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How three pranksters exposed the insanity of the social sciences

3 October 2018

12:18 PM

3 October 2018

12:18 PM

One of the most beautiful things to happen in recent years was ‘the conceptual penis as a social construct.’ This was an academic paper which proposed 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.’

This gobbledegook was presented in an academic journal, was peer-reviewed and published in Cogent Social Sciences. The only problem was that it was a hoax. A big, beautiful brilliant hoax carried out by two academics – Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay – who had immersed themselves in the academic BS of their time. In that paper they successfully punked an academic scene which (in the humanities at least) allows the most insane and untrue claims to be presented as truth so long as they are suffused in fashionable grievances and coated in a form of academic doublespeak which is an insult to intellectual inquiry and an offence against language.

Since the authors of that paper exposed their own spoof, the Cogent Social Sciences journal has unpublished the article. But the article and the background on it can still be read here.


Now the authors of that hoax – with the addition of a third, Helen Pluckrose – have released a video saying that they have spent part of the last year working on a wider-ranging demonstration of the problems in ‘peer-reviewed’ academic studies. They have been firing off more papers. And a number of them have been accepted. One of these papers, published by an academic journal, claims that dog-humping incidents in parks can be taken as evidence of ‘rape-culture’. It is worth watching the 1 minute video here, and the longer video explainer here. Partly because it is very funny. But also because the deeper point it makes is far from frivolous.

In order for a society to remain even vaguely healthy it has to have healthy institutions. And for institutions to be healthy they need to be justly respected – not respected because they ‘demand’ it or play-act at earning respect.

When institutions – like academic institutions and academic journals – become corrupted by ideologues of any political stripe, people are left able to respect almost nothing and believe almost anything. Anyone need only glance at numerous fields of ‘academic studies’ today (gender ‘studies’, queer ‘studies’ and more) to realise that much of the humanities, and nearly all of the social sciences have become pulpits for frauds and megaphones for radical inadequates.

The first foray of Boghossian and Lindsay may not have been enough for people to call time on this fraud. But with the addition of Pluckrose, perhaps the wider point will now be heard. Or to put it another way, perhaps rape culture among dogs will break through where the conceptual penis could not.


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