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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

An academic hoax at Cornell University

On December 17th the Times reported,

Hoaxes sometimes have their uses in reducing certain states of mind to an absurdity. By playing on some common credulity they show how blind it is. One has just happened in America.

The report goes on to say that “the audience were not aware that the lecture was a parody. Indeed, it was such a success that the hoaxers were frightened and would have kept the joke to themselves, if it had not been revealed” and that now “[the hoaxers] are not popular in Ithaca, especially as a large part of the faculty and undergraduates of Cornell University were hoaxed.”

A lecture given to “a packed and brilliant audience” at an elite American educational institution turned out to be a fake? Surely you jest?

Well, I do, but not in the sense that this hoax lecture did not happen, but in the sense that the December 17th of the report was December 17th 1921. The lecture was on the topic of dreams in Freudian psychology and was given by a person who claimed to be a friend and pupil of of Freud. One can see why lines such as “A dreamer does know what he dreams, but he does not know what he knows and therefore believes what he does not know” went down well with the audience.

Alan Sokal and the trio of Peter Boghossian, James A. Lindsay, and Helen Pluckrose are heirs of a well established tradition, but it is a sad sign of the times that the absurd statements they produced to mimic the prevalent academic style of their time were merely ugly, whereas the equivalent in 1921 had something of the beauty of the later paintings of Claude Monet.

6 comments to An academic hoax at Cornell University

  • Andrew Douglas

    It’s hard not to conclude that what undergraduates now learn at University is all pretty much a hoax.

  • NickM

    I dated a Cornell grad. She was an undergrad there from ’91 to ’95. There were some very odd things back then so God knows what it’s like now. J is a Jew and she had a first year roomie who was from NYC under a “Let’s get poor black kids into the Ivy League even if they are thick” programme. When she found out J was Jewish she was astonished that she didn’t have horns. This woman got into an allegedly World-Class University whilst believing Jews had horns. When J told her she didn’t have horns her roomie told her they must have removed them surgically before she could remember the procedure. I have a grade A in Biology and I was in a relationship with J for nearly 3 years. She did not, and never had, horns. J got into Cornell on academic merit through a scholarship based on ability in maths.

  • JohnK


    I suspect that nowadays J would not have got into the university in the first place.

    The Chinese must be loving this.

  • Paul Marks

    I just had a long talk (over lunchtime) with someone who worked for Facebook for years (before he resigned in disgust at their manipulation of people on Facebook) – he worked with people from all over the world, but the most arrogant and the most IGNORANT were from American “elite universities”.

    Note not Americans generally – the arrogant and IGNORANT were from the “elite universities”. They knew nothing – and thought they knew everything (about everything). This appears to be what top universities do not – they teach students no useful knowledge (what they were taught was either confused or just flat wrong), but (instead) teach them that they are superior beings with the right to control every aspect of the lives of the “common herd”.

    Ironically these people, whose heads were filled with FALSE “facts” and a fanatical desire to control people, thought of themselves (and their “networking”) as for the “common good”.

    The “good that only the wise can see” as Saruman put it to Gandalf – Gandalf rejecting the nonsense.

    This post reminds us how far some of this goes back…

    In 1921 (and for decades before) two of the most powerful influences in academic life (the writers of the textbooks given to the children of the elite) were Woodrow Wilson and Richard Ely – both Collectivist fanatics and personally despicable.

    Bearing this in mind it is a wonder that Western civilisation has lasted so long – “a fish rots from the head”, the elite go rotten long before the ordinary population do.

  • Statistics established that Freudian therapy’s clear-up rate was the same as that of Rogerian Therapy – strong evidence that Freud’s hydraulic model of the mind had no particular congruence with how the mind works.

    A lot of people had to buy into it and spend money (often other people’s money) on it to provide the statistics that showed it was rubbish. Science needs failures to advance, of course – but this arose and lasted despite the absence of evidence for it, followed by the presence of evidence against it.

    In the end, it lasted a bit longer still because many a university’s psychology/psychiatry department had not yet come up with an alternative to teach. As you can see from re-reading that old comment of mine, that was the nearest it ever got to teaching science.

  • NickM

    I deeply suspect that psychology is a science in name only. I’m a physics grad and the standards we were taught are, well, different…

    The team measured the constant’s value to the 11th decimal place, reporting that α = 1/137.035999206.

    With a margin of error of just 81 parts per trillion, the new measurement is nearly three times more precise than the previous best measurement in 2018 by Müller’s group at Berkeley, the main competition.
    That’s for the fine structure constant. That is science. Physics built atom bombs, the social “sciences” have given us “safe spaces” for twats. I’d really like to see how the latter face-up against the former. Becuse when it hits the megatonnes I really don;t think a “gender neutral” toilet is gonna help…