It was published for no other reason than it held to a liberal narrative that men and the patriarchy are oppressive.
Writing using pen names “Jamie Lindsay” and “Peter Boyle,” actual academics James Lindsay and Peter Boghossian titled their fictitious paper “The Conceptual Penis As A Social Construct.” They cited 20 sources, many of which they simply invented or never read.
Revealing the hoax in Skeptic Magazine, the pair noted how preposterous the entire premise was, and how easy it was for that to be accepted by a willing academia (published by the journal Cogent Social Sciences) because of their own narrative bias.
The paper was ridiculous by intention, essentially arguing that penises shouldn’t be thought of as male genital organs but as damaging social constructions. We made no attempt to find out what “post-structuralist discursive gender theory” actually means. We assumed that if we were merely clear in our moral implications that maleness is intrinsically bad and that the penis is somehow at the root of it, we could get the paper published in a respectable journal.
Of course, they were right. Anyone with an Internet connection could unquestionably cobble together a paper written “in the style of post-structuralist discursive gender theory” and have it published if it plays into the right narrative. Why? Because liberal ‘academic’ gender studies as a whole is basically a fraud.
In postmodern intellectual discourse, coherence, logic, and argument are totally unnecessary. Jargon, narrative, and an acceptable conclusion are all that’s required to be published, then cited by eager journalists or political operatives. The more incoherent and logically meaningless (but sprinkled with trigger words) the paper, the better, apparently.
We didn’t try to make the paper coherent; instead, we stuffed it full of jargon (like “discursive” and “isomorphism”), nonsense (like arguing that hypermasculine men are both inside and outside of certain discourses at the same time), red-flag phrases (like “pre-post-patriarchal society”), lewd references to slang terms for the penis, insulting phrasing regarding men (including referring to some men who choose not to have children as being “unable to coerce a mate”), and allusions to rape (we stated that “manspreading,” a complaint levied against men for sitting with their legs spread wide, is “akin to raping the empty space around him”). After completing the paper, we read it carefully to ensure it didn’t say anything meaningful, and as neither one of us could determine what it is actually about, we deemed it a success.
The fact that this was published exposes the lie that these papers are carefully read or that citations are verified at all. Any serious researcher who read the paper would have to laugh uncontrollably, or comment “WTH?” about three paragraphs in. The examples the authors themselves included in their reveal were enough for me to burst into spontaneous laughter.
If you’re having trouble understanding what any of that means, there are two important points to consider. First, we don’t understand it either. Nobody does. This problem should have rendered it unpublishable in all peer-reviewed, academic journals. Second, these examples are remarkably lucid compared to much of the rest of the paper. Consider this final example:
Inasmuch as masculinity is essentially performative, so too is the conceptual penis. The penis, in the words of Judith Butler, “can only be understood through reference to what is barred from the signifier within the domain of corporeal legibility” (Butler, 1993). The penis should not be understood as an honest expression of the performer’s intent should it be presented in a performance of masculinity or hypermasculinity. Thus, the isomorphism between the conceptual penis and what’s referred to throughout discursive feminist literature as “toxic hypermasculinity,” is one defined upon a vector of male cultural machismo braggadocio, with the conceptual penis playing the roles of subject, object, and verb of action. The result of this trichotomy of roles is to place hypermasculine men both within and outside of competing discourses whose dynamics, as seen via post-structuralist discourse analysis, enact a systematic interplay of power in which hypermasculine men use the conceptual penis to move themselves from powerless subject positions to powerful ones (confer: Foucault, 1972).
There’s more to this hoax than simply the sham of liberal social sciences. Peer-reviewed journals as a whole are struggling with a rash of low-quality, sometimes fabricated work. But in most “hard science” peer-reviewed journals, these problems can be addressed by imposing stricter review guidelines, and ensuring that the “pay-to-publish money mill” doesn’t irreparably damage their integrity.
Lindsay and Boghossian conclude the problem with Cogent is deeper than mere academic incompetence or profit motive.
These facts cast considerable doubt on the facile defense that Cogent Social Sciences is a sham journal that accepted “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” simply to make money. As a result, wherever Cogent Social Sciences belongs on the spectrum just noted, there are significant reasons to believe that much of the problem lies within the very concept of any journal being a “rigorous academic journal in gender studies.”
The entire field of study is suspect, because most of it is a sham.