26 July 2019

“Follow the rules like everyone else” is not punishment

Because I curate a collection of stings and hoaxes, I have been following the so-called “grievance studies” affair by Helen Pluckrose, James Lindasy, and assistant professor Peter Boghossian (the only academic of the trio). They sent hoax papers to journals. Many people have sent hoax papers to journal (hence my anthology), but Pluckrose and colleagues described it as an experiment and published it.

Inside Higher Education reports:

Boghossian was ordered last year to take research compliance training; he has not yet done so, the letter states. Because Boghossian has not completed Protection of Human Subjects training, he is forbidden from engaging in research involving human subjects or any other sponsored research.

In other words, “Follow the same rules as everyone else.”

Just by way of comparison, and to give you an idea of what research with humans normally entails, I did an online survey for a couple of research papers (here’s one). That’s less intrusive than what Boghossian and colleagues did. I had to:

  • Go through “research with human subjects” training.
  • Submit a proposal to an institutional review board and have it approved.
  • Include detailed descriptions of the potential benefits and risks to anyone viewing the survey.

So “Take training before you do more research” is what anyone should do.

But some reporting makes it sound like Boghossian is being treated arbitrarily (emphasis added).


My prediction is that this is going to become a talking point in the American culture wars, with some trying to paint Boghossian’s letter as a dire consequence that has a chilling effect on academic freedom, is political correctness gone mad, continue buzzwords until exhausted.

Unfortunately, the language of the letter Boghossian got was pretty severe, which will contribute to the impression that the consequences for Boghossian are bad.

And it is bad, of course. It’s embarrassing to get called out for your actions and told you didn’t do the right thing by this institution and your profession.

But I bet a lot of people wish their punishment for something was a letter saying, “Follow the rules.” I’m sure some teenagers would like that more then being grounded.

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