John Stossel

Stossel: Debating a Hoaxed Journal Editor

The editor of a journal that fell for a hoax defends his field.

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Seven academic journals recently published papers that were actually hoaxes designed to show the absurdity found in such academic fields as gender studies, race studies, and queer studies. The hoaxers intentionally submitted papers that were ridiculous. One included gibberish about rape culture in dog parks. Another was a section of Hitler's Mein Kampf re-written with feminist buzzwords.

Six journal editors would not talk to Stossel, but one—Roberto Refinetti, editor in chief of Sexuality and Culture—agreed to an interview.

He condemns what the hoaxers did: "You're deceiving people without much of a reason."

He complains, "If you're going to do your research with people, you have to propose your research, submit to a body called an Institutional Review Board."

One of the hoaxers, Peter Boghossian, was found guilty by his employer (Portland State University) of violating its rules requiring him to get approval for the experiment. Of course, since the Institutional Review Board would have insisted that the researchers inform the journals that they were being tested, the test wouldn't have worked.

Stossel says he thinks the hoaxers had good reason not to go to the review board first. "Their hoax woke us up to the fact that some academic journals publish nonsense," he says.

Refinetti's journal, for instance, published the hoax paper titled, "Going in Through the Back Door: Challenging Straight Male Homohysteria, Transhysteria, and Transphobia Through Receptive Penetrative Sex Toy Use."

The paper touted "encouraging male anal eroticism with sex toys" because it would help make men more feminist.

Sexuality and Culture published that paper after its reviewers praised it glowingly. One called it "an incredibly rich and exciting contribution…timely, and worthy of publication."

Refinetti defends his journal, saying that it publishes mind-expanding questions.

"What is the problem with [the subject of the paper]? I don't see a problem….It's nothing really absurd or unusual," Refinetti says.

He also says: "Let's question our assumptions, because maybe we're making assumptions that we shouldn't be making….When homosexuality was considered a mental illness. People pushed, the psychiatrists got together, and said…'it's a perfectly fine thing to choose and not to call it mental illness.' So that's the type of thing that a journal in sexuality and culture does, is discuss."

Discussion is good, Stossel agrees. But in journals today, it seems that only certain conclusions are permitted. The hoaxers complain that in many university fields: "A culture has developed in which only certain conclusions are allowed, like those that make whiteness and masculinity problematic."

"I wouldn't be surprised to find out that in some places that is correct," Refinetti agrees.

"Is that a problem?" asks Stossel.

Refinetti replies: "How big of a problem is it? Is it worse than hunger? Is it worse than people shooting each other?"

But a lack of diversity of ideas does make it harder to find truth—and more likely for ridiculous ideas to thrive. Today's colleges have an extreme lack of diversity: A National Association of Scholars report found that professors at top liberal arts colleges are 10 times more likely to be Democrats than Republicans.

Refinetti says that's not surprising.

"I think it's very reasonable—because what is the job of learning?…Being more open to new ideas, which is what being a liberal is," he says.

Stossel pushes back: "This is your left-leaning definition; it's conservatives that proposed changes like school vouchers…privatizing air traffic control."

"That's an interesting point," Refinetti responds. "Then the hypothesis is shut down. See, that's how things work. You show the idea, you discuss the idea, and get it."

Refinetti says his journal publishes multiple viewpoints. It has published articles that question feminist orthodoxy.

Stossel says he's grateful that Refinetti was willing to have a conversation, but he still cheers the hoaxers for revealing that much of what passes for scholarship at colleges is bunk.

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The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.