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.
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:
- They would marginalize themselves to the point where they were ignored altogether, or
- 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.)
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:
- Make themselves sound legitimate,
- Con people into thinking there is far more to their work than there is, and
- 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.]:
And this doozy:
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.
Here’s an “autoethnography” about… walking.
And then there’s this doctoral dissertation accepted by Columbia University:
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?
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:
Then there’s this, which @RealPeerReview reposted hours after I published this blog post. It encapsulates everything referred to here:
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.
(This was found in, and I’m not making this up, the Journal of Hate Studies.)
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!
After all, who can debate an imaginary problem with an imaginary method of analysis?
You think “autoethnographies” were bad, try Duoethnographies.
Use obscure events and popular culture to represent entire world views!
Pick a group and show just how bad they have it, even if you have to subcategorize to the extreme!
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?
State the mind-numbingly obvious! Make sure you imply that innocuous activities are bad.
Find something you like! Use fancy words! Get a Ph.D!
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.
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.
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.]