Peter Boghossian, one of the three “Sokal squared” or “grievance studies” hoaxsters is in danger of losing his job.
Boghossian is apparently in trouble with his employer, Portland State University for “policy violations.” According to PSU’s Institutional Review Board, Boghossian violated policies regarding “human subjects research.”
Boghossian was contacted by Mark R. McLellan, Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies of PSU, who said, “Since your behavior raises ethical issues of concern (the study of human research subjects without an IRB approved protocol), I will redirect this matter to the President and Provost for their review.”
The “human research subjects” that PSU is referring to are the peer reviewers and editors of journals who were duped into accepting fake papers by Boghossian and his colleagues.
Seven papers such as “Rape Culture and Queer Performativity at Urban Dog Parks” and “Our Struggle Is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism” (a rewrite of part of a chapter of Mein Kampf in the name of intersectional feminism) were accepted by respected academic journals, revealing that the peer review model of academic scholarship is deeply flawed.
While it is true that the editors and peer reviewers of the journals affected by the hoax were unaware that they were being fooled, that’s sort of the point.
Boghossian and his colleagues, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay were not attempting to permanently pass off their satirical scholarship as legitimate.
Rather, their project was devised in order to reveal just how corrupt, unethical, and politically motivated scholarly publications have become.
Thankfully people have begun to rally to Boghossian’s defense. Since the news of PSU’s disciplinary measures broke, over 100 letters have flooded the university in support of the embattled professor, including some from high profile academics.
“Criticism and open debate are the lifeblood of academia; they are what differentiate universities from organs of dogma and propaganda. If scholars feel they have been subject to unfair criticism, they should explain why they think the critic is wrong. It should be beneath them to try to punish and silence him,” wrote eminent psychologist Steven Pinker.
Richard Dawkins added, “If the members of your committee of inquiry object to the very idea of satire as a form of creative expression they should come out honestly and say so. But to pretend that this is a matter of publishing false data is so obviously ridiculous that one cannot help suspecting an ulterior motive.”
Greg Lukianoff, the CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education added on Twitter: “I’ve seen a lot of abuses of Institutional Review Boards in my 18 years at FIRE, but this is surely one of the worst.”
Pluckrose had previously expressed concern that Boghossian was the most vulnerable of the three because he had an academic position.
I reached out to Pluckrose who told me, “Peter is such an excellent teacher and his critical thinking classes are so valuable especially in a university like Portland State. We knew they’d try to get him on out on something because he challenged and embarrassed the grievance scholars. He’s really low-spirited right now. I’m really pleased to see how many people have supported him though. PSU needs to sort its priorities out and get behind him.”
The good news is that now the world is now watching PSU.
It’s clear that these disciplinary measures are as politically motivated as the academic journals that the grievance studies affair exposed in the first place.
The supposed policy violations regarding “human subjects research” are completely bogus. Boghossian was not conducting research in his field, fully intended on revealing the true nature of the papers, would not have benefited in any way under false pretenses.
What it all comes down to is this: they are trying to punish Boghossian for being a good satirist. The suggestion that people who get duped by well-written satire is somehow the fault of the author is beyond ludicrous.
As Lindsay and Pluckrose put it in Areo, the choice seems to be between “advancing Social Justice at any cost” and “free inquiry and the pursuit of truth.”
The implications of this extend far beyond Portland State University. This attempted crackdown is part of an ongoing trend to punish creativity and heterodox thought in the academy and the larger culture.
It’s increasingly apparent that if you speak out, if you don’t “stay in your lane,” if you don’t comply with the social justice scolds who currently jangle the keys, then you risk your own livelihood.
And if you dare to expose corruption, political bias, and abuse of power, then those you expose will double down and abuse their power even more in an attempt to punish you.