News and Commentary

Professor Who Published Fake Gender Studies Papers To Prove Point Now Targeted By His Own University

A Portland State University (PSU) professor who took part in an academic hoax to prove that academia turns a blind eye to reason when gender issues are involved is now facing disciplinary actions.

PSU philosophy professor Peter Boghossian is being investigated by his employer for committing a “human subjects” ethics violation by contributing to the hoax, which itself was an academic study. Filmmaker Mike Nayna, who previously documented Boghossian and his associates’ attempts to call out so-called Grievance Studies for their lack of academic rigor, announced the professor was under fire Saturday night in a tweet.

“Portland State University has determined that @peterboghossian committed a “human subjects” ethics violation for his involvement in the Grievance Studies probe. Further charges of falsifying data are currently under review,” Nayna wrote.

The video began with Boghossian saying he was called to meet with PSU’s Institutional Review Board chair, Jack Barbera, to discuss if protocols were followed prior to the professor’s publishing of the fake articles. This occurred on October 18, 2018.

“I think that they will do everything and anything in their power to get me out of there,” Boghossian said in the video. “I think that this is the first shot at that.”

“You don’t pull somebody in front of the IRB to slap their wrists,” Boghossian added. He also said one has to go through the IRB if they want to get a study published.

Boghossian, along with researcher Helen Pluckrose and author James Lindsay, submitted 20 papers to journals over the course of the year. The subjects were designed to be absurd, yet seven were accepted (four of which were published online prior to the trio announcing the hoax), seven more were under review, and just six were rejected.

The most famous hoax paper the trio published was one claiming dog parks promote “rape culture” in Portland, Oregon. Campus Reform reporter Toni Airaksinen noted the absurdity of the paper and discovered the “author” lied about their credentials. This caused the trio of authors “to conclude the project early.”

Boghossian, Pluckrose, and Lindsay agreed to wait to see what happened at PSU before going to the media, according to the video. Boghossian was not allowed to film the meeting with Barbera. Title cards on the YouTube video then say, “The IRB has since determined the Grievance Studies probe meets the federal definition of ‘research.’”

“Additionally, the IRB determined the project met the federal definition of ‘human subject’ as it involved collecting data by interacting with living individuals,” the video added. “The matter has been escalated to PSU’s President & Provost for disciplinary action.”

The video also includes Pluckrose and Lindsay on the phone with Boghossian discussing the review. Lindsay calls it “Orwellian” that the school would punish Boghossian for what is essentially an “audit” of the academic community rather than an actual study itself.

“If they can try and pin an ethics violation on it, that’ll give scholars reasons to pretend they can ignore our work, which, obviously, they can’t do,” Lindsay said.

Boghossian does not have tenure and could be fired.

Multiple scholars have sent letters to PSU to defend Boghossian and the flaws in academia that he and his team exposed. The letters, provided to The Daily Wire, are written by prominent scholars including Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Jordan Peterson, and Alan Sokal. Sokal is famous for his own academic hoax in the mid-1990s. In 1994, Sokal submitted “a sham article to the cultural studies journal Social Text, in which he reviewed some current topics in physics and mathematics, and with tongue in cheek drew various cultural, philosophical and political morals that he felt would appeal to fashionable academic commentators on science who question the claims of science to objectivity,” according to a New York Review of Books article from 1996.

According to Sokal, who read the IRB’s November 27, 2018 report of the Committee of Inquiry, PSU only looked at the dog park “rape culture” article when determining whether Boghossian committed a fabrication.

Dawkins first addressed his criticism to professor Mark R. McLellan, vice president for research and graduate studies at PSU:

My first response on reading of the punitive investigation into Dr. Peter Boghossian’s brilliant hoax was to let out a howl of incredulous mirth. Do your humourless colleagues who brought this action want Portland State to become the laughing stock of the academic world? Or at least the world of serious scientific scholarship uncontaminated by pretentious charlatans of exactly the kind Dr. Boghossian and his colleagues were satirizing? For satire it was, and it is of the essence of satire that it is not literally true.

He followed this up with a satirical letter to George Orwell regarding his book “Animal Farm.”

Both Dawkins and Sokal noted in their letters that Boghossian and his colleagues did not perpetrate their hoax for financial or professional benefit.

Dave Collum, the former chair of Cornell University’s chemistry department, also provided The Daily Wire with a letter he sent on behalf of Boghossian. Collum previously faced his own academic issue when he was accused of sexism for tweets after he disagreed with graduate student plans to unionize.

Unsurprisingly in retrospect, Boghossian is now suffering the wrath of this group [grievance studies]. They have suffered many defeats of late, and it is a community not known for shaking off defeats gracefully. I do not, however, think it is in anybody’s best interest to push disciplinary actions against Professor Boghossian. In fields that are said to be unable to self-police bad ideas and that show an unfortunate intolerance for would-be constructive criticism, I cannot think of another means as effective as that of Boghossian et al. to illustrate the need for a complete investigation and, if necessary, academic overhaul.

Collum goes on to suggest the school create “an airtight process that unambiguously brings at least a semblance of due process.”