At the end of my previous post about the recent hoax paper entitled “The Conceptual Penis” I briefly alluded to the fact that this paper’s acceptance through the peer review process should concern all of us, even those of us who don’t think that the paper’s authors actually demonstrated via their hoax that gender studies in particular and post-modern social sciences in general are, well, intellectually bankrupt.
But why should it concern us that a couple of reviewers accepted the paper, and even praised it? Couldn’t they have just been rubber-stamping the review because they don’t have time to do a proper review? Don’t universities tend to overburden their new academics with heavy teaching loads and publishing expectations and committee seats and community service hours and onerous regulations?
Yes, universities definitely overburden new academics. This is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with so that academics can do the work of discovering, creating, and building civilization rather than spending most of their time kowtowing to the administrators.
At the same time, it takes almost no effort whatsoever to determine that the article written by the hoaxing authors is utter nonsense. Particularly if the reviewers had a basic familiarity with feminism, post-structuralism, and feminist post-structural discourse analysis, it should have been very easy to tell that this paper was employing the discipline’s buzzwords without actually presenting an understanding of the topic.
After all, this is a common way of getting through an essay for students. They use the right key words that appear in the literature and are discussed in class, but it’s fairly apparent from their writing that they lack a deep understanding of the topic with which they’re engaging. Any academic should be able to spot this kind of thing quickly.
In general, experts in a field can quickly spot people who are just faking it poorly. And the paper submitted by the hoaxers were intentionally faking it poorly. They admitted to having done no research to understand the concepts involved. And they intentionally added phrases that would be immediate red flags for anyone familiar with feminist literature.
So how on earth did this paper pass a blind peer-review process with praise from the reviewers? Were the reviewers not actually experts in the relevant field? Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the reviewers were not experts in the relevant field. In that case, they must have failed to do basic research into the field’s terminology before accepting the paper and/or praising it.
Or, if they were in fact experts in the relevant field, the hoaxers are probably right that the paper wasn’t accepted on its perceived merits, but rather because it signaled agreement with the moral orthodoxy of contemporary post-structuralist feminism on topics like masculinity, capitalism, and climate change.
It’s hard to imagine that the reviews were anything other than horrifyingly inept for one reason or another, and it’s difficult to figure out whose peers they were. I hope, along with the hoaxers, that it’s not true that the reviewers actually thought the paper’s arguments effective, regardless of whether they thought the conclusions were true.
The worst case scenario is that the reviewers maliciously accepted the paper knowing that the authors were faking their way through it really poorly. A bad scenario is that the reviewers weren’t experts and didn’t bother doing cursory research. A truly horrifying scenario is that an intentionally bad paper seemed genuinely like sound academic exposition to truly expert reviewers, meaning that an intentionally nonsensical paper was indistinguishable from well-intentioned academic work in the field of gender studies.
I refuse to assume that the reviewers were just plain stupid, because that would just be uncharitable in addition to being even less likely than the other possibilities. Regardless, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this was a blind review in the sense that the folks who did the reviewing couldn’t see through an obvious fake.
The Conceptual Hoax Series
A Limp Trick – A Blind Review – A Failed Analysis