The Conceptual Penis

19/10/19

In May 2017 an article appeared in the US Skeptic Magazine written by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay outlining how they had pulled off a Sokal-like hoax (see fact of 3/7/19) by getting a fake paper published in a peer reviewed journal in order to show up the standards of an academic field - in this case Gender Studies (an interdisciplinary field that attempts to understand gender identity and how these identities play out in society). The paper was entitled “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” and was published in the Cogent Social Sciences journal. The details given by Boghossian and Lindsay in the Skeptic Magazine story were that they had written a paper "consisting of 3,000 words of utter nonsense posing as academic scholarship" leavened with buzzwords and phrases they claimed were typical of gender and feminist studies, in their words: "we stuffed it full of jargon (like “discursive” and “isomorphism”)".

They submitted their "preposterous" paper, which included references plucked from other (real) papers from the field, to several journals. One response was gained from NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies. They simply rejected the paper, however they sent a fairly standard response saying it might instead be suitable for another publication - Cogent Social Sciences (billed as "a multidisciplinary open access journal offering high quality peer review across the social sciences: from law to sociology, politics to geography, and sport to communication studies."). NORMA stated that they felt "That your manuscript would be well-suited to our Cogent Series, a multidisciplinary, open journal platform for the rapid dissemination of peer-reviewed research across all disciplines". So the authors submitted it there. It was reviewed and appeared in the May 2017 edition. As a result of the publication both Boghossian and Lindsay claimed that their "hoax on gender studies" vindicated their previously held suspicions that gender studies is an "echo-chamber of morally driven fashionable nonsense". They claimed that the aim of the test was simply to critique the "academic Left’s moral architecture in general" as they put it.

Of course it failed to demonstrate anything like this. The journal that published it was a pay-to-publish journal that charged upwards of $1200 for the privilege. It was in their financial interest to accept a paper, no matter how substandard. What the authors did expose - and they agreed this was the case - was the lack of standards in this journal and many like it. However their contention that getting it published in a journal that would likely publish anything you paid it to publish and which was not representative of the field you were trying to hoax, somehow reflected on a whole academic field neither of them were familiar with. Unfortunately, what it also exposed was that even skeptics can let their preconceived biases taint their work, especially when it strays outside of their field (Boghossian is a philosopher and Lindsay and physicist). For a good review of why they failed to demonstrate their conclusions, see here:

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