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Academic Journal Publishes Hoax Paper Alleging Right-Wing Donor Influence in Universities

( Lucia Gajdosikova/Getty Images)

Update 12/2/21 2:45 p.m.Wiley, the publisher of Higher Education Quarterly, has retracted the hoax paper.

The article “has been retracted by agreement between the journal’s Editors-in-Chief, Tatiana Fumasoli and Christine Teelken, and John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.,” the publisher said in a statement. “The retraction is agreed because data in the article has been identified as fabricated and the authors have not disclosed their true identities.”

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The academic journal Higher Education Quarterly published an article in October that appears to be a fake study arguing that conservative donor groups routinely influence academics to promote right-wing professors and concepts.

The article was published online on October 25 in the journal’s “Early View” section, described as the “online version of record before inclusion in an issue,” and was still available for download from Wiley publishing company as of Wednesday.

“Right-wing money strongly appears to induce faculty and administrators . . . 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,” the paper states, apparently inverting the complaint that many conservatives have lodged against universities.

However, the initials of the two purported authors, Sage Owens and Kal Alvers-Lynde III, spell out “Sokal,” in a nod to New York University physics professor Alan Sokal, who published a nonsense study in the journal Social Text in 1996. After it was revealed that his study was fake, Sokal explained that he had submitted it for publication to expose what he called “nonsense and sloppy thinking.” The episode came to be known as the “Sokal hoax.”

“The initials were intentional,” the person writing under Owens’s name told National Review via email. That person did not reveal their identity.

While Alvers-Lynde is described as a professor of economics at the University of California, Los Angeles, neither Alvers-Lynde nor Owens is listed among department faculty on the UCLA website.

The paper, titled Donor Money and the Academy: Perceptions of Undue Donor Pressure in Political Science, Economics, and Philosophy, includes the Olin Foundation and the “Randy Eller Foundation” among the “right-wing donor sources” subject to research. However, the Olin Foundation disbanded in 2005, and the “Randy Eller Foundation” does not appear to exist, a detail noted by Steven Hayward at Powerline.

The paper also lists the Federalist Society among donors to four-year universities and colleges. However, a Federalist Society spokesperson told National Review in an email that the organization “does not donate to undergraduate programs.”

National Review has reached out to Higher Education Quarterly and its editors for comment. The nature of the review process for the article was not immediately clear.

“We plan to reveal the full extent of this hoax later,” purported author Owens told the Chronicle of Higher Education on Tuesday. “For now we recommend readers look for other fake papers.”

The person writing under Owens’s name told National Review, “We wanted to see in this case if [it] would be possible to publish a paper in an elite journal when the paper is full of blatant and clear statistical errors.”

The news comes several years after three self-described “left-leaning liberal” academics attempted to publish Sokal-style hoax papers from summer 2017 through fall 2018. Authors James Lindsay, a mathematician, Peter Boghossian, then of Portland State University, and Helen Pluckrose, a London-based cultural critic, authored 20 hoax papers, seven of which were published in academic journals.

Editor’s Note 5:10 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from a Federalist Society spokesperson as well as the person writing under the name Sage Owens.

Send a tip to the news team at NR.

Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is also a violist, and has served in the Israeli Defense Forces.

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