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Thursday, October 17, 2019
4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
South Mudd 365

William Bennet Munro History Seminar

The Airing of Grievances: Are the Humanities Bullshit?
Gabriel Rosenberg, Assistant Professor in Women's Studies, Duke University,

In October of 2018, the Wall Street Journal broke the news of the "grievance studies hoax," in which a small team of scholars submitted twenty fraudulent and "intentionally broken" papers to critical humanities journals. They intended to expose the "corrupting" influences of postmodernism and identity politics on humanities scholarship that "was not scientific...not rigorous." Ultimately, the hoaxsters managed to successfully publish four papers and had three other papers forthcoming when they were exposed. The targeted journals, they argued, failed to distinguish cutting edge papers worthy of publication from, well, bullshit.

The hoax immediately received widespread, international media attention. Its partisans lauded it as a worthy successor to physicist Alan Sokal's famous 1996 punking of the journal Social Text and dubbed it "Sokal Squared" accordingly. Its detractors argued that it fell far short of the standard for "objective," "scientific," and "rigorous" inquiry espoused by the hoaxsters, precisely the flaw the hoaxsters projected on their targets.

This talk explores the broader meaning of the hoax and why it received such sustained and intense attention. In particular, we will examine what the hoax can tell us about the recent history of American universities, as well as the status of both "scientific" and "humanistic" inquiry in the age of proliferating "fake news" and pseudoscience.

For more information, please contact Cecilia Lu by phone at 626-395-1724 or by email at cecilial@caltech.edu.