by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Phillip Magness writes for the Martin Center about the impact of recent high-profile academic hoaxes.
By now, most followers of the higher education press have heard of the “grievance studies” or Sokal Squared hoax.
In this incident, a team of three researchers successfully published several hoax papers on intentionally absurd subjects in ostensibly serious scholarly journals. Their purpose was to demonstrate the susceptibility of these venues to low-quality, ideologically charged “research” that advances left-wing identity politics.
The hoax articles lampooned the academic fashionability of its chosen subject areas. Samples of the published papers included an article on “rape culture” among dogs in urban dog parks, a piece espousing a theoretical framework for the acceptance of obese bodybuilders, a nonsensical string of computer-generated “therapeutic” political poetry, and even a passage of Mein Kampf repackaged as critical gender theory.
No doubt the hoaxers used the academy’s political inclinations advantageously, and indeed their critics have accused them of an unfair “put down” that targeted scholars of gender and racial discrimination—two worthy areas of academic study that champion historically disadvantaged persons and communities.
Allow me to suggest that both their supporters and critics have largely missed the mark by focusing on the political objectives of the perpetrators.
While identity politics have dominated the fallout discussions, the real lesson of the hoax is what it revealed about the crisis of rigor afflicting academic publishing. The fabricated articles only advanced to publication because decades of lax standards have made academically fashionable nonsense—including other forms of fraudulent work—the norm for celebrated scholarship in several of the humanities and social sciences.
The hoax succeeded precisely because its products were indistinguishable on their face from the type of “serious” scholarship that regularly appears in academic journals.