The death of knowledge

O, weep for Academia — he is dead – apologies to Shelley.

Two years ago, Camille Paglia stated bluntly that “universities are a wreck right now”. Two separate events in recent weeks have shown that she is right. In the first, academic activists have forcibly purged published papers they didn’t like. In the second, three hoaxers showed that the same activists will happily publish literal gibberish, so long as they do like the sound of it.

For years, anyone who argued that universities and the Enlightenment ideals they supposedly represent were under deadly siege from a left-wing Inquisition was dismissed as a right-wing crank. But the evidence is undeniable that the liberal values of free enquiry, reason, and questioning authority are being trampled underfoot by resurgent, Marxist-inspired intolerance.

When the Marxists were in power in the Soviet Union, they imposed a stifling orthodoxy that would make the mediaeval Church weep with envy. The results were not only that Soviet science, biology especially, was set so far back that it is still recovering, and the death of millions in famines engendered in large part by the unchallenged crackpottery of “politically sound” “scientists” like Trofim Lysenko.

Those Marxist regimes collapsed, but their acolytes in the West festered on. Regrouping around the likes of the Frankfurt School, they adopted a “Cultural Marxist” ideology that spawned faddish intellectualism like “critical theory”, which today dominates much academic thinking. In the late 60s, Marxist activists coined the “Long March through the Institutions” strategy.

The cultural Marxists haven’t (yet) murdered tens of millions, like their forebears. Give them time, I guess. But they are poisoning the institutions of free academic inquiry that have enabled humanity to achieve levels of unrivalled prosperity, peace and advancement.

The first of the recent events which have laid bare the assault on knowledge is the un-publication of peer-reviewed academic papers at the behest of left-wing activists.

Publication is absolutely fundamental to the pursuit of knowledge. Published papers are perfectly vulnerable to criticism, and sometimes retraction. When a journal retracts a paper, it publishes a notice that the paper should not have been published, and it should not be used in further research.

But the complete disappearance of properly reviewed and published papers is something completely unprecedented — and dangerous.

In 2017, Third World Quarterly published a peer-reviewed paper, “The Case for Colonialism”, by political scientist Bruce Gilley. The journal was immediately attacked by “outraged” activists (many of whom had almost certainly not read it) with threats including violence, and unplublished the paper entirely. Like Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, the paper was summarily thrown into an academic Memory Hole. Fortunately, online sources saved the paper from disappearing as completely as a disgraced Soviet commissar.

The emboldened cry-bullies have since exiled more papers, for challenging “progressive” ideology.

Mathematicians Theodore P. Hill and Sergei Tabachnikov wrote the paper, A Theory for Gender Differences in Variability, seeking to develop a theoretical model to explain the well-established “Greater Male Variability Hypothesis”. The paper was fully reviewed and accepted by the Mathematical Intelligencer journal, whose “Viewpoint” section specifically seeks out controversial articles.

Then it was dropped without warning, because feminist activists immediately piled on the authors, and demanded that the journal delete the paper.

Not retract: delete entirely.

Not because their paper was academically flawed, but because it offended progressive orthodoxy. What the activists who disappeared these papers are saying is that ideas that they don’t like are not just beyond debate, they cannot be heard at all. This is the academic equivalent of a mediaeval auto-da-fé.

But, while the modern inquisitors are banishing legitimate papers for academic heresy, they are all-too-willing to publish literal nonsense, if it agrees with their political orthodoxies.

In 1996, physicist Alan Sokal exposed the academic fraud of post-modernism, when the post-modernist journal, Social Text, blithely published a purposely gibberish paper. Now, another hoax has exposed how the humanities have been overrun by irrational “progressive” ideologues.

The very existence of a “feminist geography” journal itself illustrates the vacuity of rubbish academic disciplines like “gender studies” and “critical theory”. But when such journals uncritically publish obvious nonsense such as claims of “canine rape culture” of dog parks, the jig is completely up.

It was, of course, another hoax, designed to expose the fraud of fashionable “progressive” academia.

This wasn’t, as it happens, the work of wicked right-wingers. The hoaxers were three academics who characterise themselves as “left-leaning liberals”, dismayed by the predominance of “absurd and horrific” scholarship in the humanities. So, they constructed deliberately outlandish hoaxes: but no more outlandish than papers published in all seriousness; such as a (”serious”) paper analysing the “feminist posthumanist politics” of squirrels’ diet.

Websites like Campus Reform noticed the outlandish stupidity of the papers right away, but they sailed through peer review without a hitch. Which says everything you need to know about “academic rigour” in the humanities.

The sinister political orthodoxies of modern academia were also skillfully exposed. One paper took a chapter of Mein Kampf, replacing all references to “Jews” with “white males”. It was gladly published by a feminist journal. A reviewer for another feminist journal “liked…very much” a paper proposing that “privileged” students be placed in chains.

In contrast to their often violent attacks on genuine, if “politically unsound” papers, the duped cultural Marxists defended publishing the hoax papers. The hoaxers were attacked as “unethical”, and the review process of the shoddy journals staunchly defended.

The hoaxers themselves will almost certainly be punished. They will probably be fired, and cast out of “respectable” academia. But academics who approved Hitlerian rantings about white males will keep their sinecures.

After all, it’s easier to sack three gadflys than purge a thousand worthless ideologues.

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