When ‘Ethics Review’ Becomes Ideological Review: The Case of Peter Boghossian

On Tuesday, Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University (PSU) in Oregon, publicly shared a letter he’d received from his employer, outlining the results of an academic misconduct investigation into his now-famous 2018 “grievance-studies” investigation. As was widely reported in the Wall Street Journal, Quillette and elsewhere, Boghossian, researcher James Lindsay and Areo editor Helen Pluckrose submitted nonsensical faux-academic papers to journals in fields such as gender, race, queer and fat studies, some of which passed peer review—and were even published—despite their ludicrous premises. The project was defended by 1990s-era academic hoaxer Alan Sokal, who famously performed a somewhat similar send-up of fashionable academic culture two decades ago. While many cheered Boghossian’s exposé, some scholars within these fields were horrified, and it has long been known that Boghossian, by virtue of his PSU affiliation, would be vulnerable to blowback.

PSU’s Institutional Review Board decided that Boghossian has committed “violations of human subjects’ rights and protection”—the idea here being that the editors who operate academic journals, and their peer reviewers, are, in a broad sense, “human subjects”—and that his behavior “raises concerns regarding a lack of academic integrity, questionable ethical behavior and employee breach of rules.” As punishment, he is “forbidden to engage in any human-subjects-related [or sponsored] research as principal investigator, collaborator or contributor.”

This is a bit rich, of course, since the point of Boghossian’s project was to expose the lack of “academic integrity” in whole academic fields.

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