On Harvard Kennedy School’s “Disinformation Creep”: When Scholarly Journals Become Peer-Reviewed Diaries
I think labeling my articles as hit pieces diminishes the actual level of artifice and cunning that the genre demands of its writers. Hit piece writers are extremely self-conscious about their motives being detected and they go to great lengths to conceal them. And so when, in these articles of mine, I directly convey to a reader that I think so-and-so is a pigshit ignoramus, or that this other person really strikes me as being a loathsome worm — when I do that — I’m not doing a ‘hit piece’.
Is it a personal attack? Sure.
But a ‘hit piece’? No.
I’m not trying to hide my personal beliefs about these people in some pseudo high-minded analysis that purports to be about something else.
If, however, you’re looking for that sort of thing (that is, if you’re looking for an example of an actual hit piece!), you will surely find no greater example than the Harvard Kennedy School’s Disinformation creep: ADOS and the strategic weaponization of breaking news.
As far as hit pieces about the American Descendants of Slavery movement go, Disinformation creep is the one that really aspires to a kind of hang-that-sucker-up-on-the-refrigerator worthiness. It’s Harvard-certified, after all! And gosh, if there were ever an institutional badge with which all ten (ten!) authors of Disinformation creep could dazzle everyone in the rancid social-professional hierarchy they are all so obviously and desperately trying to climb, it’s certainly Harvard U.
But in fact the imprimatur of Harvard on Disinformation creep seems to serve exactly one function: to discourage the reader of the report from considering the fact that what he or she holds in their hands is utterly dishonest horseshit, a bizarre medley of unambiguous lies produced by people (again, ten people!) whose need to bathe in Harvard’s artificial validation seemingly trumped their felt responsibility to adhere to even the most basic and minimal set of ethics and standards in their chosen field of scholarly publishing.
I have literally no idea where to even begin in terms of communicating the enormity of Disinformation creep’s failure. Do you know the GIF where a cat tries to leap from a dresser to a bed and stalls out about midway and just sort of belly-flops onto the floor? That’s how Disinformation creep performs.
It is a monument to unsuccessfulness, and on every single one of its sixteen pages there is evidence of intellectual bankruptcy of the absolute highest order.
The forthcoming official rebuttal from the ADOS Advocacy Foundation does an excellent job at identifying each of these numerous lies and idiocies and countering them accordingly, but I think the report’s grand stupidity and essential hollowness can really be distilled to a single aspect of “Figure 1”.
The above graph from Disinformation creep provides a visual representation of the daily number of tweets “specifically using the #ADOS hashtag” over an 11-month period. These tweets are what the authors use to make their central claim: that there is an observable pattern of high Twitter activity within the ADOS ‘network’ around “real-world events” (e.g. MLK Day; Chadwick Boseman’s death; Kamala Harris announced as Biden’s VP pick, etc.), and that the content of the tweets on these days reveals how the “ADOS network strategically uses breaking news events to discourage Black voters from voting for the Democratic party.”
OK. Welp. By including screenshots of some of these tweets in the graph, the authors allow us to see for ourselves the kind of content they supposedly carefully analyzed in order to support their hypothesis. Notably, on August 2, the second largest spike in tweets using “#ADOS” is shown to have occurred. The authors identify a total of ~7,000 posts that day. Of those 7,000 posts, here’s the tweet they chose to feature; it’s from Mediavenir, a French news outlet, and it reads as follows:
Incomprehensibly, the authors used a tweet about a cryptocurrency scam that translates to “‘The question is quickly answered’: many French #teens have dropped out of school, thinking to become [stock] #trader[s] in buying #formation kits. They fell into the trap of #Melius, based in #Dubai and known by other names. L’AMF and #Miviludes are seized.”
In French, “ados” means “teens”. And because the social media staffer at Mediavenir — when they were writing that tweet — slapped a hashtag in front of it, it eventually came to be swept up into Disinformation creep’s “dAtA sAmPLe sEt” despite having literally nothing what-so-fucking-ever to do with the actual #ADOS political movement which Harvard is asking the public to trust that they have specifically and diligently studied.
How does this happen? How does this glaringly and utterly irrelevant tweet manage to be not just included in the dataset but held up as somehow representative of the black-targeted misinformation content dump that the authors claim defines the ‘ADOS network’ on ‘high-activity days’? What about other tweets that include “#ADOS” and which similarly have absolutely no relation at all to the political movement, such as this one, or this one, or this one?
How many of those are part of the daily totals? I know the authors use a bunch of real fancy-sounding, applied science-y jargon in the report to describe their process (e.g .”computational grounded theory”; “structural topic modeling”; “inductive thematic analysis”), but like, despite these apparently sophisticated tools, there is still clearly a presence of laughably irrelevant tweets to be found among the collection of data.
Does it matter? Should it? Um, probably, yeah, if your intent is to not undermine your own work’s quality, to say nothing of your own dignity. More importantly, how did this get through a peer-review process? Who were the peers? Drooling invalids that were instructed to blink if they thought the study passed muster and was ready for publication? Some poor low-tier academic saps who were brought to a dingy basement somewhere in Kendall Square and made to strip down to their underwear while Harvard data experts stubbed out lit cigarettes all over their flesh and barked at them to sign off on Disinformation creep’s patently bunk methodology?
These sorts of scenarios rush in to try and explain the pure absurdity of the report, to fill in the vacuum occasioned by its vast gaping absence of basic evaluation standards in scholarly publishing, criteria that one might reasonably anticipate being insisted upon by an institution like Harvard which openly fancies itself as being like the sacred flame of academia or whatever.
Or maybe not.
Maybe you are actually not surprised at all. Maybe you know that since Disinformation creep aims to portray the #ADOS movement as irredeemably toxic simply because it represents the possibility of actual repair and freedom for the descendants of chattel slavery, Harvard would in fact happily become much more lenient and accommodating in their standards if it helps to kill the vehicle for that possibility.
After all, this is the same institution whose lawyers just successfully litigated the University’s retention of property rights to photographs of slaves following a lawsuit that was brought against Harvard by Tamara Lanier, a woman who — as a descendant of the father and daughter that are pictured — argued that she was the rightful owner of the images.
This is the same institution whose administrative staff just recently reminded the school’s highest-profile black faculty member that he could expect Harvard to extend him about as much freedom and protections in his work as a white landowner would have conferred upon his black sharecropper in the Mississippi delta in 1896.
This is Harvard, after all, and good old-fashioned racism is still very much alive and well in this vaunted cathedral of higher learning.
The hope is, I guess, that outward actions like the school’s appointment of a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer will distract you from the institution’s complete inward deformities of racial injustice that have defined both its past and present. The hope is, I guess, that Harvard can just kind of jot off one of its total bullshit-y pronouncements of ‘solidarity’ whenever the continued fever of American racism spikes, as if the institution itself has not always been right there helping stoke the fire to its full strength in the body of society. The hope is, I guess (and Disinformation creep proves this), that Harvard will never have to confront a real, organized threat to the fact that the institution pretends not to continue to fatten itself on the misery of ADOS.
But which is why — with the abysmal failure of Disinformation creep — Harvard should be very worried. The timing of such a cack-handed, deeply stupid effort by ten writers united in their ineptness to make ADOS an object of reactionary horror could not be worse for the institution.
Let’s deny the descendants of slaves rights to photographs of their ancestors! Let’s refuse tenure consideration to one of the premiere black intellectuals in America who’s spent his career advocating for black people! Let’s mobilize in dishonesty *against* the movement now trying to secure justice for that very collective!
What a hapless, blinkered, and desperately clumsy bunch of white supremacists over there in Cambridge, huh? Pointy-headed ninnies all cloistered away from every conceivable brutal reality of ADOS life and who all seemingly decided one day that it was their God-given right to root out the seeds of possibility that the #ADOS movement is planting in this country.
This is what the academics at Harvard are doing to help America’s bottom caste as the world around these people skids into the abyss. They are publishing their little ‘scholarly articles’ replete with lies so vulgar and obvious that it stands to reason the authors involved in the writing undertook the project with one single expectation: that they would be able to freely invent whatever filth they wanted to about ADOS and no one would question a word of it simply because the report came out of Harvard.
Indeed it is a direct testament to how much contempt and disdain Harvard has for the plight of ADOS that they would even consider publishing such an obvious clown car of researchers in the first place. Fully six of these goblins have no previously published content that has been accepted into the Web of Science (which, to be kind of crude about it, you can think of as sort of like the IMDb of academics; WoS catalogues the number of citations, and thus, provides the basic metric of impact/importance of research).
In other words, these writers have about as much authority and credibility in this space as a group of elementary school children who were all collected at a rural bus stop, given pencils and notepads and juice boxes and told to ‘write about those baddies in the #ADOS movement’.
Who are these people? Are they just bored? Unloved? And how are they so very bad at what they do?
They should wake up embarrassed.
They were tasked with not even creating but just building upon one already existing lie: that the #ADOS movement is essentially an online factory of misinformation (indeed, the original architectress of that lie is Jess Aiwuyor, and Disinformation creep reads very much like a sad, dull and weird extension of her own body of work, which is essentially one sad, dull and weird neurotic meditation on ADOS).
People paid the scummy little clan of Disinformation creep writers handsomely to gussy up that original lie a little bit — to give it a little slick veneer of scientific observation — and in the end these pedantic cretins who evidently think they are so much smarter than everyone else couldn’t produce a remotely convincing or even vaguely entertaining case.
But of course Disinformation creep failed. Of course it did. And that’s because, at the end of the day, there are only so many ways to dress up what these people are really doing when they write shit like this, which is that they are trying to make the #ADOS movement the scapegoat for the deficiency-ridden politics of the Left.
You can distill the entire genre of anti-#ADOS ‘criticism’ down to that single impulse — that tightly wound coil of emotion, of melancholy that lives at the heart of these people’s obsessive determination to get rid of the movement. For them, #ADOS functions purely as a scapegoat for their own failed postwar utopias and workers’ revolutions. And what Disinformation creep proves is just how completely exhausted the genre already is after a mere two years. How utterly lacking it is in its efficacy.
What it proves is that the harder they try to hurriedly scuttle the most potent justice movement since the Civil Rights era off the scene, the more they manage only to reveal a basic, repugnant truth about themselves: their determination to further dispossess the very people whose suffering and deprivation they all spill so much ink over, and waste so much breath claiming to be so very outraged and heartbroken about. Just look at Harvard.
All Harvard succeeded in doing was exposing itself. It confirmed what’s becoming blindingly apparent about so very many of our elite liberal institutions in 2021: that these privilege farms don’t function all that differently than they did in the plantation days. They just as nonchalantly enrich themselves off the wholesale spoliation of ADOS, and they’ve been able to feign innocence because of a movement-free, symbolism-intoxicated climate that not just permits but encourages such despicable action.
Well, Harvard, the #ADOS Advocacy Foundation has three words for you: We’re here now.