July 4, 2022

Peer review system stumbles over fake gender-studies papers

‘The reviewers were amazingly encouraging, giving us very high marks in nearly every category’

The field of gender studies is often criticised for its obscure and verbose scholarship. Two recent hoax studies have fuelled renewed criticism.

Self-proclaimed sceptics James Lindsay and Peter Boghossian ridiculed the journal Cogent Social Sciences after it published their hoax-paper entitled “The conceptual penis as a social construct”. The rambling paper, which argues that the penis is an incoherent social construct, passed the peer-review process with flying colours. According to Lindsay and Boghossian:

“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 Taylor & Francis journal has since retracted the study and announced that it is conducting “a thorough investigation”.

A similar hoax paper was recently published by Philippe Huneman and Anouk Barberousse in the journal Badiou Studies. That paper, entitled “Ontology, Neutrality and the Strive for (non-)Being-Queer,” was even more abstruse than the Lindsay and Boghossian publication. The authors purported to “show that the genuine subject of feminism is the “many” that is negatively referred to through the “count-as-one” posited by the gendering of “the” woman.”

While the authors attribute their success to the pseudo-intellectualism in gender studies, others suggest that the hoaxes are indicative of a general crisis in academic publishing.

“The hoax says more about the pitfalls of the publishing industry than the field of gender studies”, wrote staff from the website Retraction Watch. “[Many] will by now be familiar with many of the hoaxes that have crossed our desks, affecting journals in fields ranging from philosophy to medicine to urology”.  

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