Boaler Gets Called for Chucking

A few days ago, Stanford University received an anonymous complaint against Jo Boaler, the Nomellini-Olivier Professor of Education at Stanford. The complaint, which was first reported in the Washington Free Beacon, consists of a 100 page document, a compilation of Boaler’s alleged transgressions. The story was then picked up by Stephanie Lee at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The inspiration for the complaint, and a good deal of its substance, appears to be Brian Conrad‘s critique of citations in the California Mathematic Framework (and see also this), in which Boaler and her work played a significant role. The “Executive Summary” of the complaint summarises it,

This complaint alleges that Dr. Jo Boaler has engaged in reckless disregard for accuracy through citation misrepresentation, asks that Stanford investigate, and if the allegations are confirmed, take appropriate disciplinary action.

What to make of it all? To be honest, I don’t much care.

To begin, there is something decidedly odd about the complaint against Boaler being anonymous, for which there seems no good argument. The WFB report claims that the complaint is “backed by a California-based group of math-and-science focused professionals”, which is weird in its framing and meaningless in its content. (It seems very unlikely that the complaint is due to either Conrad or Jelani Nelson, with whom Boaler also had a run-in over the CMF.)

Secondly, the Washington Free Beacon is hardly a neutral player. WFB were obviously handed the story exactly because they tend to, and largely exist to, go to war against excesses of liberalism. That doesn’t mean that the accusations are meritless or that WSB, here or in general, doesn’t have value. But the origin of this story should give one pause. Whatever the substance of the story, Stephanie Lee is likely a much better guide. (A year ago, Lee wrote a strong but balanced article on Boaler, which Boaler pre-countered with one of her classic victimhood whines.)

Thirdly, the nature of the complaint seems pretty thin, even if Boaler’s conduct is systemic. A reckless disregard for accuracy through citation misrepresentation? Colour me shocked. I am much less concerned if Boaler misrepresents the scholarly support of her ideas than that her ideas are shit.

I cannot stand Boaler, and I cannot stand the thoughtless, gullible cult that she inspires. But this new, more accurately renewed, attack on Boaler seems pretty lame. I’ll stick with the Railside business (here, here, here, here and here), to which Boaler has never properly responded, and which had Boaler leaving Stanford previously, for murky reasons that have never been unmurked.


UPDATE (10/04/24)

Jo Boaler, the Nomellini-Olivier Professor of Education at Stanford University, has just posted a response to the new accusations against her. Greg Ashman, who has a small but growing part in this dispute, has promptly written on Boaler’s response. With a quick reading, I think Greg has done a great job of torpedoing Boaler’s arguments and accusations, but I don’t plan to ponder further.

6 Replies to “Boaler Gets Called for Chucking”

  1. Having read some of the document I can clearly see what the anonymous author(s) are trying for here.

    An academic version of the Al Capone prosecution; Capone for many years avoided going to jail for murder, racketeering, extortion but prosecutors finally caught him on the relatively minor crime of tax evasion.

    In Boaler’s case many academic heavy hitters have come off second best (or been sued/demoted/forced to retire) when they accused her of academic fraud, p-value hacking and misuse of citations.
    But she has not had a systematic case put against her on the last charge of citation misrepresentation and it is here that the document is focused. It may seem a relatively minor thing but if Boaler alleges in a paper that teaching method Z results in effect Y and cites paper M to back up her conclusion then it is problematic if paper M is at best ambiguous at confirming effect Y ( or in fact contradicts it!). It should be the job of the journal to spot it and disallow it- but education journals are well…that is another article in itself.
    Often Boaler has had things like this alleged against her but it has been deflected as a personal attack, sexism or a minor infraction. But a large document that accurately and diligently demonstrates widespread use of this practice could be a “Capone moment” .
    The language of the document is very neutral and does not court any rebuttal on the grounds of personal animosity towards Boaler, Stanford or education academics.
    I’m not sure why the authors are anonymous unless they are fearful of their futures being compromised by the inevitable backlash. Boaler has many influential supporters and going against her publicly can result in unfortunate consequences

    1. Thanks, Simon. The Capone analogy also occurred to me. I’m not sure it’s going to work here, however. There was something underhanded about getting Capone on tax evasion, and I think plenty of people saw it that way, even if they recognised Capone for the gangster he was. Here, opinion is all that really matters: if the accusations against Boaler are seen to be unfair, I don’t think Stanford will feel much pressure to engage in any substantial review.

      You wrote,

      “In Boaler’s case many academic heavy hitters have come off second best (or been sued/demoted/forced to retire).”

      Can you give examples of this? Of course I am well aware that Boaler typically deflects any such accusations with her own charges of sexism or racism or whatever, and I am aware that Boaler always has plenty of people willing to come to her defence. But I am not aware of anyone who has been sued or demoted or forced to retire or anything of the sort because they had levelled criticism against Boaler or her work.

  2. > It seems very unlikely that the complaint is due to either Conrad or Jelani Nelson

    I confirm that I did not file this complaint, and have no idea who did. I asked Conrad, and he said the same.

  3. What an uncitely mess.
    I suppose one could say that Boaler is blind to all this since she’s has no cite.

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