This Week In Science & Technology

Rambo

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Apparently Zika is fucking out of control now:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/29/health/zika-virus-spreading-explosively-in-americas-who-says.html


Zika Virus ‘Spreading Explosively’ in Americas, W.H.O. Says

  • World Health Organization rang a global alarm over the Zika virus on Thursday, saying that the disease was “spreading explosively” in the Americas and that as many as four million people could be infected by the end of the year.

  • The global health agency will convene a special meeting on Monday to decide whether to declare a public health emergency. It is moving swiftly to combat this outbreak after widespread criticism that it had allowed the last major global health crisis, Ebola, to fester without a coordinated, effective strategy.

    Since last spring, more than 20 countries have reported locally acquired cases of Zika, which is transmitted by mosquitoes and may cause birth defects.

    “The level of alarm is extremely high,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the W.H.O., in a speech in Geneva.
 

Fwiffo

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I'm reading a piece in Time about Zika and they are talking about genetically modifying mosquitoes so they end up extinct.

"Is it right for us to intentionally eliminate an entire species?" asks bioethicist and Stanford law professor Henry Greely.

Mr. Greely, when hasn't mankind tried to eradicate something or someone with full intention?
 

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I thought we had some kind of robots thread.

Anyway:
Foxconn replaces '60,000 factory workers with robots'

Soon those robots will make iPhones that will give us an app that makes more robots that will make more iPhones that will make more robots - till one day the buggers realise they don't need us to tap build on the app and they can make themselves.
 

Rambo

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Thruth this seems like it might be up your alley

http://www.popsci.com/end-root-canals

THE END OF ROOT CANALS?


STEM CELL-STIMULATING FILLINGS COULD CHANGE DENTISTRY AND SAVE YOUR TEETH

By Coby McDonald Posted Yesterday at 12:44pm


Image courtesy of Eric Schmuttenmaer (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Teeth X-ray

What if damaged teeth could heal themselves? That's the inspiration behind a new project from Harvard and the University of Nottingham to create stem cell stimulating fillings.

Dentists treat hundreds of millions of cavities each year by drilling out the decay and putting in a filling.

But 10 to 15 percent of those fillings fail, says Adam Celiz, a therapeutic biomaterials researcher from University of Nottingham. And that leads to millions of root canals to remove the tooth's pulp, the soft tissue in the center of the tooth that contains the blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. A root canal can weaken the tooth, which may eventually need to be pulled.

Celiz and his fellow researchers have developed a new kind of filling made from synthetic biomaterial that can stimulate the growth of stem cells in the pulp of the tooth. Just like regular fillings, the biomaterial is injected into the tooth and hardened with UV light.

In in vitro testing, the fillings stimulated the proliferation and differentiation of stem cells into dentin, the bony tissue that forms the bulk of the tooth under the white enamel. The researchers believes that if used in a damaged tooth, those stem cells can repair the kind of damage that often comes from the installation of a filling. In essence, the biomaterial filling would allow the tooth to heal itself.

In the future, Celiz says, all fillings could be made of such regenerative material so that damaged teeth could heal themselves, lowering the failure rate of fillings, and potentially even eliminating the need for most root canals.

The team took second prize in the materials category of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Emerging Technologies Competition this year.

 

Fwiffo

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NASA is still the only one able to send things beyond the moon.

 

Rambo

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This is an interesting piece on the Tesla autopilot crashes:

http://www.roughtype.com/?p=7118


Tesla and the glass cockpit problem

When news spread last week about the fatal crash of a computer-driven Tesla, I thought of a conversation I had a couple of years ago with a top computer scientist at Google. We were talking about some recent airliner crashes caused by “automation complacency” — the tendency for even very skilled pilots to tune out from their work after turning on autopilot systems — and the Google scientist noted that the problem of automation complacency is even more acute for drivers than for pilots. If you’re flying a plane and something unexpected happens, you usually have several seconds or even minutes to respond before the situation becomes dire. If you’re driving a car, you may have only a second or a fraction of a second to take action before you collide with another car, or a bridge abutment, or a tree. There are far more obstacles on the ground than in the sky.

With the Tesla accident, the evidence suggests that the crash happened before the driver even realized that he was about to hit a truck. He seemed to be suffering from automation complacency up to the very moment of impact. He trusted the machine, and the machine failed him. Such complacency is a well-documented problem in human-factors research, and it’s what led Google to change the course of its self-driving car program a couple of years ago, shifting to a perhaps quixotic goal of total automation without any human involvement. In rushing to give drivers the ability to switch on autopilot, Tesla ignored or dismissed the research, with a predictable result. As computer and car companies push the envelope of automative automation, driver complacency and skill loss promise to become ever greater challenges — ones that (as Google appears to have concluded) may not be solvable given the fallibility of software, the psychology of human beings, and the realities of driving.*

Following is a brief excerpt from my book about the human consequences of automation, The Glass Cage, that describes how, as aviation became more automated over the years, pilots flying in so-called glass cockpits grew more susceptible to automation complacency and “skill fade” — to the point that the FAA is now urging pilots to practice manual flying more often.

Premature death was a routine occupational hazard for even the most expert pilots during aviation’s early years. Lawrence Sperry died in 1923 when his plane crashed into the English Channel. Wiley Post died in 1935 when his plane went down in Alaska. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry died in 1944 when his plane disappeared over the Mediterranean. Air travel’s lethal days are, mercifully, behind us. Flying is safe now, and pretty much everyone involved in the aviation business believes that advances in automation are one of the reasons why. Together with improvements in aircraft design, airline safety routines, crew training, and air traffic control, the mechanization and computerization of flight have contributed to the sharp and steady decline in accidents and deaths over the decades.

But this sunny story carries a dark footnote. The overall decline in the number of plane crashes masks the recent arrival of “a spectacularly new type of accident,” says Raja Parasuraman, a psychology professor at George Mason University and one of the world’s leading authorities on automation. When onboard computer systems fail to work as intended or other unexpected problems arise during a flight, pilots are forced to take manual control of the plane. Thrust abruptly into a dangerous situation, they too often make mistakes. The consequences, as the 2009 Continental Connection and Air France disasters show, can be catastrophic. Over the last thirty years, dozens of psychologists, engineers, and human factors researchers have studied what’s gained and lost when pilots share the work of flying with software. They’ve learned that a heavy reliance on computer automation can erode pilots’ expertise, dull their reflexes, and diminish their attentiveness, leading to what Jan Noyes, a human-factors expert at Britain’s University of Bristol, calls “a deskilling of the crew.”

Concerns about the unintended side effects of flight automation aren’t new. They date back at least to the early days of glass cockpits and fly-by-wire controls. A 1989 report from NASA’s Ames Research Center noted that as computers had begun to multiply on airplanes during the preceding decade, industry and governmental researchers “developed a growing discomfort that the cockpit may be becoming too automated, and that the steady replacement of human functioning by devices could be a mixed blessing.” Despite a general enthusiasm for computerized flight, many in the airline industry worried that “pilots were becoming over-dependent on automation, that manual flying skills may be deteriorating, and that situational awareness might be suffering.”

Studies conducted since then have linked many accidents and near misses to breakdowns of automated systems or to automation complacency or other “automation-induced errors” on the part of flight crews. In 2010, the FAA released preliminary results of a major study of airline flights over the preceding ten years which showed that pilot errors had been involved in nearly two-thirds of all crashes. The research further indicated, according to FAA scientist Kathy Abbott, that automation has made such errors more likely. Pilots can be distracted by their interactions with onboard computers, Abbott said, and they can “abdicate too much responsibility to the automated systems.” An extensive 2013 government report on cockpit automation, compiled by an expert panel and drawing on the same FAA data, implicated automation-related problems, such as a complacency-induced loss of situational awareness and weakened hand-flying skills, in more than half of recent accidents.

The anecdotal evidence collected through accident reports and surveys gained empirical backing from a rigorous study conducted by Matthew Ebbatson, a young human-factors researcher at Cranfield University, a top U.K. engineering school. Frustrated by the lack of hard, objective data on what he termed “the loss of manual flying skills in pilots of highly automated airliners,” Ebbatson set out to fill the gap. He recruited sixty-six veteran pilots from a British airline and had each of them get into a flight simulator and perform a challenging maneuver—bringing a Boeing 737 with a blown engine in for a landing during bad weather. The simulator disabled the plane’s automated systems, forcing the pilot to fly by hand. Some of the pilots did exceptionally well in the test, Ebbatson reported, but many performed poorly, barely exceeding “the limits of acceptability.”

Ebbatson then compared detailed measures of each pilot’s performance in the simulator—the pressure exerted on the yoke, the stability of airspeed, the degree of variation in course—with the pilot’s historical flight record. He found a direct correlation between a pilot’s aptitude at the controls and the amount of time that pilot had spent flying without the aid of automation. The correlation was particularly strong with the amount of manual flying done during the preceding two months. The analysis indicated that “manual flying skills decay quite rapidly towards the fringes of ‘tolerable’ performance without relatively frequent practice.” Particularly “vulnerable to decay,” Ebbatson noted, was a pilot’s ability to maintain “airspeed control”—a skill crucial to recognizing, avoiding, and recovering from stalls and other dangerous situations.

It’s no mystery why automation degrades pilot performance. Like many challenging jobs, flying a plane involves a combination of psychomotor skills and cognitive skills—thoughtful action and active thinking. A pilot needs to manipulate tools and instruments with precision while swiftly and accurately making calculations, forecasts, and assessments in his head. And while he goes through these intricate mental and physical maneuvers, he needs to remain vigilant, alert to what’s going on around him and able to distinguish important signals from unimportant ones. He can’t allow himself either to lose focus or to fall victim to tunnel vision. Mastery of such a multifaceted set of skills comes only with rigorous practice. A beginning pilot tends to be clumsy at the controls, pushing and pulling the yoke with more force than necessary. He often has to pause to remember what he should do next, to walk himself methodically through the steps of a process. He has trouble shifting seamlessly between manual and cognitive tasks. When a stressful situation arises, he can easily become overwhelmed or distracted and end up overlooking a critical change in circumstances.

In time, after much rehearsal, the novice gains confidence. He becomes less halting in his work and more precise in his actions. There’s little wasted effort. As his experience continues to deepen, his brain develops so-called mental models—dedicated assemblies of neurons—that allow him to recognize patterns in his surroundings. The models enable him to interpret and react to stimuli intuitively, without getting bogged down in conscious analysis. Eventually, thought and action become seamless. Flying becomes second nature. Years before researchers began to plumb the workings of pilots’ brains, Wiley Post described the experience of expert flight in plain, precise terms. He flew, he said in 1935, “without mental effort, letting my actions be wholly controlled by my subconscious mind.” He wasn’t born with that ability. He developed it through hard work.

When computers enter the picture, the nature and the rigor of the work change, as does the learning the work engenders. As software assumes moment-by-moment control of the craft, the pilot is relieved of much manual labor. This reallocation of responsibility can provide an important benefit. It can reduce the pilot’s workload and allow him to concentrate on the cognitive aspects of flight. But there’s a cost. Psychomotor skills get rusty, which can hamper the pilot on those rare but critical occasions when he’s required to take back the controls. There’s growing evidence that recent expansions in the scope of automation also put cognitive skills at risk. When more advanced computers begin to take over planning and analysis functions, such as setting and adjusting a flight plan, the pilot becomes less engaged not only physically but also mentally. Because the precision and speed of pattern recognition appear to depend on regular practice, the pilot’s mind may become less agile in interpreting and reacting to fast-changing situations. He may suffer what Ebbatson calls “skill fade” in his mental as well as his motor abilities.

Pilots are not blind to automation’s toll. They’ve always been wary about ceding responsibility to machinery. Airmen in World War I, justifiably proud of their skill in maneuvering their planes during dogfights, wanted nothing to do with the newfangled Sperry autopilots. In 1959, the original Mercury astronauts rebelled against NASA’s plan to remove manual flight controls from spacecraft. But aviators’ concerns are more acute now. Even as they praise the enormous gains in flight technology, and acknowledge the safety and efficiency benefits, they worry about the erosion of their talents. As part of his research, Ebbatson surveyed commercial pilots, asking them whether “they felt their manual flying ability had been influenced by the experience of operating a highly automated aircraft.” More than three-fourths reported that “their skills had deteriorated”; just a few felt their skills had improved. A 2012 pilot survey conducted by the European Aviation Safety Agency found similarly widespread concerns, with 95 percent of pilots saying that automation tended to erode “basic manual and cognitive flying skills.”

Rory Kay, a long-time United Airlines captain who until recently served as the top safety official with the Air Line Pilots Association, fears the aviation industry is suffering from “automation addiction.” In a 2011 interview with the Associated Press, he put the problem in stark terms: “We’re forgetting how to fly.”

What the aviation industry has discovered is that there’s a tradeoff between computer automation and human skill and attentiveness. Getting the balance right is exceedingly tricky. Just because some degree of automation is good, that doesn’t mean that more automation is necessarily better. We seem fated to learn this hard lesson once again with the even trickier process of automotive automation.

*UPDATE (7/7): The Times reports: “Experiments conducted last year by Virginia Tech researchers and supported by the national safety administration found that it took drivers of [self-driving] cars an average of 17 seconds to respond to takeover requests. In that period, a vehicle going 65 m.p.h. would have traveled 1,621 feet — more than five football fields.”
 

Rambo

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http://www.bbc.com/news/health-36910766

Antibiotic resistance: 'Snot wars' study yields new class of drugs

A new class of antibiotics has been discovered by analysing the bacterial warfare taking place up people's noses, scientists report.

Tests reported in the journal Nature found the resulting drug, lugdunin, could treat superbug infections.

The researchers, at the University of Tubingen in Germany, say the human body is an untapped source of new drugs.

The last new class of the drugs to reach patients was discovered in the 1980s.

Nearly all antibiotics were discovered in soil bacteria, but the University of Tubingen research team turned to the human body.

Dreaded superbug
Our bodies might not look like a battlefield, but on a microscopic level a struggle for space and food is taking place between rival species of bacteria.

One of the weapons they have long been suspected of using is antibiotics.

Among the bugs that like to invade the nose is Staphylococcus aureus, including the dreaded superbug strain MRSA.

It is found in the noses of 30% of people.

But why not everyone?

Image copyrightSCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Image captionAbout 30% of humans carry Staphylococcus aureus in their nostrils
The scientists discovered that people with the rival bug Staphylococcus lugdunensis in their nostrils were less likely to have S. aureus.

The German team used various strains of genetically-modified S. lugdunensis to work out the crucial piece of genetic code that allowed it to win the fight to live among your nose hairs.

They eventually pinpointed a single crucial gene that contained the instructions for building a new antibiotic, which they named lugdunin.

Tests on mice showed lugdunin could treat superbug infections on the skin including MRSA, as well as Enterococcus infections.

One of the researchers, Dr Bernhard Krismer, said: "Some of the animals were completely clear, no single cell of the bacterium was detectable.

"Others were reduced, but still contained some bacteria and we also saw that the compound penetrated the tissue and acted on the deeper layer of the skin."

It will take years of testing before lugdunin could reach patients and it may not prove to be successful.

But new antibiotics are desperately needed as doctors face the growing challenge of infections that resist current drugs and could become untreatable.

'Pressure to eliminate'
Fellow researcher Prof Andreas Peschel said the body could be mined for new antibiotics.

"Lugdunin may be the first example of such an antibiotic, we have started a screening programme," he said.

And he even believes that people could one day be infected with genetically-modified bacteria to fight their infections.

He argued: "By introducing the lugdunin genes into a completely innocuous bacterial species we hope to develop a new preventive concept of antibiotics that can eradicate pathogens."

Prof Kim Lewis and Dr Philip Strandwitz, from the antimicrobial discovery centre at Northeastern University in the US, commented: "It may seem surprising that a member of the human microbiota - the community of bacteria that inhabits the body - produces an antibiotic.

"However, the microbiota is composed of more than a thousand species, many of which compete for space and nutrients, and the selective pressure to eliminate bacterial neighbours is high."

Prof Colin Garner, the head of Antibiotic Research UK, told the BBC: "Altering the balance of bacteria in our bodies through the production of natural antibiotics could eventually be exploited to fight off bacterial infections.

"It is possible that this report will be the first of many demonstrating that bacteria in our bodies can produce novel antibiotics with new chemical structures.

"Alongside a report that men with beards have fewer pathogens including MRSA on their faces than clean-shaven men, it seems the paper identifying lugdunin should be viewed alongside facial hair as a preventer of infection."
 

Rambo

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The Machine

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Next to "delivery by drones" I think self driving cars are the biggest lot of hyped bullshit since the Y2K Bug
Do I think Urber will roll out a fleet of self driving cars this month that the public can take advantage of? No. The technology is not there and the laws are not in place yet. It's going to take years to make everything come together.

Having said that, it's foolish to think that self driving cars are not the future. Everyone is used to driving now and may or may not like the experience, but think about kids. They are all growing up obsessed with their smart phones, texting and social media. They would jump at the chance to have their vehicles do all the work so they can continue to ignore the real world. Add in the fact that self driving cars would do wonders for traffic congestion, general safety and fuel cost savings and it becomes apparent that they will become the norm eventually.
 

Rambo

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this may be the funniest fucking thing I've read in years. Thruth OfficePants doghouse MFDoom John Lee Pettimore III fxh

http://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/conceptual-penis-social-contruct-sokal-style-hoax-on-gender-studies/

THE CONCEPTUAL PENIS AS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT: A SOKAL-STYLE HOAX ON GENDER STUDIES
BY PETER BOGHOSSIAN, ED.D. (AKA PETER BOYLE, ED.D.)
AND JAMES LINDSAY, PH.D. (AKA, JAMIE LINDSAY, PH.D.)

Note from the editor: 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.
—Michael Shermer

“The conceptual penis as a social construct” is a Sokal-style hoax on gender studies. Follow the authors @peterboghossian and @GodDoesnt.

The Hoax
The androcentric scientific and meta-scientific evidence that the penis is the male reproductive organ is considered overwhelming and largely uncontroversial.

That’s how we began. We used this preposterous sentence to open a “paper” consisting of 3,000 words of utter nonsense posing as academic scholarship. Then a peer-reviewed academic journal in the social sciences accepted and published it.

This paper should never have been published. Titled, “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct,” our paper “argues” that “The penis vis-à-vis maleness is an incoherent construct. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a gender-performative, highly fluid social construct.” As if to prove philosopher David Hume’s claim that there is a deep gap between what is and what ought to be, our should-never-have-been-published paper was published in the open-access (meaning that articles are freely accessible and not behind a paywall), peer-reviewed journal Cogent Social Sciences. (In case the PDF is removed, we’ve archived it.)

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.

Manspreading — a complaint levied against men for sitting with their legs spread wide — is akin to raping the empty space around him.

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.

Consider some examples. Here’s a paragraph from the conclusion, which was held in high regard by both reviewers:

We conclude that penises are not best understood as the male sexual organ, or as a male reproductive organ, but instead as an enacted social construct that is both damaging and problematic for society and future generations. The conceptual penis presents significant problems for gender identity and reproductive identity within social and family dynamics, is exclusionary to disenfranchised communities based upon gender or reproductive identity, is an enduring source of abuse for women and other gender-marginalized groups and individuals, is the universal performative source of rape, and is the conceptual driver behind much of climate change.

You read that right. We argued that climate change is “conceptually” caused by penises. How do we defend that assertion? Like this:

Destructive, unsustainable hegemonically male approaches to pressing environmental policy and action are the predictable results of a raping of nature by a male-dominated mindset. This mindset is best captured by recognizing the role of [sic] the conceptual penis holds over masculine psychology. When it is applied to our natural environment, especially virgin environments that can be cheaply despoiled for their material resources and left dilapidated and diminished when our patriarchal approaches to economic gain have stolen their inherent worth, the extrapolation of the rape culture inherent in the conceptual penis becomes clear.

And like this, which we claim follows from the above by means of an algorithmically generated nonsense quotation from a fictitious paper, which we referenced and cited explicitly in the paper:

Toxic hypermasculinity derives its significance directly from the conceptual penis and applies itself to supporting neocapitalist materialism, which is a fundamental driver of climate change, especially in the rampant use of carbon-emitting fossil fuel technologies and careless domination of virgin natural environments. We need not delve deeply into criticisms of dialectic objectivism, or their relationships with masculine tropes like the conceptual penis to make effective criticism of (exclusionary) dialectic objectivism. All perspectives matter.

If you’re having trouble understanding what any of that means, there are two important points to consider. First, we don’t understand it either. Nobody does. This problem should have rendered it unpublishable in all peer-reviewed, academic journals. Second, these examples are remarkably lucid compared to much of the rest of the paper. Consider this final example:

Inasmuch as masculinity is essentially performative, so too is the conceptual penis. The penis, in the words of Judith Butler, “can only be understood through reference to what is barred from the signifier within the domain of corporeal legibility” (Butler, 1993). The penis should not be understood as an honest expression of the performer’s intent should it be presented in a performance of masculinity or hypermasculinity. Thus, the isomorphism between the conceptual penis and what’s referred to throughout discursive feminist literature as “toxic hypermasculinity,” is one defined upon a vector of male cultural machismo braggadocio, with the conceptual penis playing the roles of subject, object, and verb of action. The result of this trichotomy of roles is to place hypermasculine men both within and outside of competing discourses whose dynamics, as seen via post-structuralist discourse analysis, enact a systematic interplay of power in which hypermasculine men use the conceptual penis to move themselves from powerless subject positions to powerful ones (confer: Foucault, 1972).

No one knows what any of this means because it is complete nonsense. Anyone claiming to is pretending. Full stop.

It gets worse. Not only is the text ridiculous, so are the references. Most of our references are quotations from papers and figures in the field that barely make sense in the context of the text. Others were obtained by searching keywords and grabbing papers that sounded plausibly connected to words we cited. We read exactly zero of the sources we cited, by intention, as part of the hoax. And it gets still worse…

Some references cite the Postmodern Generator, a website coded in the 1990s by Andrew Bulhak featuring an algorithm, based on NYU physicist Alan Sokal’s method of hoaxing a cultural studies journal called Social Text, that returns a different fake postmodern “paper” every time the page is reloaded. We cited and quoted from the Postmodern Generator liberally; this includes nonsense quotations incorporated in the body of the paper and citing five different “papers” generated in the course of a few minutes.

Five references to fake papers in journals that don’t exist is astonishing on its own, but it’s incredible given that the original paper we submitted had only sixteen references total (it has twenty now, after a reviewer asked for more examples). Nearly a third of our references in the original paper go to fake sources from a website mocking the fact that this kind of thing is brainlessly possible, particularly in “academic” fields corrupted by postmodernism. (More on that later.)

Two of the fake journals cited are Deconstructions from Elsewhere and And/Or Press (taken directly from algorithmically generated fictitious citations on the Postmodern Generator). Another cites the fictitious researcher “S. Q. Scameron,” whose invented name appears in the body of the paper several times. In response, the reviewers noted that our references are “sound,” even after an allegedly careful cross-referencing check done in the final round of editorial approval. No matter the effort put into it, it appears one simply cannot jump Cogent Social Science’s shark.

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. In their rejection letter, the editors of NORMA wrote,

We feel that your manuscript would be well-suited to our Cogent Series, a multidisciplinary, open journal platform for the rapid dissemination of peer-reviewed research across all disciplines.

Transferring your manuscript:

  • Saves you time because there is no need for you to reformat or resubmit your work manually
  • Provides faster publication because previous reviews are transferred with your manuscript.
To ensure all work is open to everyone, the Cogent Series invites a “pay what you want” contribution towards the costs of open access publishing if your article is accepted for publication. This can be paid by you as author or by your institution or research funder. Many institutions and funders now provide financial support for open access publishing.

We took them up on the transfer, and Cogent Social Sciences eventually accepted “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct.” The reviewers were amazingly encouraging, giving us very high marks in nearly every category. For example, one reviewer graded our thesis statement “sound” and praised it thusly, “It capturs [sic] the issue of hypermasculinity through a multi-dimensional and nonlinear process” (which we take to mean that it wanders aimlessly through many layers of jargon and nonsense). The other reviewer marked the thesis, along with the entire paper, “outstanding” in every applicable category.

They didn’t accept the paper outright, however. Cogent Social Sciences’ Reviewer #2 offered us a few relatively easy fixes to make our paper “better.” We effortlessly completed them in about two hours, putting in a little more nonsense about “manspreading” (which we alleged to be a cause of climate change) and “dick-measuring contests.”

The publication of our hoax reveals two problems. One relates to the business model of pay-to-publish, open-access journals. The other lies at the heart of academic fields like gender studies.

The Pay-to-Publish, Open-Access Journal Problem
Cogent Social Sciences is a multidisciplinary open access journal offering high quality peer review across the social sciences: from law to sociology, politics to geography, and sport to communication studies. Connect your research with a global audience for maximum readership and impact.

One of the biggest questions facing peer-reviewed publishing is, “Are pay-to-publish, open-access journals the future of academic publishing?” We seem to have answered that question with a large red, “No!”

There is, however, an asterisk on that “No!” That is, the peer-review process in pay-to-publish, open-access journals cannot achieve quality assurance without extremely stringent safeguards (which will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the debate). There’s nothing necessarily or intrinsically wrong with either open-access or pay-to-publish journals, and they may ultimately prove valuable. However, in the short term, pay-to-publish may be a significant problem because of the inherent tendencies toward conflicts of interest (profits trump academic quality, that is, the profit motive is dangerous because ethics are expensive).

The pay-to-publish mechanism should not affect the quality control standards of the peer-review process. Cogent Open Access claims to address this problem by using a blind review process. Does it work? Perhaps not always, if this case is any indication. Some pay-to-publish journals happily exploit career-minded academicians and will publish anything (cf: the famous Seinfeld hoax paper)1. Is that the case here? Gender studies scholars committed to the integrity of their academic discipline should hope so, and they have reason for suspecting it. For a minimal payment of $625, Cogent Social Sciences was ready to publish, “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct.”2

There seems to be a deeper problem here, however. 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. In fact, it carries several more affiliations with similar credentialing organizations.

These facts cast considerable doubt on the facile defense that Cogent Social Sciences is a sham journal that accepted “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” simply to make money. As a result, wherever Cogent Social Sciences belongs on the spectrum just noted, there are significant reasons to believe that much of the problem lies within the very concept of any journal being a “rigorous academic journal in gender studies.”

Postmodernism, Gender Studies, and the Canon of Knowledge
In 1996, Alan Sokal, a Professor of Physics at NYU, published the bogus paper, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” in the preeminent cultural studies journal Social Text which is in turn published by Duke University Press. The publication of this nonsense paper, in a prestigious journal with a strong postmodernist orientation, delivered a devastating blow to postmodernism’s intellectual legitimacy.

Subsequently, Sokal and the Belgian physicist Jean Bricmont noted in their 1997 book, Fashionable Nonsense, that certain kinds of ideas can become so fashionable that the critical faculties required for the peer-review process are compromised, allowing outright nonsense to be published, so long as it looks or sounds a certain way, or promotes certain values. It was standing upon Sokal’s shoulders that we proceeded with our hoax, though we perceived a slightly different need.

Sokal’s aim was to demonstrate that fashionable linguistic abuses (especially relying upon puns and wordplay related to scientific terms), apparent scientific authority, conformity with certain leftist political norms, and flattery of the academic preconceptions of an editorial board would be sufficient to secure publication and thus expose shoddy academic rigor on the part of postmodernist scholarship and social commentary.

A primary target of Sokal’s hoax was the appropriation of mathematical and scientific terminology that postmodernist “scholars” didn’t understand and didn’t use correctly. (We included “isomorphism” and “vector” in our paper in subtle homage to Sokal.) Fashionable Nonsense pays particular attention to postmodernists’ abuses of mathematical and scientific terminology. That is, Sokal took aim at an academic abuse by postmodernists and hit his target dead-center. His paper could only have been published if the postmodernists who approved it exhibited overwhelming political motivations and a staggering lack of understanding of basic mathematics and physics terminology.

The scientific community was exuberant that Sokal burst the postmodern bubble because they were fed up with postmodernists misusing scientific and mathematical terms to produce jargon-laden nonsense and bizarre social commentary carrying the apparent gravitas of scientific terminology. It appears that Social Text accepted Sokal’s paper specifically because Sokal was a recognized scientist who appeared to have seen the light.

Our hoax was similar, of course, but it aimed to expose a more troubling bias. The most potent among the human susceptibilities to corruption by fashionable nonsense is the temptation to uncritically endorse morally fashionable nonsense. That is, we assumed we could publish outright nonsense provided it looked the part and portrayed a moralizing attitude that comported with the editors’ moral convictions. Like any impostor, ours had to dress the part, though we made our disguise as ridiculous and caricatured as possible—not so much affixing an obviously fake mustache to mask its true identity as donning two of them as false eyebrows.

Sokal exposed an infatuation with academic puffery that characterizes the entire project of academic postmodernism. Our aim was smaller yet more pointed. We intended to test the hypothesis that flattery of the academic Left’s moral architecture in general, and of the moral orthodoxy in gender studies in particular, is the overwhelming determiner of publication in an academic journal in the field. That is, 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. 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.3

As a matter of deeper concern, there is unfortunately some reason to believe that our hoax will not break the relevant spell. First, Alan Sokal’s hoax, now more than 20 years old, did not prevent the continuation of bizarre postmodernist “scholarship.” In particular, it did not lead to a general tightening of standards that would have blocked our own hoax. Second, people rarely give up on their moral attachments and ideological commitments just because they’re shown to be out of alignment with reality.

In the 1950s, psychologist Leon Festinger revealed the operation of the well-known phenomenon called cognitive dissonance when he infiltrated a small UFO cult known as the “Seekers.” When the apocalyptic beliefs of the Seekers failed to materialize as predicted, Festinger documented that many cultists did not accept the possibility that the facts upended their core beliefs but instead rationalized them. Many Seekers adopted a subsequent belief that they played a role in saving the world with their fidelity; that is, they believed the doomsday-bringing extraterrestrials were so impressed by their faith that they decided not to destroy the world after all!

It is therefore plausible that some gender studies scholars will argue that the “conceptual penis” makes sense as we described it, that men do often suffer from machismo braggadocio, and that there is an isomorphism between these concepts via some personal toxic hypermasculine conception of their penises.

We sincerely hope not.

Conclusion: A Two-Pronged Problem for Academia
There are at least two deeply troublesome diseases damaging the credibility of the peer-review system in fields such as gender studies:

  1. the echo-chamber of morally driven fashionable nonsense coming out of the postmodernist social “sciences” in general, and gender studies departments in particular and
  2. the complex problem of pay-to-publish journals with lax standards that cash in on the ultra-competitive publish-or-perish academic environment. At least one of these sicknesses led to “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” being published as a legitimate piece of academic scholarship, and we can expect proponents of each to lay primary blame upon the other.
“The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” underwent a blind peer-review process and yet was accepted for publication. This needs serious explaining. Part of the fault may fall on the open-access, pay-to-publish model, but the rest falls on the entire academic enterprise collectively referred to as “gender studies.” As we see it, gender studies in its current form needs to do some serious housecleaning.

To repeat a critical point, this paper was published in a social science journal that was recommended to us as reputable by a supposedly reliable academic source. Cogent Social Sciences has the trappings of a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. There is no way around the fact that the publication of this paper in such a journal must point to some problem with the current state of academic publishing. The components of the problem are, it seems, reducible to just two: academic misfeasance arising from pay-to-publish, open-access financial decision-making; and unconscionable pseudo-academic inbreeding contaminating, if not defining, the postmodernist theory-based social sciences.

On the other hand, no one is arguing, nor has any reason to argue, that respectable journals like Nature and countless others have adopted a peer-review process that is fundamentally flawed or in any meaningful way corrupt. Much of the peer-review system remains the gold-standard for the advancement of human knowledge. The problem lies within a nebula of marginal journals, predatory pay-to-publish journals, and, possibly to some degree, open-access journals—although it may largely be discipline-specific, as we had originally hoped to discover. This is, after all, not the first time postmodernist academia has fallen for a hoax.

This hoax, however, was rooted in moral and political biases masquerading as rigorous academic theory. Working in a biased environment, we successfully sugarcoated utter nonsense with a combination of fashionable moral sentiments and impenetrable jargon. Cogent Social Sciences happily swallowed the pill. It left utter nonsense easy to disguise.

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.

“The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” should not have been published on its merits because it was actively written to avoid having any merits whatsoever. The paper is academically worthless nonsense. The question that now needs to be answered is, “How can we restore the reliability of the peer-review process?”
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Notes
  1. For more here, read about “Dr. Martin Van Nostrand’s” famous hoax paper.
  2. Portland State University has a fund dedicated to paying fees for open access journals, and this particular journal qualified for disbursement. For ethical reasons, however, we did not apply for funding, which in this case was virtually guaranteed. Instead, the article was externally funded by an independent party. We never received an invoice from the journal. We did not pay to have this published.
  3. Our suspicion arose from countless examples documented on the anonymously run Twitter feed @RealPeerReview.
About the Authors
Dr. Peter Boghossian
is a full time faculty member in the Department of Philosophy at Portland State University. He has an extensive publication record across multiple domains of thought. He’s the author of A Manual for Creating Atheists and the creator of the Atheos app. Follow him on Twitter @peterboghossian.

James A. Lindsay has a doctorate in math and background in physics. He is the author of four books, most recently Life in Light of Death. Follow him on Twitter @GodDoesnt.
 

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this may be the funniest fucking thing I've read in years. Thruth OfficePants doghouse MFDoom John Lee Pettimore III fxh

http://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/conceptual-penis-social-contruct-sokal-style-hoax-on-gender-studies/

THE CONCEPTUAL PENIS AS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT: A SOKAL-STYLE HOAX ON GENDER STUDIES
BY PETER BOGHOSSIAN, ED.D. (AKA PETER BOYLE, ED.D.)
AND JAMES LINDSAY, PH.D. (AKA, JAMIE LINDSAY, PH.D.)

Note from the editor: 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.
—Michael Shermer

“The conceptual penis as a social construct” is a Sokal-style hoax on gender studies. Follow the authors @peterboghossian and @GodDoesnt.

The Hoax
The androcentric scientific and meta-scientific evidence that the penis is the male reproductive organ is considered overwhelming and largely uncontroversial.

That’s how we began. We used this preposterous sentence to open a “paper” consisting of 3,000 words of utter nonsense posing as academic scholarship. Then a peer-reviewed academic journal in the social sciences accepted and published it.

This paper should never have been published. Titled, “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct,” our paper “argues” that “The penis vis-à-vis maleness is an incoherent construct. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a gender-performative, highly fluid social construct.” As if to prove philosopher David Hume’s claim that there is a deep gap between what is and what ought to be, our should-never-have-been-published paper was published in the open-access (meaning that articles are freely accessible and not behind a paywall), peer-reviewed journal Cogent Social Sciences. (In case the PDF is removed, we’ve archived it.)

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.

Manspreading — a complaint levied against men for sitting with their legs spread wide — is akin to raping the empty space around him.

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.

Consider some examples. Here’s a paragraph from the conclusion, which was held in high regard by both reviewers:

We conclude that penises are not best understood as the male sexual organ, or as a male reproductive organ, but instead as an enacted social construct that is both damaging and problematic for society and future generations. The conceptual penis presents significant problems for gender identity and reproductive identity within social and family dynamics, is exclusionary to disenfranchised communities based upon gender or reproductive identity, is an enduring source of abuse for women and other gender-marginalized groups and individuals, is the universal performative source of rape, and is the conceptual driver behind much of climate change.

You read that right. We argued that climate change is “conceptually” caused by penises. How do we defend that assertion? Like this:

Destructive, unsustainable hegemonically male approaches to pressing environmental policy and action are the predictable results of a raping of nature by a male-dominated mindset. This mindset is best captured by recognizing the role of [sic] the conceptual penis holds over masculine psychology. When it is applied to our natural environment, especially virgin environments that can be cheaply despoiled for their material resources and left dilapidated and diminished when our patriarchal approaches to economic gain have stolen their inherent worth, the extrapolation of the rape culture inherent in the conceptual penis becomes clear.

And like this, which we claim follows from the above by means of an algorithmically generated nonsense quotation from a fictitious paper, which we referenced and cited explicitly in the paper:

Toxic hypermasculinity derives its significance directly from the conceptual penis and applies itself to supporting neocapitalist materialism, which is a fundamental driver of climate change, especially in the rampant use of carbon-emitting fossil fuel technologies and careless domination of virgin natural environments. We need not delve deeply into criticisms of dialectic objectivism, or their relationships with masculine tropes like the conceptual penis to make effective criticism of (exclusionary) dialectic objectivism. All perspectives matter.

If you’re having trouble understanding what any of that means, there are two important points to consider. First, we don’t understand it either. Nobody does. This problem should have rendered it unpublishable in all peer-reviewed, academic journals. Second, these examples are remarkably lucid compared to much of the rest of the paper. Consider this final example:

Inasmuch as masculinity is essentially performative, so too is the conceptual penis. The penis, in the words of Judith Butler, “can only be understood through reference to what is barred from the signifier within the domain of corporeal legibility” (Butler, 1993). The penis should not be understood as an honest expression of the performer’s intent should it be presented in a performance of masculinity or hypermasculinity. Thus, the isomorphism between the conceptual penis and what’s referred to throughout discursive feminist literature as “toxic hypermasculinity,” is one defined upon a vector of male cultural machismo braggadocio, with the conceptual penis playing the roles of subject, object, and verb of action. The result of this trichotomy of roles is to place hypermasculine men both within and outside of competing discourses whose dynamics, as seen via post-structuralist discourse analysis, enact a systematic interplay of power in which hypermasculine men use the conceptual penis to move themselves from powerless subject positions to powerful ones (confer: Foucault, 1972).

No one knows what any of this means because it is complete nonsense. Anyone claiming to is pretending. Full stop.

It gets worse. Not only is the text ridiculous, so are the references. Most of our references are quotations from papers and figures in the field that barely make sense in the context of the text. Others were obtained by searching keywords and grabbing papers that sounded plausibly connected to words we cited. We read exactly zero of the sources we cited, by intention, as part of the hoax. And it gets still worse…

Some references cite the Postmodern Generator, a website coded in the 1990s by Andrew Bulhak featuring an algorithm, based on NYU physicist Alan Sokal’s method of hoaxing a cultural studies journal called Social Text, that returns a different fake postmodern “paper” every time the page is reloaded. We cited and quoted from the Postmodern Generator liberally; this includes nonsense quotations incorporated in the body of the paper and citing five different “papers” generated in the course of a few minutes.

Five references to fake papers in journals that don’t exist is astonishing on its own, but it’s incredible given that the original paper we submitted had only sixteen references total (it has twenty now, after a reviewer asked for more examples). Nearly a third of our references in the original paper go to fake sources from a website mocking the fact that this kind of thing is brainlessly possible, particularly in “academic” fields corrupted by postmodernism. (More on that later.)

Two of the fake journals cited are Deconstructions from Elsewhere and And/Or Press (taken directly from algorithmically generated fictitious citations on the Postmodern Generator). Another cites the fictitious researcher “S. Q. Scameron,” whose invented name appears in the body of the paper several times. In response, the reviewers noted that our references are “sound,” even after an allegedly careful cross-referencing check done in the final round of editorial approval. No matter the effort put into it, it appears one simply cannot jump Cogent Social Science’s shark.

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. In their rejection letter, the editors of NORMA wrote,

We feel that your manuscript would be well-suited to our Cogent Series, a multidisciplinary, open journal platform for the rapid dissemination of peer-reviewed research across all disciplines.

Transferring your manuscript:

  • Saves you time because there is no need for you to reformat or resubmit your work manually
  • Provides faster publication because previous reviews are transferred with your manuscript.
To ensure all work is open to everyone, the Cogent Series invites a “pay what you want” contribution towards the costs of open access publishing if your article is accepted for publication. This can be paid by you as author or by your institution or research funder. Many institutions and funders now provide financial support for open access publishing.

We took them up on the transfer, and Cogent Social Sciences eventually accepted “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct.” The reviewers were amazingly encouraging, giving us very high marks in nearly every category. For example, one reviewer graded our thesis statement “sound” and praised it thusly, “It capturs [sic] the issue of hypermasculinity through a multi-dimensional and nonlinear process” (which we take to mean that it wanders aimlessly through many layers of jargon and nonsense). The other reviewer marked the thesis, along with the entire paper, “outstanding” in every applicable category.

They didn’t accept the paper outright, however. Cogent Social Sciences’ Reviewer #2 offered us a few relatively easy fixes to make our paper “better.” We effortlessly completed them in about two hours, putting in a little more nonsense about “manspreading” (which we alleged to be a cause of climate change) and “dick-measuring contests.”

The publication of our hoax reveals two problems. One relates to the business model of pay-to-publish, open-access journals. The other lies at the heart of academic fields like gender studies.

The Pay-to-Publish, Open-Access Journal Problem
Cogent Social Sciences is a multidisciplinary open access journal offering high quality peer review across the social sciences: from law to sociology, politics to geography, and sport to communication studies. Connect your research with a global audience for maximum readership and impact.

One of the biggest questions facing peer-reviewed publishing is, “Are pay-to-publish, open-access journals the future of academic publishing?” We seem to have answered that question with a large red, “No!”

There is, however, an asterisk on that “No!” That is, the peer-review process in pay-to-publish, open-access journals cannot achieve quality assurance without extremely stringent safeguards (which will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the debate). There’s nothing necessarily or intrinsically wrong with either open-access or pay-to-publish journals, and they may ultimately prove valuable. However, in the short term, pay-to-publish may be a significant problem because of the inherent tendencies toward conflicts of interest (profits trump academic quality, that is, the profit motive is dangerous because ethics are expensive).

The pay-to-publish mechanism should not affect the quality control standards of the peer-review process. Cogent Open Access claims to address this problem by using a blind review process. Does it work? Perhaps not always, if this case is any indication. Some pay-to-publish journals happily exploit career-minded academicians and will publish anything (cf: the famous Seinfeld hoax paper)1. Is that the case here? Gender studies scholars committed to the integrity of their academic discipline should hope so, and they have reason for suspecting it. For a minimal payment of $625, Cogent Social Sciences was ready to publish, “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct.”2

There seems to be a deeper problem here, however. 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. In fact, it carries several more affiliations with similar credentialing organizations.

These facts cast considerable doubt on the facile defense that Cogent Social Sciences is a sham journal that accepted “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” simply to make money. As a result, wherever Cogent Social Sciences belongs on the spectrum just noted, there are significant reasons to believe that much of the problem lies within the very concept of any journal being a “rigorous academic journal in gender studies.”

Postmodernism, Gender Studies, and the Canon of Knowledge
In 1996, Alan Sokal, a Professor of Physics at NYU, published the bogus paper, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” in the preeminent cultural studies journal Social Text which is in turn published by Duke University Press. The publication of this nonsense paper, in a prestigious journal with a strong postmodernist orientation, delivered a devastating blow to postmodernism’s intellectual legitimacy.

Subsequently, Sokal and the Belgian physicist Jean Bricmont noted in their 1997 book, Fashionable Nonsense, that certain kinds of ideas can become so fashionable that the critical faculties required for the peer-review process are compromised, allowing outright nonsense to be published, so long as it looks or sounds a certain way, or promotes certain values. It was standing upon Sokal’s shoulders that we proceeded with our hoax, though we perceived a slightly different need.

Sokal’s aim was to demonstrate that fashionable linguistic abuses (especially relying upon puns and wordplay related to scientific terms), apparent scientific authority, conformity with certain leftist political norms, and flattery of the academic preconceptions of an editorial board would be sufficient to secure publication and thus expose shoddy academic rigor on the part of postmodernist scholarship and social commentary.

A primary target of Sokal’s hoax was the appropriation of mathematical and scientific terminology that postmodernist “scholars” didn’t understand and didn’t use correctly. (We included “isomorphism” and “vector” in our paper in subtle homage to Sokal.) Fashionable Nonsense pays particular attention to postmodernists’ abuses of mathematical and scientific terminology. That is, Sokal took aim at an academic abuse by postmodernists and hit his target dead-center. His paper could only have been published if the postmodernists who approved it exhibited overwhelming political motivations and a staggering lack of understanding of basic mathematics and physics terminology.

The scientific community was exuberant that Sokal burst the postmodern bubble because they were fed up with postmodernists misusing scientific and mathematical terms to produce jargon-laden nonsense and bizarre social commentary carrying the apparent gravitas of scientific terminology. It appears that Social Text accepted Sokal’s paper specifically because Sokal was a recognized scientist who appeared to have seen the light.

Our hoax was similar, of course, but it aimed to expose a more troubling bias. The most potent among the human susceptibilities to corruption by fashionable nonsense is the temptation to uncritically endorse morally fashionable nonsense. That is, we assumed we could publish outright nonsense provided it looked the part and portrayed a moralizing attitude that comported with the editors’ moral convictions. Like any impostor, ours had to dress the part, though we made our disguise as ridiculous and caricatured as possible—not so much affixing an obviously fake mustache to mask its true identity as donning two of them as false eyebrows.

Sokal exposed an infatuation with academic puffery that characterizes the entire project of academic postmodernism. Our aim was smaller yet more pointed. We intended to test the hypothesis that flattery of the academic Left’s moral architecture in general, and of the moral orthodoxy in gender studies in particular, is the overwhelming determiner of publication in an academic journal in the field. That is, 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. 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.3

As a matter of deeper concern, there is unfortunately some reason to believe that our hoax will not break the relevant spell. First, Alan Sokal’s hoax, now more than 20 years old, did not prevent the continuation of bizarre postmodernist “scholarship.” In particular, it did not lead to a general tightening of standards that would have blocked our own hoax. Second, people rarely give up on their moral attachments and ideological commitments just because they’re shown to be out of alignment with reality.

In the 1950s, psychologist Leon Festinger revealed the operation of the well-known phenomenon called cognitive dissonance when he infiltrated a small UFO cult known as the “Seekers.” When the apocalyptic beliefs of the Seekers failed to materialize as predicted, Festinger documented that many cultists did not accept the possibility that the facts upended their core beliefs but instead rationalized them. Many Seekers adopted a subsequent belief that they played a role in saving the world with their fidelity; that is, they believed the doomsday-bringing extraterrestrials were so impressed by their faith that they decided not to destroy the world after all!

It is therefore plausible that some gender studies scholars will argue that the “conceptual penis” makes sense as we described it, that men do often suffer from machismo braggadocio, and that there is an isomorphism between these concepts via some personal toxic hypermasculine conception of their penises.

We sincerely hope not.

Conclusion: A Two-Pronged Problem for Academia
There are at least two deeply troublesome diseases damaging the credibility of the peer-review system in fields such as gender studies:

  1. the echo-chamber of morally driven fashionable nonsense coming out of the postmodernist social “sciences” in general, and gender studies departments in particular and
  2. the complex problem of pay-to-publish journals with lax standards that cash in on the ultra-competitive publish-or-perish academic environment. At least one of these sicknesses led to “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” being published as a legitimate piece of academic scholarship, and we can expect proponents of each to lay primary blame upon the other.
“The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” underwent a blind peer-review process and yet was accepted for publication. This needs serious explaining. Part of the fault may fall on the open-access, pay-to-publish model, but the rest falls on the entire academic enterprise collectively referred to as “gender studies.” As we see it, gender studies in its current form needs to do some serious housecleaning.

To repeat a critical point, this paper was published in a social science journal that was recommended to us as reputable by a supposedly reliable academic source. Cogent Social Sciences has the trappings of a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. There is no way around the fact that the publication of this paper in such a journal must point to some problem with the current state of academic publishing. The components of the problem are, it seems, reducible to just two: academic misfeasance arising from pay-to-publish, open-access financial decision-making; and unconscionable pseudo-academic inbreeding contaminating, if not defining, the postmodernist theory-based social sciences.

On the other hand, no one is arguing, nor has any reason to argue, that respectable journals like Nature and countless others have adopted a peer-review process that is fundamentally flawed or in any meaningful way corrupt. Much of the peer-review system remains the gold-standard for the advancement of human knowledge. The problem lies within a nebula of marginal journals, predatory pay-to-publish journals, and, possibly to some degree, open-access journals—although it may largely be discipline-specific, as we had originally hoped to discover. This is, after all, not the first time postmodernist academia has fallen for a hoax.

This hoax, however, was rooted in moral and political biases masquerading as rigorous academic theory. Working in a biased environment, we successfully sugarcoated utter nonsense with a combination of fashionable moral sentiments and impenetrable jargon. Cogent Social Sciences happily swallowed the pill. It left utter nonsense easy to disguise.

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.

“The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” should not have been published on its merits because it was actively written to avoid having any merits whatsoever. The paper is academically worthless nonsense. The question that now needs to be answered is, “How can we restore the reliability of the peer-review process?” View attachment 23126

Notes
  1. For more here, read about “Dr. Martin Van Nostrand’s” famous hoax paper.
  2. Portland State University has a fund dedicated to paying fees for open access journals, and this particular journal qualified for disbursement. For ethical reasons, however, we did not apply for funding, which in this case was virtually guaranteed. Instead, the article was externally funded by an independent party. We never received an invoice from the journal. We did not pay to have this published.
  3. Our suspicion arose from countless examples documented on the anonymously run Twitter feed @RealPeerReview.
About the Authors
Dr. Peter Boghossian
is a full time faculty member in the Department of Philosophy at Portland State University. He has an extensive publication record across multiple domains of thought. He’s the author of A Manual for Creating Atheists and the creator of the Atheos app. Follow him on Twitter @peterboghossian.

James A. Lindsay has a doctorate in math and background in physics. He is the author of four books, most recently Life in Light of Death. Follow him on Twitter @GodDoesnt.
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John Lee Pettimore III

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Yeah, I follow Yeyo and Real Peer Review on twitter. They have some really scary stuff that gets "peer-reviewed" and published. One was by a man who, no shit, identified as a hippopotamus.

As we continue to indulge this ridiculous notion that everyone should go to college, the average college graduate IQ continues to decline, and we continue to get nonsense like this. Certain spheres of academia have become like the Church of Scientology - expensive (and therefore forever in need of new followers/students), demanding of unquestioned obedience, absurd quasi-religious dogma, and numerous shibboleths to distinguish the wicked from the good.

As someone on twitter once said - if you want to know why college costs so much, ask the Assistant Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion. Her office is near the Starbucks by the rock climbing wall.
 

Fwiffo

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Your printer will betray you...

According to a freedom of information request to the US Secret Service made by journalist Theo Karantsalis in 2012, these printer manufacturers agreed to fulfil "document identification requests":
•Canon
•Brother
•Casio
•Hewlett-Packard
•Konica
•Minolta
•Mita
•Ricoh
•Sharp
•Xero
 

Thruth

thicker but more pliant than horsehide
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New homo sapien fossils show that we are much older than first thought and that we are murroquians

http://www.cbc.ca/1.4147852

Technology & Science

The oldest Homo sapiens: Fossils found in Morocco date back 300,000 years
Scientists say skulls and tools help to date findings
Nicole Mortillaro - CBC News

49 Minutes Ago


The mandible found at Jebel Irhoud, Morocco. It is the first, almost complete adult jaw bone discovered at the site. (Jean-Jacques Hublin/MPI-EVA, Leipzig)
A recent finding of human bones dating back 300,000 years calls into question the belief that modern humans evolved in East Africa, researchers say.

An international team of scientists has dated fossils found in Jebel Irhoud, about 90 kilometres northwest of Marakesh, Morocco, to be 300,000 years old — 100,000 years earlier than the previous specimens of Homo sapiens discovered in east Africa.

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'There is no Garden of Eden in Africa.'- Jean-Jacques Hublin, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
The scientists tout this as a significant finding, not just because of the age, but because of the location.

It's long been believed that East Africa was where modern humans evolved. But finding the specimens in northwest Africa challenges that idea.

"There is no Garden of Eden in Africa," Jean-Jacques Hublin, author of a paper published in Nature on Wednesday and director of the department of human evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, told journalists at a briefing on Tuesday. "Or if there is a Garden of Eden, it's Africa."

Jebel Irhoud's long history
Jebel Irhoud's fossils have a long history. Six fossils were first found at the site in the early 1960s during mining operations, including two skulls and a jaw bone.

But getting back to the site to further explore the area proved difficult for scientists, due to continued use of the land. However, in 2004, Hublin and his team were given permission to return and prepare the area for a dig, which started in 2005.


The view looking south of the Jebel Irhoud site in Morrocco. At the time the site was occupied by early hominins, it would have been a cave. Rock and sediment were removed by researchers at the site in the 1960s. (Shannon McPherron/MPI EVA Leipzig)
The dig yielded 16 more fossils. When the researchers assessed their findings, they discovered that they came from five separate individuals: three adults, a child and an adolescent.

The findings help answer a question that had plagued paleoanthropologists for years: Why did these fossils look more primitive than fossils dated from the same time?

It turns out they weren't from the same time at all.


Some of the Middle Stone Age stone tools from Jebel Irhoud. ( Mohammed Kamal/MPI EVA Leipzig)
Part of the dating technique the team used was thermoluminesence, a method that allows scientists to date material that was once heated. In this case, the team found flint that was likely heated as the early humans fashioned their Middle Stone Age tools.

Brain development
The researchers are quick to note that these Homo sapiens aren't the same as the one that led to modern humans. However, there were similarities. Their faces were short, flat and retracted under the neurocranium, the upper and back part of the skull.

"It's the face of people you could cross in the street today," Hublin said.

Brain development into what modern humans have today would have taken place over tens of thousands of years.


A composite reconstruction of the earliest known Homo sapiens based on CT scans of multiple fossils. (Philipp Gunz/MPI EVA Leipzig)
"The story then is really of the last 300,000 years is really the story of the changes in the development of the brain," co-author Shannon McPherron, an archeologist at the institute told CBC News.

The researchers say that more study needs to be done to help us understand what was driving the change over hundreds of thousands of years, though this finding is the first step.

"It allowed us to envision a more complex picture for the emergence of our species, with different parts of the anatomy developing at different rates," Hublin said. "Some features being fixed very early in the modern way and others taking longer time to reach the modern conditions. The story of our species in the last 300,000 years is mostly the evolution of our brain."

Spreading across continent
"It's exciting ... because it's this idea of this pan-African process and development of the origins of our species, both behaviourally and biologically and we can now set that time beginning around 300,000 years ago," McPherron, said.

'We're going to put the pieces of the puzzle together better.'- Shara E. Bailey, New York University
At the time our ancient ancestors were roaming northwest Africa there was a "green Sahara event," the researchers noted. This would have crossed the massive continent to East Africa.

"It makes perfect sense that early peoples would have been following the animals that they were hunting, which would have expanded into these green spaces, and so they would have found themselves occupying all of Africa," McPherron said.


Dr. Jean-Jacques Hublin points to a crushed human skull at the Jebel Irhoud site. (Shannon McPherron/MPI EVA Leipzig)
In addition, the dig also shed light on the diet of early Homo sapiens. Bones of wildebeest, zebra and lion were found, but the most common was gazelle. There was even smaller game like hares, tortoises freshwater mollusks, snakes and ostrich egg shells.

Co-author Shara E. Bailey, an associate professor at the Department of Anthropology at New York University, told CBC News that she hopes this new finding will encourage paleontologists to look elsewhere for early hominins.

"It highlights the fact that we have to be wary of focusing on one area that is very well excavated and very well known," she said. "To me, it highlights what we don't know."
 
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