“The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct”, and other gems from Taylor and Francis
Posted by Paul Braterman
Update: Skeptic has now published a not entirely favourable review of the “conceptual penis” hoax, by Alan Sokal, Professor of Mathematics at University College London, and of Physics at New York University, and author of the famous hoax article “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity“. I have asked my University librarian why we carry the journal that published this nonsense, and how much it is costing us. I have not had a reply; but then, if she had not heard of the matter before seeing the title of my email, she may have discarded it as spam. It seems likely that we carry the journal concerned, Cogent Social Sciences, as part of a bundle, since I do not imagine that any academic Department at Glasgow would have requested it.
The article has been retracted, and is no longer available on the journal website, but the published version had been archived and remains available here.
“It is also factually incorrect to associate the anatomical penis with male reproductivity.” (Cogent Social Sciences (2017), 3: 1330439, https://doi.org/10.1080/23311886.2017.1330439
The journal that accepted this paper, after peer review, is available through Glasgow University Library, and is published by Taylor and Francis. This in turn is owned by the conglomerate Informa, which has swallowed a number of thoroughly reputable publishing houses. Among them, CRC (who produce a valuable science data reference resource, known for historical reasons as “the Rubber Bible” (though perhaps I should explain in the present context that the vulgar US meaning of “rubber” has nothing to do with it), Routledge, and Gordon and Breach. Wikipedia credits Taylor and Francis with revenue of £490 million in 2016, or over a quarter of a million per employee. Informa is incorporated in Jersey but tax resident in Switzerland.
Go to https://www.cogentoa.com/article/10.1080/23311886.2017.1330439.pdf (or if that link disappears, as it well may, to the authors’ archived link, here, and you will see an article by Jamie Lindsay and Peter Boyle, of Southeast Independent Social Research Group. There you will be told, at the outset, that
The androcentric scientific and meta-scientific evidence that the penis is the male reproductive organ is considered overwhelming and largely uncontroversial.
But do not be deceived by this social consensus. To quote the paper’s Public Interest Statement,
As a result of our research into the essential concept of the penis and its exchanges with the social and material world, we conclude that penises are not best understood as the male sexual organ, or as a male reproductive organ, but instead as an enacted social construct that is both damaging and problematic for society and future generations. … and is the conceptual driver behind much of climate change.
This despite the fact that
It is also factually incorrect to associate the anatomical penis with male reproductivity.
Male readers should also be aware that
“Manspreading,” that is, inconsiderately spreading his legs too widely in public … seen from the perspective of the (conceptual) penis as a (performative) social construct, is clearly a dominating occupation of physical space, akin to raping the empty space around him, that is best understood via the machismo braggadocio isomorphism to toxic hypermasculinity.
If you have access to your local university’s library, you may very well find out (as I did) that it carries online the journal, Cogent Social Sciences, in which the paper was published.
As many readers will already know, Jamie Lindsay, Peter Boyle, and the Southeast Independent Social Research Group, do not exist. The real authors are Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay, who say in their confession to the hoax
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.
They also mention that the references are totally bogus.
Update: Boghossian and Lindsay have come under attack from Bleeding Heart Libertarians (Why the “Conceptual Penis” Hoax is just a Big Cock Up), as well as from Pharyngula, who seems upset because he didn’t immediately realise it was a hoax. The argument seems to be that it’s a crap journal, so this doesn’t count as an atack on the field. The whole point is that the field is supporting, our libraries are buying, and a major respected publisher is profiteering from, a crap journal! Or, it seems from their website, a whole stable of them. Aaron Barlow at Academe Blog is scathing about the use of the hoax as an attack on Gender Studies in particular, but repeats my call here for academics to complain to their librarians about the purchase of such substandard journals.
Does it matter? I think it matters very much indeed. Taylor and Francis are pursuing a highly successful business plan, which involves taking money both from aspiring authors (you are invited to pay for the privilege of publishing in Cogent Social Sciences), and from cash-strapped University libraries, and their parent company, Informa, is not only quoted on the London stock exchange but is a component of the FTSE 100 index. They are diverting intellectual as well as financial resources; the journal publishes papers on very serious matters, such as educational inequalities as a function of wealth in the US, and these may well be of the very highest quality, and deserving of a less contaminated platform. And (as in the case of the “gender studies” that the authors here are lampooning) such nonsense undermines serious campaigns about real grievances.
And what shall we say of the editor who was responsible (according to the journal website) for accepting it, Dr Jamie Halsall, Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences in the Department of Behavioural Sciences and Social Sciences, at Huddersfield University, Times Higher Education University of Year 2013? If those who, like me, are part of academia, refrain out of delicacy from criticising our fellow-academics, there are plenty of others all too happy to do it for us.
The Perilous Whiteness of Pumpkins, in GeoHumanities, another Taylor and Francis publication, which tells us that
Accumulation of critical, relational, and contextual analyses, including things seemingly as innocuous as pumpkins, points the way to a food studies of humanities and geography.
We do need, badly, “a food studies of humanities and geography.” There are parts of the world, after all, where people are starving.
Then Carfax International Publishers, also part of the Taylor and Francis group, give us, in their journal Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, a paper titled When ‘Angelino’ squirrels don’t eat nuts: a feminist posthumanist politics of consumption across southern California, in which the author
juxtapose[s] feminist posthumanist theories and feminist food studies scholarship to demonstrate how eastern fox squirrels are subjected to gendered, racialized, and speciesist thinking in the popular news media as a result of their feeding/eating practices, their unique and unfixed spatial arrangements in the greater Los Angeles region, and the western, modernist human frame through which humans interpret these actions.
People, it seems, or perhaps only Western people, demonstrate their gendered, racialized, and speciesist thinking by a pre-post-modern dislike of rodents getting into the trash.
Scientific journal publishing, except when carried out by the learning societies themselves, is a business like any other. Here, as throughout 21st century capitalism, competition is fierce, and the fiercest competition is for investment capital. If you don’t make as much money as you possibly can from your journal and its brand, there are plenty of people out there all too happy to take you over, as has happened again and again to some of the proudest names in scientific publishing, and if you scorn the market niche occupied by papers such as those I have cited, there are plenty of publishers who will respond to the demand.
So, if your University library is carrying journals of this calibre, and you don’t think it should be, write to the librarian.
h/t Jerry Coyne, Michael Roberts, Skeptic. “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” is freely quotable under Creative Commons license. The other journal extracts are from abstracts publicly available through the journals’ websites.
Further update: this post just got “liked” by a porn site.
About Paul BratermanScience writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012
Posted on May 20, 2017, in Science, Society and tagged Angelino squirrels, Cogent Social Sciences, Conceptual Penis, Gender, GeoHumanities, Informa, Peter Boghossian, Place & Culture, Skeptic magazine, Sokal2, Taylor & Francis. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.