On that assumption, then, BLP have shown the truth of 2.
It is not clear at all to me that 3 is true. Suppose my theory of pizza making is built on a foundational assumption that pizza must have cheese on it. You present me with something that looks like a pizza and that has cheese on it. I declare it a pizza. You reveal that while what you’ve handed me has cheese on it, the rest of it is actually a plaster sculpture. Oh no. You hoaxed me! And I was really in the mood for pizza! That sucks, but does it follow that I should call into question my view that pizza must have cheese on it?*
If 3 isn’t true, we don’t get 4. But again, I have questions about 1 and 2, as well. And in any event, is it really the case that, as 4 seems to suggest, “radical constructivism” is never or rarely called into question?
Perhaps there is a better way to reconstruct why BLP think they’ve made a point about “radical constructivism” with their hoax. If you can think of one, give it a shot in the comments.
That said, their hoax may show something about the standards at the journals into which their papers were accepted. Comments about whether that is the case, and if it is, suggestions about what can or should be done about it, are welcome.
*This is just an example; yes I am aware that there is cheeseless pizza.
(Thanks to Jonny Anomaly for bringing this to my attention. The hoax. Not the pizza.)
UPDATE 1: The articles and referee reports can be found here.
UPDATE 2: I read the article that Hypatia accepted, “When the Joke Is on You: a Feminist Perspective on how Positionality Influences Satire.” In my opinion, if the citations are legitimate and the descriptions of others’ views are accurate (something which I am not in a position to determine at this time), the editors of Hypatia have nothing to be particularly ashamed of. Most of the twenty-page paper is a reasonable synthesis of others’ ideas about oppression and humor. It may not be groundbreaking (as one of the reviewers points out), but it is not ridiculous. It seems to me that only on the last page of the paper are there certain statements that could be interpreted as outrageous, but they are so vague that a much more charitable alternative interpretation would be reasonable. In short, assuming accurate representations of others’ views and legitimate citations, one’s opinion of Hypatia should not be affected by its publication of this paper.
Now I know some of you won’t believe me. So please, read the paper for yourself. It’s right here (look for the document titled “HOH2 Typeset”). You can also read the referee reports and editors comments here (look for the document titled “HOH2 ReviewerComments”). Let me know what you think.
UPDATE 3: I have not yet read “The Progressive Stack: An Intersectional Feminist Approach to Pedagogy,” the paper that Hypatia did not accept (it received three successive “revise and resubmit” judgments), but Nicholas Delon (New College of Florida) did. He shares his thoughts in the comments, starting here. You can read the paper here (look for the file titled “ProgressiveStack3”) and its reviews here (“ProgressiveStackReviews”).
Here’s comment at the bottom of the Quillette “five responses” article (https://quillette.com/2018/10/01/the-grievance-studies-scandal-five-academics-respond/ ) on this. Do with it, what you will:
There is an argument against this kind of activity, that has nothing to do with the moral grandstanding or elitist dismissals they’re likely to get from the fields they infiltrated.
First, It can be said that these three have engaged in precisely the kind of disingenuous scholarship that they are critiquing. That this is hypocritical is not the main problem, however. It is the fact that *even more disingenuous scholarship is getting published*. Polluting the journals doesn’t make them better. Adding even more pollution doesn’t make them better either. Getting rid of the pollution does.
Second, It will be objected, I am sure, that what Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose are doing is trying to rid the journals of pollution, by exposing low standards. But in their first video, the three admit that they could not get published just by publishing buzzword straw-man examples of the scholarship they wished to lampoon. Instead, they admit, they actually had to *engage* with the literature on its own terms, understand the claims and arguments being made, and *emulate them* in their own published papers. But isn’t this precisely how the academic method is supposed to work? Bearing this in mind, all we can say, is that the three have simply learned how to do work in “grievance studies”, and then did some.
Third, as philosophers all trained in the methods of philosophy, any one of them should have been able to take any piece of scholarship they studied in order to engage in this “experiment”, and tear it to shreds, *on its own terms*. THAT is what getting rid of the pollution looks like. Not repeating the same errors: but by correcting the existing ones. This is how Descartes and Hume overturned the “schoolmen”, this is how Kurt Gödel and Karl Popper overturned Logical Positivism, and this is how these three could have up-ended the fallacious nonsense of “feminist” philosophy.
But they didn’t do that. Instead, they spent a year engaging in “PWNAGE” for its own sake. That’s not going to fix anything. It’s just going to make doing real criticism even more difficult. Why? Because, as with the Sokal affair, its further driving the disciplines into their own little walled-gardens of special language, and diverging standards of truth and knowledge. The whole point of the “university” (it’s built into the name, you see), is to UNIFY our understanding of the world. That requires periods of divergence and convergence. Often, those periods of divergence are littered with loads of incorrect nonsense. THATS OK. Because you have to fail, in order to succeed, and you succeed, by honestly arguing out the nonsense. But when correction turns into pillory, or worse — disingenuous mockery, the mission of the university is dead.
This is not to say that there are not bad actors in the disciplines they were criticising. I believe there are, and I believe they do have political ends that go far beyond the scope of what a university’s mission should be, and I believe their actions — engaging in political activism via disingenuous scholarship — is incredibly dangerous and damaging to society. But this is a different question, and requires a different kind of criticism than what went on here. What we need, is another Allan Bloom. Not another Alan Sokal.Report
Further to #3 above by Greg Gauthier: isn’t the conclusion that we’re supposed to draw from this is that all — or most — or some — of the pieces in the hoaxed journals are just as bad if not worse than the hoax pieces themselves? If that’s the case, then why not just pick some of those bad pieces and expose THEM?Report
This is a good question. In some cases the hoax papers have presumably been worse than the other papers on the journal, with “Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List” being the prime example. Sokal’s paper might also be an example. In that case, there seems to be a point. If all that you’ve shown is that you can do the same thing that other people who publish in a journal are already doing without taking it seriously, then you haven’t told us anything new about the journal.Report
“If that’s the case, then why not just pick some of those bad pieces and expose THEM?”
Just a guess (maybe I’m wrong). I wonder if maybe the hoaxers would think that responding to work they see as sub-par grants further legitimacy to those works in a way that the hoaxes do not.Report
“why not just pick some of those bad pieces and expose THEM?”
After seeing what happened with Rebecca Tuvel’s experience with the Hypatia mob, I can’t imagine that anyone with even remotely heterodox views about feminism would try to engage with literature in Hypatia. I mean, Tuvel ticked about every box for someone that would otherwise get the benefit of the doubt from that bunch (peer-reviewed paper in a feminist journal written by a non-tenured woman). Without prejudice as to whether its admirable, the prudential explanation for your question more than adequately answers it.Report
It’s not like Quillette, Areo and other allegedly heterodox fora are not consistently purporting to pick apart feminism, critical theory and social justice. I’m not sure Greg and John were suggesting that a critical piece be submitted to *Hypatia*. There are plenty of peer-reviewed venues where rigorous contrarian scholarship would be welcome and is already being published. We can keep pretending that it’s impossible to criticize these strands of scholarship that BLP consider junk, but it’s just bad faith. Maybe the problem is the critics don’t generate much valuable scholarship themselves.Report
John Protevi asks why the authors didn’t ‘pick apart and expose’ some of the work in Hypatia; Greg Gauthier in his third point seems to be saying the hoaxers were obliged to do so. I’m pointing out that for, purely prudential reasons, it makes sense that those who defend (or insufficiently deferentially entertain!) things that are even marginally out of step with what is being published in Hypatia will not want to pick apart and expose that literature, no matter where it’s published.Report
No, I don’t read that they were supposed to pick apart and expose the work by submitting to Hypatia. If the claim you’re making is it’s wise not to pick apart Hypatia in Hypatia, then yeah. I wouldn’t submit a left wing piece to Quillette. If it got published I know I would be trolled by their readers and I don’t want that. This doesn’t show anything about Quillette or Hypatia.
I don’t understand why prudential reasons speak against picking apart and exposing work published in Hypatia and the like “no matter where [the critique] is published”. Again, we hear important people purporting to criticize the work in venues geared at large audiences all the time. All. The. Time.Report
I”m not claiming that anyone said the hoaxers were supposed to publish in Hypatia. I don’t know how I can make that any clearer. And if you don’t see the prudential reasons, I don’t know what to tell you. Go back and scroll through some of the discussion that was aired about Tuvel.’s paper.Report
I guess the clause “why the authors didn’t ‘pick apart and expose’ some of the work in Hypatia” is what caused the misunderstanding. “In Hypatia” was ambiguous.Report
I’m glad we”ve cleared up the misunderstanding! Who says there’s no progress in philosophy?Report
Now I understand that you’re talking about those who would naturally publish in Hypatia but are somewhat critical of the sort of work it usually publishes––assuming there is such an ideologically unified body of published work in Hypatia (not clear to me that there is). Even then, it’s not clear Tuvel’s experience tells us anything about what would have happened to BLP had they chosen to submit serious critical work instead.Report
The issue is not that Tuvel’s experience tells us something about what *would* have happened. It is enough that Tuvel’s treatment at the hands of the Hypatia mob tells us something about what *could* have happened to the hoaxers, in a sense of ‘could’ that we have a witness for in the actual world. And the consequences are sufficiently severe for prudence to counsel those of use who harbor even slightly heterodox views on all sorts of things to stay away from those conversations entirely.Report
Hello Preston, I don’t understand why getting your hoax into the Wall Street Journal is safer than finding pieces in journal that check boxes on “radical constructivist” and publishing that in Areo. It would seem one would call much more attention onto oneself by publishing in the WSJ.Report
Hi John. It’s safer because publishing a hoax does not commit you to having a stake in the debate one takes part in. Indeed, the point of this hoax is that the authors don’t think any of what they’ve said should be taken seriously anyway. Some are characterizing that as ‘bad faith’, and I think I understand that sentiment. But when you write for an audience whose conversations one is vested in having a say in, the responses of that audience have a whole lot more professional (and probably in most cases personal) significance.
That’s a risk we take when writing for any audience, and I can see why the ‘bad faith’ crowd is galled by what happened. Again, my point has only been about the prudential reasons in play.Report
Hi Preston, “Indeed, the point of this hoax is that the authors don’t think any of what they’ve said should be taken seriously anyway.”
I can see that w/r/t the content of the hoax articles. However, they do take seriously their claims that “radical constructivism” is 1) hegemonic in certain circles; 2) that it is pernicious; and 3) by implication, that their sketch of “radical constructivism” is an accurate summary of what goes on in certain circles.
Those seem to me to be sincerely held empirical and moral claims that they took the risk of proclaiming, so again, I don’t see the prudence of wrapping up those straightforward claims in a hoax wrapping.Report
Thanks John. It’s prudential because by directing the claims at the audience they have, they don’t hitch the output (God what a horrid business-speak term) to the views of those who write for Hypatia. Instead, they’re writing for the WSJ (inter alia). And as I said above, that makes a big difference when it comes to the professional and personal (better: psychological) stake one makes when one chooses to defend those claims in particular venues. It’s one thing to try to convince the advocates of (what one believes is) a crackpot view that they’re defending a crackpot view; it’s another to try to convince other people that the view in question is crackpot. To work from within the Hypatia-mentality is to invite the mob on its own terms. Whereas to write for the Wall Street Journal is to repudiate the mob at the outset.
Again, I’m not lauding the decision (but nor am I condemning it, of course). I’m just pointing out that from the standpoint of professional and psychological well-being, choosing not to engage with the Hypatia crowd insulates you from the criticism that the Tuvel fiasco made clear is a possibility. And so the prudential explanation is more than adequate. Perhaps the crowd crying ‘bad faith’ would argue there’s some moral or social duty to address the mob directly; but the prudential reasons more than sufficice for an explanation of why someone with the hoaxers’ sensibilities would not write for the Hypatia crowd today.Report
Hello Preston, thanks, I think you make a good case for the prudence of genre (hoax) and venue (Areo and WSJ) choices.
Let me come back to my original post:
“isn’t the conclusion that we’re supposed to draw from this is that all — or most — or some — of the pieces in the hoaxed journals are just as bad if not worse than the hoax pieces themselves? If that’s the case, then why not just pick some of those bad pieces and expose THEM?”
Would you agree that in order for them to support the conclusion I think they are trying to have us draw, that they would have to engage directly with published material?
NB: “as bad if not worse” meaning “as fully invested in radical constructivism” as the hoaxes.Report
It depends on what kind of stringency you want to put on ‘support the conclusion’. Does the truth of the premises guarantee the truth of the conclusion? No, but then most of our arguments in the social sciences aren’t like that anyway. And there’s a perfectly tolerable sense in which, in the context in which the hoax was perpetrated and given the range of its success, the hoaxers have added one more data point to the graph that suggests there are real and pressing problems that should be faced in good faith.
I’m just going on what the hoaxers have said, of course, and the way they’ve presented it. But if their presentation is basically right about what happened then their prank clearly lends support for the conclusions they draw about the sociological problems of some portions of the humanities and social sciences.Report
I am certainly here, as the kids say nowadays, for any and all discussions of constructivism, radical, moderate, and minimal.Report
Come for the discussion of constructivism; stay for the conclusions drawn!Report
Preston Stovall: Do I understand you correctly as saying that the same philosophers who pilloried Tuvall would have pilloried anyone who critically engaged with “real” papers published in Hypatia, but that they’ll give philosophers who publish “hoax” papers in Hypatia a pass?Report
Not *would have* or *anyone*. But *could have* and *some*, where again the actual world is a witness to the truth in question.Report
But clearly anyone who would have pilloried the hoaxers for critically engaging with papers in Hypatia is going to pillory them all the more now, right? There’s no possible world in which what they did was the safer course. (I’m not affirming that they would have been pilloried for criticizing work in Hypatia; I’m only saying that whatever sort of backlash would have been directed at them will be even more intense now.)Report
This takes too narrow a conception of the role of the social context on the professional and psychological impact of criticism. And remember, I’m speaking prudentially here and not about principles.
By speaking to the crowd they have, the hoaxers have presented their work in a particular way and opened themselves up to feedback from a particular audience. The norms of uptake, criticism, dissemination (signal-boosting), etc. are different for different venues. The response they will receive, in the intellectual circles they move in, will be far less detrimental to their professional and psychological well being than what the perpetrators of the Hypatia fiasco were after (no matter what the mob tries to pull off this time around). Or consider what’s happening to Kathleen Stock right now.
So I doubt the ‘backlash’ will be more intense. It will be more vocal in some quarters, sure. But that will mean far less against what the hoaxers have done than what was has been intended for someone like Tuvel or Stock. So simply from a prudential standpoint, it makes sense to hoax rather than engage with this literature.Report
But this just boils down to saying that the hoaxers have less to fear because they aren’t part of the scholarly community that publishes in these journals. They’re outsiders in the way that Tuvel was an insider in feminist philosophy. So the people who will complain aren’t people to whom they would have looked for support. And that would be true whatever form their criticism took.Report
Hi Dale – that’s what this ‘boils down to’ in the sense that it explains why it’s prudential not to engage with the Hypatia mob. To do so is to make yourself professionally and psychologically dependent upon them for your well being. Just think for a moment what it would be like to spend time interacting with and getting to know this community only to have yourself be put through the public and professional wringer in some fit of self-righteous rage. When you hoax them for Areo and the Wall Street Journal you hitch your wagon to another train.
So given what we’ve seen about the way the mob behaves, it makes prudential sense to hoax them rather than engage.Report
Hi Preston–Yes, here’s where I think we disagree. Critically engaging with a group’s work doesn’t mean trying to become one of them. Whether or not this description is apt in this case or not, it would certainly be draining to be trying to be accepted as part of a community where one constantly had to worry that any deviation from the orthodox view would result in people turning on you. But you’re not going to be in that position if your papers are about why that group’s fundamental assumptions are wrong. And anything that a group like that could do to an outsider, they would surely do to a hoaxer with even more vehemence than a mere critic.Report
Hi Dale. I’m afraid there’s still miscommunication, though I agree we’re getting closer to the source.
In this sentence you make a universal generalization over possibilities that is false, and you use the strong epistemic modality in a way that is not supported by the evidence. There are plenty of things that the Hypatia mob could do to the outsider who earnestly engages with their literature that the mob could not do to one who hoaxes. This is a fact about the way social relations afford and close off possibilities for flourishing and harm. The critic is forced to treat the mob as a thing to be reasoned with. The hoaxer simply draws back the curtain. Your use of the universal quantifier over what the mob could do, and the certainty attributed to the claim that the vehemence is worse because they aren’t in the position of Tuvel or Stock, are not supported by the facts.Report
I wonder what their acceptance rate would have been had they merely criticized prevailing orthodoxies. I would guess less than 7/20.Report
Probably because direct criticisms from outside scholars would not be heard or seriously considered. Regardless of the ethical status of such hoaxes, critically engaging with the work of the fields themselves is likely a huge waste of time. After having “I’M NOT HERE TO EDUCATE YOU” yelled/tweeted at you for the 50th time after asking a genuine critical question, you tend to give up on actual, honest engagement.Report
Do you sincerely believe that people are more willing to hear criticisms of their ideas, after a publication of hoax papers? I don’t know about you, but I’d tend to turn away from those who not only don’t present serious criticism to my ideas, but also intentionally deceives me, lies to me, and then subjects my interests to derision and ridicule after they do so.Report
The point, as they themselves put it, is to illustrate that these fields are primarily driven almost entirely by social ques rather than by the content of their arguments. To publish you must find a conclusion that pushes the boundaries to just the right degree so that you seem more subversive and radical than others, but not so radical that your conclusion constitutes an obvious reductio. The rest is window dressing: objections? Fragility. Of course, as this process continues the Goldilocks Zone of Subversion (TM) continues to expand further into the realms of radicalism and absurdity, as evidenced by the fact that a paper suggesting white students be put in fake chains and mocked for attempting to ask questions in class got an R&R.Report
You write, “The point, as they themselves put it, is to illustrate that these fields are primarily driven almost entirely by social ques rather than by the content of their arguments. To publish you must find a conclusion that pushes the boundaries to just the right degree so that you seem more subversive and radical than others, but not so radical that your conclusion constitutes an obvious reductio.”
What struck me, when I read about their methodology for writing publishable papers, was just how much this resonated with me, or described my (unconscious) methodology for getting papers published. However, I work in an area of philosophy whose content does not strike me as political or ideological at all. However, publishing still seems driven by exactly the same social cues (knowing and citing a lot of literature) and minor boundary pushing (using a result from one area of philosophy to propose a new interpretation in another, for example). Their study doesn’t seem like a particularly damning indictment of the fields they targeted, but rather an indictment of the peer review process in the humanities in general, and perhaps, even more depressingly, academia in general.Report
My main bias when reviewing is that the person might be in a terrible socioeconomic position and I could really be hurting them with the rejection. I don’t feel the pro-subversion urge at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. Anything that seems like it’s deliberately trying to be subversive immediately draws my suspicion. I also hate bad arguments for my views way more than interesting arguments for the views I dislike. I think the key to all of this is the mixture of deep loathing and pity that I possess for all of humanity, including myself. Misanthropy is the surest path to objectivity. Metaphysician, hate thyself!Report
One wonders how many outright humiliations like this are going to be necessary, before these journals — and some of the relevant sub-disciplinary areas — are finally discredited within the profession. Given the motivations, which you correctly describe, I suspect the answer is that no amount will be sufficient, and consequently, the field will continue to become more and more internally divided.Report
In this case, I think the hoaxers radically misidentify the import of their hoax. Surely the fundamental problem with many of the articles isn’t that they conform to some full-blown constructivist metaphysical theory, and Justin’s done a good job of showing why that’s a silly target. Surely the key issue is that the claims themselves are often absurd, illegal and.or unethical. I think this conversation has the potential to get seriously derailed by this framing.
Look, in response to a policy which blatantly violates Title IX, and which proposes violating the basic rights of straight-white-males in the classroom “by declining to hear their contributions, deriding their input, intentionally speaking over them, and making them sit on the floor in chains”, here is what Hypatia reviewers–three of our colleagues in philosophy–said:
“This is a solid essay that, with revision, will make a strong contribution to the growing literature on addressing epistemic injustice in the classroom.”, and
“I like this project very much. I think the author’s insights are on target,” and
“This is a worthwhile and interesting project.”
And the authors note that “No requirement for revision took issue with” this specific set of classroom proposals. No reviewer said: “The project is worthwhile, but these proposals violate basic legal and ethical standards.”
Surely this is the issue, right? That when right-wing conservatives accuse the left of being morbidly consumed by hatred for Standard White Dudes, we on the left really should be able to truthfully say that they’re entirely mistaken? And apparently, well… we can’t?Report
This. This is the good take.Report
Yes, and it is this take that is going to most or all of the publicity. “Paper Suggesting White Male Students Sit on Floor in Chains Receives Glowing Reviews from Leading Feminist Journal” isn’t a headline over at Fox News yet, but it will be by tomorrow. The ultimate effect will not be on academic journals and their standards, but rather on legislatures in swing states like mine when they choose how much to fund their public universities. As someone whose livelihood depends on public university funding, I’m disgusted with everyone involved.Report
It’s already happening:
I should add, upon reflection, that my suggested interpretation could be partly wrong: perhaps the reviewers are not as hateful and unethical as they appear to be. In fact, it’s just as likely that some of the reviewers are not particularly powerful members of the profession, that they are interested in feminist philosophy happy to review for a prestigious feminist journal, and didn’t want to endanger their positions by signaling deviance from the party line by raising a red flag. This, in a way, is even more insidious but it has little to do with the character of the reviewers. Perhaps the journal itself could issue a statement saying that it is committed to basic human rights and to the letter and spirit of Title IX.
Reviewers, if this really is you: I feel for you and I’m sorry for insinuating that you’re hateful.Report
Title IX is one of the biggest problems with college education currently and editors are not better off for endorsing it.Report
To adapt a point that is frequently raised against certain views emanating from some feminist scholars: This is philosophy. As argument for a morally troubling view deserves a place in a good journal if it is a strong argument. It sounds as if the referees didn’t feel the argument of the “Progressive Stacking” paper was sufficiently strong. From the information we have, there’s no way to know what opinion to have of the referees’ decision.
There may be a problem here, if (eg) the referees did not hold the paper to the standard of having to answer the prima facie objection that this policy seems intuitively unethical. But without the full text of the paper and referee reports, we have no idea whether the paper was held to this standard or not.Report
Having now looked at the ref reports for the “Stacking” paper, I should register my disappointment that the referees did not in fact raise this objection. I do think it’s possible they simply skimmed the later parts of a paper that they could already tell was not of very high quality in its current form. The word ‘chains’ only appears once, relatively late in the paper, so if a referee had decided by that point to write a weak R&R report making very broad criticisms of the weak argumentation, I would certainly understand/forgive skimming the remainder of the paper and missing that detail.Report
Good point. Whatever else the hoax shows or doesn’t show, the evidence we have does NOT show that reviewers were especially complacent with the proposal. Given how non-central the specific proposal was, BLP are really framing the upshot of what happened to this paper in a particularly deceptive way. Now folks here, and even more people in the right-wing echo chambers, will hear: Hypatia is okay with putting white kids in chains for pedagogical purposes. Again, so much for rigor.Report
I’d like to read the whole paper as well as the full referee reports. As of now we can only take BLP at their word. In particular, they write:
“Purpose: To see if journals will accept arguments which advocate rating students by their identity, privileging the most marginalized and discriminating against the most privileged to the extent of having them sit on floor in chains and have their contributions discredited. (This was accepted. No requirement for revision took issue with that).”
Hum. The *paper* was not accepted; it’s still an R&R as far as we know. The specifically troubling bit––having white students sit on the floor in chains, etc.––may have been “accepted” in that “no requirement for revision took issue with that”. If that’s true, and if the way the proposal was phrased was clearly literal (not just a poorly chosen metaphor, tongue-in-cheek comment, or bad taste class activity), then the reviewers may have fallen short in this particular respect. But I’d like to read more. Given the general bad faith, ideologically motivated spirit of the whole project, I wouldn’t be surprised if BLP were fudging the extent to which the putting-white-kids-in-chains proposal was in fact not taken issue with.
Now, it may seem like I’m nitpicking, but they’re the ones claiming to be rescuing science and objective truth-seeking. It’d be nice of them to make materials openly accessible to all.Report
They did; there’s a link to all the papers and reviews in their report.Report
Yeah, I just saw the update. I couldn’t find the link when I read the report.Report
Well, this partially confirms my suspicion. I’m just going to comment on this specific proposal in this specific paper. First, the paper has been reviewed and REJECTED three times. Second, the referees’ reports strike me as sometimes thoughtful, often very detailed, engaging with the lack of structure, clarity, argument and precision in the paper, even though one may wish they had been somewhat more critical of the existential reparations pedagogy. But they are, to some extent. One of the reviewers admits the proposal makes them uncomfortable, that this might be too shame-y. Third, the authors hedge their claims a lot. Put in context and hedged like it is, the proposal is not irredeemably outlandish and inhumane. I personally think it’s silly, counter-productive, potentially unethical and unfair, but this by itself proves little about Hypatia, feminism, any particular discipline, or “grievance studies”. It may just turn out the authors have unwittingly engaged in some minimally decent form of pedagogical reflection. Seems like they could do better since, again, the paper had been rejected THREE TIMES. So much for “gaming” the system I guess.Report
I recommend that you read the paper yourself, rather than relying on the authors’ summary, which is somewhat tendentious and misleading. In it, the authors write:
“[E]xperiential reparations seek to partially open privileged students to those resources by giving them simulated experience of relative oppression through a safe and voluntary learning experience.”
“In my experience, privileged students are slower to warm to this experience and need its educational purpose made explicit in terms of the pedagogy of discomfort and de/reprivileging architecture of the progressive stack, including that the intent is not to shame or embarrass them. In this sense, to effect these goals in accordance with CCI [critically compassionate intellectualism] and a pedagogy of discomfort, my experience has been that gentle reminders from the instructor (and other students) that they are voluntary and that it is part of the justice-oriented educational process to be made to feel uncomfortable tend to suffice.”
In other words:
(a) Participating in “experiential reparations” is voluntary.
(b) The instructor should make it clear to students that the goal is *not* to embarrass or shame anyone.
Even so, one of the reviewers for Hypatia still voiced some reservations:
“[S]ome of your suggestions strike me as “shaming.” I’ve never had much success with shaming pedagogies, they seem to foment more resistance by members of dominant groups. Can you say a bit about the parameters of discomfort? How do instructors walk a line between making privileged students feel genuinely uncomfortable in ways that are humbling and productive[,] and so uncomfortable (shame) that they resist with renewed vigor[?]”
I do not see why this would be unethical, so long as participation is genuinely voluntary. If an instructor and a consenting group of social-justice-minded students want to design an experimental class where privileged students are treated as though they are disprivileged, and vice versa, who are we to object? It’s harder still to make out the case that Hypatia did anything wrong by giving the paper an R&R. Even if you don’t agree that this is a useful pedagogical tool, the paper itself is exhaustively researched, tolerably clear, and presents interesting and unconventional ideas. Isn’t that what a good philosophy paper is supposed to do? Why should this be out of bounds, when other philosophy journals routinely publish articles defending involuntary euthanasia, torture, and infanticide?Report
Assuming that we can agree that making someone sit on the floor and wear chains in front of a room full of his/her peers is dehumanizing, you seem to be saying that it’s okay for a teacher to dehumanize his students if the students agree to it. This does strike me as patently absurd, not to mention illegal. I’m tempted to ask, then, what sorts of pedagogical strategies *would* be out of bounds in this context: if the goal is to get cis straight white men to confront their privilege, must we really pursue it by any means necessary?
Also, it is telling that the “reservations” of the Hypatia reviewer that you quote do not reference its patent immorality, but rather its purported effectiveness. I, for one, find it disturbing that this reviewer has *actually shamed* students before and only laments the fact that the practice of shaming was difficult to implement. If we are *not* outraged by this, then I think we (collectively, as philosophers) stand in need of many deep and honest conversations about our responsibilities as teachers to our students.
Finally, this paper was decisively not exhaustively researched. It may have cited the right people (this is part of the problem they’re trying to identify: why does “exhaustively researched” correspond to “cites the right people?”), but you will note that all of the evidence comes from the “author’s” personal experience (and thus are all false reports). Thus, no standards of empirical rigor are upheld in this piece at all. Nor does the “author” provide any justification for circumventing what are broadly accepted standards for quality in social scientific research.Report
This is a relatively minor quibble in the grand scheme of things, but you say:
“I, for one, find it disturbing that this reviewer has *actually shamed* students before and only laments the fact that the practice of shaming was difficult to implement.”
Really? Do you find it disturbing when a teacher scolds his classroom for not doing the assigned reading? Do you find it disturbing when a teacher directly confronts — a bit too aggressively — a student who is being disruptive in her classroom?
Perhaps you mean something more substantive by “shaming” students. (Maybe you meant “shaming” to be something roughly equivalent to “dehumanizing”?) If so, I’m not sure I see why a voluntary activity along these lines is necessarily shaming and/or dehumanizing. I admit that there are a lot of moving pieces here. But what you say seems too quick.Report
It doesn’t seem quite right to position something that people are asked, perhaps compelled, to do in class as a “voluntary activity”. It’s certainly not as voluntary as, say, asking whether people would like to do X or Y. Is doing the activity aligned with grades? Is a failure to perform the activity likely to land you in hot water with classmates, or with your teacher/lecturer (or could it be reasonably inferred that either is the case, from the position of the student)? If either answer is “Yes”, then there is *at least* an element of coercion here.
I would hope we can recognise this distinction in most fields of life (we accept that what the boss asks of a subordinate, while it can be refused, is nevertheless open to coercive pressure), so why not here?Report
I, too, have sometimes had students choose to sit on the floor of the classroom. Not as part of a teaching exercise, mind you, but just because the room was at capacity. Are you seriously suggesting that this *dehumanized* them? You seem to have comically low standards for what counts as dehumanizing. I recall hearing folks like Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt suggest that we are coddling undergraduates too much, that they need to face more adversity while in college to prepare them for the rigors of the adult world. But apparently this doesn’t extend to the horrors of *voluntarily sitting on the floor*, which they must be sheltered from at all costs!
Your claim that it is dehumanizing for students to choose to wear chains in order to simulate disprivilege is at least not risible on its face. But is it really more dehumanizing than, say:
1. Students putting in long hours of unpaid menial labor at an excavation site for an archaeology class.
2. Students spending a night or two roughing it to simulate homelessness, as part of an anthropology class.
3. Students participating in psychology experiments where they are deceived and manipulated in order to demonstrate how irrational they are.
All of these are standard operating procedure at colleges and universities around the country. Should we ban them as well, and forbid their discussion in peer-reviewed journals?
“Thus, no standards of empirical rigor are upheld in this piece at all.”
There’s nothing wrong with a professor trying out some novel pedagogical technique in the classroom, with student and administration approval, and publishing her results if they seem positive. A randomized controlled trial would be better, sure, but RCTs are expensive, and we need pilot projects like these to know which techniques are prima facie promising enough to warrant more extensive testing.Report
Can you not see the distinction between choosing to sit where one likes, and being asked to sit on the floor? They are different because they are pragmatically different, to be distinguished by their ends. No doubt passengers on buses often sit at the back, out of convenience, or necessity, or even preference. It was being compelled by Jim Crow to do so which was so unjust. In this imagined scenario, the students asked to sit on the floor may not be compelled by law, but may very well be coerced by all the moral or academic authority of the instructor or their classmates.Report
Yes, college students choosing to sit on the floor to simulate disprivilege is totally comparable to Jim Crow.
God, the comment section here is a dumpster fire.Report
It’s an analogy Elfin Grey, intended to show that merely sitting in one place or another is not the problem. The problem arises when an institution is in place that coerces people into sitting in one place or another. You may not like the analogy, but Anton is not comparing Jim Crow and “choosing to sit on the floor”. The whole point is that the proposal about “declining to hear [white students’] contributions, deriding their input, intentionally speaking over them, and making them sit on the floor in chains” is one that would institutionalize the practice and thereby inhibit the ability to freely opt out.
And this exercise, unlike archaeological excavation, going native for an anthropological study, or taking part in psych research, is supposed to be differentially directed at imposing burdens on certain groups of people because of their race, sex, etc. You don’t need to be a radical constructivist about social norms to see the problem here. But it is disappointing to see the social constructivist contingent fail to appreciate the problem.Report
Avalonian’s original objection, that “experiential reparations” are blatantly unethical and in clear violation of Title IX, was debunked as soon as someone took the time to actually read the paper and point out that participation is supposed to be voluntary. Then came Sad Eyed Philosopher of the Lowland’s objection that students choosing to sit on the floor is per se dehumanizing, also swiftly debunked. Next, we had the hysterical comparison to Jim Crow, too silly to warrant a response. Now we are on the fourth iteration of the objection: perhaps there is nothing *inherently* wrong with students choosing to sit on the floor and wear chains to simulate disprivilege, but there is a risk that social pressure from the students’ instructor and peers will render participation less than fully voluntary.
This fourth attempt at an objection also fails. It is true that, if experiential reparations are not implemented carefully to ensure that participation is genuinely voluntary, some students might feel pressured into doing something they find degrading, which would be bad. But this is true of many widely accepted pedagogical techniques, like the three I mentioned above. The fact that a pedagogical technique could have bad consequences if misapplied is a reason to be careful in applying it, not a reason to forbid its discussion.
“And this exercise, unlike archaeological excavation, going native for an anthropological study, or taking part in psych research, is supposed to be differentially directed at imposing burdens on certain groups of people because of their race, sex, etc.”
This is wrong — the homelessness simulation is targeted at privileged students on the basis of their class, to give them a firsthand perspective on what it’s like to have to sleep outdoors. A student who has actually experienced homelessness would obviously have no reason to participate.Report
Formatting error. Let me try this again.
Yet you did respond, and I’ve pointed out you missed the point. The analogy did not compare voluntarily sitting on the floor to Jim Crow. You evidently think that there is no social coercion in a proposal like this. Anton and others disagree. That’s fine. But it is no response to Anton to treat what he said as ‘hysterical’, or to characterize it in the way you have. And the alternative pedagogical tactics you think comparable are not directed at imposing burdens on student participation in virtue of their race, sex, etc.Report
Given that these objections are feeble to the point of being pretextual, I think it’s worth inquiring why commenters here really object so strenuously to experiential reparations, to such a degree that Avalonian’s farcically inaccurate comment has now received more than 270 upvotes. I suggest the real reason why experiential reparations have engendered so much pearl-clutching here is that folks disagree with the technique’s political and epistemological premises. They don’t believe that white people and men are specially privileged, or they don’t believe that it’s possible to gain a new perspective on privilege from experiencing disprivilege firsthand. If this hypothesis is correct, what we are really witnessing here is another episode in the right’s war on academic freedom. The commenters here are seething at the thought that Hypatia would even consider publishing a paper which promotes a pedagogical technique whose political and epistemological premises they reject. Well, I have some news for you, boyos: academic freedom includes the freedom for social-justice-aligned professors to implement unorthodox teaching methods (provided, at least, that both students and university administrators are on board), as well as the freedom to discuss these methods in scholarly journals.
“You evidently think that there is no social coercion in a proposal like this. Anton and others disagree. ”
Again, whether or not there is “social coercion” will depend on the way the proposal is implemented, just like with many other pedagogical techniques. The fact that a pedagogical technique could potentially lead to “social coercion” if misapplied is not sufficient reason to ban it, let alone forbid its discussion in journals. I’m afraid you don’t have a leg to stand on here.Report
Well, I’m just correcting your misreading of an analogy! And I’m glad to see that the coercive element is now being acknowledged.Report
And have you looked at what the hoaxers have said about their aims and interests? They claim to be progressives worried about certain tendencies on the left. This looks like a situation where the left is trying to get its own house in order, and I don’t think it helps to present opposition to these types of policies ‘another episode in the right’s war on academic freedom’.Report
Just to be super-duper clear on this:
White college students choosing to sit on the floor to simulate disprivilege is in no way comparable to JIm Crow.
White college students choosing to wear chains to simulate disprivilege is in no way comparable to Jim Crow.
White college students being socially pressured into sitting on the floor in order to simulate disprivilege is still in no way comparable to Jim Crow.
If experiential reparations meant that white college students were *physically forced* to sit on the floor, as part of a century-long campaign of lynchings, beatings, apartheid, and dehumanization, that would be a bit more like Jim Crow. This not being the case, the analogy is ignorant, grossly offensive, and all around pretty asinine. I’m a big believer in academic freedom, but each time one of you says shit like this it becomes a little bit easier for folks to make the case that rightists just aren’t cut out for academia. Please make my life easier by thinking before you speak next time.Report
You know, I don’t often make a point of talking about my politics. But I don’t identify with or think of myself as a ‘rightist’.
Anyway, it is important to distinguish inference by analogy from the form of reasoning you continue to use, so once more unto the breach!
No one ever said that chaining white students up, talking down to them and interrupting them in class, etc. is comparable to Jim Crow laws in anything but an analogical sense used to make a different point. In a nearby possible world you might have used that analogy to help yourself understand what Anton was saying. Either way, there’s simply no need to import anything untoward into the analogy, as I think I did a good job laying out in my first response to this subthread. If you’d like me to go over anything in particular, I’d be happy to. I work a bit on analogical reasoning.
One other remark, or a concern really. I worry that your use of the notion of coercion systematically elides the institutional nature of the problem Anton was talking about. You admitted there was such a notion a moment ago, but now you speak of ‘physical force’ and what is ‘more comparable’. But there was no comparison made, and physical force was never at issue! It was an analogy, made to make a different point. And you missed it.
Instead, you hurl invective and turn the mere fact that I’m pointing this out into an occassion for casting aspersions on others’ good will. I put it to you that this kind of behavior is deeply dysfunctional for a social order. And just to be clear, I make these remarks with no condescension toward your will or motivation. I take it on trust that we’re all in this together.Report
“No one ever said that chaining white students up, talking down to them and interrupting them in class, etc. is comparable to Jim Crow laws in anything but an analogical sense used to make a different point.”
What a load of garbage. We all have ample experience with claims like “You’re a vegetarian… you mean, like Hitler?” and “You want to take people’s guns away? You know who else wanted to do that? Adolf Hitler, that’s who!” Both of these comparisons are, strictly speaking, true. But that’s beside the point, because the purpose of the analogy isn’t to say something true, it’s to draw a specious association in the reader’s mind between the practice they don’t like and the bloody horrors of Nazism. This is why sensible adults don’t go around comparing things to Hitler or the Nazis that aren’t in most respects like them. The same goes for Anton’s asinine analogy between being “compelled by Jim Crow”and being “coerced by all the moral or academic authority of the instructor or their classmates.” There is no real point of comparison between a century of racial subjugation and terrorism literally coercing black Americans to sit at the back of the bus, and privileged college students being “coerced” into choosing to sit on the floor by the prospect that their classmates might think less of them if they don’t participate. And if you disagree with me, well, you know who else disagreed with me about lots of stuff? Adolf Hitler. Do you really want to be like Hitler?Report
I do appreciate you saying this, as it gives some clue to the pattern of thinking that motivated your response to Anton. It looks as though you’ve assumed that this emotive effect was the point of his analogy, and that helps explain why you reframed his remark in terms of ‘choosing to sit on the floor’, thereby misunderstanding precisely what the analogy was supposed to show. It’s too bad, as the emotive response got in the way of understanding what was being said.
So I agree that pragmatically it’s probably a good idea to stay away from these kinds of analogies, as they’re liable to be misinterpreted in just the way we’ve seen here.Report
Here is the relevant section of Anton’s comment:
“No doubt passengers on buses often sit at the back, out of convenience, or necessity, or even preference. It was being compelled by Jim Crow to do so which was so unjust. In this imagined scenario, the students asked to sit on the floor may not be compelled by law, but may very well be coerced by all the moral or academic authority of the instructor or their classmates.”
In other words: black Americans being coerced into sitting on the back of the bus under Jim Crow was unjust, even though black people choosing voluntarily to sit in the back of the bus would not be; therefore, by parity of reasoning, white students being “coerced by all the moral or academic authority of the instructor or their classmates” into sitting on the floor is also unjust (or: might also be unjust), even though white students choosing voluntarily to sit on the floor would not be.
Whether this analogy succeeds or not hinges on whether the types of “coercion” taking place in both cases are sufficiently comparable. They are not, as anyone who has ever read a history book could tell you. Hence, the analogy fails.
You seem to have misunderstood this point from the beginning. When I said: “Yes, college students choosing to sit on the floor to simulate disprivilege is totally comparable to Jim Crow”, this was to underscore that the college students in Anton’s worst-case scenario still have a genuine, unforced choice about whether or not to sit on the floor, social pressure or no, while black Americans under Jim Crow had no real choice at all. I was not ignoring the distinction Anton was trying to draw, I was rejecting it. I hope this clears up your confusion. I’m sure your “work on analogical reasoning” is… great, but your basic facility with the english language could use some touching up.Report
This still runs together a comparison and an analogy used to make a point other than a comparison between the things analogized! The cases you give here are unlike what Anton said – he was making a point about the existence of coercion as the problem in the attempt to get you to see that the concern wasn’t about choice. You missed that point from the beginning, but you can reread our exchange and see that’s exactly what this conversation has been coming back to.Report
Thanks Elfin Grey, this is helpful. Here’s where the issue lies; you write
That’s not the case, for the analogy is not comparing coercion in one case against the other and saying they are comparable–that’s why I’ve been emphasizing that this isn’t an analogy of comparison. Instead, all the analogy depends upon is that *there is* coercion in both cases. You’ve now admitted as much, and you’ve also made clear that your emotive response to the analogy led you to impugn base motives to the one making it. But that doesn’t change the fact about what the analogy grounds.
Feel free to email me if you’d like an essay on inference by analogy! I’m convinced that it’s an important mode of reasoning that should not be run together with related notions.Report
“Instead, all the analogy depends upon is that *there is* coercion in both cases.”
This is false. Let’s suppose we accept your attempt at redefining coercion to include mean glances from your peers. We’ll refer to this type of “coercion” as Preston-coercion, and retain the usual word for actual coercion. Will the analogy succeed then? No, of course not. The fact that it was unjust for black people to be actually coerced into sitting in the back of the bus under Jim Crow says absolutely nothing about whether it’s unjust for white students to be Preston-coerced into choosing to sit on the floor.as part of a pedagogical exercise. This is because the phenomenon picked out by the english term “coercion” and the phenomenon picked out by your neologism are too dissimilar to sustain the analogy. The terms we used don’t really make a difference (although you are also using those incorrectly), what matters is whether the underlying moral features of the two cases are sufficiently similar. Boy, for someone who claims to have done research on analogical inference, you sure seem pretty bad at it.
“You’ve now admitted as much,”
You keep saying this, but as far as I can tell, this is nothing more than a delusion on your part. Can you point to where you think I admitted this?Report
Hi Elfin Grey. Concerning your admission that there is coercion in the institutionalized technique of asking white studetns to sit on the floor in chains, on October 6 at at 12:21 and 1:12 you admit that a morally wrong sort of coercion is a possibility. So your response here (and subsequent thought experiment) misfires:
The only thing the analogy depends upon is the existence of coercion. If you don’t think there really is coercion then you won’t accept the analogy. But that’s not to say the analogy depends upon “whether the types of “coercion” taking place in both cases are sufficiently comparable.”
And to be clear, one doesn’t need to think there really is coercion in play to appreciate that your response to the analogy mislocates its point. You’d be much better off trying to argue that there is no coercion than to continue to maintain that the analogy with Jim Crow laws somehow implied that the coercion was comparable.Report
“Concerning your admission that there is coercion in the institutionalized technique of asking white studetns to sit on the floor in chains, on October 6 at at 12:21 and 1:12 you admit that a morally wrong sort of coercion is a possibility.”
Not seeing it. Could you actually quote where you think I said that experiential reparations involved coercion, so we can verify that you’re not just making it up as some sort of cheap rhetorical ploy?
“The only thing the analogy depends upon is the existence of coercion. If you don’t think there really is coercion then you won’t accept the analogy. But that’s not to say the analogy depends upon “whether the types of “coercion” taking place in both cases are sufficiently comparable.””
Sure it does. If by “coercion” you mean “icy glares or savage beatings”, then the fact that savage-beating-coercion is prima facie unjust tells you nothing about whether icy-glares-“coercion” is prima facie unjust. Why are you having so much trouble understanding this? Do you think it’s true in general that if an extreme form of F is unjust, a very mild form of “F” must also be unjust?Report
I’m making no claims about justice one way or the other. I’m only pointing out the nature of the analogy. You’ve maintained it depends upon comparing types of coercion. I’m pointing out that the only thing the analogy depends upon is whether there *is* coercion. And so the analogy does not warrant the emotive response you’ve admitted you interpreted it through (October 7, 12:24 a.m “…because the purpose of the analogy”…).
Re. your admission of the possibility of morally wrong coercion: from October 6 at 12:21
and again at 1:12
And let’s remember the context of the analogy and my intervention here! This is the way Anton opened his comment:
In response you wrote:
Yet you just now wrote:
This is a debate you need to have with Anton, if he’s willing. My point has been to highlight that Anton’s analogy depends only on the existence of coercion. And for the purposes of making that point I can bracket whether such coercion actually exists. So whether you think there is coercion, whether it can sometimes be just, or what have you is orthogonal to my intervention here.Report
Here are the two quotations you dredged up as proof of my supposed concession that experiential reparations involve coercion:
1. “It is true that, if experiential reparations are not implemented carefully to ensure that participation is genuinely voluntary, some students might feel pressured into doing something they find degrading, which would be bad.”
2. “Again, whether or not there is “social coercion” will depend on the way the proposal is implemented,”
If you look closely, you can see that the first of these quotations does not use the word”coercion” at all, while the second includes it only in square quotes. So it appears you were either mistaken or lying when you claimed that I’d conceded that experiential reparations involve coercion.
” My point has been to highlight that Anton’s analogy depends only on the existence of coercion. ”
This still isn’t true. I will repeat the rationale for why one more time, in the probably vain hope that repetition will succeed where reason has failed.
If by “coercion” you mean “icy glares or savage beatings”, then the fact that savage-beating-coercion is prima facie unjust tells you nothing about whether icy-glares-“coercion” is prima facie unjust, which means that Anton’s analogy fails. Anton needs Jim Crow and experiential reparations to be sufficiently similar that the obvious injustice of the former plausibly transfers to the latter. Even if it were true that both involved some degree of coercion, which it is not, that won’t be enough, because an extreme degree of coercion being unjust does not guarantee that a small degree of coercion is also unjust.
You are wrong on every count, here.Report
Oh, surely you don’t mean for us to think that ‘coercion’ isn’t an acceptable way of glossing ‘pressured into doing something’! And the context of Anton’s analogy makes clear it does not depend upon the coercion of Jim Crow being ‘sufficiently similar’ to the coercion of ‘experiential reparations’ where white students sit on the floor in chains. For the point of the analogy is to highlight the existence of coercion in both cases as a way of putting pressure on your claim that students can simply choose whether or not to sit on the floor in chains.
And notice I can say that without commitment as to whether there *is* coercion in these cases! You deny there is, but that does not force Anton to hold that the coercion at issue is ‘sufficiently similar’.Report
“Oh, surely you don’t mean for us to think that ‘coercion’ isn’t an acceptable way of glossing ‘pressured into doing something’!”
Do you think that all instances of being “pressured into doing something” are also instances of coercion? For example, if a toddler pressures her father into buying her a candy bar by wheedling him, does that count as coercion, in your book? And if my partner pressures me into picking my clothes off the floor with a sarcastic comment, does this mean that she is coercing me as well? “Coerce” is often used to mean “pressure using force or the threat of force”. I’m willing to apply the term a bit more broadly than that, but your claim that “coerce” is more or less synonymous with “pressure [into doing something]” strikes me as both false and transparently ad hoc.
“For the point of the analogy is to highlight the existence of coercion in both cases as a way of putting pressure on your claim that students can simply choose whether or not to sit on the floor in chains.”
But there is not coercion in both cases, so the analogy fails. What’s more, even if there were coercion in both cases, the analogy still wouldn’t put any “pressure on [my] claim that students can simply choose whether or not to sit on the floor in chains.” This is because icy-glare-“coercion” and savage-beating-coercion are not at all alike, which means that the fact that savage-beating-coercion robs us of our ability to “simply choose” says nothing about whether icy-glare-“coercion” also inhibits our ability to “simply choose”. Time and again, we keep vindicating my original claim: Anton’s comparison between Jim Crow and experiential reparations is insulting, histrionic, and inaccurate.Report
Thanks Elfin Grey, this is really helpful. We disagree about the extension of ‘coercion’, but I’m happy to grant that you don’t think (what in your idiolect gets called) coercion is necessarily present when an instructor asks her white students to sit on the floor in chains.
Remember, the issue of whether there is coercion or not (and so whether the analogy succeeds in convincing you) is orthogonal to my point about how to interpret the analogy. You go on
Here’s where the context of Anton’s analogy matters, for the existence of coercion would be enough to establish that white students do not ‘simply choose’ whether or not to sit on the floor in chains. Once again, notice I don’t need to think there really would be coercion to make this point about how to interpret the analogy! And so I don’t need to commit myself to any particular extension for ‘coercion’. It’s enough that the existence of coercion *would* show that students don’t simply choose. And this is what the analogical argument was meant to show.Report
“Thanks Elfin Grey, this is really helpful. We disagree about the extension of ‘coercion’”
This is an interesting way of putting the point. The fact of the matter is that pretty much no one would ever describe icy glares as “coercion”, except as hyperbole. You can verify this by typing the word into google:
the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats.
Or by looking “coerce” up in a dictionary, say, Merriam-Webster:
1. to compel to an act or choice
2 : to achieve by force or threat
3 : to restrain or dominate by force
Let’s do a check here to see if you’re participating in good faith. Are you willing to concede that the way you have been using “coercion” this whole time is unusual and idiosyncratic, and that most English speakers would reject it?
“Here’s where the context of Anton’s analogy matters, for the existence of coercion would be enough to establish that white students do not ‘simply choose’ whether or not to sit on the floor in chains.”
Again, not if the “coercion” at issue is icy-glare-“coercion”. The phrase “simply choose” is hopelessly vague, but on the most natural reading, “simply choosing” to do x is compatible with being icy-glare-“coerced” into not doing x. For instance:”Fred realized that, despite the hostility expressed by his co-workers, he could simply choose to wear cargo pants to the office”, or: “The stench of Pam’s perfume was so noxious that she began to receive mean looks from her co-workers, but she simply chose to ignore them.” Hence, even if we suppose, falsely, that you are right about experiential reparations involving coercion, and even if we suppose, falsely, that Anton’s analogy was intended to show only that students participating in experiential reparations lacked the ability to “simply choose”, the analogy *still* doesn’t work.
You’ve had umpteen opportunities to try and come up with a plausible way of rescuing Anton’s analogy, and you still haven’t succeeded. The comparison between Jim Crow and experiential reparations was offensive, over-the-top, and inane, for the reasons given repeatedly above. Maybe it’s time for you to give up?Report
No problem Elfin Grey. Here’s the very beginning of my first post in this thread:
You’ll notice I do not stake a claim on whether the analogy actually shows what it is intended to show. And in my second response to you I said the following:
Once again you’ll note I make no commitment one way or the other concerning whether there is coercion involved. So I haven’t been working with any particular notion of coercion, save the sense in which a coerced action is not freely chosen. However, as I’ve given you the impression that I have, let me be clear for the purposes of this conversation: my point does not require that I fix an extension for ‘coercion’ and I disavow any particular extension beyond the definitional one that a coerced action is not freely chosen.
Since we’re offering tokens of good faith, do you grant that if there were coercion involved in a pedagogical technique that involved asking white students to sit on the floor in chains then it would not be correct to say that the students chose to sit on the floor?Report
“The phrase “simply choose” is hopelessly vague, but on the most natural reading, “simply choosing” to do x is compatible with being icy-glare-“coerced” into not doing x. For instance:”Fred realized that, despite the hostility expressed by his co-workers, he could simply choose to wear cargo pants to the office”, or: “The stench of Pam’s perfume was so noxious that she began to receive mean looks from her co-workers, but she simply chose to ignore them.”
Or (since we’re talking about icy-glare-“coercion” in contexts of massive power imbalance), “Sally realized that despite the hostility she sensed from her professor whenever she rejected his sexual advances, she could simply choose to keep doing so.”Report
Yeah, it’s a mistake to expect to get any mileage out of “simply choose”. This whole excursus has been kind of pointless, in any case; what we care about is the normative question of whether the students are being treated unjustly, not the semantic or metaphysical question of whether social pressure can deprive you of your ability to choose (simply, freely, or otherwise). The intent of Anton’s analogy was clearly to suggest that students participating in experiential reparations are being treated unjustly. This analogy is only compelling if we accept that privileged students being socially pressured into sitting on the floor is highly similar to black Americans being forced to sit on the back of the bus under Jim Crow, which means my outraged response was 100% appropriate.
“Since we’re offering tokens of good faith, do you grant that if there were coercion involved in a pedagogical technique that involved asking white students to sit on the floor in chains then it would not be correct to say that the students chose to sit on the floor?”
“Choice” is often going to be compatible with a high degree of coercion, as in: “She chose to keep walking into the hail of bullets”, or “He chose to defy the mafia’s threats against him and his family.” I agree that if students are coerced (in the standard sense of “being forced or threatened with force”) into sitting on the floor, it would be fair to say that they had not freely chosen to do so. But no one has ever suggested that students who choose not to participate in experiential reparations should be beaten with baseball bats, or anything like that, so I’m not sure where you’re going like this.Report
Good deal. And can we identify something as a case of coercion by considering whether the term applies to that case on its own, or does the identification of something as coercion depend upon comparing it with other cases of coercion?Report
“you will note that all of the evidence comes from the “author’s” personal experience (and thus are all false reports). Thus, no standards of empirical rigor are upheld in this piece at all.”
Citing personal observation is standard method in scientific papers. How else is a reviewer or reader supposed to know what went on in the lab when the chemicals were added and mixed?
The only protection against this is reviewers that have well-developed intuitions for the field (and can thus credibly claim that they don’t believe that the authors really got the results they claimed – incidentally, this is one reason that reviewers of scientific papers usually know the name and affiliation of the authors, to see if it is plausible that they really did what they claimed) and also that reporting false claims in a submitted paper constitutes academic fraud.Report
I think the actual 3, 4 is:
3. If journals in an area of scholarship can be tricked into accepting and publishing fake research that fits with its foundational assumption, then we can fairly deduce that the major criterion for publication is agreement with the foundational assumption, not validity, coherence, etc.
4. Therefore the published output of such an area of scholarship should be treated with extreme scepticism, or ignored entirely.
To return to your example, suppose you publish a cookbook devoted to the principle that pizza must have cheese on it, and a hoaxer gets you to print a recipe for a “pizza” made of plaster, but dutifully covered in cheese. I’m going to suspect that your other recipes aren’t necessarily all delicious pizzas, but are, on closer inspection, a bunch of random other objects covered in cheese. Now, you may still be right that pizza must have cheese on it, but your cookbook doesn’t look like very good evidence at this point.Report
Or, more pithily – if you are so bad at telling pizza from not-pizza that you were tricked into thinking plaster with cheese on it is a pizza, then yes, your faith in your overarching theories of what makes a pizza should be a little shaken.Report
I came here to say this. Your system for identifying pizza is flawed. You need to revise it.Report
I knew this post would be controversial.Report
“…a system which is set up to assess scholarship critically but charitably will have false positives.”
That there will be ‘false positives’ rather underplays the significance of the fact that a team of authors were able to publish 7 papers in a short period of time, in apparently reputable academic journals. Had they not blown the lid on the experiment now, it also seems likely that at least some of their R ‘n’ Rs would have been published too.
If someone were to publish a defence of mathematical Platonism in Philosophia Mathematica and then announce, in public, “aha! I fooled you! It was a hoax: Platonism is absurd!”, it wouldn’t really tell us much about philosophy of mathematics, or about that particular journal. But if they were able to publish 7 papers – and have another 7 R’n’Rs – in little over a year about philosophy of mathematics in reputable journals, despite having no expertise in the field, setting out to write things that are obviously and outrageously comical, by following something like a formula, then we’d probably start to worry about the state of philosophy of mathematics.
But as we all know, this could not happen in philosophy of mathematics.Report
How reputable are these journals, though? One of them is the Journal of Poetry Therapy; according to political scientist Matt Blackwell, “The highest-cited paper over the last 5 years in this journal that they got into has 36 cites and most of its editorial board don’t have university affiliations.” So… who cares if it’s discredited?
Now, they got an acceptance into Hypatia, which is a reputable journal. But looking at the first couple of pages of the paper (“When the Joke Is on You”), it’s not obviously broken. In their article they don’t actually explain how this particular paper is broken. So that seems more like your Platonism example.
And yes, it would be a bad sign for a discipline like philosophy of mathematics if hoaxsters were able to get seven acceptances in a short period of time in that discipline. But… they didn’t get seven acceptances in a single discipline. Feminist philosophy and geography and poetry therapy and fat studies don’t comprise a single discipline or anything like it. So putting these seven papers together doesn’t tell us much about any single discipline.
They really seem to have a lack of rigor here. If they’re arguing that you were able to publish obviously broken papers in reputable journals in a certain discipline, and that that shows that that discipline is broken, then they should document that the papers were obviously broken, and the journals were reputable, and that the journals are all part of the same discipline. But they haven’t uniformly documented that the papers are obviously broken (“When the Joke Is On You”), nor that the journals are reputable (“Journal of Poetry Therapy”), nor that they’re all part of a single discipline (…welll, everything). That’s bad research methodology.Report
You’re right that Journal of Poetry Therapy looks to be a pretty flimsy venue. However, I think you’re perhaps too reluctant to regard this series of hoaxes as telling (and let’s face it – even if we discount that journal, 6 acceptances and 7 r’n’rs in 10 months in fields outside the specialisms of the authors is still remarkable).
You say “Feminist philosophy and geography and poetry therapy and fat studies don’t comprise a single discipline”, and that’s correct, but they’re not totally unrelated. If I told you I’d recently published papers in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, Educational Psychologist, British Journal of Industrial Relations, and Journal of Cell Biology, you’d probably think “where the hell does this person work!?”, but I think it’s clear that there are probably departments that would seem a natural home for a scholar who’d published in all of the journals which accepted the hoax papers.
However, even if you wish to stick to the line that they’re different disciplines, the hoax still seems pretty compelling. I think we can agree that a team of hoaxsters would struggle to publish in a varied set of disciplines picked at random (e.g. ancient philosophy, developmental psychology, industrial relations, and biology) whereas the different disciplines implicated in the hoax seem to be susceptible to accepting absurd papers because of a shared set of assumptions about what constitutes legitimate scholarship.
So the worry is that there is a rather broad array of disciplines which share assumptions that result in shoddy scholarly standards, and that this is potentially embarrassing to those disciplines. What is it about these fields that makes them so vulnerable, in a way that ancient philosophy and industrial relations are not?
With regards to whether the ‘When The Joke is on You’ paper is broken: I can’t comment as I haven’t read it. I guess it’s possible that the hoaxsters have inadvertantly produced a good paper…
PS – 36 citations is nothing to be sniffed at! There are plenty of cracking papers in Philosophia Mathematica which never get near that many.Report
I think it’s clear that there are probably departments that would seem a natural home for a scholar who’d published in all of the journals which accepted the hoax papers
It’s not at all clear. I can’t at all imagine a scholar who would publish in all these journals, or even a department that would be a home to scholars who publish collectively in those journals. What department do you have in mind? (This is a bit of a rhetorical question, because I’m probably not going to keep returning to this thread.)
. I think we can agree that a team of hoaxsters would struggle to publish in a varied set of disciplines picked at random (e.g. ancient philosophy, developmental psychology, industrial relations, and biology)
I don’t accept “I think we can agree” as an epistemic standard. There have been a lot of literally computer-generated papers accepted in scientific conference proceedings. If we want to demonstrate that some disciplines have a problem with peer review that others don’t, we actually need to try submitting to the different disciplines–and make sure that we’re submitting to reputable journals (the authors’ previous self-own where they crowed about how they hoaxed a journal that was actually scamming them doesn’t lend much confidence here)–and make sure that there are some standards about how the paper is an actual hoax, so the authors don’t accidentally submit a decent paper as they appear to have done. You might need ground rules about whether it’s OK to fake data, as well.Report
Authors: Hey, lets penalize the most privileged students by declining to hear their contributions, deriding their input, intentionally speaking over them, and making them sit on the floor in chains.
Journal: Sounds promising! R&R
Every Sane Person: Lol, what?! That journal must be garbage.
Justin: Seems legit. What’s the problem here, folks?Report
That’s what I said?Report
Have you ever considered evaluating papers on the merits of their arguments as opposed to gut reactions? There is this thing that competent philosophers do called critical thinking. If you get the time, look it up. That goes for a number of people in this comments section.Report
I’m pretty sure someone could also submit papers for the hardest of all sciences and get them accepted without doing any of the experiments one said they did in them. You just have to know what kinds of results people see as believable in these papers, and you can dress it up according to scientific expectations and likely get them accepted.
It’s also worthwhile to note that while the peer review process doesn’t have any way of safeguarding against hoaxes, the field as a whole does. Say you try to make a career out of these hoaxes. What happens when you go to conferences? What happens when people ask you detailed questions about your research programme? Sure you can find ways of keeping the hoax up, but as you dig yourself deeper and deeper, something is likely to come up as a hoax and there will be a scandal in the field.
This is a problem all fields have. Yes there’s a slight possibility that someone will fall through the cracks. But that doesn’t invalidate everyone else who doesn’t and succeed genuinely.Report
Most of what you just said seems to be plainly false. A scientist could falsify the data and it would be hard for people to tell without running their own experiments. But if she just made up a bunch of nonsense in the methodology or statistical analysis sections she’ll be torn to shreds in peer review. So what exactly is the analogy for philosophy? Are you suggesting that people can use an ad hominem or other fallacy I a paper and so long as it gets the right conclusions the reviewers will be structurally incapable of telling whether it is a bad argument? If that’s true then the entire field is obviously complete rubbish and should be defunded.Report
What are you talking about? Did you read my comment? Please do it again. These hoaxers aren’t people who just sat down in an afternoon and wrote a paper. These are people who know what is expected of a scholarly paper in philosophy and have spent a great deal of time writing papers for the purpose of fooling the peer review process in philosophy. They’re not writing absolute nonsense that just comes off the top of their head. There’s no clear examples of them writing ad hominems, and without reading the papers themselves, I’m given the impression that the papers submitted have good reasoning for their conclusions.
Similarly speaking, if you had sufficient knowledge of statistical techniques, methodology, and expectations of the field, you could make up an experiment and its results similar to what would be expected to happen had you done the experiment itself.Report
Hi Ian. I’m not sure its reasonable to assume that the papers had good arguments given that the authors describe them by saying that they are “outlandish or intentionally broken in significant ways” and that they are intended to be instances of sophistry. But at any rate, after reading the Hypatia paper I can assure you that it is, in fact, a dumpster fire consisting largely of armchair psychology/sociology and ad hominems. It should have been rejected solely on the basis that nearly half of its word count consists of quotations, and the fact that it contains vanishingly little original thought or argument. The section on Sokal is a particular gem. If there is any argument in this section at all it is either a simple ad hominem (he’s a white physicist and therefore he is not in a position to know whether postmodernists are willing to publish nonsense about physics), or it objects that Sokal’s critique assumes that there are objective facts concerning what theories of quantum gravity say and thus begs the question against postmodernism. But on the most straightforward and charitable reading there is simply no argument at all and the section instead consists of a bunch of incredibly obvious psychological claims about why Sokal wrote the paper–he thinks that postmodernism is stupid nonsense along with some sort of tacit semantic, epistemological, and scientific realism–with disapproving connotations. But don’t take my word for it. There is a link to a google doc site with all the papers here https://areomagazine.com/2018/10/02/academic-grievance-studies-and-the-corruption-of-scholarship/ (at the beginning of Part V). (Not sure if my version of the link to the doc site would work.) Maybe the other papers are of much higher quality, but I rather doubt it and I’d rather not spend countless hours reading hoax papers just to make sure they are ridiculous.
Regarding your second paragraph: my point was that the fact that scientists can make up their data sets and get away with it so long as they describe the stats and methodology correctly doesn’t really alleviate worries about these hoaxes. In large part because there is no analogy to the falsified data set in these papers; they’re all stats and methods, if you will. That is, to the extent that they can be evaluated it is really just in terms of the arguments you see on the page and knowledge of background lit. The arguments in the Hypatia paper are bad or non-existent. They might have misrepresented the background lit for all I know, but that is one of the things that reviewers are expected to catch. In this sense the hoax is a lot more damning than Sokal. Pretty much everything they say depends on things the reviewers should have known.Report
On Ian’s point, I suggest keeping in mind Scigen and John Bohannon’s article in Science (about that article about medicinal lichen the Journal of Natural Pharmaceuticals accepted for publication).Report
But these articles include several empirical papers based on falsified data!Report
Another concern: hoaxes like these might reasonably cause journals and reviewers to skew academically conservative, rejecting groundbreaking papers because of a worry about being made to look the fool. It’s not clear that hoaxes like these help anyone except their perpetrators get 5 minutes in the limelight.Report
Maybe making *some* journals a little more (small-c) conservative, so that they are more inclined to challenge ‘nutty or inhumane’ ideas would be a good thing?Report
Diversifying scholarship within fields? I’m all for it! That’s a fruitful use of time and energy. Not writing 20 papers in a year in the hopes of making some editors and reviewers look like assholes.Report
Affirmative action for conservative views doesn’t seem like a search for truth or even like conservativism for that matter.Report
As a reply to this, I think it might be useful to talk about my experience preparing a paper that has been accepted for publication with a thesis that is somewhat similar to one of the so-called “hoax” papers.
In this paper, I defend the idea of a progressive stack and argue that prioritizing contributions from students who are members of marginalized groups is both pedagogically and ethically defensible. The strategy I outline is, I should stress, NOT a strategy that involves “penaliz[ing] the most privileged by declining to hear their contributions, deriding their input, intentionally speaking over them, and making them sit on the floor in chains” as a means of “experiential reparations.” Instead, I tried to take great care to outline a technique that would respect all involved. For example, a meaningful, defensible practice like this involves concerns like ensuring that marginalized students are not “outed” against their wishes and ensuring that all voices have a chance to be heard, even if some of those voices are deprioritized.
While this article was in preparation, I received a great deal of feedback, both from peers and from journal referees (who were very helpful). In none of these cases were “basic legal and ethical standards” ignored. Rather, in all cases, the most common feedback I received was on clarifying the ethical implications of various portions of the paper. Things like, “You say that doing x will have impacts a, b, and c. Might it also have impact d, as well? Is d defensible?” or, “You discuss alternative practice p in a merely illustrative way, though you take it to be obviously immoral and thus a nonstarter. Might you say more about the obvious immorality of p so that readers don’t get the mistaken impression that you believe it to be a reasonable alternative?” In other words, great care was taken by all involved to ensure that the ethical dimensions of my proposal were satisfactory.
The point is this: it’s perfectly possible to have a discussion about these issues both among peers and as part of the peer review process in a way that addresses the concerns that BLP claim to have exposed. I had such an experience with a much less outlandish version of one of BLP’s “nutty and inhumane” ideas. I could imagine similar experiences for several of their papers; there is a version of the claim they make that is (a) less outlandish, (b) defensible, and (c) advanced in a way that avoids the sorts of issues BLP think they raise. This leads to a dangerous outcome for those who wish to advance such claims. I’m now worried, for example, that my paper will be mistaken for one of BLP’s hoaxes, written off as Frankfurtian bullshit, or immediately rejected as being “in the neighborhood” of what BLP claim are obviously “nutty and inhumane” ideas. But my paper is none of those things. BLP didn’t write my paper; I did. It’s not bullshit; it’s a genuine proposal that attempts to address what I see as structural educational inequalities. It’s not nutty and inhumane; the entire process from drafting to feedback and revision attempts to respect the humanity of both marginalized and non-marginalized students.
BLP haven’t exposed the rotten core of philosophy, nor have they come close to what they think they have shown. Instead, they’ve actively harmed philosophers like me who are operating in good faith.Report
“I could imagine similar experiences for several of their papers; there is a version of the claim they make that is (a) less outlandish, (b) defensible, and (c) advanced in a way that avoids the sorts of issues BLP think they raise. ”
And they’re the ones that should be published. As opposed to the outlandish ones, produced by BLP, that were published. This is the point. Isn’t your ire misdirected here? It’s like blaming a whistleblower for exposing poor health and safety standards in a restaurant because it’ll make it harder for you to sell tacos in your own restaurant. You seem to be suggesting that poor practices should remain hidden from the public so it doesn’t negatively impact your own career?Report
I would take your point if, to borrow your analogy, poor health and safety standards had actually been exposed. I reject the idea that BLP have actually demonstrated anything worthwhile here, though they take themselves to have done something.
This whole project reminds me not of the Sokal affair, but of Rosenhan’s “On being sane in insane places,” which purported to show how easy it was to get involuntarily committed by feigning symptoms of psychological disease. One of the most common critiques of Rosenhan’s project (and one that I’m sympathetic to) is that we shouldn’t be surprised that individuals acting in good faith applied problematic judgments to other individuals acting in bad faith. This doesn’t show that there is a systematic problem that overturns an entire program, be it psychiatry, critical pedagogy, feminist philosophy, etc. It shows that the system can be subverted by bad actors taking advantage of the good faith of good actors. But this latter claim isn’t what BLP claim to have done; like Rosenhan, they claim to have done the former. This is why I think my ire is aimed squarely; I (and others) are harmed by bad actors who haven’t shown what they claim to have shown.Report
Well, to make this short and, hopefully, sweet here is my suggestion. From a phenomenological perspective, objective truth does indeed exist. However, it exists as objective *for *some sort of subjectivity to declare any form of objectivity as existent. The question by these pranksters seems to rest on the notion that objectivity is fully independent of subjectivity. If it were truly independent access to it would be impossible. How would objectivity be known to be such?
Well, I tried anyway. I hope this works out for the journals in question.Report
As Justin highlights, the authors interpret their results through the lens of their questionable views about “radical constructivism”. As other commenters mention, however, the study’s importance likely isn’t so metaphysical. Studies like this one are meaningful because they demonstrate the [allegedly] unusual fallibility of these journals’ peer review processes, and thereby undermine the credibility of these journals’ publications more generally. If I were recently published in one of the targeted journals then I’d be pretty annoyed that the journal also let in this junk — or relieved that it didn’t.
I find the study most interesting for its relevance to activism. Many activists rely on the academy to lend authority to counter-cultural positions (e.g. some anti-capitalist and feminist positions). Many activists start out as undergraduates who get taken up with issues that their professors are working on, or that their professors encourage thinking about. But if I were a layperson who was told that Hypatia was at the cutting edge of critical race theory, but that Hypatia recently got caught publishing junk, then I’d be inclined to take activists’ relying on critical race theory less seriously.
Perhaps my inclination is wrong. I’m not sure. Even if it is, there’s the risk that it’s common nonetheless.Report
What did the hoaxers want to show? They say that they take themselves to be exposing a problem with the social sciences and the humanities which they identify as the “belief that many common features of experience and society are socially constructed.”
= = =
No doubt they did *say* this, among many other things. But it seems hard to me to have read the piece and conclude that the motivation really reflects this level of generality. Clearly, what they were trying to expose was a much very specific form of politicized scholarship/gatekeeping that is becoming more and more common in parts of the humanities and social sciences. You could have removed everything to do with the critique of social constructivism and you would have been left with a piece making essentially the same point.Report
So I take it that the main reasoning for why these articles should not be taken seriously is that the central conclusions, no matter how they are defended in the hoax article itself, are patently insane / immoral / illegal?
I’m confused, however, about how this shows that the journals or areas of research in question are defective in a way that regular philosophy is not. After all, metaphysicians regularly deny the existence of selves, tables and chairs, events, causation, and numbers. Some metaphysicians argue that there are non-existent objects, and others who argue that their are infinite concrete versions of ourselves on other worlds. Epistemologists argue that we can know that P and that P –> Q and yet not know Q. Some logicians argue that P and not P can be true. There are ethicists who argue for torture is defensible or that having children is wrong or that all moral statements just express preferences.
Every one of these positions is prima facie insane in some way. But the philosophers who make these arguments are (mostly) widely respected even if their ideas are not adopted or even taken to be plausible. Publishing “hoax” papers that follow this formula seems to show, if anything, a problem with philosophy as a whole. I’m not even convinced that it shows that: it’s seems arguable that a refusal to take prima facie plausibility into account and instead focus on the nature of the argument is commendable insofar as one of the traditional roles of philosophy lies in challenging un-argued-for assumptions.
Now, perhaps there are other conclusions to draw from this … like that certain arguments popular within a subfield can be employed to justify conclusions that we shouldn’t accept. I’m not sure why that could not be argued for more directly, however. Indeed, I suspect that such arguments, if they appropriately engaged with the literature they were criticizing in order to demonstrate that they were attacking the real thing and not a straw man, would receive favorable reactions. I’m not convinced that his “hoaxing” strategy really shows that, however; certainly it doesn’t do so by any standard that the discipline recognizes.Report
I’m confused, however, about how this shows that the journals or areas of research in question are defective in a way that regular philosophy is not. After all, metaphysicians regularly deny the existence of selves, tables and chairs, events, causation, and numbers.
= = =
I would suggest that these (clearly) are not absurd in the way that suggesting white students should not be permitted to speak in class and be required to sit on the floor in chains is. And no, there probably isn’t any super-rigorous philosophical way of making this distinction, but so what? As we all should know, in some cases, all that one can do is *look and see*. Now apparently, there are some people in our profession who look at this and *don’t* see, which, of course, is the very problem we are talking about and why I suggested above that this will simply increase the internal division and hostility already so palpable in the discipline. What is clear, however, is that the overwhelming majority of ordinary people, outside of the discipline, *do* see, and insofar as they have an influence on what happens to our disciplines — and the institutions they inhabit — politically, economically, etc., we will continue to suffer the consequences of diminished credibility and the increased institutional scrutiny that this entails.Report
Logical dialetheism strikes me as far more implausible than the thesis that white males should be kept chained and silent in the classroom. (To be clear, I don’t accept either claim.) Yet I happily and profitably read the work of Prof. Priest and others on the former.
Your “look and see” criterion isn’t all that helpful. I’m a Christian fundamentalist, and when I “look and see” profane language in a paper I immediately recognize it as deeply wrong (Ephesians 4:29). But for some strange reason, in philosophy departments my protests are subjected to critical scrutiny. Oh dear!
The “look and see” criterion seems like little more than a smokescreen for dogmatism on issues one doesn’t want to scrutinize critically. Like I said, I’m a Christian fundamentalist, so I’m okay with (certain kinds of) dogmatism. But I thought philosophers weren’t supposed to be dogmatic! Isn’t critical thinking supposed to free us from that?Report
It’s not a criterion. There often — usually — aren’t criteria. Hence the Wittgensteinian approach, which I endorse.Report
So it’s an “approach”, not a criterion. What does the approach entail? Why should we adopt it?
Reasoning must come to an end somewhere, Wittgenstein claims. So I ask, why not end with the Christian Scriptures?Report
Joshua, I’m not sure we are disagreeing.
While formal absurdity is demonstrable, informal absurdity is not. It is — can only be — a matter of “look and see.” And what is at issue here — beyond, perhaps, malpractice of various types, if it occurred — is that a small, but concentrated and powerful group of people/publications “look and find” certain things to be perfectly reasonable, even laudable, that the overwhelming majority of the rest see as bats*#t crazy.
I don’t think this is resolvable philosophically, hence my earlier claim that I don’t think any number of these sorts of hoaxes will make any difference. Those who see this sort of scholarship as just fine are simply going to double down and become even more firmly entrenched in their view that the rest of us are “ists” and “phobes” of various kinds.
This sort of conflict is ultimately only resolvable in the political arena and marketplace. No one will convince Evergreen College to stop running a crazy institution. Rather, it will go out of business. Similarly, no one is going to convince the people peddling our own variety of crazy stuff to stop. Rather, the departments and venues in which such stuff is dominant are going to be shut down.
The Tuvel affair and the fact that Hypatia learned nothing from it is not going to cause Hypatia to change how they do things. If anything they will double down. What will stop it is the fact that all the rest of us are no longer going to consider publications in Hypatia as evidence of credible research, which will result in fewer people submitting and eventually will lead to its shutting down as well.Report
If enough critical theory people double down then it will survive as a niche journal. It depends on the specifics of its demographics. I suspect you might be right insofar as part of Hypatia’s selling points is that it also includes analytic philosophy and I suspect analytic departments as a whole will probably start looking down on it pretty harshly after these repeated scandals. Let’s spend more time trying to cross disciplinary boundaries with scientists. If you’re interested in social justice study stats and econ. If you’re interested in the notions of social construction, study semantics and psychology. If you’re interested in genetic fallacies, read Derrida. /axegrindingReport
Jonas hit the nail on the head in his response below. The difference is that there are interesting *arguments* for absurd conclusions that are not themselves obviously absurd/fallacious. Take the argument from vagueness for mereological universalism/nihilism, or the arguments for deviant logics from the need for a universal truth predicate and things like the liar, or Lewis’ broad abductive argument for modal realism. Even if the conclusions of these arguments are absurd, the arguments themselves are interesting and there is at least some work to be done in showing where they went wrong.
This is the flaw in the critical theory literature that the hoax brings out. You could potentially have really sophisticated and interesting arguments for “strong constructivism” as a meta-philosophical position, but that is not the real problem. You don’t see Graham Priest arguing for whatever conclusion he wants just because he likes the sound of it. Nor does he *merely* assume that dialethism is true and circularly appeal to dialethism to justify it. He tries to provide evidence that classical logicians might at least find independently motivating. The real problem is that the methods people in this literature use to get to their conclusions do not seem to have enough objective constraints on the content of the claims to even yield moderately determinate results in principle. Instead, the results are strongly determined by social cues with the general methodology only acting as a weak constraint–the opposite of how it should be.
Claiming that an objection to a practice of social shaming is a form of fragility is literally just an ad hominem. Even when the shaming is reasonable this is not a valid justification of it. But even worse, there is not even a set of crude heuristics that can set limits on when something would be a form of fragility. Consider the claim:
“White people complaining about some societies enslaving or murdering them is white fragility at its finest. POC have been enslaved and murdered for millenia. Calm down and have another pumpkin spice latte, BECKY.”
What makes it such that these critical theory people will condemn this claim? The fact that they see it as absurd–a bridge too far, and therefore damaging to their cause. In every other respect it is no different from other claims about fragility. Of course, there are limitations on the notion. It can’t be used on people in disadvantaged positions. But this isn’t enough to make appeals to fragility a reliable form of argument.Report
“Instead, the results are strongly determined by social cues with the general methodology only acting as a weak constraint”
Is there any reason to think that this problem is limited to critical theory literature? I’ve never seen a successful, thoroughgoing argument to the conclusion that we ought not to chain up white males in the classroom. Yet plenty of people in this very thread take it for granted, arguably as a result of social conditioning and social pressures. It seems to me that everyone is excited about critical thinking as long as it’s just for beating up on certain undesirable groups (conservative Christians in particular). But when it’s time to reflect on the beliefs held by more socially accepted groups (e.g., “It’s wrong to chain white males in the classroom”) everyone gets heated!Report
“Is there any reason to think that this problem is limited to critical theory literature?”
The problem I’m citing here has to do with there not being enough objectivity in how this field selects which publications are accepted or rejected. No. The problem is not *limited* to them. That would be a ridiculously strong claim. The claim is that it is much more of a problem for them because they have a bad friggin methodology.
Consider the different causal factors that enter into an explanation for why a paper gets accepted/rejected by a reviewer. This will be some balance between considerations of whether the paper meets objective standards that the field generally agrees upon vs. (non-truth-conducive) social factors, such as whether the author likes the conclusion, whether they are friends or enemies with the author, whether accepting or rejecting the paper will have some positive results for their own career, etc. The balance strongly falls upon the side of objectivity in the hard sciences and math. While social factors undpubtedly play some role in those fields, the decision to accept reject is going to on average be much more strongly determined by broadly agreed-upon norms about what methods are acceptable. I think the balance still slightly favors objectivity in most analytic philosophy. Aside from a few bad actors, social factors and other more subjective considerations (e.g. about whether the paper is interesting) generally enter the equation lexigraphically after considerations of whether the arguments are good. They generally do not override badness of argument in favor of acceptance and are rather used more often as reasons for rejection. I think this is true even in analytic ethics, where social factors are the strongest. People will still accept a paper on anti-natalism or other things they find offensive if the arguments are good enough. Things seem to be much worse in critical theory because they employ a lot of sophistical arguments and bad armchair psychology that are more or less designed to get them the conclusions they want. Even setting aside the (reasonable) worry that these sorts of arguments are unreliable in general, the standards governing them are so inchoate that one typically just judges whether their application is good by the desirability of their conclusions. Thus publications are more strongly selected due to their social desirability.
The problem is *not* the fact that the ultimate cause of why individuals hold the positions that they do boils down to (non-truth-conducive) social factors like upbringinging. I do think that is a worry, but it is more general and less damning that the one I have about critical theory. In fact, when this takes place in analytic philosophy I think both sides can usually come to agree that the general dialectic won’t settle the matter in a neutral way and we can even pinpoint why. It is just that in these cases both sides think that neutrality is unreasonable. I think this still gives us a leg up on the critical theory people, who can’t even seem to gesture at the dialectical boundaries because they have such inchoate standards of argument. What’s worse than being a solipsistic idealist? Using obscurantism to cover up the fact that you’re a solipsistic idealist because you don’t want to deal with the problems that face solipsistic idealists.
In case it isn’t clear, my problem isn’t with extreme conclusions regarding social justice but rather with bad philosophical methodology.Report
I appreciate your point that we shouldn’t dismiss or refuse to publish a piece of scholarship just because it argues for something that is prima facie bizarre, objectionable, etc. Being open to radical and strange ideas is a big part of scholarship.
However, I think it is important to note that the authors of these hoax pieces went out of their way to spin intentionally flimsy arguments based on scant/no evidence, questionable sources, dubious statistics (by their own reckoning — I haven’t read the papers myself). Their descriptions of their papers indicate as much. So the problem isn’t just that they published pieces that argue for bizarre or even disturbing and unethical conclusions, but that they did so in an intentionally flimsy way (or so they claim), and were able to get published anyway.Report
Given their past axe grinding, I would like to see the whole papers before accepting their reckoning that there is scant/no evidence and dubious statistics.Report
I recently was informed that the papers are available here.Report
Good questions, IMO.
I agree with some of the answers already given e.g. by YAAGS.
But I’ll also suggest:
 No one who argues for e.g. dialethism also argues that we should change social institutions or public policies in order to bring them into line with the view. The kinds of views criticized by Boghossian et al., however, tend to be held by people who want to blur the line between philosophy and (e.g.) politics; that makes *their* bizarre views more clearly and presently dangerous than, say, Kripkensteinian rule skepticism. There’s a kind of melding of scholarship and activism in certain sectors that *should*make us more wary of weirdness there–because that weirdness is already influencing real-world policies and institutions.
 Why not argue against these views more directly instead of hoaxing? I think people have, to little avail. And, anyway, why not do both? I do think the ability to successfully hoax some discipline carries weight. If I can *intentionally BS* and still meet your standards, that’s significant evidence that your standards are bad. And I think one might reasonably think: “I’ve tried arguing directly and you seem unmoved…but surely *this* will at least give you pause…” And perhaps they intend to speak to audiences outside of philosophy per se, where such views are influential, and where fewer people are likely to follow the kinds of (allegedly) careful, extended arguments we make.Report
I genuinely don’t understand why this is a big deal.
Any philosopher worth their salt ought to be able to write a paper of publishable quality for a claim that they deeply disagree with (if they weren’t able to do this, wouldn’t this just prove the hoaxer’s claim that all philosophy is ideological?). So I don’t understand why the hoaxers somehow think that it’s some giant GOTCHA! just because they were able to write papers for positions they find ridiculous. If the arguments make contact with the relevant literature and forge an interesting path toward a position, I guess I could literally not care less whether the author sincerely believes the position or not.
I think all forms of agent-causation are ridiculous. I mean, I think they’re borderline nonsensical to me. That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t (or that I haven’t) written papers on this topics that suggest one or more lines of rescuing such views from common criticism. That isn’t some kind of GOTCHA! agent-causationists, I totally trolled you! LOLOL!! That’s just philosophy.
The only lesson I get from this is that, although I’ve never met any of these hoaxers, I probably wouldn’t like them in person. Anyone who would operate in such public bad faith is likely to be the kind of person I wouldn’t want to be friends with.Report
“I genuinely don’t understand why this is a big deal.”
Personally, I would be embarrassed if it was possible to have no expertise in my sub-discipline and still crank out 7 accepted papers in 10 months in that sub-discipline, all while trying to make my sub-discipline look absurd. According to WSJ, one part of one of these papers was just a rewrite of ch. 2 of Mein Kampf. That it truly absurd. The fact that lots of people can’t see the problem with this is indicative of how big a problem it is.
The big deal is that the standards, at least for these journals, are very low, so long as you endorse the prevailing orthodoxy.Report
I don’t see the big deal and think that your jump to the conclusion about prevailing standards at journals is a monumental leap from the scant evidence provided. It’s almost as if you want to believe that conclusion and are therefore fitting the scant evidence to justify that belief (oh noes! You’re guilty of the thing you’re accusing the reviewers of!!!)
Such a small dataset, against the background of submissions a journal receives, only shows me that journals will sometimes publish things they shouldn’t have. Did I need three people to waste hours of their time to show me that? No, I didn’t – especially since they went about this in such an unrigorous, unscientific way (again – Oh noes! They’re doing the same thing they accuse journals of doing).Report
“If journals in an area of scholarship can be tricked into accepting and publishing fake research that fits with its foundational assumption, then its foundational assumptions should be called into question.”
It would seem that this premise should be rewritten, as follows.
“If journals in an area of scholarship can be tricked into accepting and publishing fake research that fits with its foundational assumption, then its *editorial/review practices* should be called into question.”
Rampant confirmation bias is one way that journals can be sloppy. But I doubt the perpetrators of the hoax in question were trying to show that, when confirmation bias leads to sloppiness in journalistic practices, we should doubt whatever assumptions have been biasedly confirmed. Rather, the fact that confirmation bias is rampant among a journal reviewers should make us doubt the legitimacy of the review process.Report
A few thoughts on this:
1. Their process seems to be a ‘scholarship Turing test’: if you can sound like a scholar on topic X then you are one regardless of what you actually believe. That isn’t a bad process. Just like Turing designed his test to avoid defining “thinking like a human”, this keeps us from having to define “writing like a scholar”. Instead, I can look at a doctoral student or junior faculty member and ask “does this paper look like it was written by a successful senior scholar?”
2. On the other hand, a good Turing test demands a level playing field. These authors appear to have lied in at least one paper about collecting observational data (in the dog park), and in all papers about their identities their affiliation with an institution that editors might rely on to impose some basic oversight that would prevent fraud and gross negligence. I’m not sure how many other intentionally fraudulent statements are in these papers, but fabrication of data makes their work less like a Turing test and more like the type of study we see on Retraction Watch every day. If they were actually working in the disciplines they targeted, they would bear severe penalties, and would have submitted higher-quality work.
3. As others have said, peer review is not great for rooting out intentional fraud, so if that is the lesson, it applies to any field and is fairly unsurprising. But peer review is still helpful in improving manuscripts submitted by authors in good faith and who actually care about improving their work. I would be very interested in seeing more of the peer reviews, though I know they are already breaching professional ethics (and possibly legal standards) in publishing what they have so far. But I’m pretty sure all of these “interesting topic and clever approach” lines in the reviews are followed by lots of “but what about this and that” comments. If not, the journals are failing to do their job well. If they are, these authors are cherry-picking referee quotes in ways that make me think they aren’t taking this report a whole lot more seriously than they took the papers they published and are now writing about. I thin k we’d learn a lot about the journal’s standards by seeing what improvements the reviewers’ suggested, and how responsively and how honestly the authors addressed their concerns.
If the full reviews are available already, please point me to them. I only saw the selected positive pull-quotes.Report
As a side issue, did the authors, particularly Dr. Boghossian as he’s affiliated with Portland State University, seek IRB approval for this human subject research? I’m seriously bothered by the use of the reviewers’ time (they state 30,000 words in 40 reports) under conditions of deception. My understanding is that this research would require IRB review, and as a reviewer I would have serious reservations about this project and its research design.Report
Excellent point! It reminds me a bit of this story about a researcher who sent a bunch of false reports to NYC restaurants claiming he got sick after eating there. If he had done his homework, he would have known that they all had to forward the complaints to the same office. He and Columbia faced lawsuits, but I’m not sure how they turned out.Report
IRB approval is only needed if the research in question involves systematic investigation that would lead to generalizable knowledge. So the hoaxers should have gotten IRB approval if and only if they conducted systematic research intended to yield generalizable knowledge. Somehow, I doubt that you would wish to agree with the right hand side of this biconditional.Report
This seems to be not only disingenuous but bad philosophy. Even ignoring the whole “gotcha” nonsense involved, it isn’t even clear that they are picking out problematic features of the disciplines that they are mocking.
They look like they begin by thinking that a lot of conclusions reached in feminist philosophy is stupid, and then they write papers that involve arguments and conclusions that are adjacent to those made within the disciplines in question. And then when the papers are accepted, they take this as evidence that the standards for peer review in the discipline are garbage because the journals published “obviously absurd” papers.
This is a viciously circular practice. They begin with their intuitions that the arguments made in these disciplines are dumb, then they write papers based on similar (though somewhat exaggerated) intuitions. They haven’t shown that the work published is bad, or that the review process is wanting. They have only shown that the review process leads to the acceptance of papers that *they* think are bad, and that they are able to write papers that are similar to those commonly published.
And why are the intuitive ideas with which they began so trivially absurd? Why does it speak against the quality of a journal or the legitimacy of a discipline that they published a paper centered around the idea that masturbating to the idea or image of an unwilling/unwitting woman is a form of sexual violence? Contextualized to a patriarchal society in which the hyper sexualization and sexual harassment of women predominates, this seems like it is at least worth *considering* even if it is ultimately mistaken.
This is a condescending, gatekeeping, patriarchal, and ultimately masturbatory project. It does nothing other than show their contempt for certain areas of feminist philosophical research. That they thought this was a good use of their time, or that it somehow proved something of philosophical import, does not speak well about their seriousness as thinkers.
I’m not even sure how they think normative philosophy works in the first place. They say that they they know that they “made things up” and that this somehow shows that the acceptance of the papers is a mark against the journals. What does “making things up” even mean in this context? Making up intuitions? Or presenting bad arguments for them? We aren’t talking about scientific experiments. We’re talking about presenting arguments for what they perceive to be unintuitive conclusions. That isn’t “fabricating research” or anything like it.
Maybe they mean that they fabricated data to go along with their theoretical arguments. And I suppose that would be a concern, if true. But it shows *not* that feminist and crit theory disciplines reject objective truth, or that they are doing preposterous work. It shows that normative disciplines might not be doing a great job fact checking the empirical research used in articles. But that doesn’t seem to be endemic to Hypatia and other similar journals. Or at least this doesn’t show that it is.Report
I once had a hoax paper published in a leading philosophy journal, but then it turned out the paper was actually pretty damn good. So the joke was on me, I guess.Report
But Justin, they’re not saying that the foundational assumptions necessarily entirely illegitimate. What they are saying is that they have been taken to absurd extremes. Of course they could have tried to write honest critiques of these views in a way that demonstrated the same points as their hoax papers. But don’t think for a moment that they could have gotten those pieces published. That is why they had to resort to this. They would have had to say, look, I can rewrite Mein Kampf and it would fit as feminism! That would have never been allowed in. We have to accept implications of that I think. Endemic bad faith can only be exposed in this way. For it is unable to recognise itself by definition. And even cannot now. But many will have to take pause.Report
“don’t think for a moment that they could have gotten those pieces published”
Why on earth not? Because it feels true to say that feminist philosophy journals brook no criticism? If they wanted to show that thoughtful, high-quality criticism of prevailing assumptions cannot be published in Hypatia (or wherever), they should have done the work to show that.Report
I’m confused about a few things.
First, the authors say that the Hypatia reviewers asked for revisions. I haven’t found a place at which they explain what, specifically, the reviewers asked them to change. Did the reviewers question the parts of the article which the authors are now quoting as proof that the article was clearly absurd? Were those parts around in the final version? (Is the full text of any version of the article available anywhere?)
Second, there’s a disparity, at least in emphasis, between the way the WSJ piece describes their Hypatia submission, and the description in the authors’ own Areo piece. The latter suggests that the article is about satire in relation to social justice. The former focuses on how the article contained pedagogical suggestions to the effect that, for example, privileged students be asked to sit on the floor in chains. Was this article mainly about satire, or mainly about pedagogy? And given that satire was apparently a theme of the article, couldn’t the Hypatia reviewers have plausibly interpreted the pedagogical claims as satirical?
I don’t think we should draw conclusions about Hypatia before we know the answers to these questions. If the editors in fact challenged the absurdities, then negative judgments would be unwarranted. If the editors plausibly assumed the absurdities were satirical, then negative judgments would be unwarranted. In fact, I’d think we should hold off in general until we’ve had the chance to actually read the article as submitted and as accepted. I say this as someone who emphatically disagrees with certain other decisions involving Hypatia in the recent past. We shouldn’t dismiss a journal that’s consistently published some of the best work in a prominent subfield until we’ve been able to see and assess all the facts for ourselves.Report
On my phone, just going to address one part of your comment briefly:
The hoaxsters submitted two papers to Hypatia, the WSJ one (satire) and the one you mention them talking about (chains and so on) are different papers. IIRC, the former was accepted, the latter got an R&RReport
Ah, I see. Much appreciated.
I’d still want to read the full text of the articles before I reach any firm conclusions, but that does rule out what struck me as the most realistic extenuating circumstances.Report
So, I’m a bit confused about what the upshot of this entire pseudo Sokal affair is, and part of that confusion I haven’t evaluated the content of the papers. But, as I look at the possibilities, I’m curious what lesson we are supposed to learn about this affair
1. One possibility is that the authors engaged with the relevant literature, and constructed arguments that show given certain feminist presuppositions, a consequence is some particularly morally odious conclusions. The authors engaged with the literature, took certain presuppositions to their logical conclusion with competent argument. But instead of identifying that argument as odious, the reviewers accepted some papers or gave some papers a R&R on the strength of their arguments from this common presupposition. The lesson we are supposed to learn is that this particular journal won’t “call out” some particularly odious ideas like actively discriminating against white male students in the classroom. But if that is the case, what is the big deal? These scholars sat down, wrote a paper with solid arguments for a controversial conclusion, and it was published in a journal where these ideas could be further explored and debated. That seems, all things being equal a success. Follow the argument where it leads or whatever banal saying you want to express this idea.
2. Another possibility is that the authors didn’t engage with the relevant literature, made sloppy arguments or some other mixture of things that made it an objectively bad piece of research, yet it was published anyway, because the conclusion accorded with the referees’ sensibilities in some respect. This would be a bad look for Hypatia, I guess, but it is hardly uncommon for bad papers to ‘slip through the cracks’ in any journal in Philosophy. I’ve read any number of papers that slipped through the peer review process at top journals that were bad on the merits of their argument; not merely because I could come up with some clever objection, but because there are a host of obvious objections, or they misunderstood some key ideas of the view they for criticizing, or any other number of things that make these articles bad in the first place. For obvious reasons, I won’t point out the articles that I think are bad on their own merits, but you would expect that some bad articles would slip through the cracks of the referee system for any journal. Referee systems, especially in fields like philosophy, are imperfect devices for screening the quality of papers. And if that were the criticism, the better way to go about proving you point would be to go through published articles in the journal, assess how well they do with respect to their central arguments rather than trying to play some hoax. If Hypatia is constantly publishing articles that make weak arguments or rest on specious claims, why not engage with those weak arguments? If you have the time to create this hoax, why not use that time more productively by showing how this particular journal is host to a wide variety of poor arguments?
Upon thinking about it, it seems particularly bad to go the hoax route if your goal is to increase the quality of scholarship at a prominent journal in feminist philosophy. After all, if people take this hoax seriously, that imputes the scholarly quality of some good articles that have been published in that journal as well as bad ones. If Hypatia is a breeding ground for articles with bad argumentation, then why not engage with the content of those bad arguments?
3. Perhaps the idea is that referees at Hypatia can’t screen hoaxes from good faith attempts at writing philosophy. But I don’t think it is reasonable for any academic journal to do good with respect to that score. If could, if I wanted to, submit a bunch of papers to journals on metaphysics that I don’t genuinely agree with and are outside of my area of expertise, and I might even get one published. If after it were published, I went ‘Aha! I don’t really believe any of this bullshit about metaphysical grounding!:”, I don’t really think that would reflect poorly on the journal that they were unable to suss out that my views and arguments weren’t genuinely had by me.
I mean, if the idea was to get my opinions changed on feminist philosophy(Which as it stands, is that there is some genuinely interesting stuff, and some genuinely bad stuff like almost any other sub discipline in philosophy) or Hypatia as a journal(I don’t really have a strong opinion on it one way or the other), I don’t see how conditional on this new information, I should be moved in any direction.Report
Kieran Healy’s Twitter thread on this is worth a read.Report
Is this a defense of the targeted journals or a systematic critique of how bad academia is in general?Report
Those are not incompatible. It’s the worst system, except for all the others!Report
It’s also worth looking at one of the referees’ thread, given that the authors take as evidence of moral corruption any of the usual considerate remarks people make when rejecting a paper or raising objections:
That’s a good thread and very thoughtful. It also makes the authors look more like dicks than intrepid truth-seekers, though perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle there.Report
The paper was not even accepted. The reviewer was trying to be charitable, that’s the issue?! Dicks indeed.Report
I haven’t found actual abstracts or papers, but I looked through their project summary and it looks to me like, contrary to their intentions, they have actually produced a few interesting arguments. In mimicking feminist philosophy they have actually done feminist philosophy.
Men don’t engage in receptive penetrated sex due to trans/homo phobia. Engaging in these sexual practices might make them less trans/homo phobic and misogynistic.
Morally unacceptable tactics are only ever justified when employed for moral aims (hoaxes are only acceptable when used in favor of social justice).
There is something dehumanizing and ‘violent’ about masturbating to a woman who wouldn’t want you to do so.
Are these theses obviously true? No, but they aren’t obviously false, and good arguments in their favor ought to be considered.Report
I think the problem was supposed to be that critical theory employs bad arguments by showing that you can use those same arguments to get silly results. Though you can treat their tollens as your ponens. In that case I suppose they’ll be forced back to the more general argument that ad hominems, genetic fallacies, and armchair psychology are unreliable methods. But then how could they establish this without appealing to the results of such reasoning and thereby opening themselves up to yet another tollens-ponens? Checkmate!Report
*”which they attempted to illustrate by showing…”Report
I’m not sure I fully understand your post, but if they used fallacies to produce these conclusions and got accepted anyway that isn’t a good look for the journal. As far as I can tell that isn’t what they did, they just argued for conclusions they thought were obviously false, and, when accepted, shouted GOTCHA! But it’s not clear that their conclusions are obviously false.Report
After reading the Joke paper I’d say it’s not clear that it even has an argument. I gave a partial take on it in a thread above. Tldr: I found it shockingly bad in terms of its methodology rather than its conclusion. In fact, it’s not completely clear what the conclusion is even supposed to be. But you can read it for yourself.Report
Hey guyeeez! I just published an article in Hume Studies that argued for the obviously ridiculous position that Hume’s value projectivism actually extends to ordinary object metaphysics too! LOLZ! What a ridiculous position. I can’t believe they fell for it.Report
Lessons I have gleaned from the internet’s discussion of Hypatia.
1. If the conclusion of an article is absurd or deeply unethical, Hypatia should not reject it out of hand; they must let the argument be evaluated in the marketplace of ideas.
2. If the conclusion of an article is absurd or deeply unethical, Hypatia should not let the argument be evaluated in the marketplace of ideas; they must reject it out of hand.Report
perhaps the most depressing thing about all this, to me, is how quickly I could rack up much-needed lines on my CV by (1) identifying outrageous claims at least somewhat in the spirit of views I don’t actually accept; (2) coming up with moderately clever but ultimately shallow arguments for these claims; (3) sending the resulting papers off to Phil Studies or whatever.Report
I think one of the points of BLP’s exercise is that this sort of strategy would fail for serious journals like Phil Studies (or Hume Studies mentioned by Caligula’s Goat). I actually agree that it would fail, unlike some people posting, but I am open to being wrong. It would be very interesting to see what the publication rate would be if you tried this strategy in the areas of analytic metaphysics or Hume scholarship (mentioned by Caligula’s Goat) or analytic philosophy of language (my own specialization). I strongly suspect that it would not work, at least not with reputable journals (and Hypatia is a reputable journal in feminist philosophy). It is for this reason that I find the hoaxes troubling. But, again, I am open to being wrong. But if I were shown to be shown (if some nonspecialists published enough papers within a year to possibly qualify for tenure by submitting what they though to be garbage), then I would be deeply embarrassed.Report
I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the reasons I have for thinking this strategy could work are specific to value theory (my area), where it’s not too hard to get a certain degree of uptake by showing how a transparently outrageous conclusion follows (or follows-ish) from moderately clever application of marginally more plausible premises. In fact, so long as the application is moderately clever, the more outrageous the conclusion, the less plausible the premises have to be.Report
What bothers me the most out of all this is that a peer-reviewed publication would find it acceptable to publish a paper that urges “academics” to treat “privileged” people (which ONLY means white, male, and/or Christian) should be effectively treated like animals in a classroom. Just like Lindsay Shepherd was at Laurier. The rot is very deep.Report
That an argument arrives at a shocking conclusion says nothing about the validity or soundness of that argument. As already mentioned, philosophical arguments arrive at strange and shocking conclusions sll the time.
If it bothers you that a peer-reviewed publication would dare publish something that sounds shocking to you, you don’t understand how academic research works. If you disagree with a conclusion, engage the argument critically instead of being a snowflake.Report
That an argument arrives at a shocking conclusion says nothing about the validity or soundness of that argument. As already mentioned, philosophical arguments arrive at strange and shocking conclusions sll the time.
= = =
This has been addressed multiple times in this discussion thread already. And I can assure you that any number of us likely understand how academic research works as well as you do, if not better.Report
I don’t doubt that. There are many in this thread that understand academic reaserch better than I do. I’m not sure what that has to do with what I was saying.
Perhaps I missed the comments which show why a shocking conclusion is sufficient for an argument to be unsound or fallacious. If the measure for how deep the ‘rot’ goes is just to see wether or not the conclusions arrived at bother us, as opposed to critical evaluation of the arguments fir those conclusions, then that is a poor metric. That is what I took issue with in what I posted above.Report
The claims for what this “hoax” shows seem greatly overstated. If they wanted to be scientific about it and actually try to get at causal inference, it seems like they should have embedded a “poison pill” in each paper, e.g. if A > B, and if B > C, then C > A, where C > A is a “fashionable” but perhaps “extreme” conclusion that agrees with the “priors” of the editors/reviewers. As far as I can tell, they basically said if A > B and if B > C, then A > C, BUT A > C IS CRAZY… HOAX! An even better approach would be to send off one set of papers where C > A is wrong but “fashionable”, and one set of papers were C > A is wrong but “unfashionable”.Report
some of y’all are tiptoeing really hard around this bigass elephant in the room:
hypatia has poor standards of evidence and is methodologically unrigorous. this has been the case for a while but a lot of people tried to downplay it. this hoax should be your wake-up call to take journals like hypatia less seriously.Report
The Progressive Stack paper includes references to 65 different sources. Hypatia still gave it a Reject and Resubmit followed by a Revise and Resubmit, because it was unclear, poorly organized, overused buzzwords, and didn’t argue for its conclusions well enough. That sounds like the opposite of having “poor standards of evidence” and “being methodologically unrigorous”.
It looks to me like the real hoax here is that the authors convinced so many commenters on the Daily Nous to condemn Hypatia without even bothering to read the paper they submitted, or the referees’ reports. Why take the time to actually looking at the evidence when you already know going in that Hypatia is intellectually bankrupt and evil?Report
I certainly read them.Report
do you mind sharing your actual thoughts on the actual paper?Report
“Terrible” is a word that comes to mind.Report
Thanks for your insightful referee report.Report
I’m with Dan on this one. For one, it is about 50% quotes from a bunch of different people that vaguely sound as if they support the author’s position. But instead of cashing out each source’s position and actually explaining how it supports the author’s position, or for that matter clearly explaining what the author’s position is, the quotes are merely followed by one or two sentences that are basically the equivalent of “See?”. This is something we teach undergrads not to do. It should have been rejected on those grounds alone, to say nothing of the fact that it seems to have no explicit arguments.Report
I don’t remember saying it was actually any good. But if we’re now just saying some reputable journals happen to publish bad stuff, well, yeah. More to the point, since the Progressive Stack was REJECTED THREE TIMES IN A ROW by Hypatia, I’d take this to be prettttttyyyy weak evidence that their review system is broken. I haven’t read the other paper that was accepted so I can’t comment on that.Report
Regarding the relevance of this for our discipline:
There are a lot of calls for more diverse philosophy, and claims that journals are being biased, or ignoring work done in other fields, or unjustly not taking certain ideas seriously, and people seem to wonder why many people are so reluctant to make such changes to an e.g. culture of praxis. This is why. It’s not that we’re prejudiced, or in the grips of an oppressive ideology that benefits our social identity. It’s that there are *very good reasons* for having the policies we do. Many of the ideas, concepts, arguments and publications from these fields simply do not meet our standards. I am very confident this never would have happened in our reputable journals, and this is directly attributable to our field’s current standards and policies. Maybe there are too many false negatives, but false positives can be far worse.
I’d also like to say that even if you like the idea of ‘changing the standards’, moving to a more diverse understanding of what counts as good philosophy, or restricting certain ‘offensive’ ideas, this is not cost-free. This event risks being rocket fuel for those trying to restrict funding to our departments and who are accusing the humanities of being intellectually bankrupt echo-chambers for many years. We are simply not entitled to assume that there won’t be any negative long term repercussions from radical changes made in the name of remedying purported injustice. It might be too hard to publish articles using certain methods or relying on content from other fields now, but it’ll be a lot harder if we lose funding because 20 years ago we decided that actually reason, rigour and merit were overrated and oppressive.
I am all for change and diversity and new understandings and a broader canon, but the arguments have to be made at our standards, well-supported in an atmosphere that accepts reasonable disagreement and which can achieve some degree of consensus. We abandon these things at our peril.Report
I’d hasten to add that you can argue for substantive versions of social constructivism and anti-realism about a large number of topics from gender to medical conditions like scurvy to ordinary objects like bottles of rum, completely within an “analytic” framework using clearly formulated arguments and informative formal tools. I’d go out on a limb and say that this is probably the best work on these topics. You can also study Indian philosophy or any other non-Western philosophy using the same methodological framework. There are obvious reasons to study all of these topics, if for no other reason than that people find them interesting and want to study them. Changes to methodology, on the other hand, obviously need to be argued for before they are adopted since they affect the entire discipline. Imagine how the medical research community would react if some labs just decided that they don’t need a control group in their trial and their sole reasoning was “more diverse methods will lead to better science”.Report
To Justin and those people who are saying ‘philosophy always publishes ideas that sound crazy’ or ‘the problem is just with peer review generally’, and that there’s therefore no real problem, can I honestly ask:
Suppose that certain sub-fields, journals or methodologies in the humanities were taken over by zealots, with papers and ideas being admitted on the basis of political ideology and intellectual nepotism rather than merit, quality or rigor, and used a veneer of buzzwords that may have some slight plausibility, but wouldn’t withstand much argumentative pressure. As an outsider to those fields etc, how would you identify which ones fall in that category? Because if this event doesn’t do it for you, I’m not sure what ever could.
To put it another way, if this happened in journal from a right-wing humanities discipline, I’m pretty sure many of the people here downplaying what this event shows would be calling the field intellectually bankrupt. And it seems very wrong to change our evidence for assessing journal quality based on whether that journal / sub field fits your political world view.Report
“To put it another way, if this happened in journal from a right-wing humanities discipline”
It’s not humanities, but you might be interested in looking at the careers of John Lott and J. Phillippe Rushton sometime!Report
I mostly agree with this, but there’s a reason that Lott never had (as far as I can tell) a tenured position. That he’s taken seriously at all by right-wingers is a pretty black mark against him, but even business schools didn’t want to give him a spot with tenure pretty soon.Report
Sure, but you still have people coauthoring a paper with him and publishing it in the Journal of Law and Economics two years after l’Affaire Rosh–which, to be clear, didn’t just involve some undignified sockpuppeting but also credible accusations of manufactured data. About reputational effects no less! The paper may even be fine, but it seems like at least as much of a black mark against a discipline that its practitioners keep working with a fraudster as that a crank paper got through peer review.
And don’t even get me started on Rushton and his buddies. The bits about the anonymous French surgeon and “Forum: International Journal of Human Relations” seem impossible to believe, but I checked the citations and he actually did what that article says he did. He’s no peripheral figure either; he was a coauthor of Arthur Jensen, whose centrality in the “Mainstream Science on Intelligence” crowd can’t be overstated. (Though I do take that crowd’s acceptance of Rushton and his collaborators to completely discredit them, so I guess that doesn’t completely disprove what Edward Teach said about how I’d react if this happened in a right-wing discipline… but really, it’s more as if Helen whatserface had become one of the leading lights of women’s studies.)Report
I do fully agree that no one should work with John Lott, and there should be a strong presumption that anything he does is, at best, fishy.Report
“Suppose that certain sub-fields, journals or methodologies in the humanities were taken over by zealots, with papers and ideas being admitted on the basis of political ideology and intellectual nepotism rather than merit, quality or rigor, and used a veneer of buzzwords that may have some slight plausibility, but wouldn’t withstand much argumentative pressure. As an outsider to those fields etc, how would you identify which ones fall in that category? Because if this event doesn’t do it for you, I’m not sure what ever could.”
I would get a basic understanding of the relevant literature, approach, meanings of various technical terms, and then read papers published in that journal, and assess the quality of articles in the journal in the same way I would assess it from any other subfield.
I think that judging the work of a journal because someone could sneak a bad article into a journal would be pretty bad, epistemologically. Because I’ve seen bad articles smuggled into a lot of different journals. I think that is the nature of peer review; bad articles are going to slip in. I certainly wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that because I read a bad article in analysis, that the articles were published because of nepotism, catching wind on trendy philosophical ideas, or whatever rather than rigor, quality, or merit. I would just assume that bad articles can slip through the crack at good journals in the peer review process.
What would convince me, for example, if someone took a long review of recent articles in the journal, seriously engaged with the scholarship, and showed that bad papers in the journal are commonplace, and they all happen to share a particular political ideology. That would be good defeasible evidence that the journal publications don’t supervene on the quality of the papers. So, you know, a long, scholarly literature review of some kind.
But I get the impression that people don’t want to engage in the scholarly work in Hypatia in good faith. If the arguments are so bad, why is it so difficult to get a representative cross section of articles that are typically published and show how they make some obvious mistakes that you wouldn’t expect in a mainstream philosophical journal?Report
My feeling is that a) BLP did get a basic understanding of the relevant literature, approach and meanings, passed an intellectual Turing test, and are reporting to us that those fields are below acceptable standards, and b) it kind of sounds like your method was to ‘become an insider’. Obviously that’s the most ideal way but my premise was that given we can’t expect every individual here to do that we need some kind of proxy or criteria.Report
Let’s say a hoax paper proposing, say, an impossible theory of a practical warp drive engine somehow slips through the review process of a respected journal of theoretical physics. The material consequence of that is…what? Not a dime will be spent trying to build the thing nor a single radiation injury sustained even in experiment, not just because it can’t work but because it literally wouldn’t get past a grad student’s midnight mathematical scribblings in the margins.
What’s are the real world consequences of ridiculous, even inhumane ideas about sex, gender, race, sociology, psychology etc. passing similar academic muster? The list is long, growing,deeply destructive and very, very real in ways the authors and many others have explicated described.
How are so here many missing this, and why?Report
I think you dramatically overestimate how many people read academic philosophy.Report
Could these papers accidentally be good papers, unperceived by the hoaxers., but then is it really a hoax?Report
A few observations:
1) The co-authors wrote 20 papers over about a year, with a projected acceptance rate over c.50% (making some rough but conservative guesses about the eventual fates of revise-and-resubmit). That would be a really high productivity rate for a serious, field-leading scholar. So I’m really unmoved by the repeated suggestion on this thread that “any competent philosopher” could do what they’ve done. Of course it’s possible – irony of ironies – that these authors have despite themselves turned out to be world-leading scholars in the various fields they’re submitting to, but it seems far more likely that it supports their claim that they have found a way to game the referee process.
2) Some of the papers use faked empirical data, and I do find that ethically problematic. It’s mostly not realistic for journals to vet the accuracy of empirical data and so it would be possible to cheat the system by inventing plausible-looking, sensational data. (I suppose the best defense would be that the papers with “empirical” data are all methodologically pretty shoddy, in a way that ought to have been picked up; I’m reinforced in my view that non-specialist journals should not normally be publishing empirical work, as they don’t have the reviewing expertise.)
But most of the papers are the standard, a-priori/armchair, philosophy paper. So I don’t exactly think they can be called “hoaxed” or “fake”. They are genuine research, either (a) accidentally high-quality despite the speed and stated intentions of the authors, or (b) poor quality, so that their publication reflects badly on the journals.
3) I take it the main point of projects like this – going back to the Sokal hoax – is not really to persuade people in the field (although the high success rate on the basis of very little work ought to be impressive even to them). It’s to demonstrate vividly to people *outside* the field that something is badly wrong.
From that point of view it’s worth widening the net and looking at more of the submitted papers. Other than the “students in chains” paper, much discussed above, I was most struck by:
– a poem produced by a teenage angst poetry generator and then edited down over the course of a few hours (accepted).
– A paraphrase of part of Mein Kampf (accepted).
– advocacy of non-standard methods, including astrology, in modern astronomy (R&R).
4) The authors have made the full set of papers and referee reports available online; there’s a link in their report.Report
The link to the full papers and reviews is here.Report
The co-authors wrote 20 papers over about a year, with a projected acceptance rate over c.50% (making some rough but conservative guesses about the eventual fates of revise-and-resubmit). That would be a really high productivity rate for a serious, field-leading scholar
Depends on the field, and journal, doesn’t it? Hypatia only has a 12-15% acceptance rate; but philosophy’s acceptance rates are famously low. What’s the acceptance rate for journals like Fat Studies and the Journal of Poetry Therapy? I bet it’s much higher.
And I’m not going to make any apology for not doing any research here, because if the authors had wanted to make a legitimate point of the state of scholarship in the areas represented by these journals, they would’ve presented this extremely important information in their paper.Report
Thanks, that’s a very useful take. The first point suggests to me a two-horned dilemma for proponents of the fields in question concerning expertise & training in the relevant sub-fields:
1) The hoaxers are *not* experts or particularly well-versed in the respective sub-fields. This implies that such non-experts can readily produce papers deemed insightful by major or mid-tier journals in these fields, calling into question the necessity of years of graduate study in the respective sub-fields.
2) The hoaxers *are* experts or particularly well-versed in the respective sub-fields. This implies that expertise in the sub-fields is relatively easy to come by, calling into question the necessity of years of graduate study in the respective sub-fields.
None of this relates to the controversial nature of the papers’ conclusions, of course, and I wonder if this is replicable in other fields…I do have a nagging worry that it also applies to my own field of bioethics.Report
“My feeling is that a) BLP did get a basic understanding of the relevant literature, approach and meanings, passed an intellectual Turing test, and are reporting to us that those fields are below acceptable standards, and b) it kind of sounds like your method was to ‘become an insider’. Obviously that’s the most ideal way but my premise was that given we can’t expect every individual here to do that we need some kind of proxy or criteria.”
Yeah, but your feeling isn’t backed by any evidence. You had a highly biased and small sample, with an explicit political agenda, without seeing the whole of referee comments, the content of papers, and so on. You are straightforwardly assuming certain things your current evidence doesn’t entitle you to.
And I would imagine that we shouldn’t need a proxy to do a shorthand of the output of some journal. If people seriously suspect that Hyptheia is full of hot air and not up to the intellectual standards of philosophical journals, why not do due diligence and assemble a strong case for that conclusion? I think making a quick, clearly flawed proxy for evaluating the output of a journal isn’t necessary; professional philosophers have the time and resources to explore this topic seriously and intellectually.
Accusing an entire journal of licencing bad scholarly work for political reasons is a serious charge. It should be expected if someone wants to pursue this idea, they should do so in a proportionally serious manner.Report
a) there’s a reply button for threads / replying to specific comments
b) quoting the entire comment seems redundant, and you seem to have misunderstood the thrust of my point
c) I never said Hypatia was full of hot air. I agree with Justin that the Humor paper is a reasonable synthesis of ideas.Report
As far as I can tell, people reading the piece here are philosophers by training. If one happens to be a philosopher by job as well, then the stakes get higher and the reactions- more personal. I think I understand why most people here want to focus on Hypathia – its published work, its standards, its editors, etc. My guess it is because it is the only journal name they recognize and maybe because they have views about the work that it is published in this journal. I do not know how many of the people expressing views here have read feminist philosophers or have tried to learn from feminist scholarship or from gender studies writings. In any case, I hope that people would be wise enough to recognize the problems with the Areo article. Which are many. For lack of time, I want to point out a few of them that should give us more food for thought:
1) The underlying epistemological framework on which the authors rely is framed as a duality. There are only two possibilities: radical social constructivism as defined by them and objective scientific truth. Clearly, their adherence is to a scientific world-view. Clearly, to do otherwise is because you are ignorant or a radical left activist. “[…] access to objective truth exists (scientific objectivity) and can be discovered, in principle, by any entity capable of doing the work, or more specifically by humans of any race, gender, or sexuality (scientific universality) via empirical testing (scientific empiricism).[…] Although knowledge is always provisional and open to revision, there are better and worse ways to get closer to it, and the scientific method is the best we have found.”
Any departure from, criticism of or attempts to refine and redefine these topics are lumped together into social constructivism and moral relativism (just as bad). The stage is pretty clear: there is the good kind of scholarship and there is the bad kind (corrupt) kind. Scholarship in areas such as feminist theory, critical theory, gender studies, etc. lack the scientific world-view and the fundamental pledge of alliance to “scientific universality and objectivity”.
I will let the readers assess the qualities of framing a problem about standards of scholarship in entire fields based on this dichotomy. Hint: there are excellent feminist critiques of science that point how deeply flawed this epistemological foundation is. Interestingly enough, according to the three authors, the scientific knowledge which is the ideal is never “produced:” it’s just “had”(provisionally) or “not had”. There are also other good social studies of scientific practice that point to the importance of how knowledge is produced. If you are interested, check out agnotology – the study of the production of ignorance- has some really interesting case studies. (See the recent Routledge Companion to Ignorance Studies (hah!) )
2) Do the authors of the piece have any skin in the game? It doesn’t really seem to be that way. They claim they are now somewhat like the experts in the fields that they are criticizing. I do not find that convincing. They are not invested in the questions of those fields, they do not teach in those fields, their jobs are not in the line. For all intents and purposes, they do not know or belong to those communities. They have mastered something. It is unclear what.
3) The hypocrisy and the lack of intellectual humility of the authors of the Aero piece (and their experiment) are mind-blowing. On the one hand they say:
“We managed to get seven shoddy, absurd, unethical and politically-biased papers into respectable journals in the fields of grievance studies. Does this show that academia is corrupt? Absolutely not. Does it show that all scholars and reviewers in humanities fields which study gender, race, sexuality and weight are corrupt? No. To claim either of those things would be to both overstate the significance of this project and miss its point. Some people will do this, and we would ask them not to. The majority of scholarship is sound and peer review is rigorous and it produces knowledge which benefits society.”
On the other hand, they spent all their time disparaging “grievance studies.” The only effect they expect and aim for is precisely to show the corruption within the humanities. Is there any good insight they mention? Is there any suggestion of something worth having from reading scholars in those fields? If somebody didn’t know about those fields already, what is the chance they are going to be genuinely curious about looking into them after reading their piece? These are really important questions as I expect this piece will get a lot more air time and visibility than articles submitted to the International Review for the Sociology of Sport. Where is the responsibility in writing it?
4) What is there to be done? Some old-fashioned purging: “Our recommendation begins by calling upon all major universities to begin a thorough review of these areas of study (gender studies, critical race theory, postcolonial theory, and other “theory”-based fields in the humanities and reaching into the social sciences, especially including sociology and anthropology), in order to separate knowledge-producing disciplines and scholars from those generating constructivist sophistry. ”
Suppose you do find problems with the peer-review process. Suppose you got your bullsh&t papers published. Suppose you find some idea of a political bias (not clear what that means). Is this purge a reasonable suggestion? If you think so, then who is to be the one to decide what stays and what goes? Should other theory fields, such as political, film, or economic theory, stay or go? On what grounds? To what effect?
5) Let this sink in for a moment. This is what Mahar Mali wrote in 2018.
The author makes the following points:
“New technologies and the accessibility of publishing platforms has meant that anyone can enter the information game. Anyone can publish news, analysis, and “truths.” Someone frustrated with the state of affairs can sit in a room for hours at a time and publish a “magazine.” (Like me!)
But they can do other things, too. They can continue to propagate our long history of group allegiance over truth. They can push a certain narrative, or create a story that will capture the imaginations of conspiracy theorists, or lie and falsify information with little repercussion.”
So there you have it, production and transmission of knowledge are political processes. Or, if you find that too strong: the production and transmission of knowledge and, correspondingly, of ignorance matter a great deal. As illustrated by the Areo piece itself.
Oh, did I mention that Mahar Mali is the founder of Areo?…Report
I read the piece Hypatia accepted and share my thoughts here. I encourage you to read it and let us know what you think.Report
I think Hegemonic Academic Bullying becomes ridiculous at at least two points.
On p. 6 it asserts that the hypothesis that biological sex is a social construction is supported by decades of scholarship that should deter white men from criticizing it. On behalf of this claim, it cites a single article in the Washington Post. Here both the claim and the manner of arguing for it are ridiculous.
On pp. 12-13, it argues that gender studies journals reduce oppression. It argues for this conclusion by counting occurrences of phrases like ‘social justice’ and ‘activism’ in journals’ self-descriptions. The conclusion here isn’t ridiculous (though it is false), but to argue for it by this kind of word count? And this is, of course, a critical step in the paper’s argument.Report
After quickly skimming the Hypatia referees’ comments, I don’t see any mention of these two issues.Report
It appears that that paper was not submitted to any journal.Report
Lots of commentators above express outrage at the idea of placing white students in chains, forbidding them to speak, and so on. I’m not entirely certain the idea is completely outrageous – I mean, you could imagine that it could be an interesting and useful pedagogic exercise (assuming everyone consented), a bit like getting rich kids to do some menial work as a way of improving their empathy. It’s also possible, then, that the reviewers read the proposals in that light, rather than as some neo-Maoist public shaming.
This is not to defend Hypatia or the reviewers – I think there’s clearly something very odd when a bunch of chancers can get two papers to R and R. It’s particularly weird given that many associated with that journal have laid such great stress on engaging with the literature in other recent debates. (It’s hard to see how papers knocked off in a few weeks can meet that criterion). All of which gives some credence to the idea that a general ‘mood’ or ‘tone’ or set of buzzwords can carry you rather far. (Yes, it’s not proof, but, again as we have been reminded lately, we don’t always need to establish claims beyond reasonable doubt to take them seriously). Still, it’s a bit much to think that the reviewers were blithely in favour of abusing students.Report
I’m not entirely certain the idea is completely outrageous – I mean, you could imagine that it could be an interesting and useful pedagogic exercise (assuming everyone consented), a bit like getting rich kids to do some menial work as a way of improving their empathy.
= = =
Neither seems to me what we are supposed to be doing as scholars. It is not my job to increase a “rich kid’s” empathy. Neither is it to get white people to recognize their “privilege.”
So, I would say both are absolutely outrageous. If you told me someone’s parents made him get a job, so that he could appreciate money better, I’d applaud those parents. But his professor? If a teacher did that to my daughter — who is fortunate to be part of a wealthy family — I would file a formal complaint with the administration.Report
You… think that you should get to dictate the content of the courses your college-aged daughter chooses to take? So much for college students being adults and academic freedom, I guess.Report
I expect faculty to do their jobs. Making my daughter a better person, as per the faculty member’s conception of “better” is not part of his or her job.Report
Many do, in fact, believe that one of the central roles of the humanities is to make its students into better people. Certainly this is often on my mind when I am teaching ethics. But you’re free to hold whatever wrong opinions about pedagogy you want. The point is that you have no business filing formal complaints with your daughter’s university if she chooses to take classes whose content or instructional methods you don’t like. On top of the helicopter parenting, this also makes you an enemy of academic freedom. Indeed, this is exactly the sort of scenario academic freedom was created to guard against — an officious parent, angry that his child is being exposed to ideas he finds offensive and threatening, who pressures the university in an attempt to force the professor to teach the class differently.Report
My job is to teach my students philosophy. People disagree as to what counts as being a “better person.” I would not presume to impose myself on the families of my students. Apparently, you have no such scruples.Report
No, instead you’d rather impose those scruples on the rest of the Academy.Report
Many do, in fact, believe that one of the central roles of the humanities is to make its students into better people. Certainly this is often on my mind when I am teaching ethics. But you’re free to hold whatever wrong opinions about pedagogy you want.
I don’t think that teaching ethics means trying to make students better people, as per the ethical views that *I* personally hold. It means teaching both historical and contemporary views on the subject and talking about how they might be applied to a series of ethically charged issues.
I understand that you think mine is a “wrong opinion about pedagogy,” but it is hardly unusual or atypical and certainly is far more mainstream a view of what teaching should involve than that which you are promoting.Report
It’s not clear to me that showing that you can * intentionally scam * a reviewing system shows that it’s a bad system for vetting papers that are not intentionally designed to be scams. Finding an obscure and resource-intensive way of cheating on a math test wouldn’t show that the math test is normally bad at assessing normal test-takers.
Unfortunately, our peer review system relies on a certain amount of trust in the academic community’s academic integrity, and simply isn’t designed to eliminate deliberate hoaxes.
There are useful and constructive debates to be had about how best to maintain journal standards across different subfields, but this approach seems misguided at best and nasty and uncharitable towards fellow members of the academic community at worst.Report