Peter Boghossian, Portland State Univ. professor, to face discipline for exposing shoddy scholarship

January 7, 2019

A scholar whose careful fiction helped expose the rot within some sectors of the modern academy is now under fire from his home, Portland State University, although prominent academics throughout the West have sprung to his defense.

Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University in Oregon, led a trio of scholars last year who submitted what they called “intentionally broken” papers to leading publications on gender, race and sexuality. Several of the absurd pieces were published.

Now, Portland State has initiated disciplinary action against Mr. Boghossian for an alleged breach of the institution’s ethical guidelines.

Among the renowned international scholars urging Portland State to forego such action is Oxford’s Professor Emeritus Richard Dawkins, who compared administrators to the duplicitous pigs in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

“My first response on reading of the punitive investigation into Dr Peter Boghossian’s brilliant hoax was to let out a howl of incredulous mirth,” Mr. Dawkins wrote on Dec. 14. “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?”

The punishment Portland State may impose on Mr. Boghossian was unclear Monday morning, and the university did not immediately respond to questions posed about its process.

Mr. Boghossian was joined by James Lindsay, a mathematics doctoral candidate, and Helen Pluckrose, an English literature professor, in the celebrated ruse. All three described themselves as left-wing supporters of gender, race and sexuality studies but were concerned the fields have become corrupted by bogus scholarship.

One of their papers, which purported to examine rape culture through the study of dogs in a Portland park, even won an accolade for “excellent scholarship.”

In a video accompanying their announcement of their hoax last October, Mr. Lindsay insisted it was designed not to denigrate specific disciplines but “to expose the political corruption that’s taken hold of the university.”

Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto who has become a celebrated speaker around the world, joined Mr. Dawkins and others in condemning Portland State’s actions.

“From my perspective, any ‘academic misconduct’ that is occurring is being perpetrated by those who are raising and pursuing the allegations, and most certainly not on the part of Dr. Boghossian,” Mr. Peterson wrote Portland State in a blistering two-page letter on Dec. 22.

“Dr. Boghossian and his colleagues, like Alan Sokal before them, did the academic world and the broader community that surrounds it a great favor by pointing out the embarrassing nakedness of the emperor,” Mr. Peterson wrote. “The fact that he is now being pursued by your institution for ‘academic misconduct’ is nothing but further proof of the absolute corruption characterizing the very disciplines he so rightly satirized, pilloried and exposed.”

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