by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
John Staddon’s latest Martin Center column asks whether the academics who perpetrated a recent high-profile hoax actually did anything wrong.
One of the three “Sokal Squared” academic hoaxers, Peter Boghossian of Portland State University, has been accused of violating his university’s research policies. Boghossian is the only one of the three to hold an (untenured) academic position and so is the only one vulnerable to disciplinary action.
Boghossian and his compatriots parodied fashionable social-“science” research; now, some in the academy are crying that parody is not fair play.
The charge against Boghossian is a clever catch-22. Any research with human subjects—in this case, the “subjects” were the editors of the targeted academic journals—must be approved by the local Institutional Review Board. IRB rules always require the subjects’ consent. Since any hoax depends on the ignorance of its targets, a hoax always violates IRB rules. So, hoaxes are never allowed, then.
And that eliminates an important variety of intellectual criticism. The Oregon Association of Scholars, in this press release defending Boghossian, points out, “[T]he hoax or satire based on concocted data that is later revealed to be such as part of the search is a fundamental and long-standing method of intellectual inquiry in the Western liberal tradition.”