Peter Boghossian

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Peter Boghossian
Alma materPortland State University
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolNew Atheism[1]
InstitutionsPortland State University
Main interests
Atheism, critical thinking, pedagogy, scientific skepticism, Socratic method
Notable ideas
Socratic pedagogy

Peter Gregory Boghossian (/bəˈɡziən/) is an American philosopher. He is an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University, and his areas of academic focus include atheism, critical thinking, pedagogy, scientific skepticism, and the Socratic method. He is the author of A Manual for Creating Atheists and How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide.

Boghossian was involved in the Grievance Studies affair (also called "Sokal Squared" in media coverage) with collaborators James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose, in which they published several hoax papers in academic journals, as part of their criticism of a set of fields including gender studies. As a result, Portland State University initiated a research misconduct investigation of him in 2018.

Boghossian coined the term Street Epistemology for a set of conversational techniques he described which are designed to enable examination of strongly held beliefs, especially of the religious kind, in a non-confrontation manner.


Boghossian's primary interests are critical thinking, philosophy of education, and moral reasoning. Boghossian's thesis looks at the use of the Socratic method with prison inmates for critical thinking and moral reasoning with the intention to decrease ongoing criminal behavior.[2] The research was funded by the State of Oregon. Boghossian was Chairman of the Prison Advisory Committee for the Columbia River Correctional Institution and he is currently a fellow at the Center for Prison Reform.[3] Boghossian is employed as an assistant professor at Portland State University.[4]

Boghossian is the author of two books, A Manual for Creating Atheists,[5] a book with a foreword by Michael Shermer,[1] and How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide.[6] He also contributed a foreword to Stefan Molyneux's book Against the Gods.[7][8]

As part of his ongoing interest in Prison Reform, Portland State University entered into a partnership with the Columbia River Correctional Institution in 2009 to address the needs of inmates releasing into the community. Details of this partnership have been elaborated in an article titled Prisons, Community Partnerships, and Academia: Sustainable Programs and Community Need.[9]

Along with Michael Shermer and Jennifer Whitson, Boghossian was featured as an expert in the 2017 documentary Reasons To Believe, which explores the psychology and science of belief.[10]

Boghossian has been a speaker for the Center for Inquiry, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and the Secular Student Alliance. He has been nominated as a member of the Global Secular Council.[11]


Boghossian has called all faith-based beliefs "delusions."[12] He has been described by The Daily Beast as aligned with the New Atheist movement.[1] He advocates using the Socratic method to dissuade religious believers, though he recommends focusing on the problems of faith as a way of knowing (he calls it an "unreliable epistemology"), rather than the outward trappings of religious communities.[1]

In a 2015 interview with Dave Rubin, Boghossian described himself as a classical liberal who has never voted for a Republican candidate, but is "not a fan" of the Democrats. He stated that any of the Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential election "would be an unmitigated disaster."[13] He donated to and endorsed Andrew Yang for the 2020 United States presidential election.[14]

According to Boghossian, "the regressive left have taken over academia."[13] He has repeatedly stated that cultural relativism and egalitarianism are contradictory values.[13][15][16]

Grievance studies affair[edit]

The grievance studies affair, also referred to as the "Sokal Squared" scandal by the news media, consisted of the submission of hoax academic papers for peer-review, performed by Boghossian, James A. Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose on a series of academic fields which they termed “grievance studies”, a sub-category of race, gender, feminist and sexuality studies which they believed were characterized by low scientific standards.[17]

Previous hoax paper[edit]

In 2017, Boghossian and Lindsay published a hoax paper titled "The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct".[18] The paper, which the authors said was intentionally absurd and written in a way that imitated the style of "poststructuralist discursive gender theory", argued that the penis should be seen "not as an anatomical organ but as a social construct isomorphic to performative toxic masculinity."[18][19] Boghossian and Lindsay initially submitted the paper to Norma, where it was rejected.[20][21] They later submitted the paper to Cogent Social Sciences, an open access journal which has been criticized as a pay-to-publish operation.[18] The authors later revealed the hoax in Skeptic magazine. Boghossian and Lindsay stated that they intended to demonstrate that "gender studies is crippled academically by an overriding almost-religious belief that maleness is the root of all evil", and also to highlight problems with the review processes of open-access journals.

A number of critics questioned whether Boghossian and Lindsay's paper demonstrated a problem in the field of gender studies.[19] Alan Sokal, a mathematics professor who was responsible for a similar hoax in 1996, noted that Cogent Social Sciences was a low-tiered open access journal that did not specialize in gender studies, and said that it seemed unlikely the paper would have been accepted at a mainstream gender studies journal.[22] While the journal did conduct a postmortem, Boghossian and Lindsay concluded the "impact [of the hoax] was very limited, and much criticism of it was legitimate."[23]

Sequence of events[edit]

Beginning in August 2017, Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose began a much larger attempt in which they wrote 20 hoax papers, submitting them to peer-reviewed journals under a variety of pseudonyms as well as the name of Richard Baldwin, a professor emeritus at Florida’s Gulf Coast State College and friend of Boghossian. The project was halted early after one of the papers in the feminist geography journal Gender, Place and Culture was criticized on social media, and then its authenticity questioned on Campus Reform.[24]

After this, the trio revealed the full extent of their work in a YouTube video created and released by documentary filmmaker Mike Nayna, alongside an investigation by The Wall Street Journal.[25][26] By the time of the revelation seven of their twenty papers had been accepted, seven were still under review, and six had been rejected. One paper, which was accepted by feminist social work journal Affilia, transposed up-to-date jargon into passages lifted from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.[27]

Tom Whipple of The Times wrote that academic reviewers had praised the studies prior to the revelation of the hoax as "a rich and exciting contribution to the study of ... the intersection between masculinity and anality", "excellent and very timely", and "important dialogue for social workers and feminist scholars".[28]


The project drew both praise and criticism, with author and Harvard lecturer Yascha Mounk dubbing it 'Sokal squared' in reference to the famous Sokal Affair hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal and saying "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?"[29] Daniel Engber of online magazine Slate criticised the project, saying "one could have run this sting on almost any empirical discipline and returned the same result."[30] In an open letter, eleven of Boghossian's colleagues at Portland State University wrote that the hoaxes "violat[ed] acceptable norms of research," and were "fraudulent, time-wasting, anti-intellectual activities."[31][32] Joel P. Christensen and Matthew A. Sears said it was "the academic equivalent of the fraudulent hit pieces on Planned Parenthood" produced in 2015.[7] Carl Bergstrom claimed "the hoaxers appear woefully naïve about how the [peer review] system actually works."[33]

Research misconduct investigation[edit]

In 2018, Boghossian's employer, Portland State University, initiated a research misconduct inquiry relating to the grievance studies affair. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the university's institutional review board (IRB) concluded that Boghossian violated the ethical guidelines by conducting research on human subjects without approval. The University also said it is "considering a further charge that he had falsified data."[34]

After news of the research conduct investigation broke, a number of prominent academics wrote letters defending Boghossian, including evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, mathematician and physicist Alan Sokal, philosopher Daniel Dennett, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, and psychologist Jordan Peterson.[35] Pinker wrote that Portland State University's investigation struck him and his colleagues "as an attempt to weaponize an important [principle] of academic ethics in order to punish a scholar for expressing an unpopular opinion."[36] Dawkins suggested that the investigation could be politically motivated: "If the members of your committee of inquiry object to the very idea of satire as a form of creative expression, they should come out honestly and say so. But to pretend that this is a matter of publishing false data is so obviously ridiculous that one cannot help suspecting an ulterior motive."[34] Peterson said that those pursuing allegations against Boghossian, and not Boghossian himself, were guilty of academic misconduct.[36]

On the other hand, IRB experts interviewed by Jesse Singal for New York magazine agreed that Boghossian should have sought IRB approval for the study.[37]

In December 2018, Portland State University ruled that Boghossian had "violated ethical guidelines on human-subjects research". Consequently, he was banned from doing research until he had "completed training and could demonstrate that he understood how to protect the rights of human subjects.”[38]

Street Epistemology[edit]

Street Epistemology (often abbreviated to SE) is a term coined by Boghossian in his book A Manual for Creating Atheists.[39] This is a set of non-confrontation conversational techniques concerning a strongly held belief, designed to promote thoughtful reflection and open-mindedness in a participant regarding the belief. Boghossian outlined the method and its application in helping religious believers to reflect on the reliability of faith as an epistemology. However, it has also found effective use in many other contexts, and Boghossian later co-authored How to Have Impossible Conversations with James Lindsay, which describes the application of Street Epistemology to an examination of a wider range of beliefs.[6]

SE was popularized by Anthony Magnabosco who has uploaded many examples of SE conversations he has had to a YouTube channel, created many resources surrounding the topic, and engages with a community of Street Epistemologists looking to become proficient in the method and apply it in their lives. Magnabosco is the founder of Street Epistemology International, a non-profit organization "whose mission is to encourage and normalize critical thinking and skepticism while providing people around the world with the resources needed to develop and promote Street Epistemology."[40][41] Resources are available for the community of SE practitioners, which include a guide on how to perform interviews using the style.[41]



  • Socratic pedagogy, critical thinking, moral reasoning and inmate education: an exploratory study (Ed.D. thesis). Portland State University. 2004. OCLC 57569353. Retrieved June 5, 2014.


  • Boghossian, Peter (January 1, 2013). A Manual for Creating Atheists. Pitchstone Publishing. ISBN 978-1939578099. Persian translation by Amir Maniee (February 7, 2019)
  • Boghossian, Peter; Lindsay, James (September 17, 2019). How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide. Da Capo Lifelong Books. ISBN 978-0738285320.


  1. ^ a b c d Schulson, Michael (11 February 2013). "Atheist Philosopher Peter Boghossian's Guide to Converting Believers". The Daily Beast.
  2. ^ Boghossian, Peter (2006-01-01). "Socratic Pedagogy, Critical Thinking, and Inmate Education". Journal of Correctional Education. 57 (1): 42–63. JSTOR 23282687.
  3. ^ "Center for Prison Reform, Fellows". Center for Prison Reform. 03-06-2016.
  4. ^ "Portland State College of Liberal Arts & Sciences: Department of Philosophy | Peter Boghossian". Retrieved 2016-06-04.
  5. ^ Winston, Kimberly (November 18, 2013). "Got faith? 'A Manual for Creating Atheists' would like to change that". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 30, 2013.
  6. ^ a b Boghossian, Peter; Lindsay, James (2019). How to Have Impossible Conversations. Da Capo Lifelong Books. ISBN 0738285323.
  7. ^ a b Joel P. Christensen; Matthew A. Sears (30 October 2018). "The Overlooked Messages of the Sokal-Squared Hoax". Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  8. ^ Beauchamp, Zack (15 Oct 2018). "The controversy around hoax studies in critical theory, explained". Vox Media, Inc. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  9. ^ "Federal Probation Journal - June 2012". United States Courts. Retrieved 2016-06-03.
  10. ^ "Prime Video: Reasons To Believe". Archived from the original on 1 October 2020. Retrieved 1 October 2020.
  11. ^ Secular Global Institute: "Peter Boghossian" Archived 2018-06-12 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ Holgate, Tess (20 June 2015). "How do you know? Atheist vs believer debates strike again". Bible Society Australia.
  13. ^ a b c Rubin, Dave (2015-12-18), "Peter Boghossian and Dave Rubin: Critical Thinking, Atheism, and Faith [Full Interview]", The Rubin Report, retrieved 2016-06-03
  14. ^ Peter Boghossian (2019-09-25). "I also donated to his campaign. Our best hope. #YangGang Join Andrew Yang and his campaign of ideas". Twitter.
  15. ^ "One cannot be both a cultural relativist & an egalitarian. You can't simultaneously claim all cultures are relative & equal. #RegressiveLeft". Peter Boghossian on Twitter. 21 November 2015.
  16. ^ "One cannot simultaneously maintain relativism & egalitarianism. Yet these contradictory values are held by many contemporary leftists". Peter Boghossian on Twitter. 25 May 2013.
  17. ^ "Another set of fake papers takes aim at social science's nether regions". The Economist. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  18. ^ a b c Schuessler, Jennifer (October 4, 2018). "Hoaxers Slip Breastaurants and Dog-Park Sex Into Journals". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  19. ^ a b Jaschik, Scott (May 22, 2017). "Hoax With Multiple Targets". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  20. ^ Tillberg, Anneli (12 June 2017). "Attack on gender studies despite rejection of hoax article". Retrieved 17 April 2019.
  21. ^ "Statement regarding hoax article". NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies. 26 May 2017. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
  22. ^ Sokal, Alan (June 14, 2017). "What the 'Conceptual Penis' Hoax Does and Does Not Prove". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  23. ^ 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. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  24. ^ "Academic journal duped by author of 'dog rape culture' article". Campus Reform. 2018-07-25. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  25. ^
  26. ^ Melchior, Jillian Kay (2018-10-05). "Opinion | Fake News Comes to Academia". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  27. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (October 4, 2018). "Hoaxers Slip Breastaurants and Dog-Park Sex Into Journals". New York Times. Retrieved 2018-10-08. ...a third paper, published in a journal of feminist social work and titled “Our Struggle Is My Struggle,” simply scattered some up-to-date jargon into passages lifted from Hitler’s “Mein Kampf....”They set out to write 20 papers that started with “politically fashionable conclusions,” which they worked backward to support by aping the relevant fields’ methods and arguments, and sometimes inventing data.
  28. ^ Whipple, Tom (October 4, 2018). "Journals publish hoaxers' absurd gender studies". The Times. p. 19. Retrieved January 27, 2019 – via EBSCOhost Newspaper Source Plus.
  29. ^ "'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. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  30. ^ Engber, Daniel. "The "Grievance Studies" Hoax Does Not Reveal the Academic Scandal That It Claims". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  31. ^ McWilliams, James (25 Jan 2019). "A Philosopher's Hoax Embarrassed Several Academic Journals. Was It Satire or Fraud?". Pacific Standard. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  32. ^ "'Conceptual Penises' and other trolling: On the philosophy of science and making sense of 'Hoax Studies'". Portland State Vanguard. 9 November 2018. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  33. ^ "What the 'Grievance Studies' Hoax Means". The Chronicle of Higher Education. 2018-10-09. Retrieved 2018-10-30.
  34. ^ a b Mangan, Katherine (January 7, 2019). "Proceedings Start Against 'Sokal Squared' Hoax Professor". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
  35. ^ McWilliams, James (25 January 2019). "A Philosopher's Hoax Embarrassed Several Academic Journals. Was It Satire or Fraud?". Retrieved 10 September 2019.
  36. ^ a b Soave, Robby (8 January 2019). "Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Jordan Peterson, Others Urge Portland State Not to Punish Peter Boghossian for 'Grievance Studies' Hoax". Reason. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  37. ^ Singal, Jesse (January 11, 2019). "Is a Portland Professor Being Railroaded by His University for Criticizing Social-Justice Research?". New York Magazine. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
  38. ^ Mangan, Katherine (July 24, 2019) "Portland State Says Researcher Violated the Rights of the Editors He Duped", The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved September 11, 2020.
  39. ^ Boghossian, Peter (2013). A Manual for Creating Atheists. Pitchstone Publishing. ISBN 1939578094.
  40. ^ "Welcome to Street Epistemology International". Street Epistemology International. Archived from the original on 29 September 2020. Retrieved 29 September 2020.
  41. ^ a b "Street Epistemology (Homepage)". Street Epistemology. Archived from the original on 29 September 2020. Retrieved 29 September 2020.

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