Wednesday, October 24, 2018

                                  BE VERY AFRAID OF BATS

Daniel Soar looks into Sokal 2.0 in

Earlier this month, a small storm hit social media when it was revealed that a number of cultural studies journals had been the victims of a massive hoax. Three collaborators had submitted twenty ‘bat-shit insane’ papers – as they described them – 
to places like Gender, Place and Culture and Sex Roles. Four of the papers were published, and another three had been accepted for publication… 

the relative success of their sting operation has borne out (35 per cent of their papers were accepted for publication, a much higher acceptance rate than holds for the major journal publishers across the board)

. It’s worth noting how extraordinarily hard they worked to make their papers suit the journals they were aiming to get published in. Over ten months, Pluckrose, Lindsay and Boghossian, none of whom had a background in cultural studieswrote 180,000 words across their twenty papers, diligently responded to editors’ and peer reviewers’ comments and requests, cited all the relevant literature, and generally did everything they could to get their papers up to the necessary standard

I’ve now read most of the 180,000 words, and some of them are genius...
all the (totally imaginary) effort was worth it for sentences such as the following, so full of methodological scrupulousness and moral care: 
‘The usual caveats of observational research also apply here. While I closely and respectfully examined the genitals of slightly fewer than ten thousand dogs, being careful not to cause alarm and moving away if any dog appeared uncomfortable, ’
the other two... collaborated on... ‘The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct’, which argued, inter alia, that the penis wasn’t in fact the male reproductive organ so much as a ‘gender-performative, highly fluid social construct’ and as such was responsible for every imaginable ill in the world, including climate change. 

That paper was, admittedly, bat-shit insane – and it’s insane that it got published, in a Taylor and Francis peer-reviewed journal called Cogent Open Access.

But for two reasons this was less than a total coup: one, Cogent Open Access is a ‘pay-to-play’ journal, increasingly common in academia, which will publish work if you give it money; two, as Alan Sokal, the perpetrator of the original postmodernism-trashing hoax, pointed out, some of the penis text – despite its authors’ best efforts – actually made sense...
the three ...initially tried to be as hoaxish as they could, writing patent rubbish; but they soon discovered that rubbish was rejected out of hand. The only way to succeed was actually to become passable cultural studies academics. And the only way to do that was to study the literature, to ‘engage more deeply with the existing scholarship’, to understand and learn from the arguments, and try to apply them in their own work.