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Academic Anomaly addresses the Grievance Imbroglio

Scholarly journals publish hoax articles

In 1996, physics professor Alan Sokal submitted an article to the cultural studies journal Social Text claiming that “it is becoming increasingly apparent that physical ‘reality’ is fundamentally ‘a social and linguistic construct.’” His aim was to show that a supposedly scholarly journal would “publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if it sounded good and flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.” Social Text took the bait, but according to USD Assistant Professor of Philosophy Jonathan Anomaly, “there was a little bit of back and forth, and then they went on with business as usual.”

Earlier this year, three scholars — James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian — revealed that they had submitted some 20 similar hoax articles to academic journals specializing in what they called “Grievance Studies,” and gotten seven of them accepted. Among them: a rewriting of a Mein Kampf excerpt in the language of Intersectionality, and an investigation of rape culture at a dog park. Anomaly thinks the same thing may happen here — a brief kerfuffle and then business as usual — but he’d like to believe otherwise. Because in his view, “some disciplines that are worth studying have become so politically biased that it’s hard for them to progress. It’s hard for students to learn in any deep sense, because as John Stuart Mill would say, the best way to get justification for your belief, even if it happens to be true, is to frequently and fearlessly encounter opposition.” (Otherwise, suggest Anomaly and the Grievance Trio, you wind up with dogma: quasi-religious absolutes that, whatever their merits, are outside the purview of scholarship.)

Advocacy for opposition can be an explosive move in an academic culture wary of triggering. Anomaly — a Berkeley grad and former left-winger who refuses to call himself conservative even as he lambastes liberal pieties about inequality equaling injustice — has found himself protested and pilloried in the past. Still, he thought it worthwhile to write a piece on the Grievance hoax for the website Quillette, one that argued that “many faculty in [Grievance] departments seem alarmingly eager to hijack for their own ends the emotional circuitry of teenagers who arrive on campus in search of a tribe to join and a dragon to slay.”

Not that he’s opposed to dragon-slaying: “I’m a secular Jew, and the first article I wrote for Quillette was, ‘What the Alt-Right Gets Wrong About Jews.’ It linked to my buddy Nathan Cofnas’s article, which was the first systematic debunking of an Anti-Semitic conspiracy theory written by former Cal State Long Beach Professor Kevin MacDonald in his book The Culture of Critique. No one would review it for twenty years, because it didn’t meet the basic standards for academics. But it gained a massive cult following. Nathan wrote the first academic paper taking it seriously,” in part because, as Anomaly wrote in his more recent Quillette piece, “what happens on campus doesn’t stay on campus.” For Anomaly, that’s true whether you’re convincing folks that Jews are cultural parasites or jiggering Google results to suit your worldview, as suggested by Dr. David Epstein in his Global Research article, “The New Mind Control.”

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Dr. Jonathan Anomaly: “I think the academy is in serious crisis right now.”
Dr. Jonathan Anomaly: “I think the academy is in serious crisis right now.”

In 1996, physics professor Alan Sokal submitted an article to the cultural studies journal Social Text claiming that “it is becoming increasingly apparent that physical ‘reality’ is fundamentally ‘a social and linguistic construct.’” His aim was to show that a supposedly scholarly journal would “publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if it sounded good and flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.” Social Text took the bait, but according to USD Assistant Professor of Philosophy Jonathan Anomaly, “there was a little bit of back and forth, and then they went on with business as usual.”

Earlier this year, three scholars — James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian — revealed that they had submitted some 20 similar hoax articles to academic journals specializing in what they called “Grievance Studies,” and gotten seven of them accepted. Among them: a rewriting of a Mein Kampf excerpt in the language of Intersectionality, and an investigation of rape culture at a dog park. Anomaly thinks the same thing may happen here — a brief kerfuffle and then business as usual — but he’d like to believe otherwise. Because in his view, “some disciplines that are worth studying have become so politically biased that it’s hard for them to progress. It’s hard for students to learn in any deep sense, because as John Stuart Mill would say, the best way to get justification for your belief, even if it happens to be true, is to frequently and fearlessly encounter opposition.” (Otherwise, suggest Anomaly and the Grievance Trio, you wind up with dogma: quasi-religious absolutes that, whatever their merits, are outside the purview of scholarship.)

Advocacy for opposition can be an explosive move in an academic culture wary of triggering. Anomaly — a Berkeley grad and former left-winger who refuses to call himself conservative even as he lambastes liberal pieties about inequality equaling injustice — has found himself protested and pilloried in the past. Still, he thought it worthwhile to write a piece on the Grievance hoax for the website Quillette, one that argued that “many faculty in [Grievance] departments seem alarmingly eager to hijack for their own ends the emotional circuitry of teenagers who arrive on campus in search of a tribe to join and a dragon to slay.”

Not that he’s opposed to dragon-slaying: “I’m a secular Jew, and the first article I wrote for Quillette was, ‘What the Alt-Right Gets Wrong About Jews.’ It linked to my buddy Nathan Cofnas’s article, which was the first systematic debunking of an Anti-Semitic conspiracy theory written by former Cal State Long Beach Professor Kevin MacDonald in his book The Culture of Critique. No one would review it for twenty years, because it didn’t meet the basic standards for academics. But it gained a massive cult following. Nathan wrote the first academic paper taking it seriously,” in part because, as Anomaly wrote in his more recent Quillette piece, “what happens on campus doesn’t stay on campus.” For Anomaly, that’s true whether you’re convincing folks that Jews are cultural parasites or jiggering Google results to suit your worldview, as suggested by Dr. David Epstein in his Global Research article, “The New Mind Control.”

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