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The greatest academic hoax in over 20 years gets published

My day was made upon seeing the news: Two academics pulled an Alan Sokal and managed to get a lengthy treatise of gibberish published in a peer reviewed journal.

If you’re unaware, over 20 years ago, Sokal, a physicist, submitted a paper titled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity“ to a cultural studies journal. In it he “maintained that quantum gravity was a social construct,” and made copious use of the typical “sophisticated” postmodern academese.

Now, Peter Boghossian of Portland State University (whose name may sound familiar to Fix readers) and author James Lindsay have emulated Sokal, getting published in the journal Cogent Social Sciences their paper “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct.”

Using the pseudonyms Peter Boyle and Jamie Lindsay, the authors describe themselves as a “dynamic team of independent researchers” who work for the (fictitious, natch) Southeast Independent Social Research Group.

I wonder how long they laughed during construction of their “bios”:

While neither uses Twitter, both finding the platform overly reductive, they incorporate careful reading of the relevant academic literature with observations made by searching trending hashtags to derive important social truths with high impact. In this case, their particular fascination with penises and the ways in which penises are socially problematic, especially as a social construct known as a conceptual penis, have opened an avenue to a new frontier in gender and masculinities research that can transform our cultural geographies, mitigate climate change, and achieve social justice.

Even better is their “public interest statement”:

Penises are problematic, and we don’t just mean medical issues like erectile dysfunction and crimes like sexual assault. As a result of our research into the essential concept of the penis and its exchanges with the social and material world, we conclude that penises are not best understood as the male sexual organ, or as a male reproductive organ, but instead as an enacted social construct that is both damaging and problematic for society and future generations. The conceptual penis presents significant problems for gender identity and reproductive identity within social and family dynamics, is exclusionary to disenfranchised communities based upon gender or reproductive identity, is an enduring source of abuse for women and other gender-marginalized groups and individuals, is the universal performative source of rape, and is the conceptual driver behind much of climate change.

And the duo is just getting started. Via Why Evolution Is True, here are some more, er, highlights:

Still, even as a social construct, the conceptual penis is hopelessly dominated by recalcitrant social constructions that favor hypermasculine interpretations of the penis as a notion unjustly associated with high male value (Schwalbe & Wolkomir, 2001). Many cisgendered hypermasculine males, for instance, seem to identify those aspects of their masculinity upon which they most obviously depend with the notion that they carry their penis as a symbol of male power, domination, control, capability, desirability, and aggression (The National Coalition for Men “compile[d] a list of synonyms for the word penis [sic],” these include the terms “beaver basher,” “cranny axe,” “custard launcher,” “dagger,” “heat-seeking moisture missile,” “mayo shooting hotdog gun,” “pork sword,” and “yogurt shotgun” [2011]). Based upon an appreciable corpus of feminist literature on the penis, this troubling identification results in an effective isomorphism linking the conceptual penis with toxic hypermasculinity.

Upping the ante, as alluded to at the end of their “public interest statement,” the pair eventually discuss how the conceptual penis is related to … climate change!

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If you’re not yet in love with these fellas, the description of how they came up with the idea may be the best of all:

“The androcentric scientific and meta-scientific evidence that the penis is the male reproductive organ is considered overwhelming and largely uncontroversial.”

That’s how we began. We used this preposterous sentence to open a “paper” consisting of 3,000 words of utter nonsense posing as academic scholarship. Then a peer-reviewed academic journal in the social sciences accepted and published it.

This paper should never have been published. Titled, “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct,” our paper “argues” that “The penis vis-à-vis maleness is an incoherent construct. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a gender-performative, highly fluid social construct.” As if to prove philosopher David Hume’s claim that there is a deep gap between what is and what ought to be, our should-never-have-been-published paper was published in the open-access (meaning that articles are freely accessible and not behind a paywall), peer-reviewed journal Cogent Social Sciences.

And the big finish: “After completing the paper, we read it carefully to ensure it didn’t say anything meaningful, and as neither one of us could determine what it is actually about, we deemed it a success.”

Many folks chuckle when they hear majors like “Women’s and Gender Studies,” and look no further as to why. For, as Boghossian and Lindsay state, such are “rooted in moral and political biases masquerading as rigorous academic theory.”

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.