The Coming of the Second Dark Ages

In Academia, Philosophy, Politics by J Michel Metz25 Comments

Ivory Tower? Or House of Cards?

I’ve been struggling with the ongoing demise of my first love – academics – for a while now.

While there has never been any semblance of perfection in any field, there was still the concept of merit. The notion of a Doctorate (and post-Doctorates) meant that you needed to run a gauntlet of challenges to make sure that your work not only was correct, not only could withstand the scrutiny of others who were masters of their crafts, but also had to show that you deserved to be counted among those who had also proven their worth.

My first disillusionment happened after I completed my Ph.D (this was in the mid-1990s). Soon after my defense I found out that another candidate had written very little of her dissertation (I know because she told me this herself). This wasn’t because of the fact that she couldn’t have done it – she was brilliant – she didn’t need to because she was able to manipulate her advisor into writing most of it for her.

At the time (and I still believe this) such behavior was atypical. I’ve never heard of another PhD student in that time frame doing that. I do remember, however, feeling that my degree had been diminished, somehow.

Still, I knew that I had done the job the hard way. I chose a very difficult topic, on a technology that wasn’t mature, with human subjects (and that always puts several layers of pain on top of the process). The experiment was large, it was ambitious, the hypothesis was carefully crafted, researched, and prepared; and after all that hard work… I was wrong.

I know no-tingk!

Sometimes this happens. Sometimes you think you know you’re on the right path – hell, you know you’re on the right path. You see a connection and you are absolutely convinced that what you think is true is indisputable and then… sigh.

Failed experiments are sometimes more valuable than successful ones, however. Because I had to run that gauntlet, because I had superior minds coaching me, I was able to understand that while the experiment failed, I wasn’t a failure. I had simply missed something and was able to make an even stronger hypothesis the next time.

The Seeds of Trouble

At that time, though, there was a fringe growth of people in academia who were focusing on everything wrong with people and the world (the advisor who wrote most of my colleague’s dissertation was in this camp). They were in an echo chamber, spiraling out of control amongst themselves, writing papers and articles and publishing each others’ work on just how bad and evil and awful everything was.

The seeds of today’s academic discord were sown long, long ago. When these “scholars” first discovered computers, they wasted no time creating elaborate fictions about how “problematic” they were. I took these pictures from a textbook on “Computer-Mediated Communication” (my field of study and research), circa 1994:

Check out the experience of Christina Hoff Sommers – who explains what happened at a Feminism Conference in 1992 (the relevant portion starts at 4:08, but the entire video is worth watching):


The genesis of this movement came from legitimate places of academic discourse, though. Feminist Studies, Race Studies, Queer Studies – all were legitimate areas of research within the context of Psychology, Communication, Sociology, History, Economics, Poly-Sci, etc.

The fact that the discourse was isolationist (and dissent was anathema) did not negate the validity the original purpose. However, following that process is important. It’s critical that basic claims be challenged, assumptions be examined. These groups marginalized themselves because they refused to follow even basic protocols of checks and balances.

Over time, I thought that one of two things would happen:

  1. They would marginalize themselves to the point where they were ignored altogether, or
  2. They would find some rigor in their methodology that would help get them seen as true peers in the annals of falsifiable research.

Once again, I was wrong. (Don’t worry, I’m used to it.)

Devolving Academics

In the last 20 years academia has raced headlong towards their emotional masturbatory techniques, not away from it. When these “academics” started to realize that their Very Important Research™ was being ignored, they decided to change the vocabulary to sound more scientific.

There is a video, somewhere (I haven’t been able to find it in time to insert it into this article) of Noam Chomsky lamenting the fact that the “hard sciences” had jargon that distanced scientists from the layperson, but social scientists did not. In the past 15 years, social commentat… er, “scientists” have created entire encyclopedias of nonsense terms to:

  1. Make themselves sound legitimate,
  2. Con people into thinking there is far more to their work than there is, and
  3. Bedazzle you with bullshit.

[2017.03.09 Update: A reader sent me the link to the video that I was unable to find. Thank you, Mike!]


Pick any abstract in Social Sciences nowadays; it reads more like something that comes out of a German Enigma machine than anything even remotely useful.

Cases in point [A very special hat tip to @RealPeerReview for their dangerous and important work.]:

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And this doozy:

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The Fabrication of a Research Method: Autoethnographies

One has to look no further than the sudden and explosive surge of “autoethnographies,” a research methodology that doesn’t exist.

An Ethnography, for those who aren’t into academics, is a study of Culture. An Ethnographic examination (which was the process used for my Masters Thesis, by the way, so I have a little more than a passing experience with the process) must go through very specific, detailed procedures to ensure that the researcher can safely navigate the turbulent waters of “me/them” with some semblance of accuracy and validity.

An autoethnography is a contradiction in terms, then. The idea is to place one’s feelings, thoughts, and desires within the context of a cultural index. In reality, it’s a way to turn a diary entry into a Ph.D dissertation.

Click on image for link to article

Here’s an “autoethnography” about… walking.

Why do I have Aerosmith running through my head now?

And then there’s this doctoral dissertation accepted by Columbia University:

It’s all about me, Me, ME!!! Give me a Ph.D!

The Incompetent Person’s Substitution for Research

There has already been well-understood processes for examining the self in this manner. Phenomenology is one such method.


“Phenomenology” is, in the 20th century, mainly the name for a philosophical movement whose primary objective is the direct investigation and description of phenomena as consciously experienced, without theories about their causal explanation and as free as possible from unexamined preconceptions and presuppositions. The term itself is much older, going back to at least to the 18th century, when Johann Heinrich Lambert, in his Neues Organon (1794), applied it to that part of his theory of knowledge which distinguishes truth from illusion and error. (Doing Phenomenology, page 3)

The key text for Phenomenology is this one. How much do you want to bet that people are put off by doing the right thing simply by the expense of getting the education?

So why are these people re-inventing a triangular wheel? Because – and I can speak from personal experience here – this stuff is hard. You have to know your psychology, philosophy, and communication theory backwards and forwards, You have to know it cold.

To this pre-school of thought, however, it’s hard enough sorting through feelings of “exploitation,” “appropriation,” “patriarchy,” “privilege,” and – of course – research that is “problematic.” This, to me, is the real reason why Phenomenology – and naturalistic inquiry methods like it – are ignored or avoided: they require as much control for “illusion and error” as the “Hard” Sciences.

Why add to such a traumatic starting point by burdening one’s self with external validation?

You think I’m joking? Take a look at this comment left on an op-ed piece about the “March for Science.” (h/t @RealPeerReview):

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“It’s difficult to offer empirical evidence because human nature is complex.” What!?

I’ve never been a wholesale believer in the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (that choice in language creates reality), so I never believed this would work. Such a thinly veiled attempt to legitimize piss-poor claims and avoid doing actual work – the work that makes one worthy of what a Ph.D represents – would never pass muster by those who do legitimate scientific research.

(NB: “Legitimate” scientific research has to do with the methods involved, not the field of discipline, nor whether or not the examination is qualitative or quantitative.)

Sure enough, practitioners of wanna-be science have come to realize that there are a lot of very smart people out there who aren’t fooled by the hand waving (or more accurately, screaming and shouting) and euphemisms.

  • If your examination isn’t externally valid, it doesn’t count.
  • If your examination isn’t reproducible, it doesn’t count.
  • If your examination isn’t falsifiable, it doesn’t count.
  • Most importantly, if your examination does not apply to anyone but you, it doesn’t count.

Get Rid of Science – The “Fallers”

So, when that didn’t work, these groups – which now expanded to include several hyper-coddled teenagers who were raised through the “For the Children,” participation-ribbon policies of the 1990s and 2000s – decided that their failure to be seen as academically rigorous was due to the fact that it was out to get them all along:

Research is rape.

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Then there’s this, which @RealPeerReview reposted hours after I published this blog post. It encapsulates everything referred to here:

Highlighting would take up the entire paragraph

And why not? For years there has been absolutely no accountability to these asserted wild claims. Why aren’t people believing them? Why are they laughing at us?


It’s because science itself is “colonialist,” is “raping people,” and showing that Objective Truth is “sexist” (I have a feeling Ayn Rand might like to take up the debate with this particular snowflake). Think about this for just a second. Here we have a Feminist Professor who says that women can’t do science. Remember Tim Hunt’s joke about women shouldn’t be in science because they cry? The poor guy (Nobel Laureate, btw) got fired for it. This feminist scholar says the same thing (except she’s serious), and…

When I first found @RealPeerReview (from where nearly all of these examples come from) on Twitter, at first I was amused. Then I was incensed. Now I’m despondent.

I love science. I’m not talking about the fan-boy “love” that you usually hear about:

I’m talking about the pedantic, thorough, methodical approach to chipping away at doubt and uncertainty to find What Is Really Going On™. Michelangelo used to say that the statues were always buried in the marble, he was just letting them out. To me, when done properly the process of science is just like that.

It’s slow, painstaking work when it’s done right. And, you’re wrong far more often than you’re right. But, somehow, the Snowflake Studies brigade has managed to have amazing, 100% win-ratios with their work.

How To Get 100% Success Rates

Make a claim! Show evidence for it? Who needs evidence? Evidence is oppressive.

Click image to download PDF

(This was found in, and I’m not making this up, the Journal of Hate Studies.)

Nope. No selection bias here.

Demonize entire groups of people! It’s okay, because we can contort better than a Ukrainian gymnast to make our feelings “prove” our, uh, feelings.

If your theory is inconvenienced by facts, simply deny they exist!


Completely make stuff up! Make outrageous claims as the foundational basis for your ideological research!

Click on image for full text

After all, who can debate an imaginary problem with an imaginary method of analysis?


You think “autoethnographies” were bad, try Duoethnographies.

Validity? What validity?

Use obscure events and popular culture to represent entire world views!

Rap dissertation.

“post-colonial technique,” “finding plenty to criticize.”

Pick a group and show just how bad they have it, even if you have to subcategorize to the extreme!

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Hell, even if you have to make up the group in the first place!


Even if that group isn’t human! As long as someone feels guilty for something they didn’t do, right?

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Critical Plant Studies


From “Critical Studies in Television.” Uh huh.

State the mind-numbingly obvious! Make sure you imply that innocuous activities are bad.

Parents apparently want to vacation with their kids. Problematic!

Vacation awesomeness.

Find something you like! Use fancy words! Get a Ph.D!

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Who know that writing any private diary entry would get you a Doctorate?

And whatever you do, make damn sure that you never, ever, allow for dissent.

Call for papers. One ideology only, please.

The Second Dark Ages

Now, I understand that the so-called “Dark Ages,” weren’t all that dark. That does not mean that there hasn’t been long periods of anti-intellectualism, repressed by dogmatic belief structures.

We are entering into an era of academic irrelevancy. At this juncture, it is virtually impossible for a layman to understand the difference between scientific rigor and multi-syllabic emotional excrement. The academic has no clothes, and to point that out results in beheading by collective fiat.

The facility to endorse contradictory statements in order to justify a sense of moral outrage is the only effective offense they have against someone who is genuinely willing to engage with them at an intellectual level. Challenging base assumptions and questioning wildly outlandish claims is representative of your failings, not theirs. Just look at the demonization of Jordan Peterson, who has attempted to hold intellectual conversations with them to see just how far they don’t want to engage. It’s far easier to “no platform” than to defend their stance, as they did with him.

Everything becomes metacommunication, and metacommunication has become weaponized. They lack the skill to address issues of merit at even the basic level, so they must make the discourse itself “problematic.”

There is a reason why primary research is eschewed so completely. Who wants the hassle of having to justify outrageous assumptions and indefensible claims?

  • It’s why Nicholas “No Such Thing As Biological Sex” Matte can actually be a doctoral candidate, with no one ever requiring him to take a biology course or do primary research.
  • It’s why the University of Wisconsin-Madison establishes a post-doc in “feminist biology” in the Department of Gender & Women’s Studies program, not Biology.
  • It’s why “Critical Plant Theory” does not happen in a Botany lab.
  • It’s why a rap song can count as a Ph.D dissertation.

The only way this stuff can get published is when they publish each others’ work and hope that actual scientists won’t notice. They thought that when they got their Ph.Ds people would think they’re legit. But that didn’t happen. So they started their own journals, and published each other to feign “peer-review.” That didn’t work. They started creating their own “hard science” sections in their disciplines to try to gain credibility. That didn’t work. Now they’re going after the scientific method itself, claiming that it was biased against them the whole time.

How can you defend against this?

Unlike the movie WarGames, where the moral of the story is, “The only way to win, is not to play,” it isn’t as simple as playing ostrich. They are managing to corrupt the academic process to the point where really, really bad studies are used as justification for draconian university policies and even being codified into laws.

Canada has put using the wrong pronoun into the “genocide” human rights laws.

At this stage, I cannot see a way out. We have a demographic of young people who are looking to enter into academia as full-time professions because they see people doing this crappy work and thinking that Ph.Ds are as easy as spending a weekend on a blog article. It’s no wonder students on College Campuses have no respect for their instructors who don’t already teach them what they “know.”

The good researchers are becoming quieter and quieter. Soon it will be difficult to publish using any kind of merit or scientific process because it will be seen as “problematic.” The anti-science voices are growing louder, and the “anti-scientific method” crowd has become an ongoing banshee screech.

What’s even more scary about this is that these are the voices that have emerged from the cacophony. These are the “top” papers that emerge from the (cess)pool of bad logic, ideological corruption and identity politics that exist behind the scenes.

It will not take long before the “easy PhDs” overwhelm the system. With their complete inability to process math, method, historicity, statistics, literacy, or even basic common sense, the students who come in after them (and are subject to them as instructors) are doomed. And if they are doomed, we all are.

Until and unless there is accountability for the insanity that is emerging out of the halls of academia, I fear that it’s going to get much, much worse before it gets better.

I hope that I’m wrong once more, I really do.

Extra Credit: Recommended Reading

It appears that something is in the air. Since I posted this blog, it appears that there have been quite a few articles written at roughly the same time that go over similar territory. Either that, or we all just snapped at the same time.

Brian Boutwell. Sociology’s Stagnation. Widespread science denial in the field of Sociology.

Clay Routledge. Why Social Scientists Should Not Participate in the March for Science. The social sciences are too compromised and incongruent to the purposes of Science methodology.

Sumantra Maitra. Methods Behind the Campus Madness. Colleges have become violent cults of ideology, not institutions of higher learning.


[Update. Not surprisingly, not everyone enjoyed this article. Or me, personally, apparently.]


  1. Hello J Michel Metz,

    I certainly agree with you that poor research exists, and that you exemplify it well with the examples you give. I also agree that a lot of this research has been made in the wake of post-modern philosophy. Finally, you are correct to point out that the politics of much of this research is very regressive.

    But after spending the last 4 years at a renowned humanities department in London and a further year as a researcher in Paris, none of this chimes with my experience. The simple fact is that junk research is largely ignored within the academy. The “dark ages” and levels of intimidation and exclusion that you describe does not fit my experiences or those of my colleagues.

    Maybe it is different in the USA and Canada. The politics over there seem so much more focused on gender and race than in the UK (where class is the dominant dividing line). The profusion of safe spaces and non-platforming has touched campuses over here, but it seems only an issue for a few hardcore undergraduates dominating union politics rather than PhD researchers.

    It is possible that this is a more urgent issue in your neck of the woods, or that my experiences are not representative and that I was simply oblivious to the chaos around me. However, is it not also possible that @NewRealPeerReview and Jordan Peterson both paint a false picture. oOne can potentially agree with all the points they make concerning the inadequacy of particular fields of study and research papers (which I often do, despite my frequent trolling of NRPR’s twitter feed), and yet feel they do not put the problems they highlight within any perspective. Junk science has always existed, so why is it a problem now? And what proportion of papers are made and cited like this compared to better quality research that is made? Are NRPR just giving air-time to junk science that would otherwise be simply ignored by the academy (that the papers they highlight get significant increases in views suggests this).

    in other words, at the moment to me this seems to be a moral panic, taking a marginal and historically irrelevant aspects of the worst aspects of academic research and using it to paint a picture of whole disciplines and departments.

    Apologies for the length of this.

    Andy Murray.

      1. Agreed, although I think NRPR is great fun, I’d also like to know how representative it is. It would be a lot of work, but what are the trends over the last 30 years? If this kind of bad scholarship has managed to percolate as far as UCT (admittedly one of the first South African Universities you’d expect to see it), the problem is probably significant

    1. Author

      Hi Andy,

      Good to see you again. 🙂

      I think it’s important to look at, and reflect upon, the impact of this in the aggregate. We aren’t talking about one or two studies. As a matter of fact, we aren’t talking about just the published articles that I have in this blog. Nearly all of the articles here were put up by NPR in the past week. I did not have to go very far to find examples of the points I was attempting to illustrate.

      In the U.S. and Canada, and to (perhaps) a lesser extent in the UK, there has been an undiluted epidemic of policies and procedures implemented based upon these hacks. It may have been easy to skip over it in the text above, but I encourage you to look through my masterpost on Insanity in Higher Education.

      In there you will find required courses for students to take – authorized by the universities (I only included official administration actions in that list, not student demands) based upon this stuff. Separate orientations for minorities. Mandatory white guilt “diversity” courses. Revocation of Due Process in policies. These are just to name a few.

      This problem is not simply “academic” (pun intended), but very, very real. The violence on campuses in the past year and a half (remember Melissa Click?) is only the most visible outcome of this.

      I think, with all genuine respect, that the ignoring of these types of things is serving to legitimize them. There is no reason why something as ludicrous as “autoethnography” should ever have been allowed in the first place, and here we have people who are calling themselves Ph.Ds with no clue about what that is supposed to represent. They don’t even understand the basic difference between a claim, an assumption, and a result. And yet they are demanding to be put in positions that, in turn, churn out future Ph.Ds.

      I hope that you are correct, though, in that the problem is not as pervasive as it appears. But that means that we have some time to see the warning signs and attempt to stop it in its tracks and reverse it. If we choose not to, or if we cannot do this, then the problem is, in fact, worse than we think.

      Thanks again for commenting. 🙂

      1. “In there you will find required courses for students to take – authorized by the universities (I only included official administration actions in that list, not student demands) based upon this stuff. Separate orientations for minorities. Mandatory white guilt “diversity” courses. Revocation of Due Process in policies. These are just to name a few.”

        Ok, if this is really going on you certainly have a point to make. I’ll read your other post. As I said, it might be my experiences of university education in Europe that makes me cynical towards all of this.
        Have a pleasant day.

        1. Andy,

          As somebody with a Master’s of Education who used to work at a U.S. university and left in large part due to several of the things mentioned above, I can sadly confirm all of this is true.

    2. Author

      Oh, and don’t worry about the length. As you can see it doesn’t scare me off. 🙂

    3. Hi Andy,
      I am afraid you are wrong about this being a numerical “side show”. Listening to Professor Jonathan Haid and Heterodox Academy it has been proven that liberals outnumber others in the humanities around 19-1. Shocking numbers, but true for North America.

      1. Dear Dani,
        Allthough the issue concerning the composition of political opinion in universities is an important issue to address, it is not the same problem as the production of bad science. One can be very liberal, even a Marxist, and still produce very important and rigorous academic research. One can be a conservative and do the same. When I read a paper I do not care about the personal political leanings of their author. I’m more concerned with their sources and argumentation. Even if a greater diversity in political views within the academy would be welcome, I cannot see how it would necessarily lead to a reduction in the production of bad science.

        Andy Murray.

  2. You write that initially race/gender etc studies were legit. I do not believe that as they obviously were politically slanted and then went off the deep end within a short time. This entire dynamic, its latest reincarnation was born after the late 1960s across the West. What I often think is that this politicization was probably born after the Russian revolution, see Gramsci, and then the German National Socialists also engaged in creating a pseudo science to enforce their world view ( measuring Jewish heads/noses etc to make a point, Dr. Mengele’s Auschwitz experiments ) . Another area would be “post colonial studies” which was founded by Edward Said, a literature Professor, who just happened to be a political operative for the PLO which was also of course a pro Soviet outfit. Many of the PLO people if they did “study” went to universities in Warsaw Pact nations. President Abbas for example wrote his dissertation about how Zionism is Nazism at Moscow university.
    Much of these field’s of “study” are perfect examples of Gramsci’s brain child that political actors, in this case “academics”, create a narrative with which they can manipulate society to further their ends. This has reached such ridiculous proportions that even non academics are catching on to this dynamic as it contradicts lived reality. This can be witnessed across the West ( I live in Europe and speak German ) and is also acted out in many EU Green parties or even ruling governments such as the one in Sweden right now. Many Western NGO’s like MSF, Oxfam and the church NGO’s are basically trying to implement a marxist world view in my humble opinion. This is sold as “human rights” to the Western donor, but when you look at their theory or say personal Twitter of these people there is no doubt that we are dealing with Socialists/Marxists who after the fall of the Berlin Wall rebranded themselves as “human rights” activists. “Human Rights” seems to be the new catch phrase and is code for “Socialism”. Another example would be the US BLM movement who have no shame in advocating for free health care and education for the Black community.

    1. Author

      Hi Dani,

      Actually, it appears I may have given off the wrong impression about early research into those fields. What I meant to indicate was that the origins of the studies were legit, but within the context of other fields (history, economics, political science, communication). The events of the 50s and 60s that gave birth to the rise of some of the more tempestuous and radicalized movements needed to be examined in a scholarly fashion. What emerged out of that era, however, left a lot to be desired (as exemplified by the photos of the 1994 textbook about Carol Adam’s paranoid computers-as-sexist-tools screed).

      I believe you are correct in not only tone but the execution of these fields of study. They started off highly emotional and never bothered to attempt to validate their assumptions, let alone their conclusions. The echo chamber that resulted eventually created a “conceptual drift” into more and more hyper-radicalized territory. By the early 2000s they were the majority of faculty, and now what we’ve seen on college campuses is a direct result of 40 years of unchecked, non-validated hypotheses.

  3. I share your despair at the pseudo-academic drivel being created by “academics” bereft of any scientific rigor. The most horrifying aspect of this phenomenon, as you pointed out, is the creation of their own journals where the incestuous cross-referencing creates an imaginary sheen of respectability. The social sciences community needs to take a long, hard look at the joke it has become amongst their colleagues (using “peers” would be an insult to other academics).
    Academics who understand the importance of the scientific method should denounce these charlatans as loudly as possible to highlight the dishonesty inherent in these “dissertations”. I also think a public, curated ranking system of journals and their academic worth should be introduced so that readers can judge for themselves whether or not a paper is worth anything.

    1. Author

      Yes. I completely agree (obviously 😉 ).

      One needs only to look at the vitriolic response to @RealPeerReview and Jordan Peterson to realize just how dangerous what you (and I) are suggesting actually is. We know that telling the Emperor he has no clothes is a life-threatening endeavor. But it definitely needs to be done.

      Thanks for the comment. 🙂

    1. Author

      A reader sent me the link and I’ve updated the post. Fortunately, it’s a short clip, too. 🙂

  4. Quite detailed. A similar project I had in mind, that I will no bother with, is logging all self description of these folks in lectures, conferences and interviews where they invariably announce their intersectional credentials.
    My favorite interviewee was a women who stated she was of Italian descent and thus had a big nose requiring her to get a nose job to fit into the “white” culture.

    1. Author


      “I’m not one of them!”

      Regarding the logging, I think you’d find yourself writing non-stop for years. :-/

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  6. Great article! You might want to have a look at Lee Smolin’s “The Trouble with Physics”. Smolin points out how groupthink has held physics back, not out of politics, but just because an idea that turned out to be wrong(ish)(string theory) was getting all the funding. Same phenomenon, but different cultural context.

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  9. I have so much to say, I don’t know where to start. I have been seriously concerned about this for over 2 years, after meeting a PhD candidate, in Philosophy (oops Cultural Studies), and subsequently attained. This fellow was illiterate. This may be an useful attribute for producing bafflegab. He had a smidgen of math/CSci, that he levered to frighten his advisors. I swear, nobody wanted to say they didn’t get it, for fear the other examiner purported to get it. So you must be from Canada…Ontario. I think were have a infestation here. I have come to realize I have been subject to this manner of thinking. Doomed is the word I have been using, too. Perhaps this is just the arc of civilizations.

    1. Author

      Canada appears to be getting a lot of it. I keep seeing more and more universities in Canada have lost the plot. The very fact that University of Manitoba (IIRC) is willing to place Nicholas Matte as a Ph.D candidate is evidence enough, but your anecdote reinforces it all.

      I hear a lot of people say that this generation is the “most educated in history.” I seriously wonder upon what metrics such a claim is based.

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