Three scholars– Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay, and Helen Pluckrose– have recently gotten several papers published in various top journals, despite not believing in the claims of their papers and despite the fact that their empirical data was faked. I congratulate Mr. Boghossian, Mr. Lindsay, and Ms. Pluckrose on their successful passes of the Intellectual Turing Test, although I wish they’d chosen a method of testing it that didn’t involve publishing false data in multiple peer-reviewed journals. Being able to write something you disagree with that is indistinguishable from what supporters of the claim believe is a rare skill.
I do, however, disagree strongly with the claim that this is an indictment of gender studies as a field.
Let us consider six of the seven papers which Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose wrote. (The seventh was accepted into the Journal of Poetry Therapy, which is not a serious publication.) You may find all of Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose’s papers here.
Fat Studies published a paper called Who Are They to Judge?: Overcoming Anthropometry and a Framework for Fat Bodybuilding. The thesis of this paper is that it would be a good idea to have a non-competitive, body-positive bodybuilding event where fat people showed off their bodies, because that would lead people to question why they think some bodies count as “built” and others don’t. Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose say this paper counts as a hoax paper because “it celebrates morbid obesity as a healthy life-choice.”
Let’s set aside the issue of whether competitive bodybuilding celebrates unhealthy life choices, such as anabolic steroid use and unhealthily low body fat percentages, and why it is okay to celebrate one unhealthy life-choice and not another. Obviously, fat studies celebrates obesity as a healthy life choice. That’s, like, the thing that fat studies is.
Imagine I published a paper in a theology journal arguing that it was a good idea to adopt a certain liturgy because it would help people praise God. Later, I announced that this was a hoax paper which proves that theology as a discipline celebrates delusional thinking. Certainly, many people believe that theism is delusional. But the ‘hoax’ paper doesn’t address the subject at all. All it proves is that you can publish papers in theology journals which work from the premise that God exists, which is also provable by (for example) picking up any theology journal and looking at the table of contents.
I have literally no idea why Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose would bother, unless they were confused and thought that Fat Studies was a medical journal about obesity prevention.
Sexuality and Culture published Going In Through The Back Door: Challenging Straight Male Homohysteria, Transhysteria, and Transphobia through Receptive Penetrative Sex Toy Use. Through (faked) semi-structured interviews with thirteen men, the paper found that man who enjoyed anal masturbation using dildos were less transphobic, less homophobic, more feminist, and more sensitive to their partners’ needs, but not more concerned about rape culture. It noted that, since the sample size was small, the results are suggestive but may be unreliable. The paper proposed that receptive anal penetration may be used as a form of “exposure therapy” about homophobic and transphobic anxieties, but cautioned that many men might simply decide that anal penetration was okay while continuing to be homophobic/transphobic in general.
I literally have no idea what is objectionable about this paper. Lindsay, Boghossian, and Pluckrose claim the thesis is unfalsifiable, but it’s obviously not; they themselves say in their own discussion section that the data don’t support a correlation between anal penetration and concern about rape culture. If feminist men who oppose homophobia and transphobia never took it up the ass, while homophobic, transphobic, anti-feminist men proudly showed off their extensive collection of Bad Dragon dildoes, the thesis would be disproved.
Lindsay, Boghossian, and Pluckrose point out that not wanting to be anally penetrated is a common and harmless sexual choice, which it certainly is. But nevertheless it is puzzling that many men feel disgust and shame at the prospect of exploring receptive anal penetration, given that receptive anal penetration is very pleasurable for many (perhaps most) men. Surely we can agree that a sexual choice is common and harmless, and also agree that societal stigma plays a role in whether people choose to do it? Is your claim that it’s a complete coincidence that women who grow up in socially conservative communities are also less likely to have casual sex? If a man says “I don’t want to have a dildo put in my ass because that’s gay,” are we supposed to pat him on the head and say “I’m sorry you’re a victim of false consciousness, but in reality all your sexual preferences are completely causeless and the fact that you don’t want a plastic dick up your ass is entirely unrelated to the fact that you think enjoying anal penetration makes you homosexual and being homosexual is the worst thing in the world”?
A choice can be common and harmless and still have reasons. Some of those reasons– particularly for something as culturally important as sexuality– are worthy of scientific study.
Hoax on Hoaxes 2
Published in Hypatia, When The Joke Is On You: A Feminist Perspective on How Positionality Influences Satire argues that irony and satire by marginalized groups acts as a force for social justice, while irony and satire from privileged groups supports oppressive power structures. Since hoax papers are in the latter group, it argues, publishing hoax papers is morally wrong.
Clearly, it is horrible that a philosophy journal published an argument that a thing that lots of people don’t think is morally wrong is actually morally wrong. Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose have done us a great service by revealing that feminist philosophy journals somtimes do this. However, I’d like to draw their attention to the many non-feminist philosophy journals that sometimes argue that things that lots of people don’t think are morally wrong are actually morally wrong. Why, I have read arguments that it is wrong to eat meat, go on vacation instead of giving your money to help poor Africans, accept death as a natural part of life, lie to Nazis about the Jews hidden in your basement, fail to euthanize your severely disabled children, have an abortion, not have an abortion, masturbate, have gay sex, and fail to push fat men in front of runaway trolleys.
One hopes that Boghossian, Pluckrose, and Lindsay will soon turn their attention to the rest of ethical philosophy, and because of their hard work from now on all ethical philosophy papers will solely consist of arguments that it is wrong to murder people.
Philosophy is a field where there is not universal consensus that the external world exists, that time is real, or that science is an effective way of seeking truth. It seems a bit absurd to me to believe that “it is morally fine to publish hoax papers” is more obvious than any of those claims, and in fact so much more obvious that it is inherently ridiculous and a stain on the entire profession that they published a paper arguing for it.
(Personally, I agree with When The Joke Is On You that publishing hoax papers is unethical, because you’re literally faking data and publishing it in peer-reviewed journals. I don’t care what kind of high-minded reason you have for faking your data, it’s wrong.)
Feminist Mein Kampf
Published in Affilia, Our Struggle is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism is adapted from Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
It is a little-known fact that when you put different nouns in a sentence, the sentence says something different. For example, if you say “apple pie is delicious,” you’re making a banal statement about desserts, but if you say “cyanide is delicious,” you are maliciously trying to poison people.
A corollary is that many unexceptional statements become horrifingly evil if you put Nazis in them. For example, “we should all work and sacrifice to help freedom take over the globe” is a statement that can come from a particularly boring State of the Union address. “We should all work and sacrifice to help Nazis take over the globe” is a Nazi belief. You would not conclude from this that every US president is a Nazi.
Therefore, Our Struggle is My Struggle is full of paragraphs like this:
Fourth, for feminism to achieve solidarity, it must change culture. To accomplish this, it must change
the discourses defining culture. Feminist education must therefore take place indirectly through social uplift— “feminist politics are made, not born” (hooks, 2000, p. 7) –which is best achieved by a philosophical com-
mitment to inclusive values-based allyship and solidarity (cf. Edwards, 2006; Patel, 2011; Russell & Bohan, 2016), particularly in a way that listens (Dotson, 2011; Greenberg, 2014) and acts upon the awareness it has raised (Gibson, 2014). By exclusively pursuing this approach a feeling of liberation can be generated that per-
mits all oppressed people to fully participate in a state of justice.
See, if you listen to Nazis in order to figure out how to educate people into being Nazis, that’s bad. But that does not mean that it is somehow wrong for a social work journal to ever talk about the concepts of culture change, education, and listening. There is nothing wrong with culture change, education, and listening as long as you don’t use them as tools to help you kill seventeen million people.
Sex Roles published An Ethnography of Breastaurant Masculinity: Themes of Objectification, Sexual Conquest, Male Control, and Masculine Toughness in a Sexually Objectifying Restaurant, which is an ethnography about the behavior of men at Hooters. The data is fairly weak, as one of the reviewers noted, and perhaps more caution should have been provided about how much you can generalize from one group of friends.
That said, I’m not sure why Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose think it is ludicrous to observe men saying things like “it’s just part of being a man to like hot young girls showing off their bodies” and then conclude that maybe part of the reason men like breastaurants is that it allows them to behave in ways they consider manly.
I myself was dubious of the article’s claim that part of the appeal of breastaurants is bossing around hot young women; I went into reading this article expecting to say “yes, I agree that’s stupid”. However, the paper claims that the subjects said some of the appeal of the restaurant is that you can “tell hot young girls what to do and have them do it for you with a smile”. The subjects literally said that. What would Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose have ethnographers do, ignore what their subjects say when it’s politically incorrect?
This one is legitimately extremely stupid and it won an award. Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose should be proud of themselves.