Bad Hoaxes – The Conceptual Misogynist

Several months ago, an “exposé” came out in Skeptic Magazine about a hoax paper that was accepted in a gender studies journal.  The paper was titled The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct, written by James Lindsay and Peter Boghossian.  It’s publication was supposed to expose the gender studies for the postmodern scam it is, that relies on political and emotional truths over scientific ones.   Michael Shermer who runs Skeptic Magazine published this, and people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and many of our other favorite thinkers delighted in this hoax except there was one problem.  It wasn’t a very good hoax.  It was rejected by a mid-tier gender studies journal called Norma, and only accepted in a pay-to-publish journal.  Harris has since rejected it as a good hoax after more information came out as to how it was originally presented and published.  Sadly Shermer has tried to use some hand-waving to say that well it’s still satire and for him it doesn’t matter where it was published, it’s a fair satirical critique for what passes as scholarship.  The style of the hoax is patterned after a hoax in biology committed by Sokal and he seems to still think it was a decent hoax, but even he has admitted that I didn’t actually really prove that gender studies was bereft of scholarship.  You can find Shermer’s apologetics and Sokal’s analysis of the hoax here.  However, the authors of this hoax claim in their original article in Skeptic Magazine that they have successfully done this.  They claim:

There are at least two deeply troublesome diseases damaging the credibility of the peer-review system in fields such as gender studies:

  1. the echo-chamber of morally driven fashionable nonsense coming out of the postmodernist social “sciences” in general, and gender studies departments in particular and
  2. the complex problem of pay-to-publish journals with lax standards that cash in on the ultra-competitive publish-or-perish academic environment. At least one of these sicknesses led to “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” being published as a legitimate piece of academic scholarship, and we can expect proponents of each to lay primary blame upon the other.

They also claim that since Norma recommended the pay-to-publish journal that they must have taken it somewhat seriously. However, it’s also possible that Norma played a hoax on them.  Maybe they recognize it as low grade garbage and just said, well if you want it published take it over to this other journal. Although I will concede that it still might be a problem if an academic journal is still recommending garbage for publication even in low tier journals.  You can read Lindsay and Boghossian’s response to criticisms here.

This issue for me had been put in the past, until I listened recently to a podcast (which I now adore) called Very Bad Wizards, where they interview James Lindsay, one of the co-authors.  I recommend listening to the interview (especially if you like watch mathematicians dance) which starts half way through the podcast, but Lindsay comes off as completely unwilling to concede that the paper wasn’t very successful, and in fact comes off someone who was more interested in mockery than making an honest statement.  He admitted to have no personal expertise in gender studies and thus couldn’t engage in honest criticism.  Despite not having any knowledge of the field still felt that his satire was good satire.  He also claims since the journal it did end up in had at least one reviewer with the requisite expertise to judge the paper that point #1 was in fact proven.  The hosts of the show made several excellent points:

  1. The fact that even a mid-tier journal didn’t publish the paper lends some weight to the fact that Gender Studies does have standards of scholarship.  And even if gender studies was publishing morally fashionable nonsense, this hoax did not prove that.
  2. Low tier pay-to-publish journals exist in numerous fields, so this point could have been proven in numerous areas of study.
  3. The velocity in which many male scholars jumped on the bandwagon of this hoax without giving it the serious critical thought it should have had before getting behind it, makes the reaction to the hoax guilty of the same charge of “morally fashionable”. How are we to take a criticism of gender studies seriously when it I also acts in the same way as they claim the field of gender studies acts?

Given that every field probably has some junk science and some crap journals I asked myself the question, why did these two men pick gender studies?  Why was the hilarity all coming from men.  I’ll admit, I myself fell into this without the requisite critical thinking that I should have had.  I hold Skeptic Magazine in higher regards (that’s dropped a couple notches now) and I’d like to believe that it’s just because I enjoy a good hoax, and that I do think it’s important to point out junk science, but the more I reflected, I thought it’s quite interesting how quick men were to jump on this.  There seems to be something else going on, even if somewhat unconscious.  I am quite aware of the scholarly work that is done in feminism, but on reflection, even if this hoax had proved what it attempted to prove, I was wrong to post the hoax originally on Facebook, because I don’t believe it represents anything normative about gender or feminist research, and while there may be some bad research out there, given the tilt against women in our society both nationally and internationally if there are criticisms to be had it should be done honestly and in good faith and not in the manner that this was done.  At seems at the very least there is still an undercurrent of misogyny in this hoax and it’s unnecessary.

Lindsay also claims that the field of gender studies largely ignores robust scientific evidence of differences between genders.  As a follow up to this post I’d like to challenge this evidence in a post later to come.  There I will make the case that even if we did find such evidence I’d like to address how minimal and possibly pointless such gender differences are, and that compared to socialized gender constructs, biological differences between the sexes are largely irrelevant.

For now, let’s have less hoaxes that genders that are disadvantaged by society, where many serious problems still exist.  I am quite certain that there is a lot of bad scholarship going on out there in academia, and I’d like to believe that this is the main reason I initially delighted in the hoax.  On reflection it was in poor taste and upon learning more about it, it didn’t prove what it set out to prove.  Let’s be united against bad scholarship wherever it might be and instead of being clueless about the field as James Lindsay claimed he was, let’s have educated criticism.

22 thoughts on “Bad Hoaxes – The Conceptual Misogynist

    1. Well I’m a bit surprised. Shermer, as a cogntiive scientist, has been fairly coherent, and clear-headed on numerous issues, but I didn’t know about these allegations. Unfortunately it’s not too surprising as I’ve been having several discussion with others on Facebook about some of the misogynistic behavior at atheist conferences. Many of these conferences are driving women away because of precisely this problem. This is actually another thing that I was going to address in a future post when I have a little more time.

      I have read Shermer’s book, the Believing Brain and in many ways at his been instrumental in my thinking on so many issues. I am not one to dismiss the entire of someone’s work based their lack of character in other areas, but I think what this hoax and incidents like these simply shows that atheism and feminism are not linked and that’s something I think we often assume. I don’t think we can.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. What frightens me most is that if there’s a group that should be more about evidence than tribalism, it’s sceptics. And yet we’re watching an odd movement being born under the banner of scepticism, one that embraces all of the traditional structures of patriarchy.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Perhaps… But maybe when it comes to something like male privilege it’s an idea that they aren’t skeptical about because that’s sort of what privilege does. It’s much easier to criticize religion or other scientific ideas than it is to challenge racial or gender privilege because it’s what you’ve always had. It is the ultimate indoctrination. Not defending here just contemplating why. It’s hard to know whether atheists were more feminist in the past or is this just something we’ve always seen.

          My other theory is that atheist men assume that a atheist women are very liberal sexually and think their behavior is somehow more acceptable. When if that is the case this of course doesn’t translate into unwanted sexual advances.

          Liked by 2 people

  1. Dr. Maarten Boudry, Ghent University’s Department of Philosopy & Moral Sciences, pulled off a brilliant hoax on so-called “sophsticated” Christian philosophy. He penned an utterly nonsensical, anti-Darwin lecture abstract full of theological gibberish and submitted it to two Christian philosophy conferences, including the Reformational Philosophy Association’s “The Future of Creation Order.”

    Astonishingly, the abstract was accepted without a moment’s hesitation and Boudry’s alter ego, Robert A. Maundy of the fictitious College of the Holy Cross, was slotted in as a speaker at both conferences… invitations he (of course) declined after announcing it all a hoax.

    Below are his 394 genius words:

    The Paradoxes of Darwinian Disorder.

    Towards an Ontological Reaffirmation of Order and Transcendence.

    Robert A. Maundy, College of the Holy Cross, Reno, Nevada

    In the Darwinian perspective, order is not immanent in reality, but it is a self-affirming aspect of reality in so far as it is experienced by situated subjects. However, it is not so much reality that is self-affirming, but the creative order structuring reality which manifests itself to us. Being-whole, as opposed to being-one, underwrites our fundamental sense of locatedness and particularity in the universe. The valuation of order qua meaningful order, rather than order-in-itself, has been thoroughly objectified in the Darwinian worldview. This process of de-contextualization and reification of meaning has ultimately led to the establishment of ‘dis-order’ rather than ‘this-order’. As a result, Darwinian materialism confronts us with an eradication of meaning from the phenomenological experience of reality. Negative theology however suggests a revaluation of disorder as a necessary precondition of order, as that without which order could not be thought of in an orderly fashion. In that sense, dis-order dissolves into the manifestations of order transcending the materialist realm. Indeed, order becomes only transparent qua order in so far as it is situated against a background of chaos and meaninglessness. This binary opposition between order and dis-order, or between order and that which disrupts order, embodies a central paradox of Darwinian thinking. As Whitehead suggests, reality is not composed of disordered material substances, but as serially-ordered events that are experienced in a subjectively meaningful way. The question is not what structures order, but what structure is imposed on our transcendent conception of order. By narrowly focusing on the disorderly state of present-being, or the “incoherence of a primordial multiplicity”, as John Haught put it, Darwinian materialists lose sense of the ultimate order unfolding in the not-yet-being. Contrary to what Dawkins asserts, if we reframe our sense of locatedness of existence within a the space of radical contingency of spiritual destiny, then absolute order reemerges as an ontological possibility. The discourse of dis-order always already incorporates a creative moment that allows the self to transcend the context in which it finds itself, but also to find solace and responsiveness in an absolute Order which both engenders and withholds meaning. Creation is the condition of possibility of discourse which, in turn, evokes itself as presenting creation itself. Darwinian discourse is therefore just an emanation of the absolute discourse of dis-order, and not the other way around, as crude materialists such as Dawkins suggest.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Swarn,

    For now, let’s have less hoaxes that genders that are disadvantaged by society, where many serious problems still exist. […]

    Let’s be united against bad scholarship wherever it might be and instead of being clueless about the field as James Lindsay claimed he was, let’s have educated criticism.

    What FANTASTIC advice! And may I add “more patience” with allies!? 🙂

    First, a/my disclaimer. I completely realize that Feminism and equality movements are NOT ABOUT ME (necessarily?), but about how I can do my part. Here goes…

    As you are well aware, I’ve sometimes bumbled and struggled with correct terminology, my genuine naivety, and earnest desire & will to appropriately help The Womens March and Feminist Movements, etc, for more equality and as a newbie (which I partially blame on my native upbringing in Texas: some ‘models’ seemed socially (erroneously?) normal around me). HOWEVER, in person with these issues I rarely ever had the sort of slappings I’ve received online or on social media from individuals. I found this anomaly quit peculiar to me! I realized that part of my struggle was due to the world-wide-web, i.e. a much, MUCH bigger diverse audience! I also realize that Equality Movements and/or Feminism are highly sensitive issues at different times in different areas of the world — in Texas the movement(s) have a different (less volatile?) dynamic than say the Middle East or the Nordic nations. Hence, I really do depend on gentlemen like yourself Swarn, and of course those women who have tons of patience with me, to assist me (constructively) to better understand and how to equip myself to help, to do my part.

    That said, the “slappings” I’ve received sometimes had the OPPOSITE effect on a “newbie” male’s voice that overall I would think an Equality Movement can utilize, not because of my gender (it’s not about that, right?), but as another voice to add to the overall impact of the Movement! Thus, my voice becomes more timid more often when, as Victoria above very correctly mentions:

    He’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t; damned if he doesn’t use the right terminology, and damned for not being feminist enough. I’ve seen it happen here.

    After some 10-16 months now since I’ve seriously discussed any Feminism (anti-misogynist) topics within a mixed audience, what further advice can you share for rookie gentlemen like myself for the public arena of Feminist support so that we allies can STRENGTHEN the movements and change, rather than be intimidated or silenced? This is all way too important NOT to rally all voices, all support.

    A great post Swarn! I’m very happy you brought this topic back up. Thank you Sir. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this thoughtful response Professor, and I apologize for the delay in responding. Your thoughts here are extremely welcome since I know we’ve discussed how difficult you have found it some times to discuss feminism given the the lashes you have received in return…well let’s face it, all from Rough Seas. lol Of course I’ve come to the conclusion that she’s not a very thoughtful human when it comes to fostering understanding in others.

      In talking to some other feminists I know who are familiar with feminist scholarship and talk in feminist circles on social media and elsewhere there is certainly feminists who are always on the attack. So I’m not trying to say that the authors of this hoax might not be partially right in their assertion going in. I don’t think their hoax proved this assertion however. Also as I said the type of mockery they are engaging in is just as bad as the attitude they are claiming is coming from the other side. In fact in many ways it’s worse. Because first of all they are mocking a gender that does face oppression. Lindsay even admits that they are. He claims to be attacking scholarship, but he is also attacking women, which he himself claims are facing real problems in a patriarchal society. So to me that’s morally questionable. What’s worse is that he claims himself to not be able to discuss or engage in feminist issues intelligibly. So unlike you who may not use the right terminology but is seeking to understand, Lindsay doesn’t seek to understand, only to mock. I think that’s problematic.

      In terms of advice, I am not sure that I have any other than to keep reading. In remembering some of your examples in trying to address the issues you ranged from using bad analogies, to using some questionable examples of feminists. Seek more scholarly articles, but perhaps more than that read and hear women’s stories. What they go through and try to imagine what it would be like from their perspective and truly try to understand that the truth for a woman walking this world looks very different than that for a man.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Swarn! 🙂

        RoughSeas was not the one and only. It included 3-4 others too, both female and male. But the worst of it was lead by her (RS) then others (blindly?) following her lead on me — vigilante style, if I’m honest. No matter.

        What has been most critical, most important since then is that I’ve tempered things down enough to LEARN and GROW from it because I truly want to do my active outspoken part, whatever I can do, when the situation demands, as a hetero male. I do indeed progress much quicker, much more significantly though with YOUR approaches, suggestions, and patience Swarn rather than via beatdowns. So I thank you again for that.

        I have 4-5 more paragraphs prepared to insert at this point, however, before posting the rest of this comment, I want to first email you personally Swarn to get your advice as to whether it would be beneficial for here, for this post, etc. I feel/think it is, but I want to run it by you first. I’m sending it shortly. Thanks.


  3. Hi Swarn,

    I appreciated your closing paragraph, if I understood it correctly. My initial reaction in thinking about your piece here was to confess that the hoax itself didn’t sit well with me for one reason or another, and I think it came down to the fact that the point of a hoax is to deceive. Unlike deliberate satire, where there’s a sort of honesty that is derived from the context–we all know for instance that SNL is going to lampoon its subject matter, or that Paul Beatty’s novel The Sellout is going to criticize through taboo-transcending humor that both ridicules and reveals–with the hoax it seems the goal is to make someone look like a fool. Maybe in some instances this strategy will appear to “work” by forcing a sort of public recanting on the part of those targeted, but it seems in the end all it can really do is leave the hoaxers feeling temporarily enamored of themselves, and the hoaxees feeling manipulated, which is hardly the groundwork for effectual change. So I think you were saying in some of these instances the high road of arguing the case intelligibly, in the open, is the way to go. I’d agree.


    Liked by 3 people

    1. Agreed Michael. I think hoaxes can have value as you say if they force the right sort of exposure to a problem and they force the right sort of discussion. This hoax was perpetrated solely for the purpose of mocking women who are advocating for a disdvantaged gender in our society where at least this co-author didn’t have the intellectual expertise to engage in the topic with actual thoughtful criticism. One could see this hoax being more valuable if it had been authored by someone attempting legitimate scholarship but whose papers had been rejected, and then decided to write a paper under a pseudonym with false scholarship and then got their paper published. That might prove an important point and demonstrate a real problem.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. So, a few weeks ago I learned about the men’s rights movement from a co-worker who watches Youtube and knows about pop culture. (I know about Dr. Seuss and Dinosaur Train.) After he described it, I assumed that it was a joke, that it was satirical, but apparently it’s legit. There seems to be a lot of confusion and anger, particularly around gender issues, and there are large groups of people that either aren’t able to articulate their problems or to affect positive change. Beyond that, I get the sense more and more that the end goal of some of these groups and movements is to “tear it all down”.

    Disclaimer: I know virtually nothing about the men’s rights movement and have no opinion as to their goals or practices. I bring them up merely to show the gender related turmoil in our society.

    Disclaimer 2: My finger on the pulse of humanity is largely derived from the comments section from CBC news stories, so not necessarily a representative sampling.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Continuing from above Swarn, you stated:

    In terms of advice, I am not sure that I have any other than to keep reading.

    Seek more scholarly articles, but perhaps more than that read and hear women’s stories. What they go through and try to imagine what it would be like from their perspective and truly try to understand that the truth for a woman walking this world looks very different than that for a man.

    I’m still doing all these things, but get this… there’s sometimes confusion (on my part?) because I DO listen to (empathize with) women’s points-of-view and read their POV of what they’ve been through and deal with on a daily basis, and do so in-person here in rural and urban areas of Texas. Many of them in hearing about or reading my struggles don’t see at all the problems that other “Feminists” attacked me about. It’s noteable, however, that in my real life the women who I know who are Feminist seem to view me as much more an ally than those who I meet online. Thus it’s hard to know how to navigate feminism online sometimes. In fact, many things can be more easily MISunderstood online and on social media than in person, right? One of my close friends is a licensed practicing (over 22-years) psychologist who is a VERY ACTIVE Feminist (along with her 15-yr old daughter-in-training!) and has been most of her high school, collegiate, grad school, and professional life!

    The point is… that, as a permanently perpetual human student (PPHS), I sometimes get mixed messages/lessons from online Feminists versus live in-person Feminists. And btw, all the in-person Feminists know full well about my alternative lifestyles and still embrace me as an ally and PPHS; there are NO major issues/hangups. The pat explanation they give for understanding my online predicaments is that I’m quite upfront about my alternative lifestyles in-person, i.e. I don’t really waste a ton of time volunteering it to women/Feminists. I do not hide my lifestyles online either, obviously. And on that note…

    My 22-yr experienced, female Feminist psychologist friend has told me repeatedly that SHOULD I be overly secretive with my alternative lifestyles, THEN a Feminist-Activist probably would have very serious problems with me, especially with me appearing to “pretend” to be an ally of Feminism, even though they don’t really know the FULL me in-person or how both my parents raised me with regard to girls/women! As she has stated several times to me, “Your openness and willingness to freely volunteer those facts about yourself as early as possible, should actually be applauded.” Otherwise, your intentions could be easily interpreted as unethical, immoral, and thus concluded that way with their logical feminine-perceived truth(s). Does that make sense?

    Finally Swarn, when women don’t quickly speak-up (more frequently) for themselves to me — granted in regions of long-standing patriarchy; I get that — and I try to encourage… HOW is someone like myself, as a PPHS, suppose to or expected to read their minds like a psychic/medium? I do try to be inquisitive, curious, probing, encouraging open, comfortable dialogue (which does indeed take time) so that we do NOT merely talk about the weather or riff-raff insignificant information — the bulk of the internet & social medias are overly saturated already with that data/junk, in my opinion. I much prefer more meaningful engagements, both online and in-person.

    So… your further thoughts and suggestions Swarn? Many thanks Sir! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry it has taken me awhile to get back to you here. I think the on-line environment is a little more hostile, but then again sometimes the bluntness can be more efficient! lol I think that like any movement, if you want to grow it, it does require an environment that is inclusive and where people feel safe expressing ideas.

      I think your alternative lifestyle does pose a problem for people. While sex and love are two different things, they often do entangle and it’s difficult for people in general to separate them. Then with your particular interests which involve not only sex but various power dynamics, this can be worrying for many women. In a society where men dominate, when your sexual desires also include dominating women, it can be very hard to understand how you can both support gender equality while being turned on essentially by inequality. How much do our sexual desires influence how we treat people on an everyday basis? An interesting question, but I would say many people believe there might be a strong connection. I can also see that it’s possible that what happens in the bedroom stays in the bedroom among consenting adults. But your online moniker itself could be posing a problem. I mean it’s hard to walk into a room and say…”Hi my name is Professor Taboo and I think feminism is important”. 🙂


      1. What an excellent reply Swarn. Again, I am in utter admiration with your sensitivity, understanding, eloquence, and conciseness on such a touchy subject. I applaud you for your open-mindedness too.

        If one (such as yourself perhaps) were on the outside looking in on SSC BDSM — or trying to look inside without going inside — I can absolutely understand these valid concerns you’ve pointed out. But if I may use the analogy of going to a foreign land where they speak a language you’ve never heard before, will you truly know and understand that culture, those people and how they live day in and day out?

        The integral part you vaguely mentioned (consenting adults) or innocently breezed through, barely touches the tip of the iceberg in legal SSC BDSM communities, dungeons, and conduct. Every single active, practicing member is not only there by their own sane accord, but all legal SSC BDSM communities/dungeons also have several monitors enforcing proper protocol, conduct, and etiquette. Furthermore, all admissions into a legal SSC BDSM community/dungeon have legal binders that are signed by admitting new members — often these legal contracts are 2-4 pages long. Under these safe, sane, and consentual conditions, all members — no matter gender or orientation — are liberated to explore and fulfill any and all fantasies within a group that, as you say is:

        …an environment that is inclusive and where people feel safe expressing ideas.

        …but within monitored supervision spelled out in the admissions contract.

        Regarding this and my full support/allying with Feminism, the above is too often misunderstood, unfairly maligned, ignored, and all by those who have never actually been inside a legal SSC BDSM community/dungeon. When this is determined, it baffles me within the context of equality & Feminism! This is often my struggles, with the wonderful exception of you Swarn! You are to be applauded. Thank you Sir. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: The Wrong Standards – Arguments against the relevancy of biological differences between men and women as having meaning in society – Cloak Unfurled

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