By Maxim Lott
Published January 08, 2019
A professor who fooled prestigious journals into running absurd hoax papers, as a test of their bias, says he may now lose his job because of his actions.
Peter Boghossian was one of three people who collaborated last year to test the standards of various university disciplines, submitting papers loaded with left-wing buzzwords to journals in fields like feminism, race studies, queer studies, and cultural studies.
Many prestigious journals fell for their absurd hoax papers. A leading feminist journal published a section of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf that had simply been re-written with fashionable buzzwords. Another journal published a paper about “rape culture and queer performativity” in dog parks.
The three hoaxers all say that they are liberals, but they feared some university disciplines had gone off the deep end and now value politics over truth.
While many saw the professors' test as important, some within the university system were not amused and are now hitting back at the hoaxers.
“I could be fired,” Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University, and the only one who works at a university – told Fox News.
Four days before Christmas, Portland State University Vice President Mark McLellan emailed Boghossian that he had been found guilty of “a clear violation of the policies of your employer” for hoaxing the journals without first seeking permission from an "Institutional Review Board".
Institutional Review Board rules mandate “informed consent” from “human subjects” – in this case, the fooled journal editors – meaning the university would have required him to get consent from the journals in advance of sending the hoax papers. Boghossian notes that would have defeated the whole point.
Boghossian says the university has assigned him extra training as a punishment – but that a more serious punishment, to be determined by the university's President and Provost, will also be announced soon, that may include his termination.
Boghossian says he has become a pariah at his university because his test exposed some of academia’s sacred cows. He was condemned by a dozen PSU colleagues who anonymously penned an open letter to students slamming Boghossian as part of a “clown car of hoax writers” engaging in “fraudulent, time-wasting, anti-intellectual activities” that are “to the detriment of the university’s reputation.”
Boghassian says that they are just bitter that their fields’ flaws have been highlighted.
“PSU, like many college campuses, has become an ideological community,” Boghossian said. “I’ve demonstrated that I don’t fit that mold... so some people are hell-bent on getting me out of there.”
Boghossian’s critics also note that many hoax papers he and his co-experimenters submitted did not fool journals.
The university is currently deliberating about finding Boghossian guilty on an additional charge of "fabricating data". Boghossian's published hoax paper about “rape culture and queer performativity” in dog parks extravagantly claimed to have examined 10,000 dogs’ genitals and then surveyed their owners about their sexual orientations.
Boghossian and his co-authors say the claim to have such data was “clearly preposterous” and that the whole point was to see if the journal editors would pick up on the absurdity.
“They did not and, in fact, the paper was recognized for excellence within feminist geography,” Boghossian’s two co-experimenters wrote in a post on the site Areo.
“Some academics are now claiming that the problem with this paper is that we didn’t actually examine dogs’ genitals by the thousands... clearly missing the point,” they wrote.
Portland State University officials, including Mark McLellan, did not respond to a request for comment from Fox News.
Boghossian says he hopes the President of Portland State University, Rahmat Shoureshi, will intervene.
“The President could write an email saying, ‘we are placing a letter of reprimand in your file and no further action will be taken.’ That would put a stop to this.”
Several prominent academics have written to the university expressing dismay about actions taken so far.
"To pretend that this is a matter of publishing false data is so obviously ridiculous that one cannot help suspecting an ulterior motive," Richard Dawkins of Oxford University wrote in a letter he shared with Boghossian.
Boghossian says he finds the situation ironic because he himself is on the liberal side of things.
“I’m a liberal. But I’m concerned that students aren’t hearing the other side of the issues. Conservative and libertarian students are terrified to speak.”
He says he would do the hoax again because “somebody had to do it” and says the university has to consider its core values.
“What kind of university do they want to be? Do they want to be one that supports freedom of inquiry and the pursuit of truth? Or one that pushes and protects ‘social justice’ at all costs?” he asked.