Thursday, Oct 4, 2018
Tags: Academia, Audio, Postmodernism, Psychology, Science
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Thursday, October 4, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Humiliation for academia as scholars use hoax journal articles to expose grievance-focused research
The academic world was rocked back in the year 1996. It was in that year that Alan Sokal, a Math Professor at University College London and also a professor of Physics in New York University in the United States had written an article, a deliberately non-nonsensical article.
It was then submitted to Duke University's postmodern journal Social Text. It was received, it was peer-reviewed and it was published. Thus, the year 1996 has often been dated in academic life as the year of the Sokal affair. The affair was the embarrassment that was brought to the American and European Academy by the fact that postmodernism had become so nonsensical that a deliberately nonsensical article had been accepted for publication in one of postmodernism's prized academic journals.
Now remember, there's further background here because in Academia with academics operating by their own rules of authority, you have journals that are as you often hear peer-reviewed. What does that mean? It means that not only do you have editors, but all of the articles and all the research, all of the scientific studies, all of the essays that are written for these kinds of academic journals are reviewed by peers in the same discipline.
This kind of peer-review is at least intended to offer some credibility, to make clear that there are those who are established figures in each of the academic fields with respective journals who are reviewing the articles, they're looking at the research, they're considering the arguments and nothing gets published until it is peer-reviewed, but Alan Sokal effectively pulled back the curtain and showed that peer-review in a mode of postmodernism is largely meaningless.
The academic world has not only been inundated with postmodern academic gibberish, but it has also basically devalued the very idea of the academic pursuit of truth. Now, the postmodern as you will remember rejected the idea of objective truth or at least the knowability of objective truth, they instead argued that all truth is socially constructed and thus it is a disguised form of a political argument.
Thus, for the cause of human liberation. The postmodern is argued you must deconstruct the text, you must ignore the author, you must instead deconstruct meaning in order to reconstruct meaning for human liberation, but Alan Sokal, remember, he is a professor of Math and of Physics, he saw that postmodernism is an unworkable worldview.
Sokal decided to go ahead with his experiment. He wrote an article that was absolutely intentionally deliberately nonsensical. It was published. The Sokal affair was an embarrassment, but now in the year 2018, Academia is suffering an even greater embarrassment and it broke into the news in just the last several days.
We're not talking about one deliberately nonsensical article, we are talking about an entire team of authors writing outrageous and nonsensical articles that had been peer-reviewed. Some of them already published and others simply in line to be published. The team had not intended for their story to become public, but Jillian Kay Melchior, a writer for The Wall Street Journal detected a problem looking at several of these articles.
Now, just to state the matter as bluntly as possible, the problem should have been noticed by the people responsible for publishing the articles in these journals, but as Melchior writes, "The existence of a monthly journal focused on ‘feminist geography’ is assigned to something gone awry in academia. The journal in question”—here's the title of the journal: Gender, Place & Culture—she continues, "published a paper online in May whose author claimed to have spent a year observing canine sexual misconduct in Portland, Oregon parks."
Now, I need to pause for just a moment and tell listeners to The Briefing that I'm not going to be able, given the graphic nature of much of this material to even cite some of the journal essay title, some of the articles by name, but it becomes part of the story to recognize that the team behind this affair in modern academia, they deliberately chose some of the issues of interest that they knew would gain the attention of these postmodern journal articles.
Now, as I mentioned, the one that begins the article that appeared October the 2nd in The Wall Street Journal, the investigative reporter speaks of this journal Gender, Place & Culture. It's a journal again of feminist geography and let's just look at the summary.
The journal published a paper in May whose author claimed to have spent a year observing canine sexual misconduct in Portland, Oregon parks. Now, in order to document what's going on here, I have pulled up the actual paper in the journal Gender, Place & Culture published online after peer-review.
The thesis of the article is this, "That dog parks are rape-condoning spaces and a place of rampant canine rape culture and systemic oppression against the "oppressed dog" through which human attitudes to both problems can be measured." This provides insight according to the article into training men, presumably this means human men out of the sexual violence and bigotry to which they are prone.
Now, what becomes very clear is that the postmodernist feminist academics behind this journal, the very existence of this journal is part of the problem in the postmodern academy. Those journal editors were very interested in an article about dog parks as rape-condoning spaces because after all, it isn't clear that female dogs have given clear consent to the sexual activity that goes on between canines and these dog parks in Portland, Oregon.
Notice that those who were putting forth this article, knowing exactly what they were doing, they went on and made a connection with human culture and human sexuality in order to get the attention, the feminist attention. Some of the selected reviewer comments.
Remember, this is through the process of peer-review. One of them identified only as reviewer one, now this means an expert in the field and academic studies of feminist geography. She wrote, "This is a wonderful paper. Incredibly innovative. Rich in analysis and extremely well-written and organized given the incredibly diverse literature sets and theoretical questions brought into conversation."
Now, yes I just want to interject to this point. There are academics, homo-academicus as one French author calls them, who really do evidently talk this way. Now remember that this particular so-called scientific study was written as a hoax even though it was accepted in the academy.
It was supposedly based on field work in which a human feminist observer had been looking at the behavior of dogs in a dog park in order to extrapolate issues of sexual consent, but we go back to the reviewer identified as reviewer one who wrote, "The field work executed contributes immensely to the paper's contribution as an innovative and valuable piece of scholarship that will engage readers from a broad cross-section of disciplines and theoretical formulations. I believe,” said this reviewer.
"This intellectually and empirically exciting paper must be published and congratulate the author on the research done and the writing." There you have it. This is scholarship that will be intellectually and empirically exciting. The word excitement should also register a little alarm with us because it is unusual especially in this kind of academic field that the word exciting would be appropriately attributed to any article for submission.
After peer-review, the editor of the journal wrote to the submitter of the journal article saying, "As you know, GPC is in its 25th year of publication and as part of honoring the occasion, the journal is going to publish 12 lead pieces over the 12 issues of 2018 and summoned to 2019."
The editor then wrote and note the citation of the title of this article, "We would like to publish your piece Human Reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog parks in Portland, Oregon in the seventh issue. It draws attention to the editor to so many themes from the past scholarship informing feminist geographies and also shows how some of the work going on now can contribute to enlivening the discipline. In this sense, we think it's a good piece for the celebrations. I would like to have your permission to do so."
This team of writers remember writing deliberately nonsensical academic articles also submitted a piece entitled moon meetings and the meaning of sisterhood a poetic portrayal of lived feminist spirituality. This was submitted to the journal known as the journal of poetry therapy.
The thesis to the article is this, "Well, as the author said, no clear thesis. A rambling poetic monologue of a bitter-divorced feminist. Much of which was produced by a teenage angst poetry generator before being edited into something slightly more realistic which is then interspersed with self-indulgent auto-ethnic graphical reflections on female sexuality and spirituality written entirely in slightly under six hours."
Now, there's the author of the piece telling us what's going on. The purpose behind this experiment "to see if journals will accept rambling nonsense if it is sufficiently pro-woman, implicitly anti-male and thoroughly anti-reason for the purpose of foregrounding alternative female ways of knowing."
Now, before leaving this particular article, it is interesting to remember that it was produced largely by a computer poetry generator entitled The Teenage Angst Poetry generator and as it turns out, the author behind the article who slightly revised what came out of the poetry generator is a man.
Has the modern academy surrendered to the postmodern worldview?
The team of three academic writers indicated that they are not cultural conservatives. They have even anticipated some of the arguments they say will be coming from academic and cultural conservatives. No, they identify themselves with the cultural left, but they do not want to identify with the profound, seemingly bottomless nonsense of the postmodern academy.
Jillian Kay Melchior who again broke this story in The Wall Street Journal this week writes, "The three academics call themselves left leaning liberals, yet they're dismayed by what they describe as a grievance studies takeover of Academia. Especially its encroachment into the sciences."
One of those who was behind this, Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of Philosophy at Portland State University said, "I think the certain aspects of knowledge production in the United States have been corrupted. Anyone who questions research on identity, privilege and oppression risk accusations of nothing more than bigotry.”
Pointing right at the deadly heart of postmodernism, the trio of academics in an article they published in Areo wrote, "The center of the problem is formally termed critical constructivism and its most egregious scholars are sometimes referred to as radical constructivist. The problem is most easily summarized as an overarching, almost fully-sacralized belief that many common features of experience in society are socially-constructed. These constructions are seen as being nearly entirely dependent upon power dynamics, between groups of people often dictated by sex, race or sexual or gender identification. All kinds of things,” they write, “accepted is having a basis in reality due to evidence are instead believed to have been created by the intentional and unintentional machinations of powerful groups in order to maintain power over marginalized ones. This worldview they conclude produces a moral imperative to dismantle these constructions."
Now, that takes us full circle all the way to the Sokal affair in 1996. It is as if the mainstream academy has not only learned nothing in 22 years, but has actually expanded, it surrendered to the postmodern worldview elsewhere in the same article the trio writes about their concern for scholarship, "Based less upon finding truth and more upon attending to social grievances which they say has become firmly established if not fully dominant within many fields and "their scholars increasingly bully students, administrators and other departments into adhering to their worldview."
In one of their papers accepted for publication after peer-review, it turned out that the trio had taken an extended quotation from Mein Kampf. We're talking about thousands of words by Adolf Hitler and simply changed some of the subject references and the article was accepted.
When they write about what they decry is grievance studies, they're clear to say that radical constructivism, "is thus a dangerous idea that has become authoritative. It forwards the idea that we must on moral grounds largely reject the belief that access to objective truth exists that is scientific objectivity and can be discovered in principle by any entity capable of doing the work or more specifically by humans of any race, gender or sexuality.
They write with concern about the notion of "multiple identity-based truths." One of the things we have to note here is that this language through people in the culture such as Oprah Winfrey has now been largely made mass culture so that you have people speaking now routinely about my truth, your truth, her truth.
That's a truth that is supposedly inaccessible and not reviewable or considerable by any other person because my truth is merely mine. You can't tell me that I'm wrong, you can't tell anyone that their truth, his truth, her truth is wrong.
Perhaps the greatest concern should be an article that was accepted for publication after peer review in what's identified as the flagship feminist philosophy journal, Hypatia. In this particular article accepted, but not yet published, the argument was made that privileged students that is especially white male students shouldn't be allowed to speak in class at all and should just listen and learn in silence.
Furthermore, the argument was made straightforwardly in this article that these privileged students should benefit from what were called experiential reparations that could include "Sitting on the floor wearing chains or intentionally being spoken over."
Elsewhere in the article it was suggested that these white male students should not be called upon to speak, should not be recognized in class and should not have their emails returned as a form of again, experiential reparations. Responding to this latest scandal, Nathan Cofnas, a candidate for the Dr. Philosophy, in philosophy, the University of Oxford responded at the website Quillette by pointing out and I quote, "A large proportion of the students at the late universities are now inducted into this cult of hate, ignorance and pseudo-philosophy. Postmodernism is the unquestioned dogma of the literary intellectual class in the art establishment.
It has taken over most of the humanities and some of the social sciences and is even making inroads in STEM fields. It threatens to melt all of our intellectual traditions into the same oozing mush of political slogans and empty verbiage."
It becomes very, very clear through this experiment that has now reached the public eye that what the academy should have learned humbly and clearly from the Alan Sokal affair back in 1996 wasn't learned at all. Instead, what was indicted as manifest nonsense in 1996 has become even more pervasive, almost even worshiped within the elite academic society.
One of the most interesting and important sentences responding to this newest scandal has come from Jonathan Anomaly, he's a faculty fellow at Institute for Practical Ethics at the University of California San Diego. He's also a founding faculty member of the Philosophy, Politics and Economics program at that university.
He'll be a visiting scholar at Oxford in 2019. This important senates comes down to these words. I quote them very carefully. "Many faculty in these departments seem alarmingly eager to hijack further own ends the emotional circuitry of teenagers who arrive on campus in search of a tribe to join and a dragon to slay."
We'll look more at that statement even in successive editions of The Briefing because there is something absolutely insightful there that we ought to pause to consider. We are being told that faculty members are intentionally hijacking for their own ends, what's described as the emotional circuitry of teenagers.
Now, notice the words described here who arrive on campus in search of a tribe to join and a dragon to slay. There is something noble and there's something needy in that. Needy in the effort to try to search for a tribe to join and noble in seeking a dragon to slay, but falling amongst the thieves of the grievance studies academy, well these young people joined the wrong tribe and they find the wrong dragons to slay.
As I said in the beginning of this story, this particular scandal is breaking even now and Melchior, The Wall Street Journal points out that The Wall Street Journal does not approve of this methodology. The false papers, the deliberate nonsense and yet The Wall Street Journal is wise enough to recognize the even more deadly and widespread nonsense that is revealed by the means of these false papers.
The deliberate nonsense that isn't even recognized as nonsense because of so many of these fields, the subject matter is nothing, but theory, critical theory and nonsense. It is also worth noting that as of this morning, virtually none of the major journals reviewing the life of contemporary academia has dealt with this yet.
They'll have to deal with it eventually, but my guess is they're trying to get their story straight before the postmodernist try to respond to this newest postmodernist hoax with some kind of straight story. It's going to be interesting.
As psychology reaches a crisis point, some argue that science should be accepted because it ‘feels true’
But next, we turn to yet another very related story, this one also has to do with the academic world, but this is not just about what takes place on campuses affected by postmodernism. This is what happens in the public when the public has told that something is a scientific study that is based upon scientific research that is then translated into scientific findings that the mass public is supposed to take seriously.
Well, many of these fields, most particularly psychology and social psychology are now experiencing what is known as a replication problem, but bluntly, many of the most famous studies of modern psychology turn out not to be replicate-able. When someone else tries to use the same methodology to study the same thesis, it turns out that many of these most influential studies can't be replicated at all.
A recent headline in The New York Times concluded this, "Psychology is having a reformation moment." Now, what's most interesting in this story is the subhead. It's even more important than the headline, it's even more important than the content of the article.
The subhead in The New York Times is this, "Studies have been questioned, but they reveal aspects of our inner lives that feel true." Now, that's one of the most revealing and potentially explosive statements that I've seen in the mass media in a very long time.
The author of the article is Benedict Carey and the bottom line is the understanding that many of these psychological studies are actually important not because they are true, but because they feel true. Again, look at the subhead. According to this study, even though so much of this research can't be replicated, the studies, "revealed aspects of our inner lives that feel true."
This is just incredibly revealing. It tells us that the American Public is ready to receive as research as scientifically credible what feels true to us. There are probably a few fields with more direct relevance to this effort to feel something to be true whether or not it actually is true than psychology.
After all, psychology is asking questions about who we are and how we think, how we even know ourselves. Carey writes, "In recent months, researchers and some journalists have strung cables around the necks of at least three monuments of the modern psychological canon. Number one, the famous Stanford Prison Experiment which found that people playacting as guards quickly exhibited uncharacteristic cruelty.
Second, the landmark marshmallow test which found that young children who could delay gratification showed greater educational achievement years later than those who could not. Third, the lesser known, but influential concept of ego depletion.
The idea that willpower is like a muscle that can be built up, but also tire. Carey concludes the assaults on these studies aren't all new. Each is a story in its own right involving debates over methodology and statistical bias that have serviced before in some form, but he goes on to report since 2011, the field of psychology has been giving itself, "An intensive background check redoing more than 100 well-known studies. Often the results cannot be reproduced and the entire contentious process has been colored inevitably by generational change and charges of patriarchy."
The most powerful section in this article is where Carey writes about these studies that they, "Live in the common culture as powerful metaphors, explanations for aspects of our behavior that we sense are true and that are captured somehow in a laboratory mini drama constructed by an inventive researcher or research team."
That is just so important. Here we are told that we want to believe these studies because these studies tell us something that, "We sense is true." We sense it's true or as the subhead in the article says, "We feel that it's true." Now, just to state the obvious, science is not established by what we hope for, nor what we feel to be true, nor what we sense to be true, but what we have here is something of a circular problem.
We want to be told what we think is true. Once we are told that it comes with the authority of science, we're sure that it's true, but we already felt that it was true. Once it turns out that it can't be reproduced according to the scientific method, we still hold on to it because we like it.
We sense, we feel that it's true. This also points to something Christians deeply understand and that is the fact that human beings are seriously always trying to understand ourselves. We're trying to find an explanation for why we do this, why we want that, why certain human beings do these things, others do something else, why we turn out as we do, why others we know turn out as they do.
We will grasp upon some kind of scientific research. It might not turn out to be scientific or actually research, but if it tells us what we feel or sense is true, we'll grab a hold of it. Of course, Christians must also recognize that this raises huge questions of authority, what's called epistemic authority, the authority of knowledge in the larger society.
It is because there is an unusual difference to what is claimed to be science. Sometimes by the way, this is valid. It's especially valid when you think about so many of the findings of modern science and modern medicine, but the closer you get to sociological disciplines, the closer you get to human behavior and the human psyche rather than to other areas of scientific inquiry were in these so-called social or softer sciences, the reproduction problem becomes evermore acute.
Of course, we have to recognize as Christians must always recognize the given sin, the problem is in us. There are things we want to believe simply because it's more comfortable to believe them rather than not to believe them even if it turns out the research can't be replicated, but there's something also of great importance in recognizing that one of these major studies that cannot be reproduced and actually when retried came to opposite conclusions was the so-called no infamous Stanford Prison Experiment.
This is where we were told that students, college students, in particular, white male college students could become quite sadistic if given the opportunity under the conditions of this kind of thought experiment, but it turns out it can't be replicated and furthermore, that raises very, very important issues because we have been told over and over again, it's been standard fair in psychology and sociology courses across American Academia that this prison experiment proves that inside every single human being is a desire to be sadistic.
It turns out this one study is often sided as the singular authority and now we know that this authority was a false authority. The experiment could not be replicated, raising basic questions not only about the scientific method as applied to this kind of question, but even the honesty of some of those involved in the process.
The baseline realization for Christians is this, "We draw our understanding of human dignity, of human nature, of what it means to be human, of sin and of how sin corrupts the human being, not from any kind of experiment and social psychology.
Not any kind of experiment such as the Stanford Prison Experiment, but rather from God's revelation and Scripture. Those operating from a secular worldview have nowhere to turn after this kind of replication problem, this kind of academic scandal, but for Christians, we understand we have nowhere to turn, but the Bible and any day that we are reminded of the sufficiency of Scripture and our dependence upon Scripture is in that sense a good day.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.