But so did that Godel book: Warning! The study we're about to discuss was a deliberate hoax.
Still and all, the phony study got published! In a front-page report in yesterday's New York Times, Jennifer Schluesser described the contents of the faux study, which came to us, live and direct, from imaginary dog parks in a real American city:
SCHUESSLER (10/5/18): In “Human Reactions to Rape Culture and Queer Performativity at Urban Dog Parks in Portland, Ore.,"...the study purported to observe dogs having sex, and how their owners reacted, to draw conclusions about humans’ sexual attitudes.The faux author of the faux study was called "Helen Wilson." She acknowledged the fact that, because of her own situatedness as a human, she was limited in her ability to categorize incidents of dog sex.
Humans intervened 97 percent of the time when male dogs were “raping/humping” other male dogs, the paper said. But when a male dog was mating with a female, humans intervened only 32 percent of the time and actually laughed out loud 18 percent of the time.
The paper’s author cautioned: “Because of my own situatedness as a human, rather than as a dog, I recognize my limitations in being able to determine when an incidence of dog humping qualifies as rape.”
Oof! The data in question were fake. People can judge the concepts involved in the fake study for themselves.
To some, the concepts seem absurd on their face. Still and all, the fake study got published as part of an overall hoaxer event.
At the start of yesterday's news report, Schuessler provides this overview of the hoax. She includies her first capsule account of the dog park dogmatics:
SCHUESSLER: One paper, published in a journal called Sex Roles, said that the author had conducted a two-year study involving “thematic analysis of table dialogue” to uncover the mystery of why heterosexual men like to eat at Hooters.Just for the record, why do (some) "heterosexual men like to eat at Hooters" and other such "breastaurants?" (The hoaxers actually used that term in their pseudo-study.)
Another, from a journal of feminist geography, parsed “human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity” at dog parks in Portland, Ore., while a third paper, published in a journal of feminist social work and titled “Our Struggle Is My Struggle,” simply scattered some up-to-date jargon into passages lifted from Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”
Such offerings may or may not have raised eyebrows among the journals’ limited readerships. But this week, they unleashed a cascade of mockery—along with a torrent of debate about ethics of hoaxes, the state of peer review and the excesses of academia—when they were revealed to be part of an elaborate prank aimed squarely at what the authors labeled “grievance studies.”
“Something has gone wrong in the university—especially in certain fields within the humanities,” the three authors of the fake papers wrote in an article in the online journal Areo explaining what they had done.
We can answer that question! (Some) men like to eat at such places because they lack sexual politics—because they've never developed grown-up views concerning boys and girls.
That said, the phony studies described in that passage were part of an "elaborate prank" in which the hoaxers submitted twenty such studies to various journals over the course of nearly a year.
According to Schuessler, the hoaxers "said that four papers had been published [and] three had been accepted but not yet published" when the hoax came to light.
"Seven [more] were under review and six had been rejected." Or at least, so Schuessler was told by the hoaxers—who, it must be remembered, are hoaxers, after all.
This hoax has already been widely discussed. Different people have different ideas as to what it may mean.
Slate's Daniel Engber isn't impressed by the hoaxers' point of view and conclusions. For ourselves, we were struck by one of the comments recorded by Schuessler:
SCHUESSLER: Embarrassed journal editors quickly stamped the word “Retracted” across published papers this week, while the hoax drew appreciation from scholars who tend to be skeptical of work focusing on race, gender, sexuality and other forms of identity."Not so fast, Pinker!" one analyst cried. "In 2005, you approvingly blurbed Professor Goldstein's book!"
“Is there any idea so outlandish that it won’t be published in a Critical/PoMo/Identity/‘Theory’ journal?” the psychologist and author Steven Pinker tweeted.
Yascha Mounk, a political scientist at Harvard, called the hoax “hilarious and delightful” on Twitter. In an interview, he said of the authors, “What they have shown is that certain journals, and perhaps to an extent certain fields, can’t distinguish between serious scholarship and a ridiculous intellectual hoax.”
The book in question is Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel. The book was written by Rebecca Goldstein, the high-ranking philosophy professor and highly regarded novelist.
In his blurb, Pinker hailed Goldstein's book as "a gem—the gripping story of a momentous idea." He said Goldstein had produced "not just a lucid exposition of Godel's brainchild but a satisfying and original narrative of the ideas and people it touched."
We're not saying that's wrong. We are saying this—there's nothing in those hoax studies which is any more ludicrous than this passage from The New Yorker's review of Goldstein's well-received book:
HOLT (2/28/05): Gödel entered the University of Vienna in 1924. He had intended to study physics, but he was soon seduced by the beauties of mathematics, and especially by the notion that abstractions like numbers and circles had a perfect, timeless existence independent of the human mind. This doctrine, which is called Platonism, because it descends from Plato’s theory of ideas, has always been popular among mathematicians.Friend, was Godel seduced by "the notion that abstractions like numbers and circles had a perfect, timeless existence independent of the human mind?" (Goldstein refers to numbers and circles as "abstract objects.")
Has this alleged doctrine "always been popular among mathematicians," including those of the 1930s? Goldstein says the same thing, and it seems to be true.
Friend, nothing which appears in those hoax studies is any more ridiculous than the (unexplained) idea that numbers and circles have a perfect, timeless existence independent of the human mind. And even though the formulation posted above was written by Jim Holt, a widely lauded science/math writer, we'd say that it's a fair account of Goldstein's own gobbledygook, which extends far and wide in all sorts of directions.
We expect to spend the next week reviewing the way the Kavanaugh nomination fight unfolded. That fight produced a series of sobering insights into the way our nation's highly non-rational public discourse works.
After that, we expect to return to the larger story we're presenting under the heading "Aristotle's error." Eventually, we'll discuss the (hard-to-read but highly instructive) work of the later Wittgenstein.
In our view, the later Wittgenstein said that most of the work of western philosophy has come to us, live and direct, from the clownish, hoaxer realm of those Portland, Oregon dog parks. And yes—in the end, this connects back to the pitiful, pre-rational way our nation's public discourse has unfolded over the past thirty years.
That jumbled, wholly incompetent discourse has left us with Trump in the White House. Over here in the liberal world, we rail about the consequences of that state of affairs without displaying the slightest ability to understand the way our own enfeebled tribe has helped put Trump where he is.
We're lazy and stupid and nobody likes us except in Oregon dog parks! Those hoax studies are intended to point in that general direction, but so will the rest of our work concerning Aristotle's error and Professor Harari's bracing alternate view.
Those hoax studies were comically awful. So is the bulk of traditional western philosophy, or so Wittgenstein clumsily said.
Professor Horwich has our backs. We suspect he's gotten it right!