Yet another hit piece by Freedom Fighters against “ideologically-motivated scholarship, radical skepticism and cultural constructivism.” Yascha Mounk called it Sokal Squared. On closer inspection, there’s no Sokal there. Inspired by Michael Lukas I contend it’s more of a Veritas scam.
The Sokal epithet refers to perhaps the most famous scholarly sting ever, where Alan Sokal, a physics professor, succeeded in publishing a paper under his real name in Social Text. (The POMO journal survived the Science Wars and is still active.) Alan parodied Parisian talking heads with what he meant to be fashionable nonsense—an incorrect expression as literary nonsense isn’t exactly gibberish. Almost nothing in that hoax description applies to our Veritas-like scam.
The target remains elusive. Gender studies and their relatives defy departmentalization. Academic norms and methodologies vary within STEM, humanities and social sciences, also from one group of researchers to the next. Most disagree with the basic assumptions of one another. To anticipate a recurring discussion, constructivist epistemology is independent from critical theory. Many Freedom Fighters still fail to realize that Marxians are materialists. Analytic philosophy showcases anti-realist theories of science, of metaphysics, of truth, and of morality. From an historical point of view, to consider that concepts like rock are human constructs more than epiphanies looks natural to me.
[If the concept of rock shocks your realism, consider baseball: it is absolutely impossible that baseball is a gift from Gods. The case for hockey appears to be an open problem. That humans could produce such perfection all by themselves stretches Canadian incredulity. And then there’s ClimateBall.]
Contrast the power imbalance between the targets of ze Sokal and the Veritas-like scam. Alan mocked Rive Gauche snobs. Our dynamic trio punches down marginal researchers. Matt Blackwell notes that the “highest-cited paper over the last 5 years in [the Journal of Poetry Therapy] has 36 cites and most of its editorial board don’t have university affiliations.” Steve Sterley calculates that, with its impact factor of 0.24, an article from this journal receives on average one citation every 4 years. Their most reputable target, Hypatia, has an impact factor of 0.712. Meanwhile, our scam makes the first page of the New York Times, an influential clique of bien-pensants piled on (e.g. StevenP or NiallF), and the rightwing echo chambers reverberate.
As Liam Bright observes, the most immediate result of the Veritas-like scam is to feed the Freedom Fighters’ own grievance industry. JordanP shrieks “fraud!” ClaireM prophesizes public backlash and defunding unless indefinite demands are being met. According to JamesL, my favorite amongst our dynamic trio, HR departments are being held hostage by the hegemony of irrational POMOs. On the basis of his scam, he virtually guarantees the unsoundness of any kind of analysis based on critical race theory, which he calls a cancer. He kicked the weird hashtag #TheyDontSpeakForMe, as if anybody else could speak for a researcher. Nearer to ClimateBall, our own MichaelL extrapolates the scam results to social science in general while forgetting that sociology journals batted for 100% against our Veritas-like scam team.
No wonder Steven Klein has problems following “when online mobs are the new totalitarianism and when they are just a backlash that should be appeased.”
Although I’d rather embrace crappiness, to keep ourselves in check should be a Good Thing. Academic stings could help improve quality assurance. Doing so incompetently and with an axe to grind can backfire. No ethics protocol has been followed, an oversight that could cost one’s tenured job. David Schrieber, a graduate student who reviewed one hoax paper for Sociological Theory, recommended a rejection. Thinking it was a student he still provided constructive criticisms. The paper got rejected, and as Kieran Healy remarks, his futile efforts were misrepresented in the authors’ report. Brian Earp disputes that the authors have succeeded in doing what they purported to do. One could wonder, like Carl Bergstrom, where’s the reflexiveness in what the authors call a “reflexive ethnography,” which at times is indistinguishable from good ol’ concern trolling.
The inability to grasp climate science does not argue against it. From failure to understand nothing follows. What if a sociologist with no physics training got a paper on gravitational waves published? I bet you’d revise your assumptions about expertise and your expectations about journals. Oh, wait. I once cited Collins to PeterB. Instead of acknowledging that it’s possible to sting hard sciences, he deleted his challenge.
Poe’s Law states that it is impossible to create a parody of extreme views so obviously exaggerated that it cannot be mistaken by some readers for a sincere expression of the parodied views. I suspect it applies to Freedom Fighters’ speech patterns and many fighting words: leftism, liberalism, Enlightenment, groupthink, identity politics, political correctness, cultural marxism, tribalism, activism, etc. Shouldn’t be too hard to poe them. Elizabeth Picciuto already suggests the idea of classical liberal arts colleges.
Let’s do like Michael Keenan did and audit the scam first, below.