Grievance Studies affair

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Grievance Studies affair
Thumbnail of video Academics expose corruption in Grievance Studies.jpg
Lindsay and Pluckrose in a video about their hoax
TypeHoax; the attempt to publish bogus academic papers
MotiveExpose poor science in categories of gender, feminist, race, sexuality, fat, queer, cultural studies and sociology
TargetAcademic journals within some specific subfields, including cultural studies and Gender studies
First reporterJillian Kay Melchior, of The Wall Street Journal (2018-10-02) and Mike Nayna
Organised byJames A. Lindsay, Peter Boghossian, Helen Pluckrose
Filmed byMike Nayna
OutcomeOut of 20 papers submitted, 4 published, 3 accepted but not yet published, 6 rejected, 7 still under review (at the time when the hoax was revealed, and halted)

The Grievance Studies affair, also referred to as the "Sokal Squared" scandal (in reference to a similar 1996 hoax by Alan Sokal), was the project of a team of three authors (James A. Lindsay, Peter Boghossian, and Helen Pluckrose) to create bogus academic papers and submit them to academic journals in the areas of cultural, queer, race, gender, fat, and sexuality studies. The authors' intent was to expose problems in "grievance studies", a term they apply to a subcategory of these academic areas, in which they say "a culture has developed in which only certain conclusions are allowed ... and put social grievances ahead of objective truth.[1]" [2][3]

The hoax began in 2017 and continued into 2018, when it was halted after one of the papers caught the attention of journalists, who quickly found its purported author, Helen Wilson, to be non-existent.[2][3][4] This led to more media attention as the hoax was more broadly exposed by news outlets.[2][5][6][7]

By the time of the reveal, four of their 20 papers had been published, three had been accepted but not yet published, six had been rejected, and seven were still under review. One of the published papers had won special recognition.[8]

Sequence of events[edit]

On May 19, 2017, peer-reviewed journal Cogent Social Sciences[9] published "The conceptual penis as a social construct", which argued that penises are not "male" and are better analyzed as social constructs.[10] The same day, James A. Lindsay and Peter Boghossian revealed it to be a hoax aimed at discrediting gender studies, although Cogent Social Sciences is not exclusively a gender studies journal.[11] While the journal did conduct a postmortem, both authors concluded the "impact [of the hoax] was very limited, and much criticism of it was legitimate."[8]

The authors claimed to have started their second attempt on August 16, 2017,[12] with Helen Pluckrose joining them in September.[8] The new methodology called for the submission of multiple papers. Each paper would be submitted to "higher-ranked journals"; if it were rejected, feedback from the peer-review process was used to revise the paper before it was submitted to a lower-ranked journal. This process was repeated until the paper was accepted, or until the three authors gave up on that paper.[12] The authorship of each paper was either fictional, such as "Helen Wilson" of "Portland Ungendering Research Initiative", or real people willing to lend their name, such as Dr. Richard Baldwin, professor emeritus of history at Gulf Coast State College.[2]

Over the course of the project, twenty papers were submitted and forty-eight "new submissions" of those papers were made.[12] The first acceptance, "Human Reactions to Rape Culture and Queer Performativity at the Dog Park", was achieved five months after the project started. During the initial peer review for its second and ultimately successful attempt at publication in Gender, Place & Culture, what the hoaxers called the "Dog Park" paper was praised by the first reviewer as "incredibly innovative, rich in analysis, and extremely well-written and organized".[8] Similar respectful feedback was given for other accepted papers.[6]

Discovery of hoax[edit]

The project was intended to run until January 31, 2019, but came to a premature end.[8] On June 7, 2018, the Twitter account New Real Peer Review discovered one of their papers.[13] This brought it to the attention of reporters at The College Fix, Reason, and other news outlets who began trying to contact the fictional author and journal it was published in.[14][15] The journal Gender, Place & Culture published a note on August 6, 2018, stating that it suspected "Helen Wilson" had breached their contract to "not [fabricate] or [misappropriate] anyone's identity, including [their] own", adding "the author has not responded to our request to provide appropriate documentation confirming their identity."[16] According to the trio, another journal and a reporter at The Wall Street Journal were also asking for proof of identity at this point, and that it was the right time to go public; they admitted the hoax to the journalist in early August.[8]

When The Wall Street Journal report went public on October 2,[5] the trio released an essay describing their project, as well as a Google Drive archive of most of their papers and email correspondence which included reviewer comments.[8] Simultaneously, documentary filmmaker Mike Nayna released a YouTube video that revealed the back-story behind the project; Nayna and producer Mark Conway are working on a documentary film about the project.[17][18]


The authors' reaction to coverage of the affair in The New York Times, and further related discussion

The project drew both praise and criticism. Yascha Mounk, author and associate professor of the practice of international affairs at Johns Hopkins University, dubbed it 'Sokal squared' in reference to the Sokal affair hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal, and said "The result is hilarious and delightful. It also showcases a serious problem with big parts of academia." Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker said the project posed the question "is there any idea so outlandish that it won't be published in a Critical/PoMo/Identity/'Theory' journal?"[19] In contrast, Joel P. Christensen and Matthew A. Sears, both associate professors, referred to it as "the academic equivalent of the fraudulent hit pieces on Planned Parenthood" produced in 2015, more interested in publicity than valid argumentation.[20]

Responses by the editors of the publishing journals[edit]

Ann Garry, a co-editor of Hypatia, which had accepted one of the hoax papers ("When the Joke's on You", which purported to be a feminist critique of hoaxes) but had not published it yet, said she was "deeply disappointed" by the hoax. Garry told The New York Times that "Referees put in a great deal of time and effort to write meaningful reviews, and the idea that individuals would submit fraudulent academic material violates many ethical and academic norms".[2] Nicholas Mazza, editor of the Journal of Poetry Therapy, said: "Although a valuable point was learned regarding the authenticity of articles/authors, it should be noted that the authors of the 'study' clearly engaged in flawed and unethical research".[2]


Yascha Mounk of Johns Hopkins said that while the authors received no favors for preparing the hoax, they demonstrated mastery in postmodern jargon and not only ridiculed the journals in question, but more importantly outed double standards of the gender studies which happily welcome hoaxes against "morally suspect" fields like economics, but are unable to accept a criticism of their own methods. He also noted "sheer amount of tribal solidarity it has elicited among leftists and academics" and the fact that many of the reactions were purely ad hominem, while few have actually noted that there is an actual problem highlighted by the hoax: "some of the leading journals in areas like gender studies have failed to distinguish between real scholarship and intellectually vacuous as well as morally troubling bullshit".[21] Mounk also countered criticism the trio received about the lack of controls as a "confused attempt to import statistics into a question where it doesn't apply."[22]

Justin E. H. Smith defended the provocation and gave examples from the past where hoaxes were used to disclose poor scientific practices in respected fields. In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Heather E. Heying pointed out that the hoax helped to expose many pathologies of the modern social sciences, such as "repudiation of science and logic" and "extolling activism over inquiry".[23]

Upon Boghossian's employer Portland State University initiating a research misconduct inquiry, on the grounds of conducting human subjects research without approval, and further considering a charge of fabricating data,[24] a number of prominent academics submitted letters of support to him[25] and defended the motive of the hoax, including Steven Pinker and students of the university.[26] Richard Dawkins, referencing George Orwell's Animal Farm, wrote:

Do your humourless colleagues who brought this action want Portland State to become the laughing stock of the academic world? Or at least the world of serious scientific scholarship uncontaminated by pretentious charlatans of exactly the kind Dr Boghossian and his colleagues were satirising? ... How would you react if you saw the following letter: "Dear Mr Orwell, It has come to our notice that your novel, Animal Farm, attributes to pigs the ability to talk, and to walk on their hind legs, chanting 'Four legs good, two legs better'. This is directly counter to known zoological facts about the Family Suidae, and you are therefore arraigned on a charge of falsifying data..."[25]

Jonathan Haidt defended the hoax by saying:

The project was undertaken because there is a long running and colossal violation of academic integrity in a few departments in the academy. There is a disciplinary norm in some fields and journals of publishing papers that take a particular moral/political position, whether or not they have scholarly merit. That was Alan Sokal's point in his hoax paper: as long as he seemed to be taking a social constructionist point of view, it didn't matter that the editors could not understand what he had written. The grievance studies hoax shows that this problem persists, across multiple journals in several fields. Boghassian and his colleagues undertook a long, time consuming, and career-risking project to stand up for academic integrity by exposing what is, arguably, an academic subculture that tolerates intellectual fraud.[27]


Writing for Slate, Daniel Engber criticized the project, saying "one could have run this sting on almost any empirical discipline and returned the same result."[6] Similarly, Sarah Richardson, Harvard University professor of women's studies, criticized the hoaxers for not including a control group in their experiment, telling BuzzFeed News, "By their own standards, we can't scientifically conclude anything from it."[28] n+1 magazine published a critical article that cited a survey by science writer Jim Schnabel of similar hoax attempts, summarizing Schnabel's conclusion as "the educated public makes a decision based not on the scientific merits of the hoax but on the relative orthodoxy of the hoaxer and hoaxee. In effect, the result of the trick is decided in advance by the power relations of the field." The article goes on to assert that the relative orthodoxy in this case was "not an orthodoxy of scientific legitimacy but rather the emerging consensus of tech bros, Davos billionaires, and alt-right misogynists."[29]

Carl T. Bergstrom, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, says "the hoaxers appear woefully naïve about how the system actually works." Peer review is not designed to remove fraud or even absurd ideas, he claimed, and replication will lead to self-correction.[23] In the same article, David Schieber claimed to be one of the reviewers for "Rubbing One Out", and that the hoaxers selectively quoted from his review. "They were turning my attempt to help the authors of a rejected paper into an indictment of my field and the journal I reviewed for, even though we rejected the paper."[23]

A number of professors at Portland State University signed an open letter which accused the trio of exploiting "credulous journalists interested mainly in spectacle" to conduct academic fraud and dishonesty. "[B]asic spite and a perverse interest in public humiliation seem to have overridden any actual scholarly goals."[30] The authors asked to remain anonymous, alleging Boghossian had targeted academics at other institutions and that they would likely receive "threats of death and assault from online trolls."

List of hoax papers[edit]

Accepted and published[edit]

  • Helen Wilson (pseudonym) (2018). "Human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog parks in Portland, Oregon". Gender, Place & Culture: 1–20. doi:10.1080/0966369X.2018.1475346. (Retracted)
  • Richard Baldwin (borrowed identity) (2018). "Who Are They to Judge? Overcoming Anthropometry and a Framework for Fat Bodybuilding". Fat Studies. 7 (3): i–xiii. doi:10.1080/21604851.2018.1453622. (Retracted)
  • M. Smith (pseudonym) (2018). "Going in Through the Back Door: Challenging Straight Male Homohysteria and Transphobia through Receptive Penetrative Sex Toy Use". Sexuality & Culture. 22 (4): 1542. doi:10.1007/s12119-018-9536-0. (Retracted)
  • Richard Baldwin (borrowed identity) (2018). "An Ethnography of Breastaurant Masculinity: Themes of Objectification, Sexual Conquest, Male Control, and Masculine Toughness in a Sexually Objectifying Restaurant". Sex Roles. 79 (11–12): 762. doi:10.1007/s11199-018-0962-0. (Retracted)

Following the discovery of the hoax, all four papers were retracted.

Accepted but not yet published[edit]

  • Richard Baldwin (borrowed identity). "When the Joke Is on You: A Feminist Perspective on How Positionality Influences Satire". Hypatia.
  • Carol Miller (pseudonym). "Moon Meetings and the Meaning of Sisterhood: A Poetic Portrayal of Lived Feminist Spirituality". Journal of Poetry Therapy.
  • Maria Gonzalez, and Lisa A. Jones (pseudonyms). "Our Struggle is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism". Affilia.

Revise and resubmit[edit]

  • Richard Baldwin (borrowed identity). "Agency as an Elephant Test for Feminist Porn: Impacts on Male Explicit and Implicit Associations about Women in Society by Immersive Pornography Consumption". Porn Studies.
  • Maria Gonzalez (pseudonym). "The Progressive Stack: An Intersectional Feminist Approach to Pedagogy". Hypatia.
  • Stephanie Moore (pseudonym). "Super-Frankenstein and the Masculine Imaginary: Feminist Epistemology and Superintelligent Artificial Intelligence Safety Research". Feminist Theory.
  • Maria Gonzalez (pseudonym). "Stars, Planets, and Gender: A Framework for a Feminist Astronomy". Women's Studies International Forum.

Under review[edit]

  • Carol Miller (pseudonym). "Strategies for Dealing with Cisnormative Discursive Aggression in the Workplace: Disruption, Criticism, Self-Enforcement, and Collusion". Gender, Work and Organization.


  • Lisa A. Jones (pseudonym). "Rubbing One Out: Defining Metasexual Violence of Objectification Through Nonconsensual Masturbation". Sociological Theory.
  • Carol Miller (pseudonym). "My Struggle to Dismantle My Whiteness: A Critical-Race Examination of Whiteness from within Whiteness". Sociology of Race and Ethnicity.
  • Carol Miller (pseudonym). "Queering Plato: Plato's Allegory of the Cave as a Queer-Theoretic Emancipatory Text on Sexuality and Gender". GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies.
  • Richard Baldwin (borrowed identity). ""Pretty Good for a Girl": Feminist Physicality and Women's Bodybuilding". Sociology of Sport Journal.
  • Richard Baldwin (borrowed identity). "Grappling with Hegemonic Masculinity: The Roles of Masculinity and Heteronormativity in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu". International Review for the Sociology of Sport.
  • Richard Baldwin (borrowed identity). "Hegemonic Academic Bullying: The Ethics of Sokal-style Hoax Papers on Gender Studies". Journal of Gender Studies.
  • Richard Baldwin (borrowed identity). "Self-Reflections on Self-Reflections: An Autoethnographic Defense of Autoethnography". Journal of Contemporary Ethnography.
  • Brandon Williams (pseudonym). "Masculinity and the Others Within: A Schizoethnographic Approach to Autoethnography". Qualitative Inquiry.
  • Helen Wilson (pseudonym). "Rebraiding Masculinity: Redefining the Struggle of Women Under the Domination of the Masculinity Trinity". Signs.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mike Nayna (2018-10-02), Academics expose corruption in Grievance Studies, retrieved 2019-07-09
  2. ^ a b c d e f Schuessler, Jennifer (October 4, 2018). "Hoaxers Slip Breastaurants and Dog-Park Sex Into Journals". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2018-10-10. Retrieved 2018-10-11.
  3. ^ a b Mounk, Yascha (2018-10-05). "What an Audacious Hoax Reveals About Academia". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 2018-10-07. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  4. ^ "Another set of fake papers takes aim at social science's nether regions". The Economist. Archived from the original on 2018-10-09. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  5. ^ a b Jillian Kay Melchior (2018-10-02). "Fake news comes to academia". The Wall Street Journal. United States. Archived from the original on 2018-10-05. Retrieved 2018-10-05.
  6. ^ a b c Engber, Daniel (2018-10-05). "What the "Grievance Studies" Hoax Actually Reveals - The headline-grabbing prank has more to do with gender than with academia". Slate. Archived from the original on 2018-10-07. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  7. ^ "Academic journal duped by author of 'dog rape culture' article". Campus Reform. 2018-07-25. Archived from the original on 2018-10-07. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Pluckrose, Helen; Lindsay, James A.; Boghossian, Peter (October 2, 2018). "Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship". Archived from the original on 2018-10-10.
  9. ^ Jaschik, Scott (May 25, 2017). "How the Hoax Got Published". Inside Higher Education.
  10. ^ Kafka, Alexander C. (October 3, 2018). "'Sokal Squared': Is Huge Publishing Hoax 'Hilarious and Delightful' or an Ugly Example of Dishonesty and Bad Faith?". The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  11. ^ "The Hoax That Backfired: How an Attempt to Discredit Gender Studies Will Only Strengthen It". Pacific Standard. Retrieved 2018-11-03.
  12. ^ a b c "Project Summary and Fact Sheet, via Leiter Reports". 2018-10-03. Archived from the original on October 3, 2018.
  13. ^ "New Real Peer Review on Twitter". Twitter. Archived from the original on June 17, 2018. Retrieved 2018-11-10.
  14. ^ Huber, Dave (2018-06-09). "Study: Dog parks are manifestations of rape culture and oppression - The College Fix". The College Fix. Archived from the original on September 7, 2018. Retrieved 2018-11-10.
  15. ^ "This Study, 'Rape Culture and Queer Performativity at Urban Dog Parks,' Is, Uh, Real (Update: Nope)*". 2018-06-11. Archived from the original on November 1, 2018. Retrieved 2018-11-10.
  16. ^ "Expression of Concern: Human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog parks in Portland, Oregon". Gender, Place & Culture: 1. 2018-08-06. doi:10.1080/0966369x.2018.1507885. ISSN 0966-369X.
  17. ^ Mike Nayna (2018-10-02), Academics expose corruption in Grievance Studies, retrieved 2018-11-11
  18. ^ "Academic Hoax Reveals Deep Problems in Social Sciences". The Stranger. Seattle, Washington, USA. Archived from the original on 2018-10-05. Retrieved 2018-10-11.
  19. ^ "'Sokal Squared': Is Huge Publishing Hoax 'Hilarious and Delightful' or an Ugly Example of Dishonesty and Bad Faith?". The Chronicle of Higher Education. 2018-10-03. Archived from the original on 2018-10-09. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  20. ^ Christensen, Joel P.; Sears, Matthew (October 30, 2018). "Sokal-squared hoax was a put-down of scholars concerned with racial issues (opinion) | Inside Higher Ed". Inside Higher Ed. Archived from the original on October 30, 2018. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  21. ^ "What the 'Grievance Studies' Hoax Means". The Chronicle of Higher Education. 2018-10-09. Retrieved 2018-10-24.
  22. ^ "Is Huge Publishing Hoax 'Hilarious and Delightful' or an Ugly Example of Dishonesty and Bad Faith? - Non-Fiction - - the Passive Voice".
  23. ^ a b c "What the 'Grievance Studies' Hoax Means". The Chronicle of Higher Education. 2018-10-09. Archived from the original on October 10, 2018. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  24. ^ Mangan, Katherine (January 7, 2019). "Proceedings Start Against 'Sokal Squared' Hoax Professor". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  25. ^ a b York, Chris (2019-01-09). "Richard Dawkins Defends Academic Peter Boghossian Who Hoaxed Journals With 'Feminist Mein Kampf'". Huffingtonpost UK. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  26. ^ Boghossian, Peter. "Student letter". Twitter. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  27. ^ Boghossian, Peter. "Johnathan Haidt". Twitter. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  28. ^ Hughes, Virginia; Aldhous, Peter. "Here's What Critics Say About That Big New Hoax On Gender Studies". BuzzFeed. Archived from the original on 2018-10-09. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  29. ^ Afinogenov, Greg (2018-10-04). "Orthodoxxed! On "Sokal Squared"". n+1. Archived from the original on 2018-10-05. Retrieved 2018-10-04.
  30. ^ editor, Letter to the. "'Conceptual Penises' and other trolling | Vanguard". Retrieved 2019-01-09.

External links[edit]