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The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct: A Sokal-Style Hoax on Gender Studies

Note from the editor: Every once in awhile it is necessary and desirable to expose extreme ideologies for what they are by carrying out their arguments and rhetoric to their logical and absurd conclusion, which is why we are proud to publish this expose of a hoaxed article published in a peer-reviewed journal today. Its ramifications are unknown but one hopes it will help rein in extremism in this and related areas.
—Michael Shermer

“The conceptual penis as a social construct” is a Sokal-style hoax on gender studies. Follow the authors @peterboghossian and @GodDoesnt.

The Hoax

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. (In case the PDF is removed, we’ve archived it.)

Assuming the pen names “Jamie Lindsay” and “Peter Boyle,” and writing for the fictitious “Southeast Independent Social Research Group,” we wrote an absurd paper loosely composed in the style of post-structuralist discursive gender theory. The paper was ridiculous by intention, essentially arguing that penises shouldn’t be thought of as male genital organs but as damaging social constructions. We made no attempt to find out what “post-structuralist discursive gender theory” actually means. We assumed that if we were merely clear in our moral implications that maleness is intrinsically bad and that the penis is somehow at the root of it, we could get the paper published in a respectable journal.

Manspreading — a complaint levied against men for sitting with their legs spread wide — is akin to raping the empty space around him.

This already damning characterization of our hoax understates our paper’s lack of fitness for academic publication by orders of magnitude. We didn’t try to make the paper coherent; instead, we stuffed it full of jargon (like “discursive” and “isomorphism”), nonsense (like arguing that hypermasculine men are both inside and outside of certain discourses at the same time), red-flag phrases (like “pre-post-patriarchal society”), lewd references to slang terms for the penis, insulting phrasing regarding men (including referring to some men who choose not to have children as being “unable to coerce a mate”), and allusions to rape (we stated that “manspreading,” a complaint levied against men for sitting with their legs spread wide, is “akin to raping the empty space around him”). 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.

Consider some examples. Here’s a paragraph from the conclusion, which was held in high regard by both reviewers:

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.

You read that right. We argued that climate change is “conceptually” caused by penises. How do we defend that assertion? Like this:

Destructive, unsustainable hegemonically male approaches to pressing environmental policy and action are the predictable results of a raping of nature by a male-dominated mindset. This mindset is best captured by recognizing the role of [sic] the conceptual penis holds over masculine psychology. When it is applied to our natural environment, especially virgin environments that can be cheaply despoiled for their material resources and left dilapidated and diminished when our patriarchal approaches to economic gain have stolen their inherent worth, the extrapolation of the rape culture inherent in the conceptual penis becomes clear.

And like this, which we claim follows from the above by means of an algorithmically generated nonsense quotation from a fictitious paper, which we referenced and cited explicitly in the paper:

Toxic hypermasculinity derives its significance directly from the conceptual penis and applies itself to supporting neocapitalist materialism, which is a fundamental driver of climate change, especially in the rampant use of carbon-emitting fossil fuel technologies and careless domination of virgin natural environments. We need not delve deeply into criticisms of dialectic objectivism, or their relationships with masculine tropes like the conceptual penis to make effective criticism of (exclusionary) dialectic objectivism. All perspectives matter.

If you’re having trouble understanding what any of that means, there are two important points to consider. First, we don’t understand it either. Nobody does. This problem should have rendered it unpublishable in all peer-reviewed, academic journals. Second, these examples are remarkably lucid compared to much of the rest of the paper. Consider this final example:

Inasmuch as masculinity is essentially performative, so too is the conceptual penis. The penis, in the words of Judith Butler, “can only be understood through reference to what is barred from the signifier within the domain of corporeal legibility” (Butler, 1993). The penis should not be understood as an honest expression of the performer’s intent should it be presented in a performance of masculinity or hypermasculinity. Thus, the isomorphism between the conceptual penis and what’s referred to throughout discursive feminist literature as “toxic hypermasculinity,” is one defined upon a vector of male cultural machismo braggadocio, with the conceptual penis playing the roles of subject, object, and verb of action. The result of this trichotomy of roles is to place hypermasculine men both within and outside of competing discourses whose dynamics, as seen via post-structuralist discourse analysis, enact a systematic interplay of power in which hypermasculine men use the conceptual penis to move themselves from powerless subject positions to powerful ones (confer: Foucault, 1972).

No one knows what any of this means because it is complete nonsense. Anyone claiming to is pretending. Full stop.

It gets worse. Not only is the text ridiculous, so are the references. Most of our references are quotations from papers and figures in the field that barely make sense in the context of the text. Others were obtained by searching keywords and grabbing papers that sounded plausibly connected to words we cited. We read exactly zero of the sources we cited, by intention, as part of the hoax. And it gets still worse…

Some references cite the Postmodern Generator, a website coded in the 1990s by Andrew Bulhak featuring an algorithm, based on NYU physicist Alan Sokal’s method of hoaxing a cultural studies journal called Social Text, that returns a different fake postmodern “paper” every time the page is reloaded. We cited and quoted from the Postmodern Generator liberally; this includes nonsense quotations incorporated in the body of the paper and citing five different “papers” generated in the course of a few minutes.

Five references to fake papers in journals that don’t exist is astonishing on its own, but it’s incredible given that the original paper we submitted had only sixteen references total (it has twenty now, after a reviewer asked for more examples). Nearly a third of our references in the original paper go to fake sources from a website mocking the fact that this kind of thing is brainlessly possible, particularly in “academic” fields corrupted by postmodernism. (More on that later.)

Two of the fake journals cited are Deconstructions from Elsewhere and And/Or Press (taken directly from algorithmically generated fictitious citations on the Postmodern Generator). Another cites the fictitious researcher “S. Q. Scameron,” whose invented name appears in the body of the paper several times. In response, the reviewers noted that our references are “sound,” even after an allegedly careful cross-referencing check done in the final round of editorial approval. No matter the effort put into it, it appears one simply cannot jump Cogent Social Sciences’ shark.

We didn’t originally go looking to hoax Cogent Social Sciences, however. Had we, this story would be only half as interesting and a tenth as apparently damning. Cogent Social Sciences was recommended to us by another journal, NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies, a Taylor and Francis journal. NORMA rejected “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” but thought it a great fit for the Cogent Series, which operates independently under the Taylor and Francis imprimatur. In their rejection letter, the editors of NORMA wrote,

We feel 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.

Transferring your manuscript:

  • Saves you time because there is no need for you to reformat or resubmit your work manually
  • Provides faster publication because previous reviews are transferred with your manuscript.

To ensure all work is open to everyone, the Cogent Series invites a “pay what you want” contribution towards the costs of open access publishing if your article is accepted for publication. This can be paid by you as author or by your institution or research funder. Many institutions and funders now provide financial support for open access publishing.

We took them up on the transfer, and Cogent Social Sciences eventually accepted “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct.” The reviewers were amazingly encouraging, giving us very high marks in nearly every category. For example, one reviewer graded our thesis statement “sound” and praised it thusly, “It capturs [sic] the issue of hypermasculinity through a multi-dimensional and nonlinear process” (which we take to mean that it wanders aimlessly through many layers of jargon and nonsense). The other reviewer marked the thesis, along with the entire paper, “outstanding” in every applicable category.

They didn’t accept the paper outright, however. Cogent Social Sciences’ Reviewer #2 offered us a few relatively easy fixes to make our paper “better.” We effortlessly completed them in about two hours, putting in a little more nonsense about “manspreading” (which we alleged to be a cause of climate change) and “dick-measuring contests.”

The publication of our hoax reveals two problems. One relates to the business model of pay-to-publish, open-access journals. The other lies at the heart of academic fields like gender studies.

The Pay-to-Publish, Open-Access Journal Problem

Cogent Social Sciences is 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. Connect your research with a global audience for maximum readership and impact.

One of the biggest questions facing peer-reviewed publishing is, “Are pay-to-publish, open-access journals the future of academic publishing?” We seem to have answered that question with a large red, “No!”

There is, however, an asterisk on that “No!” That is, the peer-review process in pay-to-publish, open-access journals cannot achieve quality assurance without extremely stringent safeguards (which will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the debate). There’s nothing necessarily or intrinsically wrong with either open-access or pay-to-publish journals, and they may ultimately prove valuable. However, in the short term, pay-to-publish may be a significant problem because of the inherent tendencies toward conflicts of interest (profits trump academic quality, that is, the profit motive is dangerous because ethics are expensive).

The pay-to-publish mechanism should not affect the quality control standards of the peer-review process. Cogent Open Access claims to address this problem by using a blind review process. Does it work? Perhaps not always, if this case is any indication. Some pay-to-publish journals happily exploit career-minded academicians and will publish anything (cf: the famous Seinfeld hoax paper)1. Is that the case here? Gender studies scholars committed to the integrity of their academic discipline should hope so, and they have reason for suspecting it. For a minimal payment of $625, Cogent Social Sciences was ready to publish, “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct.”2

There seems to be a deeper problem here, however. Suspecting we may be dealing with a predatory pay-to-publish outlet, we were surprised that an otherwise apparently legitimate Taylor and Francis journal directed us to contribute to the Cogent Series. (Authors’ note: we leave it to the reader to decide whether or not NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies constitutes a legitimate journal, but to all appearances it is run by genuine academic experts in the field and is not a predatory money-mill.) The problem, then, may rest not only with pay-to-publish journals, but also with the infrastructure that supports them.

In sum, it’s difficult to place Cogent Social Sciences on a spectrum ranging from a rigorous academic journal in gender studies to predatory pay-to-publish money mill. First, Cogent Social Sciences operates with the legitimizing imprimatur of Taylor and Francis, with which it is clearly closely partnered. Second, it’s held out as a high-quality open-access journal by the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), which is intended to be a reliable list of such journals. In fact, it carries several more affiliations with similar credentialing organizations.

These facts cast considerable doubt on the facile defense that Cogent Social Sciences is a sham journal that accepted “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” simply to make money. As a result, wherever Cogent Social Sciences belongs on the spectrum just noted, there are significant reasons to believe that much of the problem lies within the very concept of any journal being a “rigorous academic journal in gender studies.”

Postmodernism, Gender Studies, and the Canon of Knowledge

In 1996, Alan Sokal, a Professor of Physics at NYU, published the bogus paper, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” in the preeminent cultural studies journal Social Text which is in turn published by Duke University Press. The publication of this nonsense paper, in a prestigious journal with a strong postmodernist orientation, delivered a devastating blow to postmodernism’s intellectual legitimacy.

Subsequently, Sokal and the Belgian physicist Jean Bricmont noted in their 1997 book, Fashionable Nonsense, that certain kinds of ideas can become so fashionable that the critical faculties required for the peer-review process are compromised, allowing outright nonsense to be published, so long as it looks or sounds a certain way, or promotes certain values. It was standing upon Sokal’s shoulders that we proceeded with our hoax, though we perceived a slightly different need.

Sokal’s aim was to demonstrate that fashionable linguistic abuses (especially relying upon puns and wordplay related to scientific terms), apparent scientific authority, conformity with certain leftist political norms, and flattery of the academic preconceptions of an editorial board would be sufficient to secure publication and thus expose shoddy academic rigor on the part of postmodernist scholarship and social commentary.

A primary target of Sokal’s hoax was the appropriation of mathematical and scientific terminology that postmodernist “scholars” didn’t understand and didn’t use correctly. (We included “isomorphism” and “vector” in our paper in subtle homage to Sokal.) Fashionable Nonsense pays particular attention to postmodernists’ abuses of mathematical and scientific terminology. That is, Sokal took aim at an academic abuse by postmodernists and hit his target dead-center. His paper could only have been published if the postmodernists who approved it exhibited overwhelming political motivations and a staggering lack of understanding of basic mathematics and physics terminology.

The scientific community was exuberant that Sokal burst the postmodern bubble because they were fed up with postmodernists misusing scientific and mathematical terms to produce jargon-laden nonsense and bizarre social commentary carrying the apparent gravitas of scientific terminology. It appears that Social Text accepted Sokal’s paper specifically because Sokal was a recognized scientist who appeared to have seen the light.

Our hoax was similar, of course, but it aimed to expose a more troubling bias. The most potent among the human susceptibilities to corruption by fashionable nonsense is the temptation to uncritically endorse morally fashionable nonsense. That is, we assumed we could publish outright nonsense provided it looked the part and portrayed a moralizing attitude that comported with the editors’ moral convictions. Like any impostor, ours had to dress the part, though we made our disguise as ridiculous and caricatured as possible—not so much affixing an obviously fake mustache to mask its true identity as donning two of them as false eyebrows.

Sokal exposed an infatuation with academic puffery that characterizes the entire project of academic postmodernism. Our aim was smaller yet more pointed. We intended to test the hypothesis that flattery of the academic Left’s moral architecture in general, and of the moral orthodoxy in gender studies in particular, is the overwhelming determiner of publication in an academic journal in the field. That is, we sought to demonstrate that a desire for a certain moral view of the world to be validated could overcome the critical assessment required for legitimate scholarship. Particularly, we suspected that gender studies is crippled academically by an overriding almost-religious belief that maleness is the root of all evil. On the evidence, our suspicion was justified.3

As a matter of deeper concern, there is unfortunately some reason to believe that our hoax will not break the relevant spell. First, Alan Sokal’s hoax, now more than 20 years old, did not prevent the continuation of bizarre postmodernist “scholarship.” In particular, it did not lead to a general tightening of standards that would have blocked our own hoax. Second, people rarely give up on their moral attachments and ideological commitments just because they’re shown to be out of alignment with reality.

In the 1950s, psychologist Leon Festinger revealed the operation of the well-known phenomenon called cognitive dissonance when he infiltrated a small UFO cult known as the “Seekers.” When the apocalyptic beliefs of the Seekers failed to materialize as predicted, Festinger documented that many cultists did not accept the possibility that the facts upended their core beliefs but instead rationalized them. Many Seekers adopted a subsequent belief that they played a role in saving the world with their fidelity; that is, they believed the doomsday-bringing extraterrestrials were so impressed by their faith that they decided not to destroy the world after all!

It is therefore plausible that some gender studies scholars will argue that the “conceptual penis” makes sense as we described it, that men do often suffer from machismo braggadocio, and that there is an isomorphism between these concepts via some personal toxic hypermasculine conception of their penises.

We sincerely hope not.

Conclusion: A Two-Pronged Problem for Academia

There are at least two deeply troublesome diseases damaging the credibility of the peer-review system in fields such as gender studies:

  1. the echo-chamber of morally driven fashionable nonsense coming out of the postmodernist social “sciences” in general, and gender studies departments in particular and
  2. the complex problem of pay-to-publish journals with lax standards that cash in on the ultra-competitive publish-or-perish academic environment. At least one of these sicknesses led to “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” being published as a legitimate piece of academic scholarship, and we can expect proponents of each to lay primary blame upon the other.

“The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” underwent a blind peer-review process and yet was accepted for publication. This needs serious explaining. Part of the fault may fall on the open-access, pay-to-publish model, but the rest falls on the entire academic enterprise collectively referred to as “gender studies.” As we see it, gender studies in its current form needs to do some serious housecleaning.

To repeat a critical point, this paper was published in a social science journal that was recommended to us as reputable by a supposedly reliable academic source. Cogent Social Sciences has the trappings of a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. There is no way around the fact that the publication of this paper in such a journal must point to some problem with the current state of academic publishing. The components of the problem are, it seems, reducible to just two: academic misfeasance arising from pay-to-publish, open-access financial decision-making; and unconscionable pseudo-academic inbreeding contaminating, if not defining, the postmodernist theory-based social sciences.

On the other hand, no one is arguing, nor has any reason to argue, that respectable journals like Nature and countless others have adopted a peer-review process that is fundamentally flawed or in any meaningful way corrupt. Much of the peer-review system remains the gold-standard for the advancement of human knowledge. The problem lies within a nebula of marginal journals, predatory pay-to-publish journals, and, possibly to some degree, open-access journals—although it may largely be discipline-specific, as we had originally hoped to discover. This is, after all, not the first time postmodernist academia has fallen for a hoax.

This hoax, however, was rooted in moral and political biases masquerading as rigorous academic theory. Working in a biased environment, we successfully sugarcoated utter nonsense with a combination of fashionable moral sentiments and impenetrable jargon. Cogent Social Sciences happily swallowed the pill. It left utter nonsense easy to disguise.

The publish-or-perish academic environment is its own poison that needs a remedy. It gives rise to predatory profit-driven journals with few or no academic standards that take advantage of legitimate scholars pressured into publishing their work at all costs, even if it is marginal or dubious. Many of these scholars are victims both of a system that is forcing them to publish more papers and to publish them more often, to the detriment of research quality, and of the predatory journals that offer to sell them the illusion of academic prestige. Certainly, we have every reason to suspect that a majority of the other academics who have published in Cogent Social Sciences and other journals in the Cogent Series are genuine scholars who have been cheated by what may be a weak peer-review process with a highly polished edifice. Our question about the fundamental integrity of fields like gender studies seems much more pressing nonetheless.

“The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” should not have been published on its merits because it was actively written to avoid having any merits whatsoever. The paper is academically worthless nonsense. The question that now needs to be answered is, “How can we restore the reliability of the peer-review process?” END

  1. For more here, read about “Dr. Martin Van Nostrand’s” famous hoax paper.
  2. Portland State University has a fund dedicated to paying fees for open access journals, and this particular journal qualified for disbursement. For ethical reasons, however, we did not apply for funding, which in this case was virtually guaranteed. Instead, the article was externally funded by an independent party. We never received an invoice from the journal. We did not pay to have this published.
  3. Our suspicion arose from countless examples documented on the anonymously run Twitter feed @RealPeerReview.
About the Authors

Dr. Peter Boghossian is a full time faculty member in the Department of Philosophy at Portland State University. He has an extensive publication record across multiple domains of thought. He’s the author of A Manual for Creating Atheists and the creator of the Atheos app. Follow him on Twitter @peterboghossian.

James A. Lindsay has a doctorate in math and background in physics. He is the author of four books, most recently Life in Light of Death. Follow him on Twitter @GodDoesnt.

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June 15, 2017 8:08 am

I do agree that this attempt at a hoax is pathetic. It’s likely that this was a low effort attempt at undermining gender studies. But I find the banter in the comment section just as pathetic – assuming “masculinity” and labeling your opponent as “alt right” shows an absolute lack of self awareness to your own lack of skepticism.

Also, it’s extremely inaccurate to describe Harris or Shermer as “alt right”; it’s a depressing scene to see old-left constantly mislabeled as “alt right” in convenience of a strawman. Shermer’s failure here to achieve proper skepticism is not the same as fitting into a specific set of beliefs.

Raging Bee brings up a serious concern – your poorly thought out “stunt” is now being used by science deniers to peddle their nonsense. Great care should be taken with these sorts of issues.

To the authors – try a more heavily researched attempt at a Sokal-like hoax presented to more prominent journals. I would love to see what is there. Don’t just aim for low hanging fruit.

I personally find these gender theorists counter intuitive towards actually helping achieve “equality”, and therefore they fail at their own purpose. While I can’t speak in regards to gender or race, the work that is generated by “disability advocates” is embarrassing, non-representative and, for lack of better words, absolute fashionable nonsense.

I think that if we really want to help anyone with these issues, we have to take the pursuit of these hoaxes seriously and not settle for such low hanging fruit.

June 12, 2017 4:44 pm

So you paid money to have drivel published in a scam journal? Who are the fools here, again?

June 12, 2017 12:03 pm

I’m glad that I am now aware of these problems but why so much text for it? A lot of it is redundant and filled with hard to read phrases and obscure vocabulary (although, it is all correctly used as far as I’ve checked). Maybe it would be fine if there was a better conclusion at the end or a suggestion or theory on how we could improve the situation, most of the text is just repeating the problem over and over again.
Also, the last few paragraphs sound like you are confident that something is very wrong with the current system but the confidence is not argumented that well. Empirically, I can agree but it’s far off from being a fact.

June 6, 2017 12:25 pm

Although the publication of this paper exposes the problem of the quality of open-access journals, it does not, in any significant way, establish the main conclusion that gender studies is an illegitimate field of study. Michael Shermer, Peter Boghossian, and James Lindsay appear to either have a huge blind spot when it comes to criticism of fields they think are problematic, or they are simply hoping their audience will.

I am extremely disappointed with this example of poor argumentation and analysis. It is not worthy of skeptic magazine or of association with skepticism and good thinking more generally.

Brian M
June 2, 2017 12:49 am

You guys are heroes. Such great heroes. Slayers for truth, defilers of evil. It is such an amazing work that you have wrought; it will be long remembered among the finest efforts of humanity. We are all better that such great heroes live among us! Thousands of words of heroism, and not an ounce of hubris! Heroes such as these put the humility in every man’s bones, and every woman’s; self-improvement is the virtue that every woman and man aspires to in the wake of such heroes. They have so little hubris, nary any at all if we go looking for it. I am grateful to be alive with such great heroes.

Raging Bee
June 1, 2017 7:06 am
Raging Bee
June 1, 2017 7:04 am

Great — a climate-change-denialist is using this scam to try to discredit REAL SCIENCE. Great work, “skeptic” guys, you just helped a science-denialist get over on the rest of us. Care to tell us again who is the real scammer, and who got scammed? Looks like the joke’s on you guys, not the gender-studies folks.

A Hermit
May 31, 2017 12:38 pm

Nice try boys, but no cigar…

Massimo Pigliucci (among others) has pointed out the futility of this hoax, and how it reveals the biases and skeptical failures of the authors themselves…

Raging Bee
May 31, 2017 12:34 pm

In the case of Cogent Social Sciences, the recommended fee is a whopping $1,350…

It looks to me like the only people who really got scammed here are the crap-artists who had to actually pay a crap journal to publish their crap, just so they could pretend they’ve scammed someone else. That’s f***ing hilarious whatever your opinion of gender studies might be.

May 31, 2017 9:20 am

To the moderators,

Please discard this message. I am receiving Facebook notifications about replies to my previous comment but I am unable to find them. It is frustrating because I really do enjoy this conversation.

Thank you

Art Goldman
May 30, 2017 1:06 pm

This is remarkable because:
1) It is the funniest thing I’ve read this year (so far), and I’ve read a great many student papers since January, and
2) As a reader of several academic journals, I’m stunned by what passes as acceptable academic discourse.
Fine job and a very welcome laugh.
Thank you so much!

P K Vijayan
May 28, 2017 9:44 pm

What this has in common with Sokal’s hoax is that both were written by scientists (and one philosopher in the recent case) – that’s all.
Sokal’s was not only published in a more established journal, it offered a genuine and timely critique when and where it was much needed: it showed up the unreality of the language being employed by some practitioners of the social sciences, as a substitute for intellectual rigour. But the current case shows a complete lack of genuine engagement with gender studies, its issues and debates, its engagement with some of the most sensitive areas of human experience, etc. Instead, the writers simply set up a straw man – literally – to castrate him. The lack of intellectual – and political – rigour in this case, lies with the pranksters, not with its practitioners in the field.
This is not to say that all who engage in gender studies are intellectually rigorous, always. There is much mediocrity in this field, as in any field. Gender studies is not privileged to have more mediocrity simply because it is gender studies – unless one is of the opinion that thinking about gender is itself foolhardy. But it seems that is exactly how these two writers would have it: if there has ever been a more obvious attempt to delegitimize the field of gender studies itself, I do not know of it.
To some extent, the social sciences in general are always going to be vulnerable to such pranks from scientists. Unlike the latter, whose disciplines are premised on the possibility of epistemological certitude, the social sciences are in fact premised on the insubstantiality of such certitude in human and social matters. While there are probably much more comprehensible and lucid ways (than espoused by the votaries of po-stru, pomo, poco, etc) of thinking about, articulating and representing those uncertain social matters, the inarticulacies of those votaries do not the field of social science – or even the discipine of gender studies – make.
In fact, given the routine reports one hears of plagiarized work and cooked up lab findings, which also find their way into very reputed publications in the ‘natural sciences’, there is perhaps some need for scientists to police their own intellectual fields, instead of wasting time – theirs and the worlds – with farce that is unwarranted. It speaks volumes for the depths of gender prejudices, that all those who are hailing this ‘hoax’, without exception, are men. It only reaffirms the arguments of the field of gender studies, and underlines the urgent need for greater gender sensitization in the sciences (notorious for the lack of it) – which evidently remain committed to frivolous displays of machismo.

June 4, 2017 11:54 am
Reply to  P K Vijayan

There authors of this article illuminated quite clearly how gender studies and social-theory based “science” is not science at all, but in fact philosophical discourse. Social science involves experiments, surveys, research, test subjects, not philosophizing using arcane field-specific neologisms. That this is was done while simultaneously showing some of the cracks in the wall of “peer review” is simply a bonus.

Hard science does not respect social theory sciences because, well, its not science! It is not a quest for truth via experimental process, but is in fact a workshop for disseminating ideology.

June 15, 2017 8:17 am
Reply to  Handro

While what you’re saying may be true, I think the problem here is that the authors of this did not carefully select their target in a way that was anywhere near as effective as Sokal, which really weakens their argument.

Based on my experience in the field, there is a serious problem with these sorts of philosophies, but it’s imperative to carefully plan a counter against them. As others have pointed out before, this study has been used against science for global warming deniers, so careful tact is necessary.

June 15, 2017 8:13 am
Reply to  P K Vijayan

Excellent criticism. I find this to be no more than a “bootleg sokal attempt”.

Merilyn Jackson
May 28, 2017 11:21 am

Haha, I must unearth and dust off my 1974 paper called “The Chthonic Vulvagina”: The Vulvagina being the genitalia-in-toto that this woman wishes her organ to be be perceived as, not just the attractive lady parts, in art, religion, politics, comedy, literature AND MORE — a nice sister piece to this glorious penis piece.

Kenneth Almquist
May 27, 2017 10:44 pm

A number of years ago, James Randi tested a dowser who claimed a 100% success rate. Randi agreed to pay the dowser $10,000 if the dowser succeeded in five out of ten tests. After the fifth test, the dowser stated that there was no need to run the remaining tests since he had already gotten five correct, but Randi said to run the remaining tests anyway.

As it turns out, the dowser scored zero. Asked if this would cause him to revise his claim of 100% success rate, he said it would not. His explaination for the ten failures was: “My power wasn’t working then.”

Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay set out to demonstrate that something about the field of gender studies which I won’t try to characterize precisely. To test their hypothesis, they write a paper filled with nonsense, and submit it to an academic journal. Their hypothesis is that the the paper will be accepted. Instead, the paper is rejected.

Here I don’t want to get into the problems with their hypothesis or their test. And I certainly don’t want to get into the merits of gender studies, a field that I know absolutely nothing about. Instead, I want to focus on what they did when their test failed. Rather than admitting failure, they decided to try again with a different journal. It was apparently chosen, not because it made any sense in terms of the hypothesis (since it wasn’t a gender studies journal), but purely because they were given a strong indication that the journal would accept their paper.

Michael Shermer should be embarrassed that he published this paper. I wouldn’t expect an editor of Skeptic to understand the ins and outs of academic publishing. I would expect him to understand the problem of accepting a test and then ignoring the results when they don’t turn out the way you want.

Thomas Lacroix
June 1, 2017 6:18 pm

NORMA automatically transfered this article upon rejection to a pay-to-publish journal. Even when they saw a bogus article full of bullshit that doesn’t make sense, they still transfered it to another journal. While it is just an oversight, the fact they didn’t think of a way to simply reject a paper without any transfer because they deem it unworthy of even existing (which is the case for this paper) is still a faut on their part. Not a major one, but still need correction.

Timothy M.
May 27, 2017 11:22 am

I liked the part about the penis. :D

May 26, 2017 11:00 pm

As insane as gender studies are at many points —> managing to publish a hoax hardly proves anything, and you know it.
If we assume good intentions but dont understand a text, we give it the benefit of the doubt. We dont just dismiss it as nonesense. That’s actually a good thing.

What uve done proves that people tend to read and hear things they wanna hear and read. That’s not exactly new, and pretty much the principle of any horoscope. Use vague and complex language, double sided statements and poeple will interpret it in a way that fits them. It’s quite possible that some people are able to interpret something meaning full into your bullshit.
A randomly generated scentence CAN make sense. It’s just unlikely.

Trying to turn this into a political thing by accusing “academic political left” (whomever that is supposed to be) of beeing more susceptible to this stuff than others is just stupid. People just generally are. I wouldn’t even consider the genderfield “left” at all. They may define themselves like that, but often the way they argue about everything beeing “constructed” is actually very close to the extreme right. They are “hip” at the moment but thats about it.

May 26, 2017 2:43 pm

I agree that this paper being published is more daming to the pay per publish jurnal model then it is on social sciences, but all these people resorting to ad hominem speculation about the authers masculinity, it is infertile ramblings like this that draws the validity of your field into question

May 26, 2017 8:29 am

And now there is another scathing debunking of this article:

This article is turning embarrassing for skeptic magazine very quickly. If this magazine has any ounce of credibility, they should print a retraction quickly and apologise for being less skeptical than they should have been.

kenneth s dyson
May 26, 2017 5:59 am

slow clap….
congratulations, you managed to perpetrate the same hoax a number of other authors have played on a number of other pay-to-publish journals, thus hammering home the message that peer-review in all sciences is a flawed system. however, your little expose says NOTHING about the field of gender studies. I am not a student of gender studies, i am a neuroscientist and physiologist, so i am not familiar with the relevant literature and cannot speak of the validity of legitimate gender studies papers. But if you think that this hoax proves anything about gender studies then these other hoaxes prove that computer science and theoretical physics are also bogus:

ulf mellström
May 26, 2017 3:23 am

Statement from Norma!

The journal that rejected the article!

On February 17 NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies received a submission entitled ’The conceptual penis as a social construct’ in the manuscript system of our journal. After the routine technical check of the manuscript, the article was assigned to us, the editors. After having reviewed the text we rejected the article as unsuitable on the grounds that the content was incomprehensible. In short, it was nonsense. The reject message was sent to the authors on April 7. All submissions rejected in the editorial manager of Taylor & Francis are part of an auto-generated transfer system which suggests alternative venues for publication. In this case, Cogent Social Sciences was suggested. This is described as a multidisciplinary, open journal platform for the rapid dissemination of peer-reviewed research across all disciplines. It is an open access platform where you pay ’what you want’ for publishing your article. The article was published in Cogent Social Sciences on May 19. We were shocked to see the article online since we, without any doubt whatsoever, had rejected the article.

Beyond the immoral bogus behaviour of the two authors, Lindsay and Boghossian, we are also seriously concerned about this orchestrated attack on Gender Studies in particular, and Social Sciences and Humanities in general. On investigating the activity of the authors, we note that they appear to regularly retweet quotations from authors and studies taken out of context, as if to discredit them. This behaviour says a lot about the authors but nothing about Gender Studies. We naturally condemn this behaviour, but we are also concerned about the quality control of ‘pay for publish’ platforms. This is probably the core issue which has been highlighted in this hoax scandal.

Lucas Gottzen and Ulf Mellström, editors of Norma: International Journal for Masculinity Studies

May 25, 2017 6:45 pm

You paid $625 to get it published?

I think it was you guys who got hoaxed.

Jerome Busca
May 25, 2017 4:51 pm


You are true geniuses. What you did is a reason to still have faith in the human race, despite the existence of Gender Studies departments. Keep up the good work!

With admiration,


kenneth s dyson
May 26, 2017 6:07 am
Reply to  Jerome Busca

how is this genius? the authors got hosed by a predatory journal! boghossian should know better. he is either wholly incompetent as an academic or he is trying to herd others (who do not know the ins and outs of academic publishing) towards his political agenda. i liked his “manual”, thought it was great work, but this is embarrassing.

Arthur Wohlwill
May 25, 2017 10:20 am

Perhaps one of the editors of the journal you submitted this to was Anna Szust

Sam Johnson
May 25, 2017 5:34 am

I am really disappointed in the skeptic magazine for this piece it makes me really question a publication I have had so much respect and love for. This is useful piece in exposing the dangers and problems of “author friendly” pay for publication journals. As another Sokolov study it shows the flaws in this system: auto generated responses, lack of any in-depth expert peer review and a willingness to publish anything that pays them. However similar to privious iterations of this approach this cannot be extrapolated to the validity of a whole field. This would be like saying computer science is all pseudoscience because the “get me off your fucking email list” paper was published. There is no logical inference that can be made as is acknowledged in most Sokolov papers. The journal does not even have an impact factor this is not where any rigorous or important science is done. This could have been another interesting Sokolov study but the clear prejudice of the authors to try and force a non-sequitur political commentary into this piece is shocking and completely in supported by this paper. I am amazing this was published and endorsed in the skeptic magazine, a great publication I respected for sticking to hard facts and logic and removing bias, and I hope the skeptic magazine does better in future

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