They Submitted Fake Papers to Peer-Reviewed Journals — Here’s What Happened Next

Three writers produced 20 intentionally outlandish academic papers and submitted them to the best peer-reviewed journals associated with fields of scholarship loosely known as “cultural studies” or “identity studies” (for example, gender studies) or “critical theory.” Seven of the papers were accepted for publication and seven more were still under review when the authors elected to end the experiment.

Their point would seem to be that scholarship in these fields is based less upon finding truth and more upon attending to social grievances. Just about anything can be published, so long as it falls within the moral orthodoxy and demonstrates an understanding of the existing literature.

The authors summarize their methodology as follows. (I’ve inserted the material in brackets from elsewhere in the article, which you should look at in its entirety because there’s too much good stuff to summarize.)

What if we write a paper saying we should train men like we do dogs—to prevent rape culture? Hence came the “Dog Park” paper [titled “Human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog parks in Portland, Oregon”]. What if we write a paper claiming that when a guy privately masturbates while thinking about a woman (without her consent—in fact, without her ever finding out about it) that he’s committing sexual violence against her? That gave us the “Masturbation” paper. [Sample reviewer comment: “For example, the ambiguous statement ‘I think about you all the time’ said unprompted to a woman by a man is particularly insidious given the structural context of metasexual violence in the world.”] What if we argue that the reason superintelligent AI is potentially dangerous is because it is being programmed to be masculinist and imperialist using Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Lacanian psychoanalysis? That’s our “Feminist AI” paper [Purpose: To see if journals will publish dense and incoherent psychoanalytic and postmodern theory that problematizes whiteness, maleness, science, and reason as oppressive.]. What if we argued that “a fat body is a legitimately built body” as a foundation for introducing a category for fat bodybuilding into the sport of professional bodybuilding? [Purpose: To see if journals will accept arguments which are ludicrous and positively dangerous to health if they support cultural constructivist arguments around body positivity and fatphobia.] You can read how that went in Fat Studies.

At other times, we scoured the existing grievance studies literature to see where it was already going awry and then tried to magnify those problems. Feminist glaciology? Okay, we’ll copy it and write a feminist astronomy paper that argues feminist and queer astrology should be considered part of the science of astronomy, which we’ll brand as intrinsically sexist. Reviewers were very enthusiastic about that idea. Using a method like thematic analysis to spin favored interpretations of data? Fine, we wrote a paper about trans people in the workplace that does just that. Men use “male preserves” to enact dying “macho” masculinities discourses in a way society at large won’t accept? No problem. We published a paper best summarized as, “A gender scholar goes to Hooters to try to figure out why it exists.” “Defamiliarizing” common experiences, pretending to be mystified by them and then looking for social constructions to explain them? Sure, our “Dildos” paper did that to answer the questions, “Why don’t straight men tend to masturbate via anal penetration, and what might happen if they did?” Hint: according to our paper in Sexuality and Culture, a leading sexualities journal, they will be less transphobic and more feminist as a result.

We used other methods too, like, “I wonder if that ‘progressive stack’ in the news could be written into a paper that says white males in college shouldn’t be allowed to speak in class (or have their emails answered by the instructor), and, for good measure, be asked to sit on the floor in chains so they can ‘experience reparations.’” That was our “Progressive Stack” paper. The answer seems to be yes, and feminist philosophy titan Hypatia has been surprisingly warm to it. Another tough one for us was, “I wonder if they’d publish a feminist rewrite of a chapter from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.” [Purpose: To see if we could find “theory” to make anything grievance-related (in this case, part of Chapter 12 of Volume 1 of Mein Kampf with fashionable buzzwords switched in) acceptable to journals if we mixed and matched fashionable arguments.] The answer to that question also turns out to be “yes,” given that the feminist social work journal Affilia has just accepted it.

The authors are Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University, James Lindsay, a writer on atheism, and Helen Pluckrose, a writer who edits the online magazine Areo.

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