You could have fooled me, too!

Anatomical penises may exist, but as pre-operative transgendered women also have anatomical penises, the penis vis-à-vis maleness is an incoherent construct…We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a social construct isomorphic to performative toxic masculinity….

Nowhere are the consequences of hypermasculine machismo braggadocio isomorphic identification with the conceptual penis more problematic than concerning the issue of climate change…Climate change is driven by nothing more than it is by certain damaging themes in hypermasculinity that can be best understood via the dominant rapacious approach to climate ecology identifiable with the conceptual penis. Our planet is rapidly approaching the much-warned-about [2 degrees Celsius] climate change threshold, and due to patriarchal power dynamics that maintain present capitalist structures, especially with regard to the fossil fuel industry, the connection between hypermasculine dominance of scientific, political and economic discourses and the irreparable damage to our ecosystem is made clear….

This is an excerpt from a paper, “The Conceptual Penis As a Social Construct,” published last week in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal, Cogent Social Sciences.

Turns out the “paper” is a hoax, a joke-concoction by Peter Boghossian, a philosophy professor at Portland State University in Oregon, and author James A. Lindsay, who has a Ph.D. in mathematics. (They used fake names, “Peter Boyle,” and “Jamie Lindsay,” and created a fictitious research center, “The Southeast Independent Social Research Group,” with an address in Knoxville, Tenn., where Lindsay lives. As the pair, who quickly went public with their true identities, explained:

[W]e wrote an absurd paper loosely composed in the style of post-structuralist discursive gender theory. 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….

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”).

My question is: How was this “paper” any different from the hundreds of genuine scholarly papers churned out practically on a daily basis that have argued exactly the same thing?

Here’s an excerpt from one of them, appearing in the peer-reviewed Contingent Horizons, published by York University’s anthropology department

Engaging in the notion of gender as a performance enables us to challenge essentialist explanations of sex and sexuality that assume male or female social existence is “derived from some fact of their physiology” (Butler 1988:520). In Judith Butler’s Performative Acts and Gender Constitution, she problematizes the assumption that a human’s biological sex dictates and determines the way a person should behave in society. Butler argues that, “the body is an historical idea that gains it’s meaning through a concrete and historically mediated expression in the world” (1988:521). Therefore, the body cannot be assumed to possess a natural and predetermined interior essence but rather, it is culturally and historically informed. Butler’s argument regarding the culturally and historically informed nature of constructions of gender will be used as a framework to analyse the cultural environment and historical events that have contributed to the construction of the dominant black masculinity in hip-hop.

This challenges the assumption that heteronormative gendered behaviour amongst hip-hop artists is a natural essence based on their sex.

Indeed, as Inside Higher Education reports

Many of their references were false, they wrote, and the real ones weren’t actually read by the authors.

To the many wondering if the paper was printed just as submitted, they wrote that they received comments from two peer reviewers, both of whom praised the paper. One asked for minor changes. “We effortlessly completed them in about two hours, putting in a little more nonsense about ‘manspreading’ (which we alleged to be a cause of climate change) and ‘d[—]-measuring contests.’”

According to Inside Higher Ed, the red-faced gender-theory community is now claiming that Cogent Social Sciences isn’t a real scholarly journal because it requires its contributors to pay their publication costs. But as Inside Higher Ed also pointed out, pay-to-play is a prevalent academic business practice nowadays, and many universities routinely reiumburse their faculty members for such expenses (Boghassian said that Portland State was one of them, but he hadn’t asked for reimbursement for a joke paper). Furthermore, Cogent Social Sciences is considered by many to be a reputable peer-reviewed publication.

As IWF’s own Christina Hoff Sommers, a former philosophy professor at Clark University tweeted: “They tried to write the craziest, most over-the-top parody possible — It still got published.”