Peter Boghossian is one of a trio of liberal college professors who pulled off an awesome hoax last year: they placed a number of fake research papers in peer-reviewed academic journals. The papers were designed to demonstrate that you could write any idiotic thing in so-called “grievance studies” fields, and get it published as long as you took the politically correct view, and used the correct jargon.
You didn’t think left-wing academia was going to let them get away with this, did you? Now Boghossian’s university in Oregon, Portland State, is preparing to punish him. Jesse Singal at New York magazine writes about what’s going down. Excerpts:
Boghossian, in his university’s view, failed to get Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for his research and fabricated data when he and his team claimed, for their dog park article — I’ll, erm, defer to the language from their Areo write-up — “to have tactfully inspected the genitals of slightly fewer than 10,000 dogs whilst interrogating owners as to their sexuality.” (Boghossian has publicly posted the documents he got from PSU, which lay out the charges in detail, here.)
The thing is, Singal demonstrates that Boghossian probably did violate standard IRB protocols to pull off his hoax. In other words, he almost certainly broke clearly established rules in academia, rules that were not put in place for political reasons.
On the other hand, given the political nature of his stunt, and given how left-wing his university is (Boghossian, I repeat, is a liberal), it’s impossible to separate this attempt to punish him from the political statement that his hoax made about the emptiness of Grievance Studies. Do you really think Portland State would be going after this guy if he had carried out a rule-breaking hoax that embarrassed some right-wing cause or field?
It is generally accepted that when journalistic organizations break standard rules for the sake of exposing something harmful to the public interest that could not have been exposed through normal channels — i.e., like going undercover to do an investigation — that the ends justify the means. Ethically, that’s pretty shaky, but I bring it up simply to show that we make exceptions to the rules all the time in daily life. After all, whistleblowers almost always publicize confidential information that they were forbidden by company rules to publicize. Boghossian and his two academic colleagues functioned as academic whistleblowers in this case. The people upon whom the whistle was blown aren’t happy, and they’re out to excise their pound of flesh.
If you think Boghossian deserves to be punished for breaking the rules, you need to ask yourself if you think all whistleblowers everywhere should be punished for breaking the rules — and if not, why single Boghossian out? Is it because of the kind of people, and the kinds of causes, that he humiliated?
Here’s a January 9 letter of protest on his behalf that Boghossian published on Twitter. It’s by a man named Cam Boden, who dropped out of Portland State after being alienated by its “cult-like” political correctness, which both he and his partner say infiltrated every class other than engineering and math courses:
Because of how it’s formatted, I can’t take the text out of the image and make it more readable. I hope you can discern it, though. Boden says that Prof. Boghossian is one of the best professors at the college, in part because he sees his task as teaching students how to think, instead of what to think.
Boden says that there is a growing sense of rebellion against these garbage courses and this “cult-like” institutional mindset at universities. I hope he’s right. Watch what happens to Boghossian.