Three Scholars Submitted Fake Papers to Academic Journals. Guess What Happened Next.

Posted: Oct 04, 2018 11:30 AM

Poe’s Law basically says that without a clear indicator of intention, it’s impossible to parody extreme views without it being mistaken for the genuine article. Time and time again, this has proven true as some of the more bizarre arguments from the left that we thought were satire turned out to be real.

Of course, it also seems the reverse is equally true.

Yesterday, news broke that a trio of people decided to take a swing at the social justice establishment and, in the process, show just how ridiculous that side really is. They did it by making some incredibly bizarre statements, supporting it with a healthy dose of BS, and waiting to see what would happen.

Well, they got published (via The Wall Street Journal):

Beginning in August 2017, the trio wrote 20 hoax papers, submitting them to peer-reviewed journals under a variety of pseudonyms, as well as the name of their friend Richard Baldwin, a professor emeritus at Florida’s Gulf Coast State College. Mr. Baldwin confirms he gave them permission use his name. Journals accepted seven hoax papers. Four have been published.

Such hoaxes are unethical, and The Wall Street Journal doesn’t condone them. The Journal expects op-ed contributors to be truthful about their identities and research, and academic journals also rely on the honesty of their authors.

But the trio defended their actions, saying they viewed the deception not as a prank but as a “hoax of exposure,” or a way to do immersive research that couldn’t be conducted any other way. “We understood ourselves to be going in to study it as it is, to try to participate in it,” Ms. Pluckrose says. “The name for this is ethnography. We’re looking at a particular culture.”

Each paper “combined an effort to better understand the field itself with an attempt to get absurdities and morally fashionable political ideas published as legitimate academic research,” Mr. Lindsay wrote in a project summary. Their elaborate submissions cited and quoted dozens of real papers and studies to bolster the hoax arguments.

Among the papers the trio got published was one that even had me fooled; it was a paper that argued bodybuilding was “fat exclusionary” and that the sport should include a category for overweight individuals. As someone who has some familiarity with bodybuilding, as well as the body-acceptance movement, I just rolled my eyes. After all, it sounded legit. 

It wasn’t, though. 

It was these three individuals who created bogus data—data that could apparently be seen through if anyone wanted to look—and then sent it to social justice publications to highlight the stupidity of “grievance studies” in general.

But how did it work? How did no one catch onto what they were doing?

The answer is simple: They catered to the biases they knew were already there.

For example, another of the hoax papers “suggested that professors rate students’ levels of oppression based on race, gender, class and other identity categories. Students deemed ‘privileged’ would be kept from commenting in class, interrupted when they did speak, and ‘invited’ to ‘sit on the floor’ or ‘to wear (light) chains around their shoulders, wrists or ankles for the duration of the course.’ Students who complained would be told that this ‘educational tool’ helps them confront ‘privileged fragility.’”

This appealed to the two peer reviewers who apparently saw nothing wrong with this type of behavior. The reason? Because, again, it played to their bias, supported the idea that the sins committed against minorities should be atoned for by lashing out at so-called “privileged” students. This despite the fact that real privilege is so nuanced as to be impossible to judge from the outside.

Social justice activists masquerading as researchers were essentially told what they wanted to hear, so they simply accepted what they read. It’s confirmation bias in academia.

In the process, though, those who failed to call the trio on their crap have now undermined any legitimate research conducted and published in these journals. From now on, any pro-social justice study is bound to evoke nothing but eye rolls from anyone familiar with what these hoaxers pulled off so successfully.

They pushed the right buttons and got results.

All three expect repercussions for this. They’ve basically thrown their lives and careers under the bus, but that sacrifice may be the most noble part of this. They know damn good and well that their lives could be over as they envisioned them, but they knew they had to do something.

So they did.

They deserve our respect, even if we may disagree with them on pretty much every other topic. The three, who describe themselves as "left-leaning liberals," took a stand against their own side because what they saw was wrong.

Now, we have to wonder if these journals will be more skeptical, more demanding of the research they publish. I’m inclined to think not, but primarily because if they did, I suspect they’d have nothing left to publish.