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Monday, November 8, 2010

Human Subjects

One thing that rankled me in the debate surrounding Fischer was how quick his defenders were to attribute naiveté or ignorance to those of us who saw something wrong in his citation practice. One commenter on the CHE accused me of not knowing the function of IRBs, claiming that Sokal should have submitted his research plans to the NYU IRB before proceeding. IRBs deal with research on human subjects, whether medically or anthropologically. There is absolutely no human subject, in this sense, that would be within the scope of an institutional review board, in Sokal's analysis of a scholar's plagiarism. He wasn't doing research on a human subject, attaching electrodes to Fischer's head! No animals were harmed.

Others appealed to the idea of a smaller community of inquiry in which Frank Fischer's practices would be acceptable. In other words, nobody outside the field of policy studies had enough expertise to be able to judge them. This is ridiculous for multiple reasons, not least because policy studies by definition is a field of vital significance to the res publica, not merely to a handful of people who happen to be professors in the field. It is also an example of an argument to a seemingly more sophisticated principle with the aim of obfuscating the issue.

It was, however, rather fun to wipe the floor with many social scientists on the comments. I was writing under the pseudonym of bemsha, and my arguments were simply superior. The ad hominem attacks on Sokal, the red herrings and logical fallacies, were breathtakingly blatant examples of mauvaise foi.


Thomas said...

I think the way the "smaller community" deals with the exposure of a plagiarist says much about its ethos (character). Instead of protecting its turf, it (i.e., the field) ought to think seriously about how to regain its credibility.

Thomas said...

Also check out this very clever and very thoughtful post.