There’s nothing the American right likes better than skewering the crazy libs, and oh boy do they have some content on their hands today. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, three leftist scholars decided to prank academia by submitting satirical papers to very real academic journals in the topical vicinity of something called “grievance culture.” As it turns out, they were phenomenally successful. Read, if you will, the description of this paper by “Helen Wilson” about rape culture among dogs, and note that it was actually published in a journal called Gender, Place, and Culture:
The author admits that “my own anthropocentric frame” makes it difficult to judge animal consent. Still, the paper claims dog parks are “petri dishes for canine ‘rape culture’ ” and issues “a call for awareness into the different ways dogs are treated on the basis of their gender and queering behaviors, and the chronic and perennial rape emergency dog parks pose to female dogs.”
Thanks to the WSJ’s Jillian Kay Melchior, who has a working BS detector, we now know that “Helen Wilson” is actually three people: James Lindsay, math doctorate, Peter Boghossian, assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State, and Helen Pluckrose, English lit scholar. And perhaps “prank” is too glib a word for the hoax they pulled off—it seems the trio of satirists are attempting to shine a light on what they consider an absurd trend in these journals. Their rationale:
The three academics call themselves “left-leaning liberals.” Yet they’re dismayed by what they describe as a “grievance studies” takeover of academia, especially its encroachment into the sciences. “I think that certain aspects of knowledge production in the United States have been corrupted,” Mr. Boghossian says. Anyone who questions research on identity, privilege and oppression risks accusations of bigotry.
Together, they wrote 20 papers under various pseudonyms, seven of which were accepted. To date, four have been published. And they are doozies:
One of the trio’s hoax papers, published in April by the journal Fat Studies, claims bodybuilding is “fat-exclusionary” and proposes “a new classification . . . termed fat bodybuilding, as a fat-inclusive politicized performance.”
A hoax paper for the Journal of Poetry Therapy describes monthly feminist spirituality meetings, complete with a “womb room,” and discusses six poems, which Mr. Lindsay generated by algorithm and lightly edited.
And, in the “holy hell” department:
Affilia, a peer-reviewed journal of women and social work, formally accepted the trio’s hoax paper, “Our Struggle Is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism.” The second portion of the paper is a rewrite of a chapter from “Mein Kampf.”
Again, the idea behind the project is to prove that academic journals focused on identity politics are subject to what the authors call “absurd and horrific” scholarship.
And it’s a noble goal! Not to mention a painful one—Boghossian expects to get fired from his job, Lindsay doubts he’ll ever get a professorship, and Pluckrose knows it will make getting into a doctoral program difficult. In making their satirical point, they have potentially sacrificed quite a lot.
But, on the other hand, conservatives already love this, and are going to use it for anti-left propaganda. The National Review is all over it already with two different pieces, the Spectator has covered it, the likes of Mike Cernovich have tweeted about it, and this is surely just the beginning. The story is perfectly designed to conform to a certain right-wing stereotype about left-wingers—so wrapped up in identity politics and PC culture that they fall face-first into logical absurdity. It’s basically like an episode of South Park set in academia.
And in a way, fair play to them—the facts are the facts, and the idea that these papers could be accepted at actual journals really does make a mockery of certain parts of academia. I would absolutely bury my head in the ground this morning if I were an editor at any of these journals, and it’s hard to imagine this won’t seriously erode trust in the institution of the academic article as a whole. Which is not completely terrible—as someone who was PhD adjacent as a Masters student in journalism a few years ago, even I could tell that some types of “serious” scholarship were stuffed to the core with self-importance and ridiculous, almost frivolous content disguised in the densest possible prose. Calling them to account is a good thing.
Still, it’s a shame that in conservatives’ ongoing quest to paint the left as credulous nutjobs blinded by identity politics, a few editors and peer reviewers who should know better have given them such easy ammunition. They will make a meal of this, and there’s really no defense.