Thursday, 8 November 2007

Polish Sokal-style hoax

Via Modne Bzdury via Bad Science, this looks interesting. A psychologist in Poland, Tomasz Witkowski, has announced how he conned Charaktery (a scientific monthly focusing on popularising psychology) with a Sokal-style hoax article about a fake psychotherapeutic method. Here's his original article, Wiedza prosto z pola (Knowledge straight from the field), written under the pseudonym Renata Aulagnier.
      I don't know Polish, so have had to get the drift by machine translation. Knowledge straight from the field leads with a postulated scenario: that a patient could be MRI-scanned to measure their morphogenetic field. If the morphogenetic resonance is out of kilter, the patient can be exposed to appropriate influences to correct it, such as listening to different kinds of music in various proportions, or going into a large crowd of people with the correct vibes (e.g. a theatre or a football stadium) to get into tune with their field. Thus psychotherapy could be achieved without lengthy analysis, issues of resistance, disclosure of embarrassing sexual secrets, etc.
      But this is not science fiction, the article says, and goes on to describe a "Strasbourg experiment" in which such a technology has been developed (the idea inspired by Carl Jung and Henri Bergson, the mathematics from Lacan - who "first discovered the possibility of employing mathematical topology in the analysis of the structures of intellectual diseases", and the mechanism from Sheldrake).
      Witkowski's motivation appears to have been disillusionment at the quality of peer review - despite Charaktery having various professorial-level academics on the editorial board, he argues that it's been playing to the popular market by publishing articles about topics like neuro-linguistic programming and morphogenetic resonance. And as he describes here on his explanatory page, Witkowski's particular indictment of Charaktery is that not merely did the piece get past the editorial system, but the editors actually collaborated in expanding it with uncredited material from writings elsewhere about Rupert Sheldrake.
      This is currently all over the Polish blogosphere. As I said, I don't know Polish, but if anyone who does would care to translate properly, it looks rather an excellent sting.


Modne Bzdury said...

Ray, your summary is excellent. I don't know what can be added, really.

The good news is that the hoax is getting a lot of coverage and attention in Polish psychological/scientific community.


Poor Pothecary said...

Thanks! I used the demo system at LEC. Unfortunately it only accepts tiny bites of text, and I didn't fancy tackling the full length account. It looks very interesting (like how Tomasz Witkowski created an identity and academic location for "Renata Aulagnier" that didn't raise suspicion).