IT’S an age-old campus game to invent spoof titles of academic papers. To follow through on the promise of the title and write up the whole essay requires more dedication.
It was passion that drove Helen Pluckrose and colleagues to write and submit for peer review the paper “Human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog-parks”.
The article purported to examine the sexual orientation of dog owners while observing that their dogs do with one another what dogs do. It was accepted for publication. It became one of the team’s most notable successes in their campaign against what they call “Grievance Studies”.
In Analysis: The roots of ‘woke’ culture (R4, Monday of last week), Helen Lewis explored the myths and realities of a movement in the humanities which apparently marshals post-modernist arguments about power and language in the suppression of free expression.
The “no-platforming” of speakers is the most ostentatious expression of this coercion, though more insidious is the ostracising of individuals in the academic profession. Pluckrose claims this has resulted in her own “exile” from the humanities.
Helen Lewis’s documentary was not a safe haven for the political-correctness-gone-mad brigade. As one academic sensibly pointed out, the “Grievance Studies” campaign were able to deceive not so much because of the credulity of journal editors and peer reviewers, but because there are a lot of journals to fill, a lot of Research Excellence points to be scored, and not many reviewers prepared to do due diligence when they are not being paid. Rubbish gets published every day; get over it.
The World Service’s The Compass (Wednesdays) offered some global perspective. In particular, we met Robert Quinn, Executive Director of Scholars at Risk, an organisation that reports on abuses of academic freedom around the world. Quinn rattled off the names of half a dozen countries where government intervention in university management has reached a dangerous, even violent, level. Universities, Quinn declared, are “at the intersection of power and ideas”; they no longer breathe the thin air at the top of Parnassus, but must share the dirtier, muggier atmosphere of everyday politics.
In the UK, we are a long way from the atrocious interventions of the Government into university life. But through the situation of Professor Selina Todd of Oxford University, who is escorted to lectures by security guards and appeared in both these programmes, we are reminded of how intimidation can play out even among the supposedly dreaming spires.
And for something a little different. . . Since we are all now giving and receiving well-being tips, here is mine. Tune in to Thanks a Lot, Milton Jones! (Radio 4, Mondays). In silliness it manages to beat even our current situation.