Should we trust studies published in academic journals? A few decades ago, virtually all of us would have responded in the affirmative.

But that was then.

Now, too many academic studies have been shown to be substantially defective. The nonpartisan National Association of Scholars (NAS) has been documenting the “reproducibility crisis” that “afflicts a wide range of scientific and social-scientific disciplines, from epidemiology to social psychology.”

The cause of this crisis? “Improper research techniques, lack of accountability, disciplinary and political groupthink, and a scientific culture biased toward producing positive results together have produced a critical state of affairs.”

The result? “Many supposedly scientific results cannot be reproduced reliably in subsequent investigations, and offer no trustworthy insight into the way the world works.”

To this disheartening scene came three professors intent on making things right—or at least making them clear. Professors Peter Boghossian, Helen Pluckrose, and James A. Lindsay (no relation to the author) had come to recognize that, as they wroteSomething has gone wrong in the university.” They added, “[E]specially in certain fields within the humanities . . . [s]cholarship [is] based less upon finding truth and more upon attending to social grievances.”

Moreover, wrote the three professors, social-grievance fields and “scholars increasingly bully students, administrators, and other departments into adhering to their worldview.” This grievance-focused orientation is “not scientific, and it is not rigorous.” Although this dysfunction has become “increasingly obvious,” there has been to this point no “strong evidence” for it. Thus, the three professors “spent a year working inside the scholarship we see as an intrinsic part of this problem.”

What they did to expose the ideological corruption in grievance-studies was spectacularly successful, for which they received what all doers of good deeds receive in today’s universities—punishment.

Here’s what they did. The three scholars submitted 20 articles to “grievance studies” journals. All 20 of the articles were intentionally absurd. One was a feminist-themed revision of a portion of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.  Another argued that “dog parks are rape-condoning spaces and a place of rampant canine rape culture and systemic oppression against ‘the oppressed dog’ through which human attitudes to both problems can be measured.”

Apparently, every dog has his day. Both of the pieces were accepted for publication. In fact, the “canine-rape” study “won recognition for excellence by the feminist geography journal in which it was published, Gender, Place, and Culture.” Seven of the 20 hoax pieces were ultimately accepted for publication.

Mission accomplished, felt the three professors, whose summary of their experience concludes that it “shows that there are excellent reasons to doubt the rigor of some of the scholarship within the fields of identity studies that we have called ‘grievance studies.’” Concurring with their evaluation, Yascha Mounk, a lecturer at Harvard, asserted that the three professors “have demonstrated a very worrying fact. Some of the leading journals in areas like gender studies have failed to distinguish between real scholarship and intellectually vacuous as well as morally troubling bullshit.”

But the Academic Empire struck back. With a vengeance.

As reported here, Professor Boghossian has been charged by his university, Portland State (PSU). Although PSU admitted that the three professors “didn’t plagiarize or falsify data” when they submitted their hoax studies, it nonetheless ruled that Boghossian had “violated ethical guidelines on human-subjects research.”

What precisely does it mean that Boghossian’s whistleblowing “violated ethical standards on human-subjects research”? According to a PSU spokesman, “As he [Boghossian] has explained, his goal was to show that the editors of certain academic journals will publish even something as ridiculous as what he submitted.”

PSU argues that Professor Boghossian should have notified the journal editors of what he was doing beforehand. But, if he had done that, how could Boghossian find the evidence needed to prove that “the editors of certain academic journals will publish even something as ridiculous as what he submitted”?

Of course, Boghossian couldn’t have found the evidence for his claim if he gave the editors advance notice. And that’s the point. PSU, by punishing this academic truth-teller, has sent a message to anyone else silly enough to care about academic rigor, rather than ideology.

Hence, for his good deed, Professor Boghossian was notified last December by PSU “that he was banned from doing any such research until he had completed training and could demonstrate that he understood how to protect the rights of human subjects.” He also was notified that, if he fails to comply, he will be fired.

What does PSU mean by “protect[ing] the rights of human subjects”? Apparently, you fail to protect an academic editor’s “rights” when you show that said editor has no business being an editor—as Boghossian and his coauthors did.

With irony of which it must have been blissfully unaware, PSU wrote of its concerns over “a lack of academic integrity, questionable ethical behavior, and employee breach of rules.”

No, the school was not concerned that some “academic” journals lack academic integrity, as Boghossian demonstrated.

No, PSU was not concerned about the “questionable ethical behavior” of “scientific” journal editors who were shown to accept pure trash for publication because it fit their ideological agenda.

And no, PSU was not concerned with an “employee breach of rules”; if it was concerned, it would have investigated what “rules”—aside from ideological intimidation—guided the editors who peddled this junk science.

With what, then, was PSU “concerned”? Boghossian answers that he has been dishonestly smeared as a “tool of the right wing,” as “one of the things fueling the right is the lunacy of the left.” Here, the truth seems unimportant to PSU, namely, the truth that Boghossian self-describes as being on the political left.

PSU’s mistake was to make this about politics rather than the search for truth—which is, or at least used to be, the central, defining mission of higher education. That is to say, PSU’s “ethics” evaluation of Boghossian’s work was neither ethical nor a true evaluation. Instead, it is a 21st-century reenactment of Socrates’ trial in Athens. Socrates can be credited with giving birth to liberal education in the West with his proclamation at his trial that, “the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.”

For proceeding with his examination—that is, with his scholarly inquiry—Socrates too was charged with “ethical breaches.” Why? Socrates spent his life questioning those reputed to be wise. The result in every case was that the putative wise man was shown through Socratic questioning not to be wise. Socrates’ reward for his truth-seeking endeavors? He was sentenced to death by the Athenian jury.

After all, Socrates’ stringent questioning hurt the feelings of those shown not really to be wise. Doubtless, more than a few of his interlocutors felt they had been “micro-aggressed” at the least.

Portland State University has decided to kick down at the truth-seeking Boghossian. In abandoning its duty to pursue truth, it has simultaneously jettisoned its claim to our respect.

And not only respect.

Why should such an institution continue to receive funding from the very taxpayers whom it seeks to beguile?