Academia Still Reeling From Hoax

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

You can tell that the academic world is still grappling with trio of intellectual gadflies who managed to get ersatz studies into peer reviewed journals. Interestingly, when you read the academic reactions they reveal more of what got past reviews by peers and, if you spend any time actually reading real academic articles, what is startling is the uncanny degree to which they do look like the real thing.

Mark Hulsether, a religious studies professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, gives a fairly detailed overview of what the hoaxters accomplished in an essay on the academe blog maintained by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP): “One began from a premise that sports are ‘fat-exclusionary’ and valorized ‘a new classification within bodybuilding’ for ‘fat-inclusive politicized performance.’ One interspersed passages from Hitler’s Mein Kampf with academic jargon. Another discussed how often humans separated male dogs ‘raping/humping’ other male dogs as opposed to tolerating or laughing at similar behavior with female dogs. Supposedly it documented a 97% rate of breaking up male-on-male dog sex (the author declined to judge from a human-centric standpoint how much of this was consensual and how much rape) but only a 32% rate for male-on-female—although here again how much was ‘oppression based upon (perceived) gender’ was unknown. Apparently these writers lied about a lot of made-up data sets, as a different duped editor wrote in to complain; the authors themselves claim that their fabrications were so flagrant that anyone should have understood that they were a joke. In any case the dog park ‘findings’ were framed by ‘black feminist criminology’ (thus, on the face of it, trivializing or mocking the issue of pervasive sexual violence in prisons) and embellished with phrases like ‘queer performativity… among dogs,’ ‘disrupt[ing] hegemonic masculinities,’ and creating ‘emanicipatory spaces.’”

We who regularly attend the annual meetings of the Modern Language Association (MLA) would not be at all surprised to find ourselves in a lecture on any of the above topics. Meanwhile, Hulsether goes on to make the point that what is refereed is not necessarily good and what is not refereed is not necessarily bad.

That is actually a valuable distinction. Unfortunately, he goes on to be quite indistinct in a number of paragraphs, in ways that the students who rated him on Rate My Professor would undoubtedly recognize.* Here’s a sample: “Quality is the decisive issue—how to defend spaces for worthy intellectual exchange. Everyone can agree to valorize brilliant interventions in top journals; no one wants to wade through even more bull**** in niche journals. After that, what is a quality intervention: something stultifying or wrong-headed, but with many footnotes, in a top journal, or something published in a niche journal with fewer footnotes but thoughtful innovation—say, breaking that above-mentioned window?”

“Simply counting “refereed or not” is blind to all of this and introduces crazy distortions. We need our universities to transmute back toward, not transmute further away from, a more open-ended framing for setting priorities. This is not a mind-set of counting beans and policing cheaters. It is a mind-set of building trust among colleagues and seeking warranted quality in response to needful priorities in particular social contexts.”

*By the way, the page went down in the time it took for me to get back to it