Peter Boghossian makes daily visits to Southeast Portland dog parks with his pooches, Teddy and Savannah. But he says he's never checked out the genitalia of the other dogs there.
Yet that was the outlandish claim Boghossian and two co-conspirators, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, made in a research paper submitted this year to a feminist geography journal, Gender, Place and Culture. The journal accepted and published the paper, which claimed, among other things, to have tallied the rate at which Portlanders intervened in more than a thousand dog-on-dog sexual assaults.
The paper was a hoax. So were 20 other papers submitted to academic journals in the past year—seven of them accepted. Last week, Boghossian and his cohorts revealed their elaborate prank, after The Wall Street Journal raised questions about the dog-park paper.
Boghossian is already a contentious figure at Portland State University, where he teaches philosophy of education. A leading figure among "freethinkers" who chafe at what they see as a politically correct orthodoxy stifling dissent on college campuses, Boghossian has been the subject of protests and Title IX complaints. (He says they were unfounded; PSU declined to discuss him or his hoax.)
But the hoax papers have made Boghossian a national water-cooler subject. And he wasn't doing it just to be funny: He and his colleagues launched the satirical broadside at feminist theory and race-studies scholarship in order to prove those fields are academically fraudulent.
WW sat down with him and Lindsay last week at Boghossian's home, where an Australian documentary filmmaker was recording their week in the spotlight.
WW: Here's the obvious question: How did anybody buy this?
Peter Boghossian: Well, we told them what they wanted to hear. We played off what was morally fashionable. We think they have become so steeped in these echo chambers. Thoughtful religious believers really, really know the other side of the arguments. That's the ballgame. Their ballgame [in these academic fields] is to not know those things.
James Lindsay: It's racist and sexist to know those things. If you can predict what they want to hear, you can then exaggerate that, feed it into their system, and let them reduce themselves to absurdity by getting them to accept that exaggerated caricature view as if it's their own.
The journals you targeted are obscure disciplines. Isn't this hoax like using a Howitzer on an anthill?
Lindsay: These people have massive institutional power. Why are there bias response teams? Why are there diversity and inclusion boards that can put people through trials that can end their careers, merely on accusations, without having to go through an actual trial? These are small academic disciplines, but they've worked their way into the institution.
Yeah, for college kids. What about the real world?
Boghossian: How many of your readers are familiar with trigger warnings, safe spaces and micro-aggressions? These things seep outside into the broader world. They start in the literature, they're taught to kids in school, those kids get out, become leaders in the community. About 30 percent of Americans have college degrees; they incorporate those ideas into the workplace.
Lindsay: The New York Times ran an article saying white women are teaming up to preserve white power. That's in The New York Times? That's not some fringe thing. Everybody gets called a racist for everything. You have people calling tacos racist—Taco Tuesday.
What's been the response at PSU?
Boghossian: I have a meeting and I've been summoned. I can't say anything else. I think that everybody is walking on egg shells. I think people are afraid to say, "They don't speak for me." I think these disciplines are so entrenched and these ideas are so entrenched that people are so afraid.
If you want to have the rule that nobody can talk about protected classes, great. But why is there an entire wing dedicated to talking about protected classes? The word "activist" or "activism" appears seven times on the [PSU] women's studies page.
Lindsay: You can't say the wrong thing, apparently.
Boghossian: That's the thing, I agree. I'm on the left. I'm a liberal.
Lindsay: You're a total progressive. You're about as right-wing as kale salad.
Do you expect to be at PSU next year?
Boghossian: Ask me next year.
The Five Most Eye-Popping Claims in the Dog Park Paper
The following are excerpts from "Human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog parks in Portland, Oregon," a paper written by Helen Wilson, who doesn't exist, as part of her work at the Portland Ungendering Research Initiative, which also doesn't exist. It was published in the journal Gender, Place and Culture on May 22, then retracted Oct. 5.
"While I closely and respectfully examined the genitals of slightly fewer than ten thousand dogs, being careful not to cause alarm and moving away if any dog appeared uncomfortable, there is some relevant margin of error concerning my observations about their gender in some instances."
"The data suggest that the deciding variable for whether or not a human would interfere in a dog's rape/humping incident was the dog's gender. When a male dog was raping/humping another male dog, humans attempted to intervene 97% of the time. When a male dog was raping/humping a female dog, humans only attempted to intervene 32% of the time."
"During the span of my observations, there were 29 incidents among 15 dogs in which dogs controlled by shock collars were delivered an electric shock. All of those 15 dogs were male with male owners, and all 15 of the incidents involved a sexual act with another male dog, possibly implying homophobic shame triggering a violent response in the dogs' male human companions."
"Over the course of my observations there were 39 incidents of an adult human companion striking a dog (I did not count striking by children). All 39 of these incidents were perpetrated by male companions and 29 of the dogs struck were female."
"Dog parks are microcosms where hegemonic masculinist norms governing queering behavior and compulsory heterosexuality can be observed in a cross-species environment. They are thusly oppressive spaces that lock both humans and animals into hegemonic patterns of gender conformity that effectively resist bids for emancipatory change."