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.

Media Obama Race War

Beyond the “race card”

Charles Blow recently had some terrific things to say about race in the New York Times. In summary, people should stop “playing the ‘race card’ card”–trying to shut down dialogue about race because they see it as a facade for excuse-making. While it can’t be disproved that someone, somewhere deflected legitimate criticism by accusing her accuser of racism, it’s surely not the imminent threat to healthy dialogue its made out to be. Anyway, that’s Mr. Blow’s excellent point, expertly advanced in his article. Mine is different.

There are all kinds of silly ways conservatives attempt to shut down dialogue. Of course, as curator of a site called ThisWeekInStupid, I worry constantly about painting with too broad a brush. Not all conservative arguments fall into the categories described below. However, I’d like to coin a few new terms to describe some of the most ridiculous conservative arguments.

Playing the “stop playing the ‘Bush card’ card.” When cons play the “stop playing the ‘Bush card’ card,” they attempt to blunt criticism of GOP policies or defenses of liberal policies by asking liberals to pretend the world was created in 2009. No one is responsible for the rise of ISIS because there was no 2008. Budget deficits started in 2009. Obama should stop making excuses for the economy because it’s not like anyone else cratered the housing and credit markets. In one survey 20% of Americans faulted Obama more than Bush for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina in 2006. That’s some weapons-grade self-deception. Expect to see a lot of railing against the ‘Bush card’ in 2016 whether Jeb gets the nomination or not.

Playing the “Neville Chamberlain” card. In my experience, you cannot engage in a conversation about Khomeini, Putin, Kim Jong-Il, Obamacare or the Denver Broncos without someone invoking Hitler.  Ben Carson if no one else. And, whether he’s mentioned by name or not, the specter of Neville Chamberlain and his policy of Nazi appeasement will, inevitably, haunt the discussion. To listen to players of the Neville Chamberlain card, you’d think that, without their constant vigilance, we’d have a world war every other year (perhaps in off-Olympic years?). Don’t want to put troops in Ukraine? You’re probably the kind who would have just let the Nazis walk in to London. Worried about collateral damage from air strikes against Iran/Syria/Libya/North Korea/Belgium? You appeasing pantywaist. Neville Chamberlain would be proud.

Playing the “free speech” card. You can read literally thousands of pages of whining by conservative pundits and politicos that conservative viewpoints are not heard and that this is a grievous blow to the First Amendment. When college students protested the invitation of Condolezza Rice to speak at commencement, that was the “PC police” out to throw a wet blanket over the discussion. But all viewpoints do not get equal time. Stupid doesn’t get the same respect as rational debate. You have the right to spout whatever ridiculous nonsense you want on your blogs and cable channels, but it is not limiting free speech when I call it out as ridiculous nonsense. If your views are valid, let’s have a discussion. But stop playing the “free speech” card and explain to me how to distinguish your ignorance from garden variety bigotry and selfishness.

I respect your conservative views. I do. Just kidding. I can’t really pull that off. These days it seems to me the Republican platform is equal parts racial ignorance and denial, poor arithmetic and the mistaking of the 1980s movie Red Dawn for a documentary. But I’m glad to explain all of that to you, and to hear your responses. But as soon as you pull out the Neville Chamberlain card, I’m outta here.


You Can’t Make This Stuff Up!

The timeless Dave Barry commented on the ability of some people to say exactly the opposite of the truth.

The value of advertising is that it tells you the exact opposite of what the advertiser actually thinks. For example, if the advertisement says “This is  not your father’s Oldsmobile,” the advertiser is desperately concerned that this Oldsmobile, like all other Oldsmobiles, appeals primarily to old farts like your father.

It turns out Twitter is the same. Lately, the phrase “You can’t make this stuff up” has been getting a lot of air time and, in many instances is attached to a “fact” that is 100% made up. Not only that, it is often attached to ideas that are the very first thing you’d make up in order to slander someone. Take, for example, this tweet

Now, Reggie is a constant critic of the interim Ukrainian government. On this point, the two of us disagree. This is neither here nor there. The point is that, for someone like Reggie, who loathes both the Ukrainian interim government and President Obama, it’s absolute child’s play to invent the idea that Obama is arming the Ukrainian “Nazis”. I’d be shocked if this weren’t the first thing that came to his mind. To briefly lay out just a few facts, the Obama administration has, so far, resisted pressure from Congressional Republicans to arm Ukraine and while there are neo-Nazi elements who participated in the overthrow of Yanukovich, it’s hard to make a case that they’re a dominant influence. (For my thoughts on the GOP’s ham-handed, amnesiac approach to Ukraine feel free to check out this recent post.)

Pelosi loves unemployment?

I was involved in another conversation on Twitter in which I questioned the source of a quote allegedly by Nancy Pelosi. @LriHendry claimed that Nancy Pelosi said (Lori’s quotation marks, not mine) “Employees cutting hours is a good thing. It gives that person time to pursue dreams and passions.” It was followed by Lori’s personal comment, “Yes. She really said that!” Now, that didn’t seem like something likely to be said by anyone who ever wanted to be elected again, so I googled a little, came up empty, then replied, “No. She didn’t. You can’t just make stuff up.” To which Lori responded (like you knew she would)

After some time, Lori gave up her search for a source of this quote, which, I think, is a misreading of an interview of former Speaker Pelosi by Candy Crowley.

“You can’t make this stuff up” is becoming the go-to conservative defense in response to fact-checking. It’s like the bogus posts that used to circulate social media complete with a link to with an anchor like, “Snopes has already confirmed this is real!” But the real question is, at what level do the posters, tweeters and pinners know they’re being deceitful and when are they guilty of mere credulity.

Pelosi loves emergency rooms?

This final example is by far the best and here the line between deceiver and deceived is quite blurry. Another invented Nancy Pelosi quote, circulates Pinterist, Facebook and Twitter and says something like this:


Recently on Twitter, @ConservPSTeacher tweeted this link and added

The quote is, of course, made up. It turns out it originates on a conservative satire website which likens itself to the Right-leaning version of the Onion. The best part about this example is that, in the Pinterist link, the picture shown is pinned from the very Politifact article which debunks the quote!

And so, I think it’s appropriate to book-end this post with Dave Barry quotes. This one is from the same article above and perhaps explains why Republicans are turning to fabrication to forward their political goals.

The most powerful force in the universe is gossip.

You see, each of the ideas above are viral sensations. It only takes an ignorant second to repost them to your equally gullible friends and followers who desperately want to believe what you’ve told them. But no one who’s not a major news outlet (and not even all of those) discovers they’ve posted an erroneous non-fact and issues a correction. That would be a lot of effort and embarrassment. And even if they did, the correction is much less fun to retweet that the salacious original. And so they slosh around the internet and land periodically in your inbox and twitter feed. Mark my words, one of these days you’ll open your email to read

This is not your father's Oldsmobile.  CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!


Health Care Media

Obamacare is killing this pastor

Sometimes these posts write themselves. Since I started this blog, I’ve been exposing myself to more right wing news sources. Occasionally, it really feels like cheating. Today, Fox News tweeted this


This Iowa pastor has cancer. His old insurance plan refused to cover his treatments due to a pre-existing condition. As a result, he has $50,000 in medical debt. He went to and found a “gold” plan that would cover he and his wife for $800 per month. But, because he signed up on the 18th of February instead of the 15th, his coverage doesn’t start until April 1. Now, who in their right mind thinks this is an Obamacare horror story? Fox. Oh, wait…