Three US researchers have pulled off a sophisticated hoax by publishing fake research with ridiculous conclusions in sociology journals to expose what they see as ideological bias and a lack of rigorous vetting at the publications.
Seven of the 20 fake articles written by the trio were accepted by journals after being approved by peer-review committees tasked with checking the authors’ research.
A faux study claiming that “Dog parks are Petri dishes for canine ‘rape culture’” by one “Helen Wilson” was published in May in the journal Gender, Place and Culture.
The article suggests that training men like dogs could reduce cases of sexual abuse.
Faux research articles are not new: One of the most notable examples is physicist Alan Sokal, who in a 1996 article for a cultural studies journal wrote about cultural and philosophical issues concerning aspects of physics and math.
This time the fake research aimed at mocking weak vetting of articles on hot-button social issues such as gender, race and sexuality.
The authors, writing under pseudonyms, said that they intended to show that academics in these fields are ready to embrace any thesis, no matter how outrageous, as long as it contributes to denouncing domination by white men.
“Making absurd and horrible ideas sufficiently politically fashionable can get them validated at the highest level of academic grievance studies,” said one of the authors, James Lindsay, in a video revealing the project.
Lindsay — his real name — obtained a doctorate in mathematics in 2010 from the University of Tennessee and has been fully dedicated to this project for a year and a half.
One of the published journal articles analyzes why a man masturbating while thinking of a woman without her consent commits a sexual assault.
Another is a feminist rewrite of a chapter of Mein Kampf.
Some articles — such as a study of the impact of the use of an anal dildo by heterosexual men on their transphobia — even claimed to rely on data such as interviews, which could have been verified by the journal gatekeepers.
For that “study,” the authors claimed to have interviewed 13 men.
In the dog article, the authors claimed to have examined the genitals of nearly 10,000 canines.
“If our project shows anything, it shows that what’s coming out of these disciplines cannot currently be trusted,” Lindsay told reporters.
The hoaxes garnered joking ridicule on Twitter, but researchers were more concerned with the methods and ethics of the fake authors, and the potential for generalizations about the fields targeted.
“We’ve learned that when you send in a convincing paper full of fake data, you can get it published, but we’ve known that for decades,” said Ivan Oransky, from the site Retraction Watch.
Alison Phipps, a professor of gender studies at the University of Sussex, wrote in Times Higher Education that it was clear the researchers were not engaging in “good-faith critique,” as they claimed, but rather “actually aim to undermine fields they have political — not scholarly — objections to.”
The other hoaxers’ real names are Peter Boghossian, a philosophy professor at the University of Portland, and Helen Pluckrose, a top editor at AreoMagazine.com, a Web site that has published a detailed account of the deception, details of which the Wall Street Journal reported.
The articles on the dogs was pulled when the publisher realized that author “Helen Wilson” did not exist.
Ann Garry, the interim editor of Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, told reporters that she was “deeply disappointed” to learn about the hoaxes her journal published.
“The idea that individuals would submit fraudulent academic material violates many ethical and academic norms,” Garry said.
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