It’s a Publish or Perish World Revisited
Yesterday, I published my take on the Sokal Squared scandal on my page at Medium, and was surprised that it got a bump from the editors, “Our curators just read your story, “It’s a Publish or Perish World,” that you submitted for review. Based on its quality, they selected it to be recommended to readers interested in Education across our homepage, app, topic page, and emails.” While the recommendation immediately meant more people read my story, what really caught me off guard was a related story I read this morning on The Daily Beast. While I didn’t specifically cite the Quillette story referenced, I did send the link to it to my wife as an example of my sense that the lefts’ obsession with identity was alienating people that should be politically aligned with our larger goals. Yet, in reading The Daily Beast article, I realized I’d been hoaxed (a direct response to the Sokal Story) as well. The story I linked to my wife was a hoax. The person was not who he said he was and the publication that diligently reported on the Sokal Squared scandal was guilty of what Peter Boghossian et al accused “grievance studies” journals of. It was this boomerang of people being blinded by ideology and not exercising due diligence before putting things out on the media, and both sides (the progressive left and conservative right) were guilty.
Strangely, I’m still not sure this is really much of a story. My take is that if people want to be bad actors and submit articles to websites or journals, is it really a surprise that the editors’ bias might cause them to go full steam ahead with publication? Isn’t this what Post-Modernism (the Right’s favorite bug-a-boo) argues? Yes, these publications are “guilty” of not exercising due diligence before going to “press,” and maybe they really are “guilty” of publishing pieces that support their ideology. But the hoax, in both cases, doesn’t prove the second point, while it clearly proves the first point. It also proves a third point as well: if you are a bad actor and want to hoax or sting a publication, you can.
Using the ideology of the editors against them is really no different than a poet reading poems published in The New Yorker before submitting there. Creative writers know that you pick your submission based on what has already been published. Why do we think it’d be any different in the non-fiction world? Do we still hold on to the idea that objectivity is a thing? And, yes, I know that many people argue that the Scientific Method and Research Ethics deliberately puts measures in place to control for bias. Ultimately though, aren’t we all taking some beliefs and actions based on faith or probability? Even the most controlled experiment “free” from bias and replicated many times, may not be all that applicable because out here beyond the confines of the lab we can’t control for every variable so things may not exactly work out like they’re supposed to.
I think we’ve reached a tipping point. We have to understand that sometimes we are taking positions and actions based on the best available data. Waiting for and controlling for every possible variable may mean we don’t take any action at all. Isn’t that what is motivating the US government from taking any real action on climate change? Oh my, there’s still not a hundred percent certainty that we’re experiencing human caused climate change so, therefore, let’s not do anything at all. We may never be able get to the “truth,” but can’t we acknowledge that at the same time that we say, “We need to take some action.” Why do we continue, to use a cliché, to make “the perfect the enemy of the good”? So to all the people who want to jump on this bandwagon or that bandwagon because their conclusions fit with what they believe why don’t we take a step back and say, “I could be wrong and you could be right, but let’s at least be open to what each other is saying so that we can work together on making things better.” It’s not that we don’t have enough facts or statistics to support one side or the other, it’s that we keep thinking that facts and statistics are the only thing that will win the argument. And they don’t.