The recent hoax written about in Skeptic magazine has resulted in, no doubt, many terrible puns in response to the satirical article’s title, “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct.”
Understandably, the authors of the article think that their hoax was a rousing success on two fronts, described in their own words below:
- The Pay-to-Publish, Open-Access Journal Problem
- Postmodernism, Gender Studies, and the Canon of Knowledge
The authors predicted that some people would conveniently focus on only 1 or 2 depending on their a priori intellectual commitments, and this seems to be happening.
That said, the authors seem to have overestimated the size and potency of their hoax. They believe that this hoax has broad implications for the academic viability of what they describe as “postmodernist social “sciences” in general, and gender studies departments in particular,” at least in their current form. They recommend a thorough “housecleaning” without providing concrete steps for accomplishing it.
The implication, though, is that these academics need to adhere to some set of academic standards in a rigorous way. On that point, I tend to agree with the authors. I’m just not sure how these disciplines could accomplish that, given their assumptions about how to do academic work.
Much of the efforts of these disciplines being critiqued by the authors are bound up in trying to explode existing conventions, overturn traditional understandings of important topics, and tearing down any distinctions that might be meaningful enough to, well, make a difference.
Any attempt in these areas of academia to have a functional distinction between proper academic work and other kinds of work will be quickly deconstructed by their fellow academics. After all, isn’t the identity of an academic fluid? Don’t academic standards change because they are social constructs subject to the vagaries of the usual oppressive suspects?
This would be followed by additional attempts to explode the conventions for proper academic work based on the fact that they are designed to perpetuate the power of white middle-class feminists at the expense of academics who fall into other identity categories.
Even if one department managed to establish a cultural tradition of adhering to a specific set of academic standards, isn’t it likely that the instinct to overturn traditional understandings of important topics would drive many of the members of the department to get rid of the academic standards?
While I think it’s entirely possible for a professor who specializes in Gender Studies to adhere to rigorous academic standards, and I’m sure that many do, I’m not sure how those can be maintained with any consistency across the field.
Precisely because the intellectual commitments of the discipline cut against the establishment and maintenance of differences of treatment driven by policies that can always be critiqued as problematic by using the analytical approaches used every day by people in that discipline, I think attempts at “housecleaning” by way of implementing new (or old) academic standards are doomed to fail.
I don’t really see how this hoax could have any constructive impact. Yes, it showed that complete nonsense can make it into an academic journal. But who didn’t already know that? And isn’t that a problem for multiple disciplines, as has already been pointed out?
We would need a far larger number of examples of hoax articles getting published, and in a wide variety of academic journals in Gender Studies, to conclude that Gender Studies departments in general were in need of basic academic reform, let alone that post-modernist social sciences in general were the problem.
This hoax simply doesn’t rise to the level of evidence we would need to draw those sorts of conclusions. Of course, the conclusions may be correct, and there might be good evidence out there for those conclusions.
Nonetheless, the “Conceptual Penis” hoax article getting past 2 peer reviewers, as troubling as that should be, is probably just a limp trick.
The Conceptual Hoax Series
A Limp Trick – A Blind Review – A Failed Analysis