22.5.17

TROLL LEVEL: ANONYMOUS REFEREE.

Two working academics spike the football over having seriously trolled the gender-studies enterprise.  Skeptic's Michael Shermer describes the trolling as a vital public service.
Every once in awhile it is necessary and desirable to expose extreme ideologies for what they are by carrying out their arguments and rhetoric to their logical and absurd conclusion, which is why we are proud to publish this expose of a hoaxed article published in a peer-reviewed journal today. Its ramifications are unknown but one hopes it will help rein in extremism in this and related areas.
Yes, it's easy enough to dress up a nonsense argument in pomo-babble and make it sound academic, or something, which is what the authors did.
Assuming the pen names “Jamie Lindsay” and “Peter Boyle,” and writing for the fictitious “Southeast Independent Social Research Group,” we 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.
Yes, the gender studies folks might have some tight, er, priors, and yet the paper winds up in a journal, but respectable?  Read on and contemplate Tom Lehrer's "Now there's a charge for what she used to give for free."
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.
Yes, "unwilling to be hen-pecked" might prevent the paper from being published, but even with the careful use of the right buzz-words, the first journal they tried wouldn't have it.
We didn’t originally go looking to hoax Cogent Social Sciences, however. Had we, this story would be only half as interesting and a tenth as apparently damning. Cogent Social Sciences was recommended to us by another journal, NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies, a Taylor and Francis journal. NORMA rejected “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” but thought it a great fit for the Cogent Series, which operates independently under the Taylor and Francis imprimatur.
It is no accident, dear reader, that Taylor and Francis figure in this story. If there's a Herfindahl index for online citations by Real Peer Review, #tandfonline would probably head the list.  I don't believe in coincidences, though, and perhaps there are working academicians, even in the fever swamps of culture studies, who are as disgusted by the proliferation of online outlets for people more interested in racking up refereed publications for their own sake, rather than, oh, taking on challenging projects and participating in an intelligent conversation.
Suspecting we may be dealing with a predatory pay-to-publish outlet, we were surprised that an otherwise apparently legitimate Taylor and Francis journal directed us to contribute to the Cogent Series. (Authors’ note: we leave it to the reader to decide whether or not NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies constitutes a legitimate journal, but to all appearances it is run by genuine academic experts in the field and is not a predatory money-mill.) The problem, then, may rest not only with pay-to-publish journals, but also with the infrastructure that supports them.

In sum, it’s difficult to place Cogent Social Sciences on a spectrum ranging from a rigorous academic journal in gender studies to predatory pay-to-publish money mill. First, Cogent Social Sciences operates with the legitimizing imprimatur of Taylor and Francis, with which it is clearly closely partnered. Second, it’s held out as a high-quality open-access journal by the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), which is intended to be a reliable list of such journals.
Thus, the self-confession in Skeptic.
The publish-or-perish academic environment is its own poison that needs a remedy. It gives rise to predatory profit-driven journals with few or no academic standards that take advantage of legitimate scholars pressured into publishing their work at all costs, even if it is marginal or dubious. Many of these scholars are victims both of a system that is forcing them to publish more papers and to publish them more often, to the detriment of research quality, and of the predatory journals that offer to sell them the illusion of academic prestige. Certainly, we have every reason to suspect that a majority of the other academics who have published in Cogent Social Sciences and other journals in the Cogent Series are genuine scholars who have been cheated by what may be a weak peer-review process with a highly polished edifice. Our question about the fundamental integrity of fields like gender studies seems much more pressing nonetheless.
Inside Higher Ed's Scott Jaschik picks up the story.  It is the vanity-press aspect of the hoax that interests me (as, before I quit, my electronic mail occasionally included solicitations for submissions, and in the fine print it looked like I could get stuff approved quickly, but for a small fee.)  Here's Academe's Hank Reichman, with the key point.  "The problem, however, is that the real joke was on the hoaxsters, who either failed to discern or willfully covered up the fact that the journal in question was a vanity publication with little to no credibility in academia. And the alleged “skeptics” failed even to question the legitimacy of the hoaxsters’ sweeping claims."

The discipline that got trolled? One anecdote doth not invalidate the corpus of scholarship. "So, on the basis of publishing a hoax paper in an obscure vanity journal with zero credibility in the field they wished to “expose,” the authors — and those who praise them — somehow jump to the conclusion that the entire discipline of gender studies is corrupt."  To Bleeding Heart Libertarians' James Taylor, it's a cock-up.
The first journal that Bognossian and Lindsay submitted their hoax paper to, and that rejected it, was NORMA: The International Journal for Masculinity Studies. This journal doesn’t even hit the top 115 journals in Gender Studies. So, what happened here was that they submitted a hoax paper to an unranked journal, which summarily rejected it. They then received an auto-generated response directing them to a pay-to-publish vanity journal. They submitted the paper there, and it was published. From this chain of events they conclude that the entire field of Gender Studies is “crippled academically”. This tells us very little about Gender Studies, but an awful lot about the perpetrators of this “hoax”…. and those who tout it as a take down of an entire field.
It might also tell us about the vanity press enterprise, and about the value of citation indices, impact factors, and the rest. (And 115 journals in gender studies, to keep current requires scholars in that field to pick and choose what to read.)  Thus Reason's Robby Soave.  "Hoax social science paper is more an indictment of pay-to-publish journals than anything else."  Precisely.  Orgtheory's E. P. Berman gets the summation.
If your article gets rejected from one of our regular journals, we’ll automatically forward it to one of our crappy interdisciplinary pay-to-play journals, where we’ll gladly take your (or your funder’s or institution’s) money to publish it after a cursory “peer review”. That is a new one to me.

There’s a hoax going on here all right. But I don’t think it’s gender studies that’s being fooled.
Nor, likely, are promotion boards and external reviewers. Part of being asked to serve as an external reviewer, for instance, is having enough visibility in the discipline (which one acquires, dear reader, by writing articles in journals people might skim more carefully) to understand when a portfolio has some stuff of substance in it.

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