Philosopher Peter Boghossian and mathematician James Lindsay perpetrated a hoax intended to expose gender studies as a sham, and they succeeded. The respected professors submitted an absurd article — which blamed penises for global warming — to a respected, peer-reviewed, academic journal — which gullibly printed it. In perpetrating their hoax, the professors said they sought to expose academia as shallow, credulous and painfully politically correct.
Their clever hoax echoes what’s become known as the Sokal Affair, in which physics professor Alain Sokal infamously debunked postmodernism to be intellectual fraud. Two decades ago, Sokal submitted an article peppered with nonsense that flattered the ideological predispositions of the editors of Social Text, an academic journal dedicated to postmodernist thought. He proposed that quantum gravity is a “social and linguistic construct,” and it was published without academic peer review, betraying the field’s lack of intellectual rigor.
Writing under pseudonyms, authors Boghossian (Associate Professor of Philosophy at Portland State University) and Lindsay repeated the effort with an academic article on “the conceptual penis,” which theorizes, among other things, that manspreading is akin to a man “raping the empty space around him.”
In the article “The conceptual penis as a social construct” (archived link) published in Cogent Social Sciences, the authors present male genitalia as a harmful social meme that engenders toxic expressions of masculinity.
The gender studies publication describes itself as “a multidisciplinary open access journal offering high quality peer review across social sciences: from law to sociology, politics to geography, and sport to communication studies,” so you know it’s the real deal.
The authors even slipped in hilarious descriptions of the penis:
Still, even as a social construct, the conceptual penis is hopelessly dominated by recalcitrant social constructions that favor hypermasculine interpretations of the penis as a notion unjustly associated with high male value (Schwalbe & Wolkomir, 2001). Many cisgendered hypermasculine males, for instance, seem to identify those aspects of their masculinity upon which they most obviously depend with the notion that they carry their penis as a symbol of male power, domination, control, capability, desirability, and aggression (The National Coalition for Men “compile[d] a list of synonyms for the word penis [sic],” these include the terms “beaver basher,” “cranny axe,” “custard launcher,” “dagger,” “heat-seeking moisture missile,” “mayo shooting hotdog gun,” “pork sword,” and “yogurt shotgun” ). Based upon an appreciable corpus of feminist literature on the penis, this troubling identification results in an effective isomorphism linking the conceptual penis with toxic hypermasculinity.
The paper states that the penis as a form of “’hegemonic masculinity and cultural construction,’ presented in the ‘essence of the hard-on’,” and even argues that man-made climate change is happening because of “patriarchal power dynamics,” brought on by the conceptual penis. No surprise there.
Boghossian and Lindsay revealed their hoax in a paper at Skeptic Magazine. They explain:
“This already damning characterization of our hoax understates our paper’s lack of fitness for academic publication by orders of magnitude. 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.”
Just as Sokal laid bare the academic navel-gazing associated with postmodernist studies, Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay exposed the progressive left’s adherence to moral orthodoxy—a poor substitute to intellectual rigor.
“We sought to demonstrate that a desire for a certain moral view of the world to be validated could overcome the critical assessment required for legitimate scholarship,” they wrote. “Particularly, we suspected that gender studies is crippled academically by an overriding almost-religious belief that maleness is the root of all evil. On the evidence, our suspicion was justified.”