You’ve heard of fake news — but what about fake academia? According to three gutsy professors, it’s alive and well and being featured in plenty of peer-reviewed journals. Together, the trio set out to prove it in a scholarly hoax that’s taken the entire education world by surprise.
Medieval religious scholar Helen Pluckrose, author and mathematician James Lindsay, and philosopher Peter Boghossian aren’t conservative (as a matter of fact, they call themselves “Left-leaning liberals), but they certainly share a lot of conservatives’ concerns about the bias of higher education. Fed up with the “grievance studies” that they think have taken over academia, they set out to prove what a joke the field of gender and identity studies has become.
Starting in August of 2017, the professors started cranking out fake papers and submitting them to scholarly journals under different names. The more absurd the topic, the more likely it seemed to get published. Among other things, the trio wrote entire sham essays on subjects like: dog parks becoming “petri dishes for canine ‘rape culture,'” what motivates heterosexual men to eat at Hooters, the fat-exclusionary culture of bodybuilding. They even argued for replacing “western astronomy” with “feminist astronomy.”
Their experiment worked. Seven of the 20 papers were accepted, all having undergone so-called “rigorous” peer review. “Their submissions were outlandish,” the Wall Street Journal points out, “but no more so, they insist, than others written in earnest and published by these journals.” When the three professors revealed what they’d done, the academic community exploded. They were outraged that anyone would pull back the curtain on what the trio calls “absurd and horrific scholarship.”
Obviously, they wanted to get the country’s attention about a community that’s fixated on politically-correct outcomes. As Ben Shapiro pointed out in Newsweek, “Education,” he says, “has become about underscoring the preferred power politics of those who control the flow of information. Ironically, those who insist that reality is mere social construction insist that their alternative social construction be made reality. That means that politics become paramount, and truth becomes completely superfluous.”
So much so that three liberal professors were willing to risk their careers to shine a light on the problem. As WSJ tells it, “Mr. Boghossian doesn’t have tenure and expects the university will fire or otherwise punish him. Ms. Pluckrose predicts she’ll have a hard time getting accepted to a doctoral program. Mr. Lindsay said he expects to become ‘an academic pariah,’ barred from professorships or publications.” Regardless, they say, it was all worth it. “For us, the risk of letting biased research continue to influence education, media, policy, and culture is far greater than anything that will happen to us for having done this.”
Whether educators will be embarrassed enough to do something about it remains to be seen. What we do know is that it takes a lot of courage to expose a problem most liberals are too afraid to admit — let alone combat. Our hats go off to the professors for giving America a real study in academic bias!
Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC Action senior writers.
EDITORS NOTE: This column is republished with permission.