The Sokal Squared hoax

Here is coverage from The Chronicle, the bottom line is that a number of humanities journals were trolled by phony submissions, and yes the journals accepted some absurd articles.

For varying perspectives, here is Henry, and here is Jonathan Rauch.  Here is Yascha Mounk.  Here is Bryan.

I would frame the matter somewhat differently, and perhaps more cynically.  Not every undergraduate major can have majors as smart and as rigorous as we find say in mathematics.  And yes I do mean some of the humanities majors.  In the resulting equilibrium, the rigor and smarts of associated faculty vary across fields as well.  The top people in quantum mechanics have passed through some pretty tough filters.  But again, we cannot usefully generalize those filters across all fields and majors to a country where such a high percentage of people attend college.  (Slow improvement can come from K-12 progress, of course, and we should fight for that.)  Some of the majors have to be easier than others, no names will be named.  By the way, don’t assume that basket-weaving is such an easy skill!

So simply calling for higher standards in the fields you object to begs the question.  Instead ask “what are those fields for?”  And “might I prefer a different kind of error process in those fields?”  And “Might I want those fields to be (partly) bad in a very different way?”  You probably have to compare bad against bad, not bad against “my personal sense of what clearly would be better.”

After such inquiries, you still will find that too much bogus work is being researched and published in journals.  The most rigorous fields in turn tend to have too much irrelevant or overspecialized work — is all of string theory or for that matter game theory so much to be envied?

Many of you will be inclined to call for fewer subsidies.  I won’t tackle that larger question right now, I’ll just note that any system-wide subsidies — especially egalitarian ones — also will boost the less rigorous fields and majors, and in some manner you need to be prepared to live with the not entirely rigorous consequences of that.

Overall I view bad pieces in the humanities as a potential profit opportunity, rather than something to just whine about.  You don’t like those troll-published pieces?  Get to work!

Addendum: You will note that the sociology journals were not fooled by the troll submissions.  By many outsiders sociology is a much-underrated field.


Fair and balanced comment about TC re humanities majors. But even some modern physics majors are stupid. Recall the remark about the guy who constantly was coming up with bizarre illogical hypotheses, the prompted the remark "you are not even wrong" from I think Bohr.

It was Wolfgang Pauli, and since that story is from the 1920s or 30s (depending on who you ask), I'd hardly call that "modern physics".

I think it’s a general phenomenon on the left, including our vaunted news media. Here’s
story that appeared in many places recently. Now you would think that man with long time international business dealings would know these things, but not according to our news outlets. Yet another example of “fake news” to go along with fake academic papers.

YOu would think a business man would know how to run a business. Yet he's been bankrupt multiple times. His next bankruptcy: America. No fake news here, comrade.

Here’s A palate cleanser for you, pal. Just because I feeling magnanimous this morning.

As opposed to my right-wing boss who believed in Bigfoot? I guess you could put that down as amusing eccentricity, but he also thought Sarah Palin should be one heartbeat from the presidency.

Such Madness is not limited to "sides."

Curiously I just started listening to a podcast about Bigfoot that begins (Wild Thing with Laura Krantz) that begins with an anthropologist phd who was a bigfoot advocate. He was, despite the kidding he got, quite serious and scientific about the whole thing.

but he also thought Sarah Palin should be one heartbeat from the presidency.

Sarah Palin had actually run a municipal government and a state government. Barack Obama had run the Chicago Annenberg Challenge into the ground.

Admit it, the only thing she had going is that she could work the sexy grandma thing for a while.

One of Tyler’s more Straussian posts! I like it.

So 3 authors produced 20 articles in 10 months, and 7 of those articles were accepted. I saw someone make the following point: what does it say about researchers who are actually in these fields who can't get one article published in a year?

Many of the hoax articles claimed to have conducted multiple years of fieldwork. It's much easier to just say you did that than to actually do it (this doesn't mean the articles were any good but even if the work is bad it still takes time in a way that faking it doesn't).

Many of the hoax articles claimed to have conducted multiple years of fieldwork.

That's kind of unfair to the reviewer. He's supposed to reject multiple years of fieldwork just because the topic's silly or ideological?

Which articles claimed there had been multiple years of fieldwork? I think the closest was the dogpark one where the author claimed to have hanged around dogparks for a year looking at dogs humping. The other articles were mostly "think pieces" with not much empirical content beyond everyday observations, I think.

The primary purpose of the "identity studies" fields is to serve as parasites on academia for the purpose of giving professors cushy jobs, students easy degrees, and administrators reasons to expand their bloated empires.

Their low standards, vicious hostility to concepts such as rigor and objectivity, and overt politicization are all tools to allow them to continue to serve this purpose. (The politicization, for example, ensures that they are disproportionately attacked by conservatives, thus causing left-leaning academics to classify these parasite fields as "us" and critics as "them".)

The first response is to simply abolish the departments outright at state schools. As they are likely to still persist at private schools, we can also adopt policies like ruling such fields are utterly ineligible for government grants, count as part of the school's dropout rate for government statistics, and are not valid college degrees for the purposes of government hiring.

"vicious hostility to concepts such as rigor " is all too human and IMO widely embraced. Perhaps there has been a very slow decrease in it since, say, Galileo. But only a few years ago many rigorously trained physicists were wrapping their arms tightly around Peak Oil, and some of those same people STILL believe in the population bomb...soooo...physicists are people too.

The normal human tendency to want to relax their intellectual vigilance and carve off areas where they can believe whatever they like without the effort of having to defend them is not the same thing as spending extensive effort to try to undermine the very concept of rigor across all domains of thought. The latter is what "vicious hostility" is a reference to.


Rigor is still correct within the assumptions of constant technology. Both Peak Oil and the population bomb give the correct results for constant technology. The old oil fields are decaying at the predicted rates and the population bomb is still an issue requiring new technology and shifting human diets from land animals that have to stand up and keep warm to seafood that is more efficient in converting feed-stuffs to meat to feed the 3 billion more people on the way.

The real sciences types do understand their implicit assumptions, but these junk science activists don't. The social sciences and humanities haven't even got past the p-hacking issues caused by using 2 sigmas for statistical significance in N variable problems where you don't even know all the relevant variable let along have a consistent theory relating the variables. The God particle, (Higgs boson) was 5 sigma to account for the existence of several possible hypotheses.

Hermione from HR, who majored in Intersectarian Grievance Studies, would like to have a word with you, Mr Lunatic.

These people may be more stupid than, say, mathematicians, but they've been smart enough to figure out how to invade institutions and drive out their opponents. Nerds like James Damore might be a bit smarter than the people running all those Diversity Training programs, but the Damores seem to get whipped every time.

Nerds lose every time because they don't understand humans. Stereotypes exist for a reason. Damore has the warmth and charisma of a plank of plywood. Nerds like him probably have to pay for sex too. Winners at code don't make winners in life. As an elite MBA I exploit these guys for profit because I know people, how they work, and how they don't.

Indeed. My discipline may be sociology, but my career is more akin to political science.

Agreed, the MBA's can win and often screw their nerd partners in business. But a winning life is not just about proving how high status you are by screwing someone else, it is also about family, friends, associates and making a positive contribution to humanity.

The high charisma con men have been screwing the nerds for centuries, but it is still the nerds that have made modern life possible and they seem to be reproducing just fine. At the end of the day, exploiting other people is a loser's game, whereas creating something new and useful in the world is a winning game. My ideas, concepts, and inventions will live on enriching humanity forever.

You are the reason I developed my business in such a highly technical area that you couldn't compete and when people like you tried (several did) they ended up making technical errors that destroyed their businesses. People like you without understanding have no method of making decisions when you have two nerds with different opinions and analysis on your exploited staff present options. With zero or negative correlation between the quality of nerds thinking and his "charisma of a plank of plywood", you will make a stupid random decision or one based upon your gut.

Whether you like it or not, you can't optimally manage what you don't understand.

"Stupid" is not even implied by my characterization; even the brilliant can desire ease.

"The primary purpose of the "identity studies" is to serve as parasites on academia for the purpose of giving professors cushy jobs, students easy degrees, and administrators reasons to expand their bloated empires"?

Well, no. The primary purpose is the promotion of particular political viewpoints: it's a will-to-power. That it can also be profitable is a valuable side-effect, but not the primary reason why these fields and academic departments exist.

The lack of academic rigor is a predictable result that flows from the need to subordinate scholarship to political ends. The scholarship exists primarily to promote these political ends, and thus even high quality scholarship which fails to do so is at best of no value and at worst to be suppressed as heresy.

Haven't we seen this prostration of scholarship to politics before, Comrade Lysenko?

No, "will to power" doesn't work. There's some political use made of the product of the academic departments, but the academic "identity studies" departments themselves are not a good road to power or influence for the participants.

Nor are they, like Lysenkoist biology, legitimate and rigorous fields which have been subjected to quackery by an external power that doesn't like the field's conclusions.

No, "identity studies" have a particular politics because that politics is instrumental to securing their existence. The end is not the politics, but the existence of the departments.

I don't think it is easy to become a professor in any field. It is much harder to do this than it was in the 80s. So the basic story that a field is full of low quality articles allowing any scrub to stroll to a full professorship seems dubious. It is possible, but more likely the difficulty level is ramped up to distinguish between the many available candidates.

Not just absurd, hilariously absurd.

" And one paper — about canine rape culture in dog parks in Portland, Ore. — "gained special recognition for excellence from its journal, Gender, Place, and Culture … as one of 12 leading pieces in feminist geography as a part of the journal’s 25th anniversary celebration."

Well, faking your data is not actually hilarious, as happened in the paper you highlighted. Unfortunately, as the paper has been retracted, you cannot read it any longer -

So what was the harm from the faked data, then? Everyone was informed after the fact.

"While I closely and respectfully examined the genitals of slightly fewer than ten thousand dogs, being careful not to cause alarm and moving away if any dog appeared uncomfortable, there is some relevant margin of error concerning my observations about their gender in some instances."

Faking your data when it is obviously fake is only mildly hilarious. Peer reviewers failing to spot it however is completely hilarious.

Do you actually believe real data would make the paper deserving of serious consideration? If not, why is it relevant the data was faked?

I have not read the paper itself, but one of the articles Tyler links points out that people are not dogs which is the primary logical issue. I doubt any amount of data would change my belief in the paper’s fundamental flaw.

Here is some information from one of the sociology rejecters - 'I was Reviewer 1 for the Masturbation = Rape hoax paper that tried to get published in Sociological Theory. As a grad student, it was my first time being asked to review a paper for a journal. I'm glad I recommended a reject, and the paper was rejected. I remember thinking at the time that it was probably a master’s thesis that a student immediately turned around to try to get published. Lots of long block quotes with no explanation. Long sections with no organization. I mentioned this all in the review. So I structured my review off of a constructive rejection I received from ASQ where the reviewer clearly read the paper, pointed out problems, and offered suggestions for how to proceed. It was the type of rejection where I immediately wanted to work on the paper again. I don't like reviews that reject the premise of the paper outright. I've received reviews like that since my papers are on the porn industry. So I tried to buy into the paper and offer paths forward. These are the comments that the hoax authors quoted in their write up. Anyways, I guess I could be more critical in the future, but I assumed a grad student had written a confusing paper and I tried to be constructive. I'm embarrassed that I took it as seriously as I did, I'm annoyed I wasted time writing a review, and I'm glad I rejected it.
I just asked my wife if she remembered me talking about a paper I reviewed awhile ago, and she replied "The one that you said was stupid and didn't make any sense?" so now I feel better.' (This was quoted in metafilter, but I assume this twitter link is relevant.)

He should not feel better. It was intentional complete nonsense and should have been rejected in the strongest terms. Anything less than that is a disgrace.

Why not? He thought it 'was stupid and didn't make any sense,' but instead of rejecting it in the strongest of terms, he felt 'it was probably a master’s thesis that a student immediately turned around to try to get published.'

And as a responsible person interested in helping someone become a better scholar, as he was also helped out, he did the following - 'I mentioned this all in the review. So I structured my review off of a constructive rejection I received from ASQ where the reviewer clearly read the paper, pointed out problems, and offered suggestions for how to proceed.'

The only real disgrace here is that of the three brave little trolls out looking for goats.

Just imagine the same argument for a nonsensical paper in computer science for example. Nonsense will be recognized and nonsense and dismissed. He thought there was something to salvage in a hoax. If a physicist were to review a paper on flat earth and had "suggestions on how to proceed", the review would not be something to be embarrassed of later if the submission were to be revealed as a hoax.

We just might be disagreeing about 'nonsense.' The reviewer rejected the paper, because it was stupid and did not make any sense. Nonetheless, he felt that it was better to help the author do better work in the future than simply tell him he was nothing but a troll. In large part because the reviewer made the now obvious mistake of expecting good faith on the part of the submitter, and responding with good faith in turn.

Work being done in those sciences "in good faith" is at the same level of bullshit as the hoax, that's why the reviewers have trouble telling them apart.

Are we intentionally turning this into a referendum on the one guy who thought that it might be a hoax but "wanted to be helpful"? There are lots of examples of papers that were submitted and accepted with glowing recommendations.

Seems like an apt place to interject Haidt's observation that when we see a thesis we like, we ask "May I believe it?" whereas when we see a thesis we don't like we ask "Must I believe it?"

Humans do this all the time. Even PhDs. And it's antithetical to the entire spirit of science. Thank God in Econ and PoliSci there are barely enough people not in thrall to left-wing orthodoxy to keep these disciplines somewhat tethered to reality.

It's very obvious what is happening here. This is rot in your house, Tyler. Step up to the plate. Yes, there is wheat among the chaff in Sociology and the Humanities, but oh, so much chaff.


As a reviewer in the real sciences, nonsense is nonsense and I just say so.

You should admit to yourself that you have been conned and have a laugh. If you can't laugh at yourself when you make a mistake and learn from that error, you can't progress.

The reaction from the social sciences to this hoax shows why their results have not changed humanity for the better (mainly the worse like Marxism, the great leap forward, new socialist man, central plans, etc.), while the real sciences have changed the world. They don't seem to be able to learn or admit their ignorance and nonsense.

I like your defense of this grad student, but I think the more interesting observation is that he saw it as something that someone (albeit what he thought was a master's student) in the discipline might write.

Seems to me that it could simply indicate that he has zero regard for people who aren't PhD track - i.e. that a "Master's Thesis" should be expected to be garbage, because they usually are.

I've reviewed a lot of papers in my career. Some were obvious crap, but some were disorganized messes in which it was unclear to me whether there was anything worthwhile hiding in there. For those papers, I do just what the student reviewer did--I try to find helpful suggestions along with rejecting the paper. That doesn't seem embarrassing. Accepting a crap paper is embarrassing, but finding some kind words for the authors of a crap paper while rejecting it is just trying to be helpful.

I'm curious Tyler, what's the value of a field being bad or partially bad in new and different ways from math or physics, if those ways of being bad are indistinguishable from deliberate fraud? I think you must be assuming these three white-hat fraudsters are the first and only academics to arbitrage this particular badness.

Humanities used to have comparably smart and rigorous majors when they were expected to learn Latin and Ancient Greek as a matter of course.

His education had been neither scientific nor classical—merely “Modern.” The severities both of abstraction and of high human tradition had passed him by [...] He was [...] a glib examinee in subjects that require no exact knowledge (he had always done well on Essays and General Papers) [...]

Re sociology, I wouldn't be too sanguine. Remember Diederik Stapel? The WSJ story makes clear that the brave troll threesome were forced to abort their experiment by premature discovery. They were still learning by doing (ha!) what sort of nonsense would get accepted at which journal. They went through a couple of iterations with the "papers" they did get accepted for resubmission or publication.

Liars honing their skills at lying - sounds like a real accomplishment in taking small steps to a much better world.

Sounds like you need to brush up on your definitions, man.

Well, sure - faking data might actually be distinct from lying.

And the retraction noted above concerning the fraudulent - which may also be a term that is distinct from lying - paper says this - '“You warrant that: i. All persons who have a reasonable claim to authorship are named in the article as co-authors including yourself, and you have not fabricated or misappropriated anyone’s identity, including your own.”

Following an investigation into this paper, triggered by the Publisher and Editor shortly after publication, we have undertaken a number of checks to confirm the author’s identity. These checks have shown this to be a hoax paper, submitted under false pretences, and as such we are retracting it from the scholarly record.'

They do not use the word 'lying' - instead, such words as hoax, false pretences, fabricated, and misappropriated are clearly used in a manner which one hopes meet your standards for proper definitions when talking about that brave troll threesome.

Phooey. I wasn't talking about their admitted misrepresentations of authorship when submitting the fake papers. It's not what's important here, and you know it.

Well, if you prefer three brave trolls engaging in bad faith efforts and wasting everyone's time while amusing themselves as the important point to note, instead of them being called liars, fine by me.

But faking data in a paper is never defensible, which is what many people consider important when talking about those engaging in this sort of fraudulent behavior. It seems that you are the one who does not know that, to be honest.

Getting ideologues to uncritically buy into faked data and asinine premises was THE very point of the papers. You seem to have a mental block on this concept.

'Getting ideologues to uncritically buy into faked data'

Well, actually, anyone can uncritically buy into faked data -

'THE very point of the papers'

Wait, you mean that the three brave trolls were intentionally lying in an attempt to deceive? Somehow sounds less heroic that way, doesn't it?

'mental block on this concept'

See below about the Sokal paper - that was quite worth the amusement it generated, in large part because it did not actually violate one of the bedrock principles involving academic publication, which is presenting accurate empirical data for others to evaluate.

To test a system's robustness you come up with random or faulty data, feed it into the system, and see what happens. The faulty data was part of the experiment. It is the reactions to the faulty data that is the data in this instance.

You call them trolls. I call them researchers. Your reaction, if it was typical of the field, would be equally instructive.

How do you know that any papers published in these journals are not exactly what these people did, a bunch of made up flights of fancy?

Wasting time is wasting resources; a cost. Presumably the opportunity cost of reviewing the articles would have been producing articles of the same quality; no cost in the end for the society at least.

As a scientist (real science, not social sciences) in a business organization, I had people in the field collecting data. I had one absolute fireable offense that was dry-labing and providing invalid data. I used to do statistical analysis on the data and some of the digits that were recorded should have been random (noise in the data). It is very hard for humans to make true random numbers without a random number generator.

I have also used that method in reviews.

Diederik Stapel was a social psychologist not a sociologist. We've already had the denouement of social psychology through the replication crisis.

I (unfairly) judge sociology by the quality of the articles in Wikipedia, which are the most bloated, content-free pieces I have encountered. The fact/punditry ratio is incredibly low.

Tyler is right that many (maybe most) hard science papers are equally useless, even if the research seems on the surface more respectable than most of the non-hard science papers. I don't think the answer though is just to shrug your shoulders and say it is all the same - I think the research/publish culture of academia in the West is a huge waste of intellectual resources. Just think of what all these very smart people could do in the private sector instead. It is like the Talmudic students - clever people wasting their time, taking resources from productive people. It is a terrible sad waste.

Imagine all the trinkets MIT particle physicists and Talmudic students could give us. Then we can produce then in China.

The critical responses of entrenched academics along the lines of (i) "Well bad research gets published in every field" and (ii) "Yeh but we already knew this stuff was bad" are worryingly disingenuous and alarming.

It's like, everyone's become so comfortable in accepting large parts of academia are without value, that they can't even recognise just how fricking absurd this crap is.

And moreso, they seem to think arguing that many fields are BS so there's actually no problem is a comforting idea that discredits the hoax.

Oh well. As long as them and their pals keep their comfortable tenure positions, move along folks, nothing to see here.
on them!"

Much of higher ed is a flat-out scam responsible for $1.5 trillion in debt. The distortions are absolutely incredible. In fairness, I wouldn't want to be the academic economist who has to tell her colleagues at least half of them are worthless. Paul Campos was a pretty unpopular guy with his Inside the Law School Scam blog until the problem he exposed got too big to be hidden.

What if GM had an entire line of cars that everyone knew didn't actually run, nobody bought, but they kept making them, anyway, because the UAW had captured the organization and was forcing it to do so. Everyone would criticize this, likely including Tyler.

+1 pretty good analogy.

See British Leyland

I think GM would start claiming that a "free" car is a right, and the UAW would get behind the idea in a big way, financed by wages from GM workers already heavily subsidized by the government.

The response to the study serves as a useful Rorschach test for what your priorities are. If your priorities are ensuring that standards of academic rigor are upheld, you will find Sokal Squared a valuable contribution that exposes low standards and academic corruption. If your priorities are finding ways to be appalled by things, you will find a way to be appalled by the deception.

Somehow, your Rorschach test seems to elide the point about faking data.

This is separate from 'deception,' as faked data remains a serious concern regardless if one is more interested in academic rigor or being appalled by deception.

React as one will about the Sokal paper (which would mainly be good natured chuckling at a well done hoax for most people), it did not make up any data in an attempt to get published.

Regarding overspecialization in the mathematical sciences, could it because we have approached the frontier of what any single, gifted mind can synthesize? I've often wondered why so many early post-Enlightenment thinkers could work siloed, exchanging letters to publicize findings rather than to collaborate; in contrast to the gnarly citation graphs we see today exhibited in papers, and the propensity to make marginal progress on collaboratively developed areas of study. Moreover, students today are taught that they must collaborate in order to succeed, which is mostly sound, utilitarian advice. Has the human brain hit its limit? Will there ever be another generalist in theoretical physics?

What is an educated person? The humanities were once part of a broad liberal arts education, which the ancient Greeks considered to be the mark of an educated person. Most reputable colleges still require a broad base of courses, but nothing like the liberal arts curriculum of old. I suppose the Univ of Chicago's core curriculum comes close. How we arrived at specialization in undergraduate curriculums isn't a mystery. I mean, how many can come out of college an "educated person"? What comes out is a function of what goes in. Inequality isn't measured by wealth and income alone. My observation is that the contemporary polymath, someone like our host Tyler Cowen, is a self-educated polymath. He would be considered an educated person by the ancient Greeks. Who is considered an educated person today? Here's a scary thought: today, the boy wonders in Silicon Valley are considered educated persons. And their influence on our lives is beyond measure.

The preeminent journal of science just published an analysis that suggests it is the quantitative fields that are "easier"

I don't think Nature Communications is "the preeminent journal of science". It only started in 2010.

And don't forget that the Nature Publishing Group (and the once upon a time but no longer preeminent science journal Nature (AAAS's "Science" has eclipsed it by most measures)) has had MORE than its fair share of fake/fraudulent/error-filled papers published over the last 5-10 yrs.

The concern that most of us have is that those fields are causing enormous harm to society by spreading bad ideas that increase hate and bigotry and injustices.

Saying "but hard sciences publish trivial papers" (whataboutism) or "but not all fields can have high IQ" don't really address that concern.


If these people aren't smart enough to be net contributors to sociology, society would be better off if they were selling used cars.

The blanket subsidies thing is a dodge, too. Yes, there's some inevitable waste when you just hand an organization money with few strings attached, but that doesn't mean you can't criticize the waste when it's staring you in the effing face!

You think you can stop dumb people from publishing stupid things?

Look around this page, man.

The point of science broadly, and academia specifically, is to systematize knowledge creation and distribution in a way that eliminates both fraud and error. Nobody is arguing that Internet comments are scientific, yet that is the explicit claim of social *science* departments. If they can't detect outright fraud, the claim that they are nonetheless effective at preventing error and/or bias from permeating their literature seems indefensible.

So there's the replication crisis and the overreliance on college students in psychology studies, it seems easy to dismiss models that challenge one's views, there's the concern of data falsification, and now trolling. Academia is having a moment.

If "[b]y many outsiders sociology is a much-underrated field" is the case (has this notion emerged from within sociology or from without?), is it further the case that "by many insiders sociology is a much-overrated field" (a notion perhaps deserving of acceptance both within [closed] sociology circles and well outside of the sociology establishment)?

--or vice versa? (Is sociology's advertised relevance and purport today a necessary consequence of the global human population's having risen from three billion to eight billion over the past half century? Which post-secondary academic discipline therefore gets tasked with promoting, valorizing, and explicating "individualism"?)

So Tyler's theory is that we have stupid research agendas and stupid scholarly fields to serve the stupid students in college whose numbers have increased over the decades as higher education has expanded and opened up. That's basically what he's saying, but with polite language. Instead of hiding behind terms like "equilibrium," why not just state this view plainly?

I think because, if stated this way, it's much harder to defend. And not just because it's so politically incorrect or provocative. I'm not sure why some disciplines in the humanities have politicized their focus and content. But I don't think it's simply to make space for the feeble minded in college. If that were the case, then the writers of that content--professors--would have an interest in making their work more accessible to attract the lazy and the ungifted. But they aren't doing that. In fact, many humanities departments are shrinking because they can't attract new majors.

In my view, a better explanation for the extremism of today's critical studies is that a kind of group polarization has occurred over two or three generations of scholars. Early critical work of the 1970s was probably exciting and genuinely eye opening, pushing readers to look for things in texts that they hadn't considered before and asking questions no one had yet posed. When something like that happens in a scholarly field, that's thrilling. But it also encourages the next generation of scholars to push further than their predecessors in order to break new ground and make names for themselves. Repeat that process over and over for nearly 50 years, and you can find that an intellectual revolution has turned into an embarrassing parody of itself.

This effect is not limited to the humanities. Think of all the shoddy work that came out when social scientists tried to apply rational choice explanations to basically everything. Suddenly, every one and every institution, under every circumstance, had a single-minded desire to maximize utility. Sure.

Seems the better answer is that these "disciplines" should not exist rather than that they should exist so dumb people have something to do for four years.

To me it really underscores how much of academia is a self-perpetuating paper mill, with a cottage industry of journals leeching off of the need of academics to publish something - anything - to create a paper trail for themselves. There are numerous journals that make money by charging submission fees and will try to scam academics into submitting papers. They pretty much publish anything so it's not really shocking at all that they could get a lot of papers published. And if it happens in engineering it's probably 10 times worse in the humanities.

Anyone else know what I'm talking about, you can raise your hand. I regularly get emails "inviting" me to submit a paper for the "special upcoming issue" of the Journal of Such-and-Such (probably chinese), or begging me to come to a conference to give a talk. Every once in a while I even get emails from grad students (probably chinese) interested in working in my non-existent lab.

I think that is there were far fewer spots of humanities majors there might be fewer problems.
Along with that perhaps we need easy engineering and computer science majors (you get a lesser degree than the more rigorous existing majors) at the college level if we will continue to send 30% of 18 year olds to college.

Yeah, like maybe we could call the 4 yr [sic] degree a Bachelor of Arts or something. And a 2 yr degree an "Associates degree". Gosh what a concept!

Maybe we should invent names for 1 years and 3 years so that everybody would complete something and fewer dropouts.

A 2 year degree in computer science is harder to complete than a 4 degree in humanities and that should not be.

Too much focus on years.

Competency certificates for the win.

+1 A separation between teaching and testing.

I am really over the fake research paper thing. Oh, I am sure there are fields and researchers out there doing completely screwy and probably worthless things on their own - but why add to it?

If these people have the ability to go make a positive contribution somewhere, they should go do that.

Those who can do, and those who can't fake some b*******?

They did make a positive contribution.

And this was research. It was to determine whether there was any sanity check at all in identity studies’ journals, and to see how far the limit could get pushed.

If you care about the credibility of the academy, exposing the absurdity of some of these fields is important.

All they did was get you excited about journals you would never heard of before.

I'm saying it would have been better if we could stay productive and not know about them at all.

Is the total abuse of the information economy, getting everybody focused on the unproductive rather than the productive.

Oops, I met the attention economy.

Now that I think about it, these journals you never read are doing *you* a service.

They allow you to feel outraged about something you would never would have experienced otherwise.

This is like the "someone is wrong on the internet" joke, except even worse.

Someone is wrong in a journal I will never read!

ever heard of sociology of science?

Do you think fake resumes are an effective way to test bias in hiring? If so, why is this different than fake papers to test bias in academic publishing?

Is a question of "incidence." If you do a bias test at some company I, or someone I care about, might wish to work at, I will listen.

What is the "incidence" on these journals?

Are you reading them or trusting them now? Does anyone you know read them or trust them now?

Seriously the only people who should care about the study are the people who previously were reading and trusting these journals, and yes it should give them pause.

I have zero knowledge of the journals [???] mentioned in the piece. If they are "the top" journals in their fields, then there are serious problems in those fields. But look at how long it has taken for various fraudsters to be caught in the "hard" sciences. Cornell comes to mind. What we have here people is a failure to communicate. Journal Editors lack the intellectual skill set (or perhaps just the motivation) to act as good preliminary filters, the experts in the field refuse to act as reviewers, and the readership swallows whatever is published as worthwhile. 3 separate problems, it seems to me.

Given the fact that there's huge publishing pressure in academia, how many journals exist simply for providing publishing outlets? I'd be curious to see how often the journals that fell for the hoax papers are cited versus the ones that rejected them.

And how many of them exist purely to make money off of desperate academics? I get scam emails from obscure (fake?) journals like they were Nigerians with a bank account.

I'm noticing this time around the 'joke' is wearing kind of thin. I suspect there's two dynamics at play here:

1. There's a lot of pressure to publish in academia. Perhaps a little open secret is all fields have journals that aren't really meant to be read but instead provide a place for the average and below average academic to lay claim to at least a few published pieces. The 'joke' here isn't all that funny anymore. It's like an advocate of serious literature announcing he has 'discovered' self-publishing vanity presses will accept really crappy novels.

2. Does anyone recall the Seinfield episode where Kramer shows up at an office, hangs around and ends up an 'employee' until he gets laid managers who are a bit perplexed since he isn't even on the payroll. Many of us suspect lots of places have little niches where you can just show up, know little or nothing about what's going on, but put in enough of a performance to be accepted as part of the system....whether this is a big law firm or a particle accelerator or nuclear reactor.

Yascha Mounk, linked in Tyler's post, already addressed this; these were, in fact, high-prestige journals in their fields. If the top journals in these fields are properly compared to vanity presses, then your argument is that the entire field of study is on the level of a vanity press. Given that is what the hoaxers sought to prove, you are agreeing with the hoaxers that they have proved entire fields of study are worthless.

His evidence is that it appears serious people also published in the journals that were hoaxed. But that doesn't tell me the journals are serious.

Here's my thinking as someone who is not a professor but finds it hard to read everything I'd like to read in a day. How many journals are there in a field? How many professors? Is it sensible to imagine these professors reading, say, 30% of what these journals publish each month to keep up to date in their field? I suspect there isn't enough time even in a tenured professor's day to even scratch the material being published.

I suspect even for teachers at prestigious schools (perhaps esp. for ones at prestigious schools) the pressure to be published and cited is so large that these journals exist mainly to provide an outlet for professors to score published articles and pass citations around.

So what I would ask is does anyone read these to begin with? How often are they cited (although that's an imperfect number since if publishing is the dollar for academics citations are the coins)?

Are these journals read as journals or are only selected 'important' authors read whenever they have something published?

Of course the joke is wearing thin for you. The public is realizing that academia is a sham and you and your academic buddies are starting to feel a little threatened.

Unlikely. Most things are a sham on some level or another. Feel free to stop reading academic journals and watch reality tv shows instead if it makes you feel more grounded in the real.

I wonder if this is more a symptom of over-reliance on jargon and complexity in these fields rather than a lack of ability?

It seems like a lot of these fields have succumbed to the idea that precision can only come through complex writing, and they lean heavily on shared jargon to convey meaning. But complex writing allows for intentional obfuscation: Misleading readers by encouraging them to think they understand what is written because they can substitute their understanding of the jargon for understanding of the entire work.

So I think being susceptible to hoax papers like this is largely a result of the current structure of these disciplines, but not an indictment of the intelligence or capabilities of the individuals within them.

Many of you will be inclined to call for fewer subsidies. I won’t tackle that larger question right now,

Of course not. Calling stark attention to academic humbug is not how you roll.

1. In truth, victimology programs have almost no constituency among students and you'd inconvenience almost no one by eliminating them. Fewer than 2,000 BA degrees are awarded in women's studies in a typical year, and that's the victimology major with the largest census. (There are 1.8 million BA degrees awarded in a typical year). Even if it were a real discipline, it would belong only at a flagship schools, if there. The victimology programs are not, of course. They are patronage programs for privileged political interests.

2. A number of academic disciplines are now apologetical enterprises, inasmuch as questions cannot be entertained and researchers working within them are subject to harassment and dismissal if they do entertain them. The obvious examples are sociology, anthropology, social psychology, and American history.

3. Certain occupational schools provide only pseudo-professional training which serves to beef up practitioner's sense of self, restrict entry, and promote certain social ideologies. The teachers' colleges, schools of social work, and the library schools are obvious examples. You'd think people who fuss over the licensure of barbers and undertakers would call attention to this, but noooooo. In an agreeable world, teacher training would be completely reconstituted, social work dismantled as an independent profession, and the staff of libraries, archives, and museums trained in brief and specialized certificate programs (or trained on the job).

4. Credential inflation is looking absurd. In 1900, the title 'doctor' was held by physicians, surgeons and dentists. For more than a century, chiropractors have been trying to claim it. Since the 1920s, state governments have allowed optometrists (an occupational segments which doesn't exist in many countries) to do so. In the 1950s, the honor was conferred on podiatrists. (While the JD was replacing the LLB degree). In the last generation, it has been taken by physical therapists and pharmacists. Now we have doctorates in 'nursing practice', as if nursing were a separate body of knowledge. Time to start squeezing some pus out.

5. Serious core curricula are found only at a few schools, but distribution requirements are omnipresent. What Allan Bloom suggested should be implemented: no more distribution requirements. Cut the course of study from four years to two years.

6. Higher education now hoovers up > 40% of each age cohort. Raise standards so the baseline to enter state schools sits at the 67th percentile of the nation's population of 17 year old youth, close campuses, and cut headcount at surviving campuses. As for the private schools, no more subsidies.


For better or worse, the use of "Doctor" as meaning PhD predates the use of the term for physicians, even though we all now refer to physicians as the "real doctors."

Identity studies were introduced at the University of Oklahoma because the football players kept flunking basket-weaving. True story.

From chronicle article:
"The trolling trio wondered, they write, if a journal might even "publish a feminist rewrite of a chapter from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf." Yup. "Our Struggle Is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism" was accepted by the feminist social-work journal Affilia."

Some more details: My understanding is that sections from "Mein Kampf" had "jews" replaced by "white cis males". If so, that is one of the more hilarious ones among the 7 published papers!

Tyler says: Instead ask “what are those fields for?”


These are patronage jobs for leftists. The academic value is zero, as a best case. If you look at scholarship over the 20th century you see a larger and larger share going to "social" studies of dubious value as well as the perversion and corruption of once useful fields like anthropology. A lot of time we talk about STEM vs. "Humanities," but that isn't what's really what's going, and frankly it's unfair to the non-bullshit humanities (like classical studies). A lot of the programs now are really neither STEM nor humanities. Communications, Business, Psychology, Sociology, etc.

Even beyond the direct waste of resources, these people do active harm by propagating myths and pseudointellectual nonsense among the educated even as they displace and stifle potentially useful scholarship.

This garbage should be immediately defunded.

I prefer Caplan's frankness to Tyler's oily nuance on this subject:

I would note, as a long time journal editor who has had to deal with these matters directly, it is not always all that easy to spot faked data, and indeed all the top hard science journals have published papers that used faked data.

I also agree with Tyler that at least economists tend to overly downgrade sociology, although it may also be the case that the sociologists themselves overstate their own wonderfulness, although don't most people do that about their disciplines?

Students are customers. If you want a lot of customers (which all schools do, or at least a large pool of candidates to select from) then you have to offer them something that they want and challenges that do not exceed their capacities. Therefore, queer studies, etc. (Not that there's anything wrong with queer studies as such). This being the case, you need faculty to show up for class. This being so, you need to have a way to evaluate the faculty. Therefore lots of limp journals and lots of articles that are barely distinguishable from random words or deliberate parodies.

Alfred North Whitehead complained that British education was going to the dogs because universities were teaching such superficialities as "modern literature". They should stuck to the Aristotlean traditions, he believed.

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