Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
Portland State University says submitting fake papers to journals explicitly to assess their rigour is an ethics violation.
Peter Boghossian teaches critical thinking at Portland State University. Last October, he and two research colleagues revealed that seven satirical/hoax papers they’d authored had nevertheless been successfully published in peer-reviewed academic journals.
Concerned about “ideologically-motivated scholarship,” the trio set out to demonstrate that, in some academic fields, utter gibberish can get published so long as it employs large amounts of identity politics jargon.
One paper is described by Boghossian as “a 3000 word excerpt of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf…rewritten in the language of Intersectionality theory.” Another discusses dog parks, rape culture, and the patriarchy using “incredibly implausible statistics.”
This project intended to ring alarm bells, to call attention to what the researchers insist is a widespread problem:
Scholarship based less upon finding truth and more upon attending to social grievances has become firmly established, if not fully dominant, within these fields, and their scholars increasingly bully students, administrators, and other departments into adhering to their worldview.
Rather than celebrating the Boghossian team as satirists par excellence, since last October Portland State University has subjected Boghossian to three separate investigations. One determined that no animals were harmed. Another found “no implications of plagiarism, fabrication, and falsification.” A third, however, determined that he violated “human subjects’ rights.”
In the weirdo world of contemporary higher education, people who run journals, and individuals who perform peer-review are now considered human subjects. Secretly submitting fake papers in order to assess the rigour of those journals is now considered human experimentation.
Such experimentation isn’t allowed unless one first secures the approval of an internal Institutional Review Board, an often lengthy and cumbersome process that will almost certainly undermine the secrecy upon which such research depends.
A few years ago, I wrote a report titled Peer Review: Why skepticism is essential. It cites a wide body of research, extending back decades, that highlights the often arbitrary, biased nature of the peer review process.
For example, a famous 1982 study attached fictitious author names to 12 papers that had already been published during the previous 18-32 months. The duplication was noticed in three cases, but peer reviewers working for the same journals gave thumbs down to eight out of nine remaining papers the second time around.
A 1990 study found female reviewers significantly less likely to recommend publication of male-authored papers compared to female-authored papers. Other research determined that a manuscript’s fate depends a great deal on whether its conclusions confirm or challenge a reviewer’s own theoretical perspective.
All of these findings provide important insight into how ‘official’ knowledge gets created. But now that journal editors and reviewers are considered human subjects whose rights shall not be violated, it’s doubtful whether such important work could still be conducted.
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