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Alice Goffman’s implausible defense

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More than a month after the Chronicle of Higher Education published a 10,000-word article pointing out that it’s likely a lot of incidents related in Alice Goffman’s book On the Run didn’t actually happen, including several that she claimed to have witnessed herself, this is apparently the best defense she has been able to elicit from the world of sociology:

To the Editor:

I strenuously object to the publication of Paul Campos’s “Alice Goffman’s Implausible Ethnography” (September 4).

Its content, filled with innuendo and half-truths, is better suited to a tabloid than to an organ meant to inform on the basis of fact and thoughtful analysis.

What is the point of Campos’s overlong and superficial piece? To dispute the veracity of Goffman’s research. He is entitled to that opinion, but he offers no persuasive evidence. His main objective, it appears, is to discredit, not enlighten.

Sadly, Campos is unable to see Alice Goffman as a true scholar willing to take intellectual and personal risks that people like him would never take.

Let’s be clear: Goffman is not being harassed for the presumed flaws in her research — she is being persecuted for who she is: a young white woman of exceptional talent determined to unearth realities concealed to most Americans. Would she be enduring the same treatment if she were a man?

No, Alice Goffman is the object of a modern-day witch hunt. Envy over the colossal success of her book fuels the prejudice of people like Campos who cannot see Goffman for what she is: a serious intellectual with a genuine and timely story to tell.

Patricia Fernandez-Kelly
Department of Sociology
Princeton University

Obviously this letter doesn’t require any comment, and I present it here solely for its sociological interest.

I would like to take the opportunity, however, to say that I went to great lengths in the CHE piece to phrase my criticisms in the mildest and most careful fashion that a commitment to candor would allow.

Here I will not be so circumspect: It is all but certain that significant portions of On the Run are fabricated. Whatever residual doubt (and it was very residual indeed) I still had about this matter at the time I published the CHE article has been dispelled in the intervening weeks by subsequent developments, including but not limited to the response to the article itself.

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