Questionable Motives

November 28, 2018

What is the new Sokal hoax – Sokal Squared – and why does it matter?

Filed under: Uncategorized — tildeb @ 11:14 am

Back in 1996, physics professor Alan Sokal submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmodernism studies. The idea was to test whether or not a leading academic journal in this field of grievance studies had any intellectual rigor for an article filled intentionally with meaningless terms and an idiotic conclusion that appealed to what Sokal suspected was the editors’ and peer reviewers’ ideological preconceptions. The article not only passed peer review but was then published and used as an academic ‘source’ for other grievance study ‘scholars’. This was the hoax and it exposed the field of grievance studies to be an ideological field and not a scholarly one.

Did this exposure by means of an embarrassing hoax have any lasting effect in academia regarding grievance studies?

To find an answer to this important question, James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose and Peter Boghossian decided to do a follow up. Their methodology was pretty straight forward for each submitted article:

it started with an idea that spoke to our epistemological or ethical concerns with the field and then sought to bend the existing scholarship to support it. The goal was always to use what the existing literature offered to get some little bit of lunacy or depravity to be acceptable at the highest levels of intellectual respectability within the field. Therefore, each paper began with something absurd or deeply unethical (or both) that we wanted to forward or conclude. We then made the existing peer-reviewed literature do our bidding in the attempt to get published in the academic canon.

This is the primary point of the project: What we just described is not knowledge production; it’s sophistry. That is, it’s a forgery of knowledge that should not be mistaken for the real thing. The biggest difference between us and the scholarship we are studying by emulation is that we know we made things up.

Several leading grievance studies journals fell for the hoax. Again.

And this is the justified conclusion: there is still no means by which advocates and users of grievance studies can distinguish bullshit from scholarship… even after these intentional hoaxes are made known. Like any good religious belief, what’s true doesn;t really matter. All the subjects that fall under the heading of  Grievance Studies are merely facets of the same ideology that does matter, pure and simple. And the field continues to have no demonstrable link to being an accurate assessment or description of reality independent of this imported ideology, this imported faith-based ideology.

And isn’t that need for faith telling us in no uncertain terms the quality of its scholarly merit?

Why does this Sokal Squared hoax matter?

In the previous post I explained who makes up the Census Bureau’s National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations in the US, a committee of 31 members that produces what appears to be independent data to describe differences about and between various groups and who are responsible as a Committee for collecting this target-driven information. The statistics gathered by targeted census questions approved by the Committee based on imported group affiliations (there’s the ideology in action) are then used to compare and contrast different groups (so that the ideological hierarchy can be established for the necessary grievance component), which is the basis on which justifications are made for appealing for all kinds of public policy to be funded by public money to targeted groups… to correct for group-based inequality by implementing measures to produce group-based equity. Individuals – and their shared individual rights – in this faith-based belief ideology simply don’t matter.In fact, such law is always an impediment to attaining the ideological social setting for ‘true’ social justice!

The majority of this committee – 17 invited members – are ‘scholars’ with strong links to – you guessed it – grievance studies. That means the majority are relying not on scholarship related to reality but on an ideological framing unrelated to reality that presumes itself to be true in place of reality.

Sound familiar?

What this committee actually does is use public money to promote their privilege and victimhood ideology in public policy hidden behind the facade of independent census data.

This is the ideology that fuels grievance studies and one all of us face. It’s not some trivial issue currently rocking the academy’s boat, a problem the rest of us have little cause to notice; rather, it is a central issue that is currently driving public policy in all kinds of areas that have a direct effect on each and every one of us… not least of which is this attack on the fundamental principles of liberalism – based on individual autonomy in law – which are fading ever further and fainter from the Left.

I think Uri Harris captures the danger of this ideology quite clearly when he explains how activists “internalize the norms of social justice and monitor their surroundings” seeking and acting upon “violations of the rules of social justice.” This is why there seems on the surface to be very little formal authority directing this. He says, “Students internalize the rules of the system and essentially become its agents. They perform the work that in the criminal justice system would fall to judges and prosecutors, but because they’ve internalized the norms of social justice, they do it entirely of their own accord, providing them with a sense of purpose.”

Sounds very much like evangelicals I know. Spreading the Good News! donchaknow… whether you want to hear it or not.

And we see this action all around us, from traditional media to social media, from the latest student ‘protest’ to corporate shifts in diversity training. Harris again offers us some insight into how this toxic ideology of today’s ‘social justice’ spreads without direct oversight when he says,

it has solidified from within to encompass large parts of society, from academia to the culture to major corporations to the legal system to politics, while adopting a more incremental and pragmatic approach. This is what happens when something becomes institutionalized.

But there’s a lot to be concerned about. The extent to which highly progressive universities have become conformist and dogmatic as they have adopted this is troubling. But we can now see why: use of analytic individualization tools to reform people of their privilege combined with a self-governing structure where people internalize the norms of social justice and continually monitor themselves and each other for violations is bound to produce a high level of conformity.

Yet, even these concerns of conformity and suppression of dissent pale in comparison to what might happen as technology continues to develop. China, which has already instituted a system of social credit combined with wide-ranging surveillance technology, provides a glimpse of this. This could become totalitarian very rapidly, especially as governments continue to work with Google, Facebook, and other technology companies to regulate speech.

I think we need to first recognize that the root problem real liberals are facing is not policies based on fact or reality but a shaped and carefully framed postmodern Marxist and totalitarian ideology packaged as ‘social’ justice. To correct the social malignancy this ideology is busy implementing, when acted upon by allies wittingly or not, requires real liberals – those people who actually support individual autonomy and equality in law – to uphold real liberal values and remember what the founding principles of classical liberalism really are. They are opposite to and in conflict with this perverted notion of ‘social’ justice and we can recognize the foe as today’s misguided social justice warrior. That threat is not existential or trivial or happening only somewhere else but made real and causing real effect all around us every day. And the solution cannot begin until each of us chooses a side.

What should shame real liberals on the Left most deeply is that many on the Right have already done so and are now the strongest advocates for classical liberal values, for individual rights and freedoms and equality in law. This is what Hitchens and Harris and many other New Atheists have been warning us about for two decades now, that classical liberal supporters on the Left have lost their way. It’s time to come home.


  1. Tildeb, not related to this post, but if you get the chance, pop over to Prof Paul Braterman’s blog, and especially this cooment by someone called Joe G. I do like your responses to people like that.

    Comment by john zande — December 1, 2018 @ 5:02 pm | Reply

    • Joe G?
      He’s still alive? Wow.
      (…clicks link…)
      Oh boy. Pandasthumb! Now that takes me back to yesteryear. After The Bar Closes and all that.
      My goodness. That was how I got started in skepticism and a curiosity in science in the first place.
      ID was my first tango with pseudoscience.
      Then, when it faded to obscurity and all the ID friendly blogs started shutting down, I switched my interests to climate denial and antivaxxers etc.
      Good times.

      Comment by Cedric Katesby — December 4, 2018 @ 1:53 am | Reply

      • Full-blown ID’ers are a species unto themselves.

        Comment by john zande — December 4, 2018 @ 3:27 am

    • Not sure how it happened but I did a random google and found my very modest contribution to ATBC on Pandasthumb all in one place, including my intro comment.

      There were some genuine ID wierdos.

      Thought I’d share it. Might be good for a giggle or two.
      The aliens one was especially good.

      Comment by Cedric Katesby — December 5, 2018 @ 8:39 am | Reply

  2. Well, I took the time to look up the term “grievance studies” since I’d never heard of it before.
    Turns out, there’s a good reason for that.
    You might want to look up the term yourself.

    “…is not policies based on fact or reality but a shaped and carefully framed postmodern Marxist and totalitarian ideology packaged as ‘social’ justice.”

    “…that many on the Right have already done so and are now the strongest advocates for classical liberal values, for individual rights and freedoms and equality in law.”

    Ah, those people. Doing that thing. Yeah…that. I was talking to one in a coffee shop just yesterday. Amazing person.
    Very strong advocate for values and stuff. I was jolly impressed, I can tell you.
    I won’t go into details. Just trust me on this.

    Comment by Cedric Katesby — December 4, 2018 @ 12:44 am | Reply

  3. One would think that being able to get an entire chapter of a woke version of Mein Kampf published in academia might be cause for concern. But apparently not.
    Cedric’s never heard of it so everything must be perfectly ok.

    Comment by Ashley — January 3, 2019 @ 11:14 am | Reply

  4. Exactly what?

    Comment by Cedric Katesby — January 3, 2019 @ 9:58 pm | Reply

    • Oh nothing at all Cedric. You’ve never heard of the term grievance studies before, so there can’t be anything to be concerned about. Not even when entire sections of chapter 12 of Mein Kampf can be re-worked into a feminist narrative and accepted by a academic journal. Not even when they call it “Our Struggle is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism.”.
      But you’ve never heard of the term grievance studies so it must not be a thing.
      Carry on good sir.

      Comment by Ashley — January 4, 2019 @ 8:22 am | Reply

      • You’ve never heard of the term grievance studies before, so there can’t be anything to be concerned about.

        Never said it.

        Not even when entire sections of chapter 12 of Mein Kampf can be re-worked into a feminist narrative…


        Comment by Cedric Katesby — January 5, 2019 @ 7:43 am

      • “Never said it”

        “Turns out, there’s a good reason for that”


        Comment by Ashley — January 6, 2019 @ 7:09 pm

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