Attack on gender studies despite rejection of hoax article
The hoax article “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” was rejected by the academic journal NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies, but was published in a pay-to-publish social science journal. The article has nevertheless generated international debate concerning the academic rigor of gender studies. Gender in Sweden talked to Ulf Mellström, one of the editors of NORMA, who believes that this is a deliberate attack on gender studies.
-This is an unsuccessful attack on gender studies, because our journal actually rejected the article. It is gender studies that was responsible for quality control in this particular case,” says Ulf Mellström, professor of gender studies at Karlstad University and, together with Lucas Gottzén, associate professor and assistant lecturer at the Department of Child and Youth Studies at Stockholm University, one of the chief editors for NORMA, an international academic journal for masculinity studies.
On February 17 this year “Peter Boyle” (actually Peter Boghossian, philosopher) and “Jamie Lindsay” (actually James Lindsay, mathematician) submitted their article of fictitious “research” on “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” to NORMA.
– Normally we run an initial check on a submitted article and then we look for two reviewers to subject the article to peer review. But both Lucas and I immediately thought this article was nonsense. We couldn’t understand it at all; we just thought it was drivel. So it went no further forward in the process – it was rejected, Ulf explains.
As part of the rejection process at NORMA, the journal publisher sends out an automated email to the author whose article has been rejected. In the automated rejection email to “Peter Boyle” and “Jamie Lindsay”, the authors were advised to submit their article to Cogent Social Sciences, a general social science journal in which articles may be published on payment of a fee by authors.
– But from now on we will be checking all outgoing automatically-generated email, says Ulf.
Cogent Social Sciences published “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” in May. At the same time, Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay revealed the article to have been a hoax in an article in Skeptic magazine, a journal that “examines extraordinary claims and revolutionary ideas, promotes critical thinking, and serves as an educational tool for those seeking a sound scientific viewpoint.” In Skeptic magazine, the authors write that their intention was to demonstrate that they could publish outright nonsense as long as it “portrayed a moralizing attitude that comported with the editors’ moral convictions”. Gender studies was selected as a specific target for the hoax.
The hoax attracted a great deal of attention in the media, particularly in the USA and the UK, but also in Denmark. Even the Swedish newspaper “Göteborgs-Posten” has written about it. Several articles question the academic rigor of gender studies and the field is depicted as politicizing.
– I think the authors behaved in a very dishonest way. They have deliberately and maliciously aimed to damage an entire discipline. If you look at their blogs and Twitter accounts you can also see that this is part of a campaign; they often quote out of context in order to show specifically how ‘crazy’ gender studies or environmental studies are. NORMA’s latest edition, with the theme of ‘trans’, has been especially quoted from, Ulf says.
In the current debate climate, gender studies seems to have become something of a bogey word for right-wing populist and socially conservative debaters, Ulf thinks.
– It’s part of an anti-feminist rhetoric, where gender studies becomes a symbol for ‘political correctness’.
Orchestrated attacks on gender studies are nothing new, according to Ulf. They occur at regular intervals.
– I have been in the field of gender studies for around 20-25 years, and this comes in waves. It’s pretty unpleasant, because if you are in gender studies you have to be on your guard constantly. You have to be extra careful. The difference is that this attack is the most global that I have seen. And things spread so quickly on social media, he says.