Campus Free Speech

No, 'The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct' Hoax Doesn't Prove Gender Studies Is Garbage

Hoax social science paper is more an indictment of pay-to-publish journals than anything else.



Two authors submitted a hoax paper filled with postmodern gobbledygook to an academic journal in order to demonstrate that the field of gender studies lacks rigor: wholly incoherent screeds about "The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct" (yep, that was the title of the hoax paper) will pass muster.

The authors, Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay, succeeded in a very narrow sense—a journal did agree to publish their paper. But they did not prove their larger point, since the journal that accepted "The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct" is Cogent Social Sciences, a kind of vanity publisher that requires its writers to pay a fee.

Boghossian, a philosophy professor at Portland State University, and Lindsay, a mathematician and author, were attempting a Sokal-esque scheme—Alan Sokal being the author of a very famous hoax paper, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," which was published by the leftist academic journal Social Text. But Boghossian and Lindsay were turned down by their initial target, NORMA: The International Journal of Men's Studies. The fact that Cogent agreed to publish their work—for a fee—isn't exactly powerful evidence that the field of gender studies is, as Boghossian and Lindsay put it, suffering from a "deeply troublesome disease."

"Having managed to pay for a paper to be published in a deeply suspect journal the hoaxers then conclude that the entire field of Gender Studies is suspect," writes James Taylor of Bleeding Heart Libertarians in a highly critical post. "How they made this deductive leap is actually far more puzzling than how the paper got accepted."

Hank Reichman points out that the experiment works better as a critique of pay-to-publish journals, rather than as an indictment of gender studies:

Interestingly, the hoax could have been viewed as a useful exposure of pay-to-publish journals. And the authors do dedicate some of their Skeptic piece to discussing the problem of predatory publishing. They write that "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)." But that was not the reason Boghossian and Lindsay published their piece or submitted their hoax.

To be sure, there are some real problems with gender studies as a field. "The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct" was a deliberate hoax, but "Women's Studies as Virus: Institutional Feminism and the Projection of Danger," was real enough. (Feminist authors: feminism is cancer—but that's a good thing!) And who can forget that paper about feminizing glaciers?

But, if the main criticism of gender studies is that it's unscientific and dogmatic, the field's critics should be careful about not falling prey to dogma themselves. Skeptics ought to be more, well, skeptical.

NEXT: Brickbat: Eat and Run

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  1. To be sure, there are some real problems with gender studies as a field.

    Aww, Robby.

    1. Cut him some slack. At least that is a sign he is trying to get invited to reason commentariat cocktail parties instead of progressive ones.

      1. I’m not busting chops. Rhetorical tics are a real issue, though not an important one.

        Also, Rhetorical Tick was my nickname in college.

        1. I’ll admit it is not the most interesting expression of turrets I have seen. I was always partial to

          “Let me be clear”
          “X is terrible just terrible”

          1. Hey!

          2. turrible, just turrible

    2. The real problem with gender studies is that is is complete unscientific, useless, made up bullshit, designed for frogs with subnormal intellect so they can actually get degrees.

  2. Pictured: Crusty apologizing.

      1. Not hairy enough to be Crusty. Also, no chinchilla bite marks.

    1. Robert Schermer, the crusty editor of The Skeptic has denounced the publishers of the hoax while censoring comments that point to the ubiquity of gonzo PoMo and PC Critical Studies journals that regularly publish for free articles that make the pay for play hoax seem a model of acadenic rigor,

  3. Go ahead and study gender and queerdom. Just don’t let the word “science” anywhere near it. It should be treated like astrology, and colleges should not have entire departments devoted to it. Also, don’t expect a pity party when you’re working at Starbucks paying off your wokeness debt.

  4. Robby didn’t address the real question. Is Cogent Social Sciences considered a respected journal within the “discipline” of Gender Studies? From other articles on this story it seems to be and it does have a peer review process. Just because funds were required doesn’t make a journal suspect. Other mainstream journals in the hard sciences often require funds for publication of papers.

    1. I came here to say the same thing. Is Reason now putting down for-profit enterprises as inherently bad and of suspect motives?

      As you said, the real question is how seriously this journal is taken by academics, and what they claim about their procedures.

      1. Correct.
        I’ve read the whole article over at Sceptic magazine and think they argued their position well enough.

        I work in the hard sciences and have published papers in mainstream academic journals in my field that have stringent peer review protocols and have had to cough up several hundred dollars in fees for publication.

        In my opinion Gender Studies is junk science. It’s nakedly ideological and is driven by a political agenda, there’s nothing “science” about it at all.

        1. It’s not science, and it never really claimed to be science or hold itself to those standards, despite the field name of ‘social science’. Criticizing others of accusing gender studies as being ‘unscientific’ is just reflective of how ignorant you are of the subject to begin with.

          1. Nothing to do with science yet classified under the Social Sciences, got it.

            The paper makes specific knowledge claims, claims that should be able to be supported through empirical evidence and reasoning etc.

            Instead of classifying it as “junk science” it’s better classified as merely “junk”

            1. I should clarify I wasn’t calling you ignorant, I was referring to the general idea of considering gender studies ‘scientific’ that the article discusses. It is not, they do not test their theories and/or replicate tests in a way that is compatible to the scientific method. To defend gender studies against calls of being ‘unscientific’ is to show you have no idea what you’re talking about, it’s like declaring history as being ‘unscientific’. To which any honest historian will look at you and go “no shit, Sherlock”.

              1. This is BS.

                Historians regularly will advance a position as to why an event took place, motives etc. and then, if they are being historians, will provide evidence for their position with hard data etc. plus the accompanying reasoning and argumentation for their position.

                The “paper” being referred to makes specific knowledge claims and does none of the above.

                Intellectual junk.

                1. Yes, but what you’re describing is not scientific. My point is that history is ultimately not a ‘scientific’ field because it’s impossible to deploy scientific methodology in order to argue evidence or data. It’s scholarship, not science, and that’s an accepted truth in historical fields. Throwing around the term ‘scientific’ or ‘unscientific’ to describe fields like history (or, if it were valid, gender studies) is reflective of a complete lack of knowledge of what the field entails.

                  Of course gender studies isn’t scientific, it’s never claimed itself to be as such or held to that standard, but for some reason this article seems to think it’s some damning criticism to call it ‘unscientific’ (this being a field that damned science as non-objective and too masculine in the 90s). Which is really just indicates either ignorance of the subject or lying to prop up an ideology.

                  1. John, they made specific, empirical claims. Manspreading causes global warming.

        2. I’ve read the whole article over at Sceptic magazine and think they argued their position well enough

          Uh, guy, they weren’t arguing a position–the journal got Geoffrey Elfwick’d.

      2. the real question is how seriously this journal is taken by academics

        It isn’t. The paper was rejected by a more respected journal (though apparently not one of the leading ones) and so it ended up in this academic vanity press.

        1. This is the verbiage:

          Cogent OA is part of the Taylor & Francis Group, benefitting from the resources and experiences of a major publisher, but operates independently from the Taylor & Francis and Routledge imprints.
          Taylor & Francis and Routledge publish a number of fully open access journals, under the Taylor & Francis Open and Routledge Open imprints. Cogent OA publishes the Cogent Series of multidisciplinary, digital open access journals.
          Together, we also provide authors with the option of transferring any sound manuscript to a journal in the Cogent Series if it is unsuitable for the original Taylor & Francis/Routledge journals, providing benefits to authors, reviewers, editors and readers.

          The journal is still part of, though operates independently from, the organization that originally rejected this paper, an organization that includes the Routledge “brand” which is supposed to be a highly respected academic publisher.

          1. It’s hard to translate that gobbledygook but I know Routledge for their publishing of top-notch language/linguistics books. I would not like to see their “brand” sullied by this silliness.

            1. I know Routledge for their publishing of top-notch language/linguistics books. I would not like to see their “brand” sullied by this silliness.

              Right, and that’s the real scandal here. Would’ve been a lot better if they’d led with this stuff instead of with their pretense that they’d reenacted the Sokal hoax.

            2. Cogent Social Sciences is listed at DOAJ:

              “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.”


              I suspect the rot is wide and deep and nothing much has improved since the Gross and Levitt book and the Sokal hoax article in Social Text.

              1. Noooo–there is no ‘rot’. Robby and Jesse insist that it be so!

                Social Justice marches on!

        2. You’re going to have to do a lot better than that. When Taylor’s lead criticism is that publishing this paper in this journal required paying a fee he demonstrated a lack of understanding that this is quite common in the hard sciences and engineering society publications. He makes the blanket statement that no major humanities journal does this. Again, I’ll need more than his word on that.

          I know it’s BHL and they light the one true libertarian path ™ but they’re going to have to back their case up better than simply claiming the publication is icky.

  5. fortunately the DMV will accept any major.

    1. Which explains a LOT.

  6. It does indicate that they are the softest of the soft sciences. To such an extent that the appropriateness of the using the word “science” in relation brings science into disrepute.

    1. The softest, flaccid even.

  7. To be sure, there are some real problems with gender studies as a field.

    Beyond it being an anti-intellectual cesspool defended by imbeciles, you mean?

    The biggest problem with gender studies is its existence.

    1. It used to be that college was for men to acquire skills. Now it is a place for women to learn the rules and how to enforce them.

      – the Z-Man

      1. Who is the Z-man? I would venture that he stumbles into generalization..

        Lots of women go to college for, say, nursing or business.. And there are even some humanities or liberal-arts majors that are (gasp!) men.

  8. Just out of curiosity — what would constitute a proof that gender studies is garbage?

    1. Literally nothing. It is an article of faith at this point.

      It is “science” to believe that feelings trump genetic reality.

      1. It falls under the same umbrella as the AGW religion.

        You believe the experts without understanding anything they say (if you understood them then they wouldn’t be experts).

        If you disagree then you’re stupid, motivated by bad intentions, or both.

      2. What do you think “gender studies” is about?

        1. an intellectual hamster-wheel that employs a lot of people with otherwise useless graduate-degrees?

    2. One would be Popper’s criterion, it should specify the conditions for its own refutation.

  9. To be sure, there are some real problems with gender studies as a field.

    Yea, as a field, it’s retarded. There are two genders. If you want to learn about them, study the actual science of biology. The end.

    1. And if you want to learn about economics, study actual neuroscience.

  10. Let’s not lose sight here of the fact that the concept of “gender identity” as promoted and popularized by activists is, in fact, garbage, irrespective of whether “gender studies” in general and what the scholars of it say “gender identity” is have any validity.

  11. Just getting this out of the way: “Conceptual Penis” was NOT my nickname in college.

    Nor would it make a very good band name.

    1. Mine was “Literal Penis”
      and my girlfriend’s was “Literal Clitoral”

  12. Gender studies is based around nothing, essentially. It is no more a worthwhile endeavor than other liberal arts, such as political science or sociology. The difference is that political science and sociology are based around real world observations, whereas gender studies is based around mythology about an all seeing patriarchy.

    While you shill for them, Lou Reed is labeled a bigot by these morons


    1. What has he been up to lately? Working on a new album perhaps?

    2. Maybe phrenology will make a comeback next.

  13. Ohhhhh, Robby Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling you
    From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
    The summer’s gone, and all the roses falling
    ‘Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide.

  14. Robby, “gender studies” is bullshit, and you know it. It’s a way for people who aren’t smart enough to get a real degree to pretend that they’re not just taking up space and padding payrolls in tax-funded institutions.


    1. I remember my grandfather always laughing about having to take Greek in college and that it did him no good in becoming a CPA. In his day, there were all sorts of nonsense courses that made one “well rounded” which was fine if the young scholar was going to join his father’s law firm or bank or business anyway.

      1. ” ‘take Greek in college’ and that it did him no good in becoming a CPA.”

        There are some professions where you can’t sleep your way to a job.

      2. “Taking Greek in college”? Old-school euphemisms were awesome. Nowadays they just call it “experimenting.”

  15. No, ‘The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct’ Hoax Doesn’t Prove Gender Studies Is Garbage

    Also, it does not prove actual garbage is garbage. Sure, call me a skeptic but it’s not until Journal Of Applied Science In Environmental Sanitation says it’s garbage will I begin to believe that it’s garbage.

  16. Gender studies is so legit the proponents can’t even agree on the meaning of “gender”. It would be like if half of astronomers studied their daily horoscopes.

  17. Robby, bless your heart.

  18. Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine isn’t funny because what the reporter doesn’t realize is the the first baseman’s last name is spelled H-O-O–when it’s pronounced, it just sounds like “who”.

    Gender Studies lacks intellectual rigor because it amounts to political advocacy masquerading as an academic pursuit–and that’s regardless of whether whomever paid a journal to publish this piece.

    Oh, and why not cite the ridiculous text in question?

    “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.”

    They blame the conceptual penis for climate change!


    Incidentally, much of climate change work in academia is political advocacy masquerading as science.

    You shouldn’t be able to hire a journal that trades on respect to make fools of themselves like that.

    1. “You shouldn’t be able to hire a journal that trades on respect to make fools of themselves like that.”

      Robby wouldn’t understand that because he’s constantly making Reason look foolish with his writing, and he doesn’t have to pay them a dime to publish his crap.

    2. They blame the conceptual penis for climate change!

      Oh, Ken.

      1. “The conceptual penis . . . is the conceptual driver behind much of climate change.”

        Did you think I made that up?

      2. I gave you a link to it and everything!

        Read it for yourself.

        The paper they published is blaming climate change on the conceptual penis.

      3. There’s a direct quote where they say exactly that Crusty, don’t act like an ass if you haven’t actually read the bloody thing.

  19. No, ‘The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct’ Hoax Doesn’t Prove Gender Studies Is Garbage

    Perhaps not, but it does prove that you can write garbage that reads exactly like a Gender Studies paper.

  20. Bognossian and Lindsay were turned down by their initial target, NORMA: The International Journal of Men’s Studies.

    Which only proves that, when it comes to publishing intellectual garbage, some do have their standards.

  21. The Frankfurt School’s pernicious influence on the Social Sciences has turned the science portion of these disciplines on its head. With the emphasis on activism and attempting to influence society has led to a tendency to develop a conclusion first and then shoehorn the data to fit their desired outcome. The whole Gender Studies field is a reductio ad absurdum of this phenomenon.

  22. This is not unique to the social sciences, although I’d suspect that they are particularly vulnerable.

    This idea of submitting nonsense papers and posters has been out there since the 90’s as far as I can recall. Several gibberish papers and posters have cleared peer review and been published – mostly in niche publications, rather than making it into the elite publications like Science, Nature, PNAS, etc. But you get down to the top journals in a sub-field and you’ve got a shot at getting straight gibberish published, even in the hard sciences.

    (This despite my personal bias that holds that most of the publications in the social sciences are unmitigated horse manure and are more editorial than scientific. As such they are largely indistinguishable from gibberish in my personal and very biased opinion.)

  23. I would think Gender Studies would prove Gender Studies were garbage.

    1. “Oh! There really are two sexes! Nevermind…”

  24. if the main criticism of gender studies is that it’s unscientific and dogmatic, the field’s critics should be careful about not falling prey to dogma themselves.

    Chalk ‘science’ and ‘dogma’ up on the list of things Soave doesn’t know anything about, but feels the need to lecture others on anyway. Right after ‘history’ and ‘politics’.

  25. Conceptual sounds just too close to detatchable for me to let the oppourtunity go by.

  26. I don’t need “proof” that a stinking pile of garbage is a stinking pile of garbage.

    Gender studies is an illegitimate pseudo-intellectual field that embarrasses the entire concept of higher education.

    1. It’s not illegitimate in principle. Studying the nature of sex roles in a society and how complying with them affects people’s lives could certainly be studied usefully in a scholarly manner by psychologists or sociologists. It’s the underlying political dogma and the undefined concept of “gender identity” that makes current “gender studies” a sham.

  27. Have the SAT and GRE scores of gender studies students gone up with the increased complexity of the field, now that there are 57 genders?

  28. Rico Soave’s choice of a photograph looks to be a Freudian slip.

    Motion of the ocean, goddammit!

  29. Not that H&R’s remaining “libertarians” are closet misogynists or anything, but why are so many of them afraid of a hoax? Does the word “gender” really frighten them so?

  30. Sorry, but it DOES prove gender studies is garbage. Without the cultural influence of gender studies and its absolutely crazy ideas, this paper would not have been accepted. It’s not about the pay-to-publish nature of journals. There are many other journals that do the same, they do not publish garbage.

    Moreover it’s about the readers of the journal too. Either nobody reads these gender studies journals, or people who read them actually believe what’s written in this hoax paper, which proves that gender studies is garbage.

  31. Junk “science” uses paid publishing to have a “study” to reference for more fake news. Standard MO for the Femi-Marxists.

  32. To quote Orwell, “Whatever the party holds to be truth, is truth.” Gender studies, women’s studies, pan-African studies–indeed “anything” studies–and much of sociology and the humanities in general are cults, or parties if you will. Whatever the perspective holds to be truth, is truth. It doesn’t matter what the data might happen to reveal in any given case. The same conclusions will always be reached. I am a full professor in a social science department. From what I have observed over multiple decades now, most of those who study inequalities in the field of sociology, for example, operate largely on confirmation bias. The facts don’t determine the conclusions. What the researcher wants (personally and/or ideologically) to conclude is what dictates the facts that end up being eagerly embraced by like-minded cult members who serve as peer reviewers. That’s dangerous, and that’s why fields like sociology are in peril. Wherever “truth” is beholden to party, the cult will eventually see an intellectual “Jonestown.” Yep. This is why we need the occasional Sokal-type hoax. These will never do anything to shake the devotion of those deeply embedded in the party. However, it just might save some young kid with an open mind from falling prey to classroom “love bombing” by professors seeking converts (which further convinces them of their “truths”), and thus from dedicating a life to studying bullsh#t.

  33. Hey, you fucking nuckleheads: It’s not Peter Boghossian, it’s Peter BOYLE.

  34. “Having managed to pay for a paper to be published in a deeply suspect journal the hoaxers then conclude that the entire field of Gender Studies is suspect,”
    They didn’t pay for it: “We never received an invoice from the journal. We did not pay to have this published.” /reading_room /conceptual-penis-social-contruct-sokal -style-hoax-on-gender-studies/
    Under “Notes”

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