World-renowned professors have stepped in to defend an academic who duped several high-profile journals into publishing fake articles, including a rewrite of Hitler’s Mein Kampf with feminist “buzzwords switched in”.
Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University in Oregon, faces the sack after he and two other academics submitted a series of fake papers in an apparent bid to expose poor standards.
The hoax papers were put together by Boghossian, mathematician James Lindsay, and Helen Pluckrose, from magazine Areol, to reveal shortcomings in studies of gender, race and sexuality, which the trio claim is aren’t being covered properly and therefore “corrupting academic research”.
Seven dubious studies were accepted out of 20 papers submitted to academic journals, including one that claimed bodybuilding is “fat-exclusionary”.
Another was titled “Our Struggle is My Struggle: Solidarity feminism as an intersectional reply to neoliberal and choice feminism” and was a rewrite of chapter 12 of Hitler’s infamous manifesto.
One paper about rape culture in dog parks, which compares gender interactions between dogs with those in human society, gained special recognition for excellence from the Gender, Place & Culture journal.
The academics released a video on YouTube revealing the stunt but Boghossian’s employers were not amused, saying he had studied “human research subjects” — meaning the staff and peer-reviewers of the journals— without abiding by proper ethical rules.
The university is also examining if he falsified data and he faces losing his job if found guilty of breaching guidelines.
A number of prominent academics, including famed atheist Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker, have written Boghossian letters of support.
Directing his at Portland State University, Dawkins wrote: “Do your humourless colleagues who brought this action want Portland State to become the laughing stock of the academic world? Or at least the world of serious scientific scholarship uncontaminated by pretentious charlatans of exactly the kind Dr Boghossian and his colleagues were satirising?”
He added: “How would you react if you saw the following letter: Dear Mr Orwell, It has come to our notice that your novel, Animal Farm, attributes to pigs the ability to talk, and to walk on their hind legs, chanting ‘Four legs good, two legs better’. This is directly counter to known zoological facts about the Family Suidae, and you are therefore arraigned on a charge of falsifying data…”
Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist, wrote: “This strikes me (and every colleague I’ve spoken with) as an attempt to weaponise an important principle of academic ethics to punish a scholar for expressing an unpopular opinion.”
The group decided to focus almost exclusively on peer-reviewed journals as part of the experiment, and pledged to confess to any journal editor or reviewer if they asked whether the paper was a hoax.
“We intend to use the knowledge we’ve gained from grievance studies to continue to critique them and push for universities to fix this problem and reaffirm their commitment to rigorous, non-partisan knowledge production,” the trio explained.
“We do this because we believe in the university, in rigorous scholarship, in the pursuit of scientific knowledge, and in the importance of social justice.”
The experiment received a mixed reception by academia, with some applauding the move, while others claim it undermines fields to which the three have political objections.