Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Academic hoaxes: irritating waste of time or the most infuriating waste of time in a time of massive national lies?

A group of merry pranksters with a mean streak a mile wide and lots and lots of time on their hands perpetrated a hoax recently by submitting faked papers and getting a couple of them published. 

So whose time did they waste?

  • That of the journal editors, who are doing this for no pay.
  • That of the poor reviewers, who were forced to wade through the pretentious BS and try, in good faith, to say something not awful in case this was the misguided effort of a grad student.
  • That of all of us who have to look at this nonsense in the news at the Chronicle and everywhere else.
  • That of all in the humanities, who will now have to redouble their efforts to prove to skeptical legislators that the humanities are worth supporting. 

Academic hoaxers, or any kind of hoaxers (except Poe and Twain, because Poe and Twain) make me furious.

They abuse the trusting nature of human beings. It's a bullying move. It shows you have power over someone and that you're displaying it in front of an audience to humiliate your victim.

So you get to be a bully and make someone look like a fool. You do you. Happy now?

It's only one step away from the kind of bullying power trip that we saw in the news last week with the Kavanaugh hearings, and I don't have to say any more about that.

Abuse someone's trust. Trick them into believing one thing when you mean to hurt them. Carry out your plan and then laugh at your victims.

If you want to read more, here's some views from The Chronicle.

One of the people there said "Any academic who thinks hoaxing as such is unethical or nugatory is a dull and petty functionary."

Two points:

1. It IS unethical.
2. I'd rather be a dull and petty functionary than a jerk. 


Bardiac said...

Amen! Especially to the two final points!

heu mihi said...

Right on. Thanks.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Absolutely. It's the old "I was just playing, can't you take a joke?" defense, which blithely overlooks the actual damage done.

nicoleandmaggie said...

One of these kinds papers (not the one mentioned today or the original deconstructionism paper which I honestly got a kick out of as a hater of desconstructionism theory, but you're probably right about benefits vs. harms) was an audit of open-access pay-to-publish journals. (It interestingly found that not all of the thought-to-be-scam journals were complete scams-- some of them did actually send papers out for review and rejected them. But, for the most part, the computer-generated articles were accepted without review and with a request of payment...)

I do think that study was worth it. I also think the federal government should do more hiring audits to test for discrimination, even though they waste the time of private companies. For each of these studies, it is important to weigh the costs and the potential benefits. Studies don't necessarily need to "do no harm" but they do need to do minimal harm and that harm must be weighed against the benefits of the findings. This more recent paper making the news seems higher in the harm potential and not as well designed as previous studies, but I haven't looked into it that deeply.

undine said...

Thanks, Bardiac!

Thanks, heu mihi!

Dame Eleanor--right? "Can't you take a joke" is the tool of bullies.

nicoleandmaggie--the one where the person wrote "this is a scam" over & over & submitted it to a predatory journal and got it published is in a different category. They weren't trying to fool anyone, and even a minimal peer review would have caught it. These seemed to be less studies than pranks dressed up as studies.