Current Events

A robust response from the editorial team of NORMA on the failed “Conceptual Penis” Hoax!

The editorial team of NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies have published their official response to Lindsay and Boghossian’s attempted hoax on their Facebook page.  It’s rather robust, and well worth a read!


On February 17 NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies received a submission entitled ’The conceptual penis as a social construct’ in the manuscript system of our journal. After the routine technical check of the manuscript, the article was assigned to us, the editors. After having reviewed the text we rejected the article as unsuitable on the grounds that the content was incomprehensible. In short, it was nonsense. The reject message was sent to the authors on April 7. All submissions rejected in the editorial manager of Taylor & Francis are part of an auto-generated transfer system which suggests alternative venues for publication. In this case, Cogent Social Sciences was suggested. This is described as a multidisciplinary, open journal platform for the rapid dissemination of peer-reviewed research across all disciplines. It is an open access platform where you pay ’what you want’ for publishing your article. The article was published in Cogent Social Sciences on May 19. We were shocked to see the article online since we, without any doubt whatsoever, had rejected the article.

Beyond the immoral bogus behaviour of the two authors, Lindsay and Boghossian, we are also seriously concerned about this orchestrated attack on Gender Studies in particular, and Social Sciences and Humanities in general. On investigating the activity of the authors, we note that they appear to regularly retweet quotations from authors and studies taken out of context, as if to discredit them. This behaviour says a lot about the authors but nothing about Gender Studies. We naturally condemn this behaviour, but we are also concerned about the quality control of ‘pay for publish’ platforms. This is probably the core issue which has been highlighted in this hoax scandal.

The editorial team of Norma – Lucas Gottzén, Ulf Mellström, Marinette Grimbeek, Jeff Hearn, Raewyn Connell, and Ann-Dorte Christensen

Current Events

Failed and Flaccid: The “Conceptual Penis” Hoax, Once Again.

As is now widely known James Lindsay and Peter Boghossian submitted a fake paper entitled “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” which was published in Cogent Social Sciences. They then loudly trumpeted this fact in the pages of Skeptic magazine, concluding “that gender studies is crippled academically by an overriding almost-religious belief that maleness is the root of all evil“, and that there are problems with the “open-access, pay-to-publish model” of academic publishing. They made clear that in their view the publication of their paper primarily shows that here are serious problems in “the entire academic enterprise collectively referred to as “gender studies” and that the fundamental problem that the publication of their article exposed was the lack of integrity of gender studies.

This “hoax” then went viral, leading to lots of gleeful mockery of gender studies, feminists, and lots of hearty Internet back-slapping.

But what was lost in all of this self-congratulation was a simple fact: This hoax failed miserably.  And recent revelations show just how badly it failed… for there’s no evidence that anyone was fooled into believing that this paper was real. To repeat, in case you missed this: THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT ANYONE WAS FOOLED INTO BELIEVING THAT THIS PAPER WAS ANYTHING BUT NONSENSE.

But there’s now a whole lot of evidence that a lot of people–including many self-professed “skeptics”–fell hook, line, and sinker for the false claim  that this was a successful hoax.

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Academic Philosophy

Democracy and Prosperity

Tom Christiano, a leading theorist of democracy, has just reviewed Jason Brennan’s Against Democracy. In it, he accuses Jason of having an ill-equipped micro-theory that fails to account for the phenomena Jason addresses. In particular, Tom thinks that the book cannot explain why actual democracies are as successful as they are. He doubts such success could have been led by Jason’s hobbits and hooligans. Here’s Tom:

[T]he modern democratic societies of Europe, North America, and East Asia have actually been quite successful; and the democratic element in them is a large part of what seems to explain that. First, there is a great deal of data marking out the remarkable differences between reasonably high quality democracies and other kinds of societies. Brennan mentions these but I don’t think he takes the full measure of the evidence. Democracies do not go to war with one another and respect the rules of war better than other societies.  They are responsible for the creation of the international trade system, the international environmental law system, and the human rights regime.  In fact, democracies do massively better on basic human rights than other societies, and it appears to be more their majoritarian character that explains this than their systems of checks and balances. Democracies prevent famines and, since the onset of universal suffrage, have developed powerful welfare states that have been enormously productive, have greatly reduced poverty, and have smoothed out the disastrous economic crises that occurred in their more free market ancestor societies.  Further, they have generally protected the interests of workers and lower economic classes, done a better job at producing public goods than other societies and generally have higher rates of per capita growth than their free market ancestors. Most of us hope for much more progress than this, but these achievements are extraordinary and are hard to square with the idea that hooligans and hobbits are at the helm.


Of course, I will let Jason defend himself. Here I want to examine the larger issue raised by Tom’s macro-theory: why are actual democracies successful?

There are reasons to doubt the accuracy of Tom’s story. Modern democracies have three components: a rights-constrained majoritarian component (universal suffrage and bill of rights), a redistributive component (the welfare state), and a capitalist component (robust markets). I do not quarrel with Tom’s observation that actual democracies do much better in terms of, well, democracy and human rights. But Tom thinks that these societies’ majoritarian and redistributive components are the key contributors to economic success, including poverty alleviation. This is entirely unclear to me and to those who have addressed the issue. For one thing, the Latin American experience shows that democracy and redistribution do not always lead to success. For another, the “free-market ancestors” managed to exclude many people from the market. So I think it is plausible (to put it mildly) that the great leap in prosperity and poverty alleviation occurred when modern democracies established secure property rights and allowed everyone the opportunity to better themselves through trade, as Deirdre McCloskey has claimed.

It may well be that, as Tom suggests, the introduction of universal suffrage is part and parcel of the ethics of equality that allowed everyone to attempt success. But it is much less clear that, with important exceptions such as publicly-funded education, redistributive institutions have contributed to the great enrichment and poverty alleviation in the modern world, and especially in successful democracies. Plausibly, these impressive achievements stem from the unprecedented opening of domestic and international markets, that is, from the capitalist component of successful democracies. Certainly, economic theory seems more congenial to this explanation (see here and here, and Lomasky’s and my discussion here.) If development economists are right, Tom’s argument sounds like a post hoc propter hoc fallacy.

Academic Philosophy

Why the “Conceptual Penis” Hoax is Just a Big Cock Up.

After the revelation that a paper on “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” was submitted as a hoax to the journal Cogent Social Sciences there’s sure to be a lot of merriment at the expense of Gender Studies departments. But it turns out that the joke’s on the hoaxers themselves–both for failing to spot some very obvious red flags about this “journal,” and for their rather bizarre leaps of logic.

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