A trio of writers said they embarked on a yearlong "probe" to see "how much certain political biases have taken root within a small but powerful sector of academia."
James Lindsay, Peter Boghossian, and Helen Pluckrose revealed some of their findings in a USA Today op-ed. You might say its title — "From dog rape to white men in chains: We fooled the biased academic left with fake studies" — sums things up rather succinctly.
Lindsay (an author and mathematician), Boghossian (an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University), and Pluckrose (editor-in-chief of Areo Magazine, which focuses on "humanism, culture, politics, human rights, science, and free expression") wrote in their op-ed that they submitted 20 papers to journals focusing on hot-button issues such as gender, race, and sexuality.
They said they feared such fields — i.e., “grievance studies" — have been "corrupted by a form of political activism that puts political grievances ahead of finding truth."
What was the result?
They said seven of their papers were accepted — "many in top-ranking journals."
They revealed that their accepted papers included an adaptation of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," a look at “fat bodybuilding" for a discipline called "fat studies," as well as one that addressed “rape culture" by "monitoring dog-humping incidents at dog parks in Southeast Portland, Oregon."
Another paper suggested placing "white and male students on the floor in chains" as a way to create "experiential reparations."
So, how did the trio's fake studies slip through the cracks? The writers said their papers "fit in" with what the journals "consider scholarship."
More from their op-ed:
Our paper suggesting we put privileged white and male students on the floor in chains takes only a small step forward from the existing literature we used to support it. For example, we were encouraged by the peer reviewers for that paper to follow Barbara Applebaum's work to ensure we didn't show too much compassion to those mistreated students, which would “recenter" the needs of the privileged. The peer reviewers encouraged us to frame it in terms of Megan Boler's “pedagogy of discomfort," which recommends that overcoming privilege requires being made uncomfortable and left to sit with that discomfort.
'A kind of idea laundering'
The writer said they believe they've "uncovered evidence that points to a significant cultural problem that starts with scholarship and extends far beyond the academy," which they termed "a kind of idea laundering."
In other words, they wrote, "aggrieved academics can put broken, biased, and even openly racist and sexist ideas through the peer-review process, and have them come out the other side legitimized as though they are established knowledge." Such "laundered" ideas, they said, "often take a cynically biased perspective on men, masculinity, heterosexuality and whiteness."
And the result? Without checks and balances in academia, the writers said such ideas have "seeped out of the university and become part of our everyday lives."
More from their op-ed:
Concepts like “toxic masculinity," “white fragility," “cultural appropriation," and “microaggressions" are now familiar to many of us. Most people, however, don't realize that these concepts originated within academic journals just like those that accepted our papers. Those journals laundered them through a broken system, leading them to be picked up by journalists, activists, HR departments, and policy makers as though they're some kind of established truth.
The video describing their project is at once hilarious and acutely concerning: