Latest Academic Hoax Is A Doozy

Ever since Alan Sokal hoaxed Social Text more than 20 years ago, and Peter Boghossian and his two compatriots punked several postmodern journals with total gibberish just a couple years back, you’d think academic journal editors and reviewers would be on guard against similar hoaxes. But apparently not Higher Education Quarterly (a Wiley publication) which is just out with a howler entitled “Donor money and the academy: Perceptions of undue donor pressure in political science, economics, and philosophy.”

The study purports to demonstrate that “right wing” money is having a significant effect in pushing colleges to the right.

The first sign this is a hoax is that the article says the two authors, Sage Owens and Kal Avers-Lynde III, are on the economics faculty at UCLA, but I can find no record of their existence at UCLA or anywhere else, and no record of other publications by either author. I believe they do not exist. My suspicion is that the “authors” may be conservatives, or at least anti-leftists, who decided to see whether an article that flatters the deep biases of academia could get past peer review and into print.

So let’s get to the extraordinary claim in the abstract that is the biggest clue this is a hoax:

This paper uses a standardized, randomized survey instrument to investigate how whether faculty and professional staff at four-year universities and colleges perceive themselves to be subject to various kinds of illicit pressures, and then investigates how such perceived pressures correlate with donations from both right-wing and left-wing sources. Receiving funding from right-wing sources has not only a statistically significant positive effect on perceived pressure to promote “right-wing” causes and candidates, but the effect size is large to very large. Right-wing money strongly appears to induce faculty and administrators—including those who self-identify as members of the right—to believe that they are pressured to hire and promote people they regard as inferior candidates, to promote ideas they regard as poor, and to suppress people and ideas they regard as superior.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking: I sure have been seeing lots and lots of “right wing” content coming out of universities lately.

The study claims to have surveyed 2,000 faculty and administrators around the country to reach this preposterous finding. The complete article is behind a paywall, but I have downloaded a PDF as a keepsake for after Higher Education Quarterly withdraws and de-publishes the article, which I imagine will happen soon.

The article is long on recitation of previously published academic work chiefly on the evils of the Koch Brothers. This sentence is especially tell-tale:

For right-wing donor sources, we include the Koch Foundation, the Templeton Foundation, the Olin Foundation, the Randy Eller Foundation, and the Federalist Society.

First of all, the Federalist Society is not a donor to undergraduate programs, and in fact this study mentions in its endnotes that it does not include any contributions to law schools. Second, the Olin Foundation closed its doors and spent out the last of its corpus in 2006. The study claims to have a ten-year window starting in 2019 and to have looked up the IRS Form 990s for all of these foundations, so the Olin Foundation shouldn’t be included at all, as there are no Olin Form 990s for the last decade.

But what the hell is the Randy Eller Foundation? I do not believe it exists. I can’t find it, and given my long involvement with conservative philanthropy, I’d have heard of it if it existed. No sourcing or reference for the “Randy Eller Foundation” appears anywhere in the study, and this paragraph is the only mention of it.

This study is a hoax, and the data is likely fabricated out of whole cloth.

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