BY AARON BARLOW
The problem isn’t the field, it’s a process that no longer meets its original ends.
Yesterday, Hank Reichman posted on a hoax that takes advantage of a flawed process to try to single out a particular field for derision. What follows is merely an addendum, with my own particular slant, to what he wrote:
As anyone who is a regular reader of the Retraction Watch blog knows, it has gotten easy to game the system of academic scholarship. Almost anyone who is willing to be dishonest in their citations and even slightly and deliberately manipulative in their presentation can get their “scholarship” published in journals of alleged peer review.
As Reichman points out, this newest “hoax could have been viewed as a useful exposure of pay-to-publish journals” and, I would say, of the flaws in academic publishing in general. Instead, it fraudulently attempts to take advantage of a universal problem to take down a particular field. It’s as though, in the hoaxers’ minds, Gender Studies is responsible for the failings of the tottering structure of scholarship created for the needs of a time long predating Gender Studies, one that has not been revised for the needs of a changed world.
There have been plenty of attempts to point out the problems of this structure (even by me), some of them through hoaxes. But, as Keta Joshi notes, such “hoaxes do not demonstrate the wholesale failure of biology, or computer science, or medicine.” Nor, though it is claimed to be “a Sokal-style hoax on gender studies,” does this one say anything about the field of Gender Studies. The fraud, here, is that “claim.”
The Editor-in-Chief of Skeptic, Michael Shermer, lauds this particular hoax in his headnote to the article he published by the creators of the hoax:
Every once in awhile [sic] 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 [sic] of a hoaxed [sic] article published in a peer-reviewed article [sic] today. It’s [sic] ramifications are unknown but one hopes it will help reign [sic] in extremism in this and related areas.
I suspect Shermer’s comment was dashed off quickly, without much thought or review. It certainly appears so. I hope, on further consideration, he will both clean up his prose and his thinking.
“Extreme ideologies” are certainly worthy of attack—but so are all ideologies. Each one should be challenged, but on its own assumptions and processes, not on those inherited from a broader academic system. Reichman makes this point, as do many of the others reacting to this hoax. Yet I am afraid that this will be seen, as the perpetrators clearly hope, as a successful take-down of the field of Gender Studies.
That is fraud, not hoax.
[A final note: Paul Braterman writes, in relation to Cogent Social Sciences, the journal that accepted the hoax article:
Scientific journal publishing, except when carried out by the learning societies themselves, is a business like any other. Here, as throughout 21st century capitalism, competition is fierce, and the fiercest competition is for investment capital. If you don’t make as much money as you possibly can from your journal and its brand, there are plenty of people out there all too happy to take you over, as has happened again and again to some of the proudest names in scientific publishing, and if you scorn the market niche occupied by [disreputable] papers…, there are plenty of publishers who will respond to the demand.
So, if your University library is carrying journals of this calibre, and you don’t think it should be, write to the librarian.
All of us in academia should do as he suggests.]