A humanities scholar rebuts criticisms of the “conceptual penis” paper

“At a time when superstitions, obscurantism and nationalist and religious fanaticism are spreading in many parts of the world – including the ‘developed’ West – it is irresponsible, to say the least, to treat with such casualness what has historically been the principal defense against these follies, namely a rational vision of the world… [F]or all those of us who identify with the political left, postmodernism has specific negative consequences. First of all, the extreme focus on language and the elitism linked to the use of a pretentious jargon contribute to enclosing intellectuals in sterile debates and to isolating them from social movements taking place outside their ivory tower… Second, the persistence of confused ideas and obscure discourses in some parts of the left tends to discredit the entire left; and the right does not pass up the opportunity to exploit this connection demagogically.”

That is a quote from the book Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science (1999) by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, written three years after Sokal’s famous “hoax paper” was published in the journal Social Text.  The quote shows the danger that postmodern scholarship in the humanities and “cultural studies” pose not only to science, but to the entire Progressive Left.

That quote appears in a new paper in  Areo Magazine by Helen Pluckrose: “Sokal affair 2.0: Penis envy: addressing its critics“. Pluckrose is identified as “a researcher in the humanities who focuses on late medieval/early modern religious writing for and about women. She is critical of postmodernism and cultural constructivism which she sees as currently dominating the humanities.” She certainly has the credibility, and the chops, to assess the “conceptual penis” paper published only two days ago by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay (B&L).

As you probably know, B&L’s paper, accepted and published by the journal Cogent Social Sciences, was a Sokal-ian hoax: a mishmash of jargon from gender studies written to demonstrate the low academic standards of some areas of the humanities, and exposing the willingness of those infected with postmodernism to promote “scholarship” congenial to their ideology. I wrote about the B&L paper on this site, and won’t go into its substance (or rather “non-substance”).  Nor will I rebut the many Regressive Leftist critics of that paper, for that’s what Pluckrose ably does in her Areo piece. You can find those criticisms everywhere simply by Googling “Boghossian Lindsay hoax”, and there’s a fair amount of criticism  in the comments following my original post.

I’ll list the five criticisms of B&L listed and dismantled by Pluckrose, giving one quote from her paper (indented) and adding a few comments of my own at the end. The bullet points are taken directly from her article; do read it to see her rebuttals. I’ve left out summaries of her rebuttals because I want you to see them in the paper,

  • The hoax isn’t really a hoax because it makes a good argument. 

 

  • The hoax targeted a bad journal which does not represent gender studies. Here’s part of Pluckrose’s response:

In stark contradiction to the criticism above, many defenders of gender studies have claimed that Cogent Social Sciences is widely known to be a bad journal and more reputable ones would not have taken it seriously. The problem with that is that it is listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), the Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI), the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS), Academic Search Ultimate (EBSCO), ProQuest Social Science Journals, the British Library, Cabell’s International and many more of the largest indices. It is not highlighted as a problem in the much-relied upon Beall’s list of predatory journals and was recommended to Lindsay and Boghossian by the NORMA journal. It is part of the highly-regarded Taylor & Francis Group which confirms that Cogent offers thorough scholarly peer review and has all the “traditional values and high standards associated with Taylor & Francis and Routledge at its core.”

Even more significantly (and as shown by the first criticism), the language and “argument” of the hoax piece is indistinguishable from sincere gender studies publications from a range of academic journals. The Twitter account New Real Peer Review, which is dedicated to highlighting ludicrous theses, spent much of the day demonstrating this.

Pluckrose then gives links from that Twitter site to real academic papers. I’ve highlighted some on my own site over the last year, including papers on the white supremacy instantiated by Halloween pumpkins, feminist glaciology, the racism of Pilates, and the “otherness” of introduced squirrels. Lest you think these are an unrepresentative sample of a large and solid scholarly literature, the “Real Peer Review” site had highlighted over 1000 ludicrous papers in only four months, and, about a year ago, offended scholars had that account briefly shut down after threatening to expose its author, who feared retaliation simply for calling attention to bizarre and shoddy publications. It’s now back up, and you should follow it.

More criticisms rebutted by Pluckrose:

  • The hoax is a one-off and proves nothing.

 

  • The hoax is just another attack on the humanities/ Social Science by science.

 

  • The hoax was transphobic and sexist.

I’ll add just a few remarks of my own. First, those who respond by saying that over a thousand articles, of which B&L’s is one, are all cherry picked from a body of substantive and meaningful scholarship, then assume the onus of demonstrating that culture and gender studies really have produced a substantive body of knowledge compared to the time and money invested in research and writing. The critics haven’t done any such thing; they’ve merely attacked B&L for cherry picking. There is ample evidence, documented for in Sokal and Bricmont’s book—and Gross and Levitt’s 1994 book Higher Superstitionthat much research in this area is trivial, obscurantist, and serves only to advance the careers of academics. The “cherry picking” claim resembles that of theologians, who say that a few examples of “bad theology” aren’t sufficient to discredit a body of work whose “best examples” are ignored. Having read a reasonable amount of theology, I’ve found this argument specious, and suspect, based on what reading I’ve done in academic humanities, that the same speciousness is true for claims in some areas of academic humanities. Again, I emphasize that much of the humanities is worthwhile: a boon to our species. But the trendy sort infected by postmodernism is a rotten edifice.

Finally, I find it amusing that those who implicitly defend cultural and gender studies by attacking B&L’s paper are often the same people who attack evolutionary psychology as a worthless discipline, despite the fact that evo psych has produced considerable insights into human behavior—far more insights, I suspect, than have been produced by postmodernist humanities scholars.

h/t: Grania

59 Comments

  1. jeffery
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I know, from my own experience, that it’s almost impossible to resist trying to debate with, or educate these morons with facts, but it’s as much a waste of time and energy as arguing with a young-Earth creationist- the “edifice” created in their minds is simply too large and complex to dismantle with words. It IS though, important to keep doing so, if but for the sake of those observing who have not yet drank too much of the “fool-aid” to be rescued.

    • Posted May 21, 2017 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      The church of Postmodernism.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      +1.

      It’s rare to be able to get an extremist to see reason, or be reasonable. I maintain that they’re not as big a group as they appear to be, but they do dominate the debate because of their passion. I believe if we focus on the majority who actually are more reasonable, or will be when they grow up, sanity will eventually prevail.

      I liken it to how quickly atheism is spreading as more and more people have social media access and are hearing ideas other than the ones presented by the religion that dominates their real life communities. The extremists mostly don’t change, and they are screaming in their death throes, but the fact they’re slowly dying remains.

      • jeffery
        Posted May 21, 2017 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

        “It is futile to try to use logic to sway someone from a stance which they did not acquire BY logic.”

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted May 21, 2017 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

          Yeah. Good use of the quote.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

      Ah, the ‘someone is wrong’ impulse. We all have it.

      https://xkcd.com/386/

      cr

    • Robert Bray
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      Important, also, to exemplify humanists who practice rational analysis in their teaching and writing, and who stringently oppose those who would consign the humanities to the refuse heap of academia, never to be reclaimed.

  2. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Unlike postmodernism and gender studies, moon landing hoax theorists are not a serious academic discipline. But there was a similar hoax article in a moon-landing-conspiracy journal by a NASA employee in the late 1990s.
    In this case, no one could accuse the author of targeting an unrepresentative journal or a minority group. The hoax made its point unambiguously.

    Still there was doubling down.
    It was actually the hoax article which first proposed (with tongue firmly in cheek) that the fake moon landings had been filmed specifically by…Stanley Kubrick. This is now widely believed by moon landing conspiracy theorists!!!!

  3. pck
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    I still think the garbage journal criticism is valid. I highly doubt anybody who reads academic papers has never encountered a bad paper in a reputable journal, to say nothing of low impact factor open access crap. Who knows how many papers are downright faked and never exposed as such?
    Thinking of it, if I were a creationist I’d try to do the same thing. Hell, some creationists have actually published their drivel in real journals, doesn’t mean biology is a sham.

    • rich99999
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      I’d agree with this – they got a dodgy paper published in a journal. That could mean that the field is at fault, and will accept anything (which appears to be the default conclusion everyone has jumped to). Or it could mean that the journal is dodgy, and will accept anything. I don’t see any way to differentiate those 2 possibilities.

      • Sebastian
        Posted May 21, 2017 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        I disagree, because that’s where @RealPeerReview comes in: hundreds of similarly silly papers that were not intended to be hoaxes but are barely distinguishable from one can pass peer review (although not ‘Real Peer Review’ ;-)…

        • pck
          Posted May 21, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

          If you gave a layperson a list of papers of any field and told them to pick out the fake ones, do you think they would be reliably able to do it?

          I think the more prudent way to discredit a given field this way is to get a paper through peer review, wait a few years and see how many citations it accumulates, and then expose it as a hoax.

          • Craw
            Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

            Would one paper discredit the whole field? Or would you be back responding “it’s only one paper”?

            The purpose of the hoax was not to discredit the field all on its own. It was to attract attention. Then people will notice all the other ways this field has been discredited.

          • Sebastian
            Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

            Okay. But the ‘only experts can recognize the value in a paper argument’ is covered by the two expert reviewers (+ the editor who should also not exactly be a layperson) who accepted the paper.
            In my view all you can argue is that two reviewers is too small a sample size.

            • pck
              Posted May 21, 2017 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

              The hoax seems to mostly point out a problem with peer review. One journal rejected it (was it the editor or the reviewers?), the next journal didn’t, because luck of the draw favoured the authors and gave them shitty reviewers/editors (chances are increased of that happening with a shitty journal).
              On the other hand, imagine you had to actually have a valid sample size of reviewers to get a paper accepted D:
              Anyways, certainly a problem shared by every academic field.

              @Craw: As far as discrediting a field, of course one paper won’t do it. However, one widely cited hoax paper would do far more than one that escaped proper peer review and is immediately exposed as a hoax by the authors. Remember “A mathematical model for the determination of total area under glucose tolerance and other metabolic curves”? Not a hoax, but everyone involved in publishing it and anyone who cited it sure looks pretty dumb.

            • Henry Fitzgerald
              Posted May 21, 2017 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

              “In my view all you can argue is that two reviewers is too small a sample size.”

              Small sample size is a valid complaint, but it is always counteracted to some extent by the size of the effect being detected.

              The point of this hoax is that the paper submitted was utterly ridiculous, devoid of any merit or sense – not just mildly eccentric or a little more slapdash than usual, but a complete trainwreck.

              Sneaking a mouse past two security guards might not be exposing a flaw in the system. Sneaking an elephant past them is another matter.

              • Sebastian
                Posted May 22, 2017 at 9:27 am | Permalink

                Haha, I love your mouse/elephant metaphor!

          • eric
            Posted May 21, 2017 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

            I agree. Unfortunately it’s not useful for immediate evaluation of a weird opinion, the best way to eval. such opinions over time is to see how they stand up to future research.

    • Posted May 21, 2017 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      I encourage you to compare papers found in the supposed “dodgy” Cogent Social Sciences with those found in any other Gender Studies or related field’s journal.

      • BJ
        Posted May 21, 2017 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

        Seriously, two words: “Feminist Glaciology.”

    • Craw
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      Do journals like this get counted in tenure reviews? They do. So it is perfectly on point. The existence of such journals with such standards is part of the problem with gender studies.

    • GM
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      As I mentioned in the other thread, a significant detail in the whole story is left unexamined and not paid sufficient attention

      They first submitted the paper to a better journal, which rejected it and told them to transfer it. I’ve had the same thing happen to me with Nature journals, and I know quite well how that works — usually you transfer papers down the ladder within your own journal family because you think they are not significant enough for the higher ranked journal, not because you think the paper is a complete garbage that should not be published.

      So most likely the paper was rejected by NORMA on grounds of low impact (because NORMA has published hundreds of papers saying the same stupid thing in the past so one more repeating it again was not of that much interest.

      Which, if that is indeed the case, is actually even more damning of the gender studies field.

      However, the initial rejection is used as an argument to bolster the soundness of academic practices in gender studies, which is not a conclusions supported by the data.

      I feel that a lot of people in this conversation are not actually actively publishing academic papers, and as a result it is not a very informed discussion.

    • BJ
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      But papers like this are published every day in the ones called “respectable” journals. Just look at them, and at the RealPeerReview Twitter account.

      It’s all garbage because it’s all based on foundational “theories” that have no basis in reality. When your entire “study” or “paper” is based on theories that don’t work and have absolutely no business being around an academic institution, you’re bound to continue failings.

  4. Posted May 21, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Patheos blogger and sociology grad student, Matthew Facciani, has also attempted to diminish the impact of the hoax by declaring the journal it appeared in not representative of the otherwise high standards of Gender Studies.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/accordingtomatthew/2017/05/sociologist-reviews-conceptual-penis-social-construct/

    Facciani found it significant that the hoax paper was initially rejected by the — in his opinion — far more respectable NORMA. The fact remains that NORMA’s editors were unable to spot the hoax, and, as evidenced by passing it on to its sister publication, Cogent Social Sciences, still deemed the paper worthy of consumption by the gender studies community.

    In the comments, I quoted abstracts from an handful of NORMA papers which, to my untrained eyes, exhibit no substantive differences from either Cogent Social Sciences papers or the hoax. I await a reply to my request for someone to point out any such differences.

    • Richard
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      From that page (I suspect you are the Matt who quoted this gobbledegook for our amusement):

      Snapchat memory and youth digital sexual cultures: mediated temporality, duration and affect

      Abstract
      This paper explores how the photo and video-sharing app Snapchat mediates memory and intimacy, using focus group data with 18-year-olds. We use Bergson’s ideas about duration and Deleuze and Guattari’s theories of affect and assemblages to think about how the digital affordances of ‘disappearing’ Snapchat technology reshape memory and intimacy in youth sexual and relationship cultures. Our findings illustrate that Snapchat offers a temporal fastness and ephemerality – but also forms of fixity through the screenshotting of ‘disappearing’ snaps…. Our analysis of discussions of ‘Snapchat memory’ explores the gendered aspects of performative ‘showing off’ and sexual scrutiny…. Overall we show how Snapchat is mediating youth intimacy, highlighting the reconditioning that occurs between and across the digital world of Snapchat and the physical world of its youth users – evidence of the blurring of online and offline experiences that disrupts digital dualisms.

      —-

      I would say that you just couldn’t make this stuff up, but alas some-one evidently did.

      I spent my working life as an engineer, and whenever I wrote any kind of documentation (whether functional specification, user guide or reference manual, etc.) my chief concerns were both precision and clarity – I wanted to ensure that it was readily comprehensible to its intended readership. Did I ever write such deliberately obscure waffle, just to show how clever I was? Never.

      • Posted May 21, 2017 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

        That’s me. IIRC, that paper is either from NORMA or the Journal of Gender Studies touted as an example of the high-quality of the field’s scholarship.

        I was also amused that another example of serious research in ‘discursive mediated intimacy’ included a description of a prototype Hugs-From-A-Distance vest that squeezed the wearer while emitting kissing noises. I’m holding out for the planned Hugs-From-A-Distance underwear, also described. (I kid you not.)

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 21, 2017 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

        “Did I ever write such deliberately obscure waffle, just to show how clever I was?”

        I was an engineer too, and I must admit I did exactly that once (though emphatically not to show how clever I was). It was my contribution to a Cabinet paper and it said, in effect, that my Minister had given them the wrong advice, based on insufficient information, and they should therefore reverse their decision. What made it more delicate was that the advice had partly originated from me (the Minister hadn’t told me the full story and I had been too busy to go looking for complications).

        The need for a certain careful obscurity in the wording will be apparent. One does not drop ones Minister publicly in it. It presumably worked, since no missiles came my way from a great height.

        (It was a very small country, by the way).

        In all other circumstances I agree with your dictum..

        cr

  5. Posted May 21, 2017 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    You’re missing the point. (Not too surprised.)

    The point?

    Can “scientific skeptics” be guided by motivated reasoning just like other folks? Probably so: https://ketanjoshi.co/2017/05/20/the-engine-of-irrationality-inside-the-rationalists/

    • Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      Every “argument” in the linked post is addressed here, so I cannot see why you are claiming that Prof. Coyne and most of his audience are missing the point.

      Anyway, I advise others not to follow the link, it is just waste of time.

      • Richard
        Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        Thank you, I won’t. I wonder how many hours of peoples’ lives you have just saved… 🙂

  6. Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    One cannot convince thru argument whather or not God exists. The same with the narrow (read: religious) version of PM that proscribes a methodological route. One does not argue atheism or Theos them because these never get beyond the symbolic structural opposite that they’re trying to disapprove or prove. It is the same for the postmodernists who rely on jargon to develop meaning; it is a circular and mistaken argument that text postmodernism to manifest reality through discourse. The congregants of p.m. take this mistake and hold onto it as a theological dogma. In the same way that you can’t discuss things with Isys or Terrorists in the “pure” sense; you can’t ignore them and you try to discuss things with them but really they’re beyond discussion and so really you just have to take them out or device strategies to comment in a real sense, ignore them. And the way that racism stops is not by arguing with people over whether or not race is a true category or whether racism somehow is logically inconsistent or morally reprehensible; for some of the followers discussion and argument Mandy change their mind but this is bur one tactic that never really confronts the main issue. . “Religious” racism is dealt with basically by acknowledging their existence and then ignoring them and or otherwise taking them out and some violent manner. And what we mean basically by violence is “ignorance” which is basically dealing with the ignorance by speaking the truth but then really just ignoring the emptiness that is the ignorance itself.

    Unfortunately academia is filled with a bunch of post modern religious zealots.

  7. Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    … The thing with the hoaxer is he is being just postmodern in the most true sense of the word. The irony with the folks is that even if he admits it a hoax, it is an example of how postmodern theory functions.

    • Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      Postmodernism is one grand hoax.

      • Posted May 21, 2017 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

        I wouldn’t exactly say that it is All a hoax. But I would say a particular appropriation of what people tend to associate as “postmodernism “as a kind of critical theory, is based in a mistaken understanding of what postmodern, as the general compendium of authors from the 60s 70s and 80s , is.

        The idea that tends to accompany postmodernism into critical theory is a mistake and understanding of what those authors really mean.

        I wouldn’t say that it’s all a hoax but a particular group of people that are falling under critical theory as postmodernism basically produce a load of shit so far is critical theory goes or so far as it can be applied to anything actual or real.

      • Posted May 21, 2017 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

        How would you classify, or csn you elsborate upon the false features of PM ? Or what makes it ‘hoax like’?

  8. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    the language and “argument” of the hoax piece is indistinguishable from sincere gender studies publications from a range of academic journals

    One … could almost suspect the sincerity of some of those other publications. Call me suspicious, but don’t call me late for lunch.

  9. GBJames
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Sub

  10. Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    As a humanities scholar, Helen Pluckrose does the right thing by criticizing postmodernism. This obscurantist trend is at war not only with science but also with all meaningful branches of humanities and does much harm there. I’ve recently read part of a text by some Prof. R. F. Kennedy about “the long and ugly history of Classics as a tool of oppression and exclusion”. If you wish, have a look, but I warn that it is more depressing than the penis article because, while not peer-reviewed, it is serious:

    https://eidolon.pub/we-condone-it-by-our-silence-bea76fb59b21

  11. BJ
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    “The hoax isn’t really a hoax because it makes a good argument.”

    I said in a comment on the original article that some people would come out and say the article *actually made good points.* I was right.

    These people are literally impossible to satirize.

  12. Posted May 21, 2017 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  13. Posted May 21, 2017 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Interesting that scientists can write and publish hoax pomo articles, but we never hear of pomo “scholars” writing and publishing hoax science papers.

  14. somer
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Re Sokal et al’s quote

    “First of all, the extreme focus on language and the elitism linked to the use of a pretentious jargon contribute to enclosing intellectuals in sterile debates and to isolating them from social movements taking place outside their ivory tower” I don’t really agree with the ivory tower bit. Some types of post modern academics are just into the arcane element of nothing-is-truly-knowable but most of them combine this with the social element – and usually there is an overlap between Critical Theory and Postmodernism. And there are variations which preceded the Green movement in its social as opposed to environmental agenda – such as the Frankfurt school which critiqued modernity as mere consumption and the common regleft critique of the Enlightenment or modern western culture, as fostering and motivated by imperialism and capitalism.

    Whatever courses students do they normally have to do some humanities units – so their thinking in their professions is influenced by this increasingly over the last few decades, too. In my personal observation this is NOT just taught in elite arts colleges – its taught everywhere.

    Much POMO combines and becomes little distinguishable from Critical Theory in which the underlying oppressive “structure” is states (despite all the regleft’s demands for state services and funding) and that precious Hierarchy of Oppression. The Hierarchy of Oppression may reflect resentment in some of the non western or minority groups or privilege in some students but in others it instils a deep sense of GUILT and a sense that THE WORLD MAY BE REMADE TO ONCE AND FOR ALL BUILD A PERFECT WORLD. These people are activists in various ways and services – often productive but often not – to help the oppressed. How they do it and where they do it determines whether the activity is productive or not. It can inspire both good and bad – but the **lack of focus on reality** and **contempt for assessment of likelihood from material sources** is what ultimately makes it dangerous and leading towards a **less humane future**.

    • somer
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

      The ivory tower bit goes into the language used – which basically pads out the Hierarchy of Oppression/identity politics ideology of being eternally obligated to compensate those high in the hierarchy. POMO legitimates this by giving a means of ignoring context and assessment of likelihood from any interface with actual science. Most people just pick up on the ideology and forget the arcana of the language (or aren’t particularly exposed to it), but academics have to keep communicating in the arcana of the language to be accepted in their fold and keep their careers.

    • Posted May 22, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      The language used in these papers verges on Orwell’s Duckspeak.

  15. redpony
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    The penis paper seems to me to have been an exercise in how many dick jokes the authors could squeeze into a supposed academic paper and still get published. They managed to get in a lot.

    Sure, it’s humorous but as satire it’s also pretty bland. But it’s what we get nowadays. Alec Baldwin repeats Trump verbatim on SNL (but in a stupid wig) and it’s considered satire. This is really no different.

    To get to the heart of the matter, what is the subject of the satire? Is it the ideas that the subject of the satire represent or the indecipherable gibberish that is used to convey them? Is the irony verbal or situational (some here seem to think dramatic but I think that is a bit too much)?

    The B&L paper’s argument is that, as a kind of situational irony, the satire falls flat given that the paper, however ridiculously parsed and/or unintended, has some merit. In short, the satire works best as a lampooning of the language used in certain arenas of critical discourse. I think it is also the area where there is most broad agreement.

    Another item that gives me pause: It is endlessly interesting to me that the penis paper, being so fixated on the male apparatus, reads unintentionally as a subconscious expression of castration anxiety. The authors are figuratively waving their dicks to the journal editors at the risk of castration (exposed as fraudulent). They are not found out and so their conceptual penises (phallus) are safe from injury (from castrating feminists) a fact which, of course, they were all but certain, thus reaffirming the potency of their (non-conceptual) penises.

    • Richard
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 2:59 am | Permalink

      In that last paragraph you came close to mastering the pomo writing style, but you really needed to mention some ‘theories’ and throw in a few references to other writers (e.g. Cock and Bull, 2011).

      But 8 out of 10 for a good effort.

    • Posted May 22, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      At least this author of a phallus-related paper did some … ahem… ‘research’ in the field:

      Diaries, dicks, and desire: how the leaky traveler troubles dominant discourse in the eroticized Caribbean

      Abstract
      This article employs ‘unconventional linguistic self-designation’ in an attempt to move beyond the abstract signifying logics commonly used to theorize First-World/Third-World sex tourism in a language of knowledge, power, and resistance. I look specifically at the sexual liaisons between Western tourists, including myself, and men from the Dominican Republic. In my efforts to move away from representational logics, I mobilize an apparatus utilizing feminist and queer affect theory, notions of embodiment, and a phenomenological language of ‘orientation’. I analyze the journal accounts of my own erotic encounters with Dominican men to stimulate a certain type of layered thinking capable of accessing affective dispositions and challenging the notion of an oriented, stable, composed subject. Neither tourist nor local Dominican men fit this unitary description. Instead, I rely on metaphors of disorientation, rupture, and leakage to arrive at indeterminate, fleeting, fugitive experiences, defying common touristic tropes. I conclude that although Western white men (and women) are bound by authoritative modes of knowing – individually exempt, perhaps, but structurally bound – possibility exists to ‘write back’ or successfully transgress boundaries in the (non)representation of self and the other in a process of mutual recognition.

      http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14766825.2011.653359?src=recsys

  16. Posted May 21, 2017 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    1. I looked into Cogent Biology, which I can judge better than the social science counterpart, and although the website looks professional and I have never seen them spam I came away with the feeling that this may not be a very serious publisher, simply based on the quality of a few articles I sampled. That it isn’t on Beall’s list and that it is listed in DOAJ doesn’t really seem to demonstrate all that much. In conclusion, the hoax doesn’t seem to demonstrate anything about the field as a whole.

    2. It is probably easy to find hundreds of shoddy science papers published not only in shoddy journals but even slipping through the cracks of peer review in the better ones; we certainly have discussed a number of howlers in our journal club over the years. That alone does not demonstrate anything about natural science in general, and similarly finding hundreds of shoddy social science papers does not by itself demonstrate anything about social science in general.

    3. Neither the first nor the second observation contradict or rebut the idea that certain social sciences have a much higher noise to signal ratio than natural sciences. They merely argue that the idea would have to be substantiated in different ways. The two paper rule (“show me the two best recent papers you can think of to demonstrate that this field has merit”) may be a better approach, if wide and representative sampling would be too involved.

    • Posted May 24, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      There’s *bad*, and there’s *not even wrong* – to use Pauli’s aphorism.

      • Posted May 24, 2017 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

        I am not really sure how this addresses the question whether the ‘hoax’ was a complete dud and equivalent to a creationist trying to show evolutionary biology is nonsense by getting a nonsense paper published in a questionable pay-to-play journal. If you are saying that all of gender studies are not even wrong then I will have to plead lack of qualification to confirm this, but I believe that the idea of studying social issues, including how people think and talk about concepts, is not self-evidently nonsense.

        • Posted May 25, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

          What I mean is that it suggests (to me at least) there’s a case to made that even the bottom-barrel of journals shouldn’t have accepted it.

          • Posted May 25, 2017 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

            Well, yes. But that is a misunderstanding at the core of what many people are arguing. I mean, I see articles trying to explain what is going on here, and then the comment streams under such articles are full of people going “but this is a sociology journal, so there”.

            (Note, btw, that it is not even claiming to be a gender studies journal, but that is not even the main point here.) The main point is that there are hundreds of “sociology journals” and “natural science journals” that are on the lines of some dude in a garage in Karachi running a vaguely journal-like website named “International Research Journal of (name of legitimate journal they are trying to leech authors off)”, spamming researchers, pretending to do peer review, and trying to collect publication fees from the careless and the desperate.

            Of course this is a spectrum, with the middle ground being covered by vanity publishers who look more professional but still accept everything for a fee, and sometimes even without a fee as they first need to “fill up” their new journals to look better to later customers; because that, and not publishing good scholarship, is their business model. Publishing a bad paper with them shows about as much about the field of scholarship in question as does nailing that paper to the town hall, because quality control is only simulated, not implemented.

  17. Posted May 22, 2017 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    Jerry: I admire your work but think you´re wrong this time… I´m in the social sciences, am not a postmodernist and am convinced that Gender Studies is questionable (I´m part of the progressive left, which includes and has to include some form of feminism). The problem with Boghossian and Lindsey is the “research design”; their effort and result depend on a “pay for play” journal and that invalidates the whole thing, in terms of criticism of the GS field, because you/they can´t distinguish between causality and correlation…
    Best regards.

  18. Posted May 24, 2017 at 11:11 am | Permalink

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