reflection on sociology and the sokal 2.0 hoax

Last week, a trio of scholars perpetrated what people are now calling the “Sokal 2.0” hoax. They wrote 20 (!) papers on obviously bizarre and bogus topics and tried to get them published in various journals in the humanities and the “softer” social sciences. There are many commentaries you can read but I want to focus on two points:

First, if a scholarly community wants respect and financial support, they need to show that they can weed out garbage in their journals. That includes kooks, cranks, impostors, incompetents, and provocateurs. If editors can’t spot obvious trash, then they get what they deserve. The only people who deserve our sympathy are the peer reviewers, whose time was wasted.

Second, sociological journals rejected all the bogus manuscripts sent to them. On Twitter, Will Wilkinson had a good summary. The issue is that sociology is at its core a positivist discipline. That’s just a fancy way of saying “evidence based.” The typical sociology doctoral program has required courses in applied statistics and research design. Many will take additional courses in topics like interview techniques, historical research, and ethnography. Thus, the typical sociologist is exposed to issues like correlation vs. causation, basic regression analysis, experimental design, and so forth. In a discipline where this is common, one should expect that the fake papers wouldn’t fare so well.

Let me wrap up with an observation. Last semester, I taught a graduate course in historical research for sociologists. Just for kicks, I tossed in a desconstructionist reading (Derrida’s Archive Fever). The reaction? Universal revulsion. Disgust. “I think he’s just playing a joke on me.” This semester, six months later, a student raises her hand in a different class and says, “Fabio, will you promise that you will never do what you did to the historical research class ever again? It was cruel.” Lesson? Vaccination works!


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Written by fabiorojas

October 8, 2018 at 4:01 am

Posted in uncategorized

8 Responses

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  1. Reblogged this on The Logical Place.


    Tim Harding

    October 8, 2018 at 9:16 am

  2. One blogger commentator (sorry didn’t save the think although it was good) pointed out that after getting a lot of rejections for essays they just doubled down and faked data in 5 papers. The faked papers are the ones that had a higher hit rate, 60% by his count. If you are willing to actually make up data you can get published. The one “good” journal that got stung was Sex Roles, and it was for a purported data paper involving a purported 1000 hours of field work. Papers with actually made up data have gotten published in many fields. But of course, if you are willing to actually make up data you should also be banned entirely from the academy. Along with actually making up citations to the literature. The entire academy really does operate in the faith that you are not straight-up lying and only made stuff up when that is what you said you were doing.

    Liked by 2 people


    October 8, 2018 at 1:25 pm

  3. I’ve spent thousands of hours at dog parks and their data confirmed my anecdotal observations and prior beliefs.

    Liked by 1 person

    Prof West

    October 8, 2018 at 5:30 pm

  4. The comment about fake data is spot on! If you can make a paper superficially resemble an actual good paper, you can definitely improve the odds of publication.



    October 8, 2018 at 5:30 pm

  5. olderwoman’s comment is precisely why this whole “hoax” is ridiculous and how disappointed I am to see people gleefully talking about it and how it confirms their priors about the humanities somehow being less academic than harder sciences. This isn’t a case of “garbage” papers getting accepted – it’s a case of academics perpetuating an in-depth fraud, and then making fun of their victims. There’s no difference between this and someone robbing a house and then making fun of the owners for having been robbed.



    October 9, 2018 at 2:34 pm

  6. @Justin, your metaphor is spot on if the homeowners leave their doors unlocked and windows open when they go on vacation.



    October 9, 2018 at 2:53 pm

  7. I disagree anyone’s doors were unlocked or windows open in this metaphorical window. These authors spent many, many months welding keys that would fit into your doorknob and let themselves in.

    I’m not sure this metaphor is helpful anymore, but the point of peer review is to take work submitted in good-faith and subject it to peer scrutiny. It is utterly unsurprising that it, like every other system in the world, can be gamed by unscrupulous actors intent on committing fraud. If you want to make a broader point about the state of academic publishing, that’s fine and potentially useful, but this “study” gives you less than zero information on which to do that.



    October 9, 2018 at 9:41 pm

  8. Let’s knock down the walls of this house and turn it into a gazebo! Up with post-publication review!


    Aaron Silverman

    October 11, 2018 at 5:04 pm

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