Education Media Sex

Profs perpetrate hoax (just not the one you think)

Recently professors James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose and Peter Boghossian sent out 20 fake papers to various peer-reviewed journals. Six of them were published. This, say various news outlets, is a real black eye for gender scholarship and, perhaps, for academia in general. On closer examination, ThisWeekInStupid concludes that the real hoax was the one in which serious journalists were convinced that influential journals were publishing shoddy, but honest, scholarship.

TWIS did a thorough review of the paper, reviews and revisions of the research titled “An Ethnography of Breastaurant Masculinity: Themes of Objectification, Sexual Conquest, Male Control, and Masculine Toughness in a Sexually Objectifying Restaurant” published in Sex Roles on September 19, 2018. The paper was first submitted to and rejected by Men and Masculinities. This was the only paper TWIS examined. It’s reasonable to expect that some papers were more and some were less legitimate than this paper. TWIS did not explicitly select this paper to support a pre-determined conclusion.

All of the paper and reviews can be found here. Let me first say that it was brave and honest and sincere of the perpetrators of the hoax to publish the papers and reviews. Bravo. But they didn’t pull off what they think they did.

The Con

The original submission, to judge by the reviewer comments, was a few pages of jargon-y reflections on the fake author’s Thursday nights with the bros at the local Hooters. It was peppered with broad generalizations and hair-on-fire hyperbole of the kind that RWNJs attribute to SJWs. It also featured liberal (see what I did there?) use of the brand-new and super-clever label “breastaurant.” The fake authors were very proud of this invention and the various journalists were quite taken in by it as well. But here’s what actually did and didn’t happen.

What didn’t happen

Contrary to coverage by non-academic papers, the journals were not fooled by the original haphazard summary of conversations among 7 men at a Hooter’s restaurant after jiu jitzu class. Both journals, and all but one reviewer, heavily criticized the methods section. They complained that a single restaurant, a single coder and a participant-observer made the findings dubious. Their responses included dozens of questions about how the quotes used were selected, where and when observations and interviews occurred and how the observations were connected to the conclusions. They questioned the time frame, the underlying assumptions about the state of masculinity in the broad culture, the selection of quotes, the coding and the mind-reading of the participants.

Both journals were quick to put the kaibosh on the sweeping conclusions in the original paper. The final paper was reduced (appropriately) to a participant ethnography of a single site with appropriate caveats and qualifications. The authors of the fake paper would do well to explore the theories of ethnographic research as reviewers repeatedly reminded them. Their expectation that a single site ethnography would be enough to codify broad social conclusions indicates they have a lot to learn. The original theoretical framework, grounded theory, was rejected by both the reviewers and the journal.

The reviewers were not fooled by the dense jargon in the paper with one reviewer “encourag[ing] the author to consider word choice and ask himself when he might be inappropriately applying jargon that actually obscures the specific practices at play.” Another was even less convinced.

The use of “pastiche hegemony” and “ersatz sexual availability” is unnecessary and relieves the author of having to be more specific. They sound smart but really stand in for more tangible identification and explanations of practices. Drop these concepts, or refer to them and then move on in favor of a clearer analysis of exact observed practices.

Ouch! In the original response, the editor of Sex Roles summarized

The rigor of your research rests in sound methods, not in obscure language.

In other words, cut out the abstruse posturing. You just sound like morons.

Throughout, reviewers were skeptical of the conclusions drawn by the authors. Here are some samples from reviewers:

Whilst and interesting an engaging topic, it is unclear at the outset what novel insight or contribution this paper will be making. Much work will be required before it is of publishable standard.

The author(s) assert that “this study is mostly theoretical in its approach, but it is bolstered by comparison against my own empirical data” (p. 14, ll. 57-59). This is an unnecessary assertion. This paper may be defined as empirical by conventional standards.

There are a lot of assumptions in this paper, some of which the author uses to build a case for his work and analysis. Assumptions are a good indicator that data is thin, and this is certainly the case in this paper.

The reviewers saw the data as inadequate to draw the conclusions the authors were drawing. A single site participant-observer ethnography is just that and doesn’t give license to draw sweeping conclusions.

Finally, looking at the 20-paper hoax as a whole, the authors did not manage to achieve an impressive publication record for 3 researchers working in concert and skipping all the pesky data collection steps. The authors were quoted saying that 6 articles is enough to earn a professor tenure. That distant laughter your hear is all of the professors in the known universe. Six co-authored papers in the Journal of Poetry Therapy gets exactly no one tenured. And one article based on falsified data is enough to get you canned.

It’s important to note here the background of the fake authors. Peter Boghossian is a professor of philosophy. James Lindsey is a mathematician. These disciplines are unique in that conclusions usually are not, and need not be, backed by empirical data. As such, the authors likely don’t have much understanding of the importance of reliable data or much appreciation for the effort involved in gathering data. But biologists know. And physicists. And astronomers and chemists and geologists and political scientists and engineers and even advertising executives know that there’s a lot of trust in research. Inventing data doesn’t make you clever. It makes you a hack and a liar. A sociologist with whom I discussed this news said, “Big deal. They skipped the hard part. If I could fabricate all my data, I’d win the Nobel Prize!”

What did happen

The final response from Sex Roles indicates that this is the first ever ethnography published in their usually quantitative journal. She also mentioned that a submission by a historian is novel. One can imagine an editor, very excited to expand the (very old) journal into a new area, green-lit a project slightly outside her expertise. The editors and reviewers for Men & Masculinities, where a great deal more ethnography is published, were not fooled. Sex Roles assigned a junior editor more familiar with ethnography to bring the paper up to standard. The final paper is not good and one can feel the authors intentionally pushing the envelope trying to sneak in the maximum allowed number of outlandish claims. To our eyes, this is a case of a junior editor getting snowed by a senior professor and the enthusiasm of her superior.

The experiment actually reveals some very wonderful things about academia. In the first place, Richard Baldwin, an emeritus history professor from Gulf Coast State College, gets legitimate consideration from a sociology and psychology journal neither of which had ever published his work. Gender scholarship is not an isolated, exclusive club. The interdisciplinary interaction among historians, economists, psychologists, anthropologists and scholars of gender, race and class is a boon to scholarship.  But, contrary to the conclusions of Dr. William Eggington the willingness of Sex Roles to entertain scholarship using a variety of methods from a variety of fields is an important check on academic navel-gazing and not an indication of over-specialization.

In the second place, the journals were quite careful about participant consent and potential taint in the research due to personal relationships. The original paper didn’t mention whether participants were aware they were being studied or the relationship of the various participants to the researcher. At the insistence of reviewers, the paper was revised to (dishonestly) indicate that participants, including wait staff, gave consent, that interviews were recorded, etc.

Finally, the ignorance of the authors of concepts and practices in gender studies was ruthlessly laid bare by reviewers. Throughout the reviews, the authors were taken to task for imprecise use or misuse of terms–“coding,” “discourse,” “theme,” “scripts,” “neoliberal-patriarcho-capitalist” (for heaven’s sake), etc.

There is one quite laughable assertion by the fake authors in response to their intellectual paddling at the hands of Men & Masculinities.

Nota bene: The second reviewer is particularly harsh, it is reasonable to conclude that the paper was rejected on the review of the second reviewer. Upon our reading of this review, it seems that the second reviewer wanted us to write a completely different paper, focused more on themes of feminism than on those of masculinity, even though having done so would likely have taken the paper outside of the scope of the journal Men & Masculinities for which it was being reviewed.

This is a bizarre reading of the reviewer’s comments which were actually a criticism of the paper’s methods and the objectivity of the (imaginary) researcher. The review included this passage:

The author really ignores the women as research participants. There needs to be a better, empirical and theoretical explanation for why the author focuses solely on men when the women are clearly key to the interactional processes by which (a particular kind of masculinity – be clear) is supported through women’s work. Ignoring women as participants risks further objectifying them.

Preach! (Did you notice how he authors got a bonus lesson? There is more than one kind of masculinity! There might even be enough to say about masculinity to fill a whole journal!) The reviewer also made this comment which argues that the paper found the women in the space occupying the only role that the research design allowed them to:

Ironically, the author brings women into his analysis only in terms of how they act as “identity resources” for men—that is, he seems to argue one of his main findings is that women are identity resources, but also reduces them to such by not conducting an analysis of women’s agency. Toward the end of the paper, he even suggests that the “power always flows from customer to server”—i.e., men have and exert power over women. This analysis is reductionist.

The ignorance of the hucksters is fully on display here. Naturally, thought the rubes, a journal called “Men & Masculinities” is a place where the behaviors and assumptions of men can be safely analyzed without the pesky intrusion of the sentient feminine. Isn’t there any space left where men can conduct research about manly men in men’s spaces without some feminist interjecting to insist that the women in the story are people!?

Let’s also take a minute to appreciate that the pandering authors were trying to toe the party line with their comment that men always have the power. Meanwhile, the journal, ostensibly packed to the gills with single-minded feminists and “grievance scholars,” stops them short, pointing out that, even in the relatively uncomplicated space of Hooters, the power dynamics are more complicated.

The fake authors submitted shoddy research. On being found out, they doubled down on deception, adding fake details to their methods to address reviewers’ accurate criticisms. In the end, they effectively falsified data, something which would be no more easily detected in physics or engineering and, which, in fact, happens all the time. What’s more, as they began by trying to broadly extrapolate from woefully inadequate data they were thwarted and called to task. That was the prank, you see. “I can get these idiots to publish my ramblings on hanging out at Hooters with my bros. Tee-hee.” But after review, the corrected manuscript was pared down to present the findings as honestly and circumspectly as the deception of the authors allowed. Your participant-observations of your bros are legitimate if you follow established research protocols and forthrightly declare your methods. This is how participant ethnography happens.

TWIS did not take time to review all 20 articles, or even the 7 which were published. We refuse to buy into the Gish Gallop that assumes, without examination, that all represent poor scholarship or to be buried by the proof by verbosity. But, if we assume all of the papers followed a path similar to that of the “Hooters” paper, academia passes the test put to it.

Class Economics Education Elections Health Care Taxation

More questions for 11-year-old Peggy Noonan

Peggy Noonan took pen in hand on the pages of the Wall Street Journal to tell us we should think like 11-year-olds in combating Ebola and impose a travel ban. Peggy doesn’t trust people with degrees in public health or medicine. People with degree in law and business should know how to combat infectious diseases.

That got me thinking about what other policy decisions we could leave up to children. If you have an 11-year-old, please give them this brief survey and mail it to Ms. Noonan.

1. What should we do with foreigners brought here as children?
a. criminalize and shun them (but tax them)
b. hug them

2. Which of these parties do you think will best represent Americans?















3. Do you think giving housing, food, and medical care to poor families:
a. Makes them get less done; or
b. Helps them get more done

4. What should we do with children whose parents don’t provide health insurance?
a. Give them health insurance
b. Not give them health insurance

5. To reduce gun violence does America need
a. More guns
b. Fewer guns

5. Our country has a lot of debt. What shall we do to pay it off?
a. Tax the wealthiest people
b. Take it from old people’s retirement

6. Which is worse?
a. Secretly selling weapons to a militant dictatorship (Iran); or
b. Asking for too much paperwork from charities with “Tea Party” in their name

7. Which do you think is the best use of our money?
a. Bombs
b. Schools

Today’s GOP manages to capture all of the ignorance of children without any of their compassion.

Economics Education Taxation Unemployment

5 Ways To Help the Poor That Beat Raising the Minimum Wage

There’s a lot of minimum wage denial out there. Some of it is well-informed. But if I could have one political wish, it would be that my Democratic friends would stop pretending like Economics 101 is a vast right-wing conspiracy. It should be taken for granted that the primary effect of raising the minimum wage is less employment for people at the bottom of the wage scale. Yes, I’ve seen the Krueger and Card study where the effects on employment cluster around zero, but I think this is evidence of my point. You see, a minimum wage puts money in the pockets of the people most likely to spend it tomorrow–the poor. So if that secondary effect helps the economy increasing employment, there must be some other factor pulling the effect back toward zero, right? The CBO’s assessment of a $10.10 minimum wage was that it would cost 500,000 jobs, but lift 900,000 people out of poverty.

There’s another reason to be suspicious of the federal minimum wage. It’s a cruelly blunt instrument. A $15 minimum wage might do nothing at all to employment in Seattle, but might cost many more jobs in rural Mississippi, where prevailing wages are substantially lower. Proponents of the minimum wage are always very excited to tax Walmart and McDonald’s–massively profitable multi-nationals. But most of the minimum wage increase is likely to be paid by businesses with 10 or fewer employees, many of which have razor-thin margins. The result there will be higher consumers prices and serious lay-offs and previously profitable businesses closing. Further, earners of the minimum wage are not all working parents. At least some minimum wage workers are middle-class teenagers, who, frankly, are getting their share of breaks as is. Almost half of minimum wage earners are between 16 and 24. I spent a lot of years working for minimum wage to earn date money, then going home to dinner and two loving, college-educated parents. That was a terrific experience, but is my upper-middle class teenage self really the most worthy recipient of wage assistance? Could we find ways to direct more of the benefits of wage assistance to the truly needy?

Now, imagine we could find other ways to help the poor make ends meet without simultaneously encouraging unemployment. Imagine these same programs could target the wealthiest people and corporations to pay for them and the poorest to receive the benefits. Terrific, right? Here are five:

Boost the Earned Income Tax Credit. While I don’t always agree with him, Milton Friedman is a man I greatly admire. Besides being a brilliant economist, he was, I think, the original compassionate conservative. His ideas on the benefits of a “negative income tax” are still extremely relevant. We owe the existence of a robust EITC partly to Friedman and he would be ashamed to see Republican efforts to dismantle this program and it’s sister, the Child Tax Credit. Both are methods of rewarding work while redistributing wealth with minimal distortion to markets. Unlike programs which can create a “poverty trap,” wherein at some income levels, you actually take home less money by working more, the EITC and CTC always reward earning income.

Invest in Poor Schools. This is a long term play to be sure, but it also has important positive short term effects. Schools that keep kids safe and feed them as well as educate them make life easier for the lower class parents who are trying to build a better life. This leads to more productive and stable workers who can then demand higher pay and better educated workers for the future.

Ditch mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession. ThisWeekInStupid is not an advocate for drug legalization, but neither do we see the logic in obligating judges to jail drug users who might do more good than harm for their families and communities at home.

Provide free, convenient English courses. This is just one example of ways to boost the skill-level of minimum wage workers. Workers who have good English literacy and basic computer and arithmetic skills are better able to know and insist on their rightful wages. And, as worker productivity grows, it lifts the whole of the economy.

Scale back right-to-work. Unions contribute to a whole host of positive changes in working conditions including raising wages. Right-to-work laws reduce the effectiveness of unions by allowing workers to free-ride, enjoying the benefits of union negotiations without paying in to the system. Freeriders result in less cooperation and worse results. However, ThisWeekInStupid thinks there are strong arguments that unions of government employees are less beneficial since government workers’ vote puts them on both sides of the negotiating table.

Raising the minimum wage is the laziest way to help the poor and not the most effective. In inflation adjusted dollars, even a $11.00 minimum wage would be the highest ever. Now, I’ll take a minimum wage over nothing, but I’d much rather pursue other angles first.



Economics Education Taxation

Why your otherwise smart professor is a socialist

I saw a video the other day from the American Enterprise Institute about the morality of capitalism. Capitalism, to paraphrase, clears access to the satisfaction that comes from achieving something. Being given the same thing brings us far less happiness. Government, then, takes something from someone to whom it brings a lot of joy and gives it to someone to whom it brings very little. Further, it removes the motivation for those receiving welfare to seek the joy of production and achievement. Yuck! How can we be so heartless?

It occurred to me as I was watching that, while I’ve achieved many things in my life, the American Enterprise Institute might scoff that them.  You see, I work for big companies or worse, universities, where I do research that never makes the New York Times and won’t be featured in a product next year–or next decade. Even the work I do for private companies is often funded by public grants given either to my company or to our customers. Like the villains in the video, I’m often not pleasing “customers” so much as the government committees who review grant applications.

Gittin’ ‘er done, collectively

When I achieve things, I share credit with thousands of people. Can this collective achievement be as satisfying or valuable as the individual achievement described in the video? Your professor and I think so. We are used to being a small cog in an absolutely enormous machine and we recognize that some things can only be done this way. My grandfather had a tiny role in the early flights of the Space Shuttle–a very big deal that improves your life whenever you turn on your GPS or check the weather report. But if you listed the contributors to that project, Grandpa would surely be buried somewhere in the back with the dolly grip and craft services. He didn’t mind that at all. Whether it’s better play a small part in our mission to space or a large part in a Jamba Juice franchise can certainly be debated.

These collective works we’re about are far-reaching and critically important. One day we’ll announce cold fusion and a cure for cancer, saving the planet and literally millions of lives. Someone who put together the last piece of the puzzle will be on the cover of Time. But behind her, there’ll be legions of scientists who will sit back in their easy chairs with a self-satisfied grin, knowing they’ve done good work and ever so glad they didn’t take their uncle’s advice to drop this ivory tower nonsense and become a day trader.


Class Education Gender Race

Check My Privilege? What privilege?

As a former college Republican myself, I had great sympathy for Tal Fortgang, Princeton student conservative, Fox News guest, and author of Why I’ll Never Apologize for My White, Male Privilege. I could hear myself saying some of those same things. And I ached with embarrassment. And so for his good and for mine, I’m posting

An open letter to Tal Fortgang and to my 19-year-old self:

Dear privileged white dudes,

You’re angry. I can tell. You’re frustrated that the world won’t hear you like you think it should. Your sincere and rational arguments aren’t reverenced as they should be. And I know where you’re coming from. I remember hearing exposition of social inequality as a indictment of myself and a devaluation of my talent and effort. Right now, in your darker moments, you think sometimes the brown kids get all the breaks. They get all the scholarships, right? You feel under-appreciated and unfairly passed over for accolades and criticized for oppression to which you’re not party.

I’m here to tell you I’ve been there and that there’s a third way to approach race, class and gender from your perspective.

First, it’s important to establish some facts.

Number 1. You’re a lucky guy. Miraculously lucky. Much of your luck is actually the result of the sweat of people who love you. Your grandfathers and grandmothers fought and worked and were beaten and went hungry and without medical care, to build your life. Your parents saved with admirable gusto, then mortgaged their future to pay for your place at the table. They worked nights and weekends for bosses that abused them to feed brats (you!) that sassed them then borrowed the car and wrecked it. Their gift to you could be measured in literal years taken off of their lives. And they did it all with pleasure because they loved you. And before there was you, they loved the vision of you. But all of those things, you didn’t earn.

Number 2. You’re a hard worker yourself. No one should devalue the fact that you studied and worked and practiced and prayed while others of your high school friends partied and slacked off. It would have been nice to spend some time in home economics or consumer math. Instead, you dragged your feet to Mr. McCarthy’s calculus class where you’d surely get a solid hour’s worth of homework. But you went every day (except that one day you skipped school to go to Wild Waves). Well done.

Number 3. You’re (temporarily) stupid. It’s not your fault. What makes you stupid is all the things you haven’t seen. In particular, some of the things you haven’t seen are the things your grandparents have. Like people assuming you’re lazy or irresponsible or criminal because you’re poor or speak with an accent. Or being judged first by the shape of your body. Or having no idea how to fill out a FAFSA.

But you won’t always be stupid. You’re quite close right now to a lot of wisdom. Expressing gratitude to your parents is an important foundation. Right now, you still feel like an extension of your parents’ family. Your successes are their successes and their efforts feel a little like your efforts. Denying yourself the advantages they worked to give you would be denying it to them as well. But as you get older you’ll meet very deserving, talented and hard-working people who weren’t given the things you were given. And soon, God willing, it will occur to you that, while someone certainly earned your privilege, it wasn’t you, or at least not primarily you.

And at that moment, you may even realize that while your effort was significant, doors have opened for you your whole life because people expect to be led by someone your color and gender. Principals, professors and bosses see in you an echo of themselves. When you assert yourself, it’s interpreted as a young man growing into the leader he was meant to be. It’s not that way for everyone. And that’s before even considering what your parents gave you individually. Is a minority scholarship any different than the tuition grant you got from the Get Tal To Move Out of the Basement Foundation?

So, as someone who’s been where you’re standing, here’s my unsolicited advice to you:

Listen more. That doesn’t mean you stop expressing your thoughts. But your instinct is to speak a little too often. Maybe only speak the cleverest half of the things you instinctively would. Spend the rest of the time listening to other perspectives and trying to imagine what it would be like living someone else’s life.

Do speak. But as you do so remember that the perspective of privilege has been heard. It’s been heard and codified–canonized even–in laws and textbooks and even in scriptures. That perspective is as valuable as any other but, in particular when the topic is social inequality, you may be the one speaking from a position of ignorance. Asking sincere questions is almost always welcome.

Stop hearing personal criticism. Living as a white man in a system that advantages white men does not make you bad. Refusing to acknowledge it does…a little. Often when we discuss social justice, we’re talking about things that happen at institutional levels. You don’t have to be a misogynist, or even a man, to be a part of a system (a company, a university) that disadvantages women. So, instead of assuming you’re forever relegated to play the villain in this narrative, hear an invitation to be part of the solution.

The next time you hear “Check your privilege,” hear it in your grandfather’s voice. Are there times when he might reprimand you for ingratitude? Would he relate better to you or to the person on the opposite end of your argument? Would he give you less credit than you give yourself? When you refuse to acknowledge what he’s given you, you disrespect him.

You’re a good person.You don’t harbor ill will toward others. Once you gain a little knowledge, you’ll be a great help to the world and a happier person yourself.

Your sincere ally,