Sunday, May 21, 2017

Off-Topic: The Troubling State of Social Science

Skeptic Magazine is reporting on a hilarious (in some ways) hoax that was perpetrated on the world of gender studies.  Two authors, Peter Boghossian, a professor of philosophy and James A. Lindsay, a Ph.D. in math and physics,  submitted a paper that, by their own admission, made absolutely no sense but appealed to far-left, liberal socio-political perspectives.  They write:
Assuming the pen names “Jamie Lindsay” and “Peter Boyle,” and writing for the fictitious “Southeast Independent Social Research Group,” we wrote an absurd paper loosely composed in the style of post-structuralist discursive gender theory. The paper was ridiculous by intention, essentially arguing that penises shouldn’t be thought of as male genital organs but as damaging social constructions. We made no attempt to find out what “post-structuralist discursive gender theory” actually means. We assumed that if we were merely clear in our moral implications that maleness is intrinsically bad and that the penis is somehow at the root of it, we could get the paper published in a respectable journal.
In other words, as long as it bashed men, it was okay, even if the premise of the paper was completely unsupportable. As the authors note, it gets worse:
Not only is the text ridiculous, so are the references. Most of our references are quotations from papers and figures in the field that barely make sense in the context of the text. Others were obtained by searching keywords and grabbing papers that sounded plausibly connected to words we cited. We read exactly zero of the sources we cited, by intention, as part of the hoax. And it gets still worse…

Some references cite the Postmodern Generator, a website coded in the 1990s by Andrew Bulhak featuring an algorithm, based on NYU physicist Alan Sokal’s method of hoaxing a cultural studies journal called Social Text, that returns a different fake postmodern “paper” every time the page is reloaded. We cited and quoted from the Postmodern Generator liberally; this includes nonsense quotations incorporated in the body of the paper and citing five different “papers” generated in the course of a few minutes.
On one level, this is hilarious.  It was difficult to get through either the paper, itself, or the authors' report of the hoax.  At one point, I was laughing so hard, tears were coming out of my eyes.  On another, it is deeply concerning.  The editors of this journal should resign in disgrace.

The social sciences have always had a somewhat checkered reputation in the general world of science, and examples like this simply reinforce this perspective. Once upon a time, I had an opportunity to read a social sciences dissertation written by someone that I knew at the University of Tennessee.  He made it clear that the dissertation had already been accepted by the graduate school.  It was terrible, full of spelling, grammatical and logical errors.  I marveled that, had I turned in the same kind of work to my advisor, he would have thrown it back in my face.

It is clear that, long ago, the social sciences burned objective scientific principles at the altar of progressive, ideologically hidebound politics.  This was exposed by the original hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal, in 1996, in the journal Social Text.

What has just transpired in the journal Cogent Social Sciences, is unacceptable and all of those involved should hang their heads in shame.  Unfortunately, as the authors point out:
As a matter of deeper concern, there is unfortunately some reason to believe that our hoax will not break the relevant spell. First, Alan Sokal’s hoax, now more than 20 years old, did not prevent the continuation of bizarre postmodernist “scholarship.” In particular, it did not lead to a general tightening of standards that would have blocked our own hoax. Second, people rarely give up on their moral attachments and ideological commitments just because they’re shown to be out of alignment with reality.
Most people do not see themselves in the same light that other people do, and the facile nature of the discipline of "gender studies" will likely continue, in spite of this hoax. Nonetheless, these two authors have done an amazingly important service in exposing the shoddy nature of the academic standards of it.
P.S. for those of you in need of a laugh, here is the Postmodern Generator.  One of the papers it generated was from Barbara Porter, Professor of English at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople. 


  1. Social studies is just anthropology stripped of all science. With a little quack psychology thrown in for good measure.

  2. My pastor's daughter swallowed this bullsh*t hook line and sinker, became a lesbian and moved to California. It is easy to laugh about it but when it takes over people's lives, it is tragic.