A university professor who sought to expose bias through hoax academic papers that were published in prominent academic journals is reportedly facing dismissal.
Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University in Oregon, admits that he and two other scholars submitted a total of 20 “intentionally broken” and “nonsense” papers on topics including gender, race and sexuality.
The Times reports that the spoofs featured “very shoddy methodologies including incredibly implausible statistics”, as well as “ideologically motivated qualitative analyses” and “claims not warranted by the data”.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
One submission - titled Our Struggle is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism - was later revealed to be a direct re-write of chapter 12 of Adolf Hitler’s 1925 book Mein Kampf with feminist “buzzwords switched in”, says the newspaper. The spoof was one of seven from Boghossian and his collaborators that were accepted by peer-reviewed journals last year.
Another paper described dog parks as “rape-condoning spaces of hegemonic masculinity”, and claimed to have involved the examination of “10,000 dogs’ genitals”.
Among the other arguments made by the hoaxsters were that the science of astronomy is “intrinsically sexist” and that morbid obesity is a healthy life choice.
Some of the papers advocated “highly dubious ethics” such as “punishing white male college students for historical slavery by asking them to sit in silence in the floor in chains during class”, adds The Times.
All of the published papers were retracted once the true identities and motives of the authors had been revealed.
Boghossian said: “We wanted to see if these disciplines that we called ‘grievance studies’ are compromised by political activism that allows for the laundering of prejudices and opinions into something that gets treated as knowledge.”
However, Portland State University has initiated disciplinary action against Boghossian for what it calls a “breach of the institution’s ethical guidelines”. University bosses argue that he studied “human research subjects” - a reference to the staff and peer-reviewers of the journals - without proper ethical approvals, reports The Washington Times.
A second charge relating to the falsification of data is under review and may potentially cost the professor his job.
Boghossian said: “Portland State University, like many college campuses, is becoming an ideological community and I’ve demonstrated that I don’t fit the mould. I truly hope the administration puts its institutional weight behind the pursuit of truth but I’ve been given no indication that’s what they intend to do.”
He has received support from leading academics including evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who in a letter to Boghossian said that his first response on reading about the investigation was to “let out a howl of incredulous mirth”.
Harvard University psychology professor Steven Pinker has also spoken out in defence of Boghossian, saying: “This strikes me (and every colleague I’ve spoken with) as an attempt to weaponise an important [principle] of academic ethics in order to punish a scholar for expressing an unpopular opinion.”
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.