In May 2018, the journal Gender, Place and Culture, which specializes in a feminist approach to geography, published an article titled “Human Responses to Rape Culture and Queer Performativity in Portland, Oregon Dog Parks”.
In the paper, which cites extensive literature and claims to be based on 100 hours of dog observations, (fictitious) researcher Helen Wilson says she analyzed owners’ reactions when their pets began to mount another dog.
Wilson explains that when the attempt of intercourse was male on male, the owners separated them in the vast majority of cases, whereas when a female was mounted, the owners were more inclined to let it go. She sees in these reactions the expression of a certain homophobia, as well as a sexism which means that landlords tend not to help female victims of sexual assault.
“Because of my position as a human, and not a dog, I recognize that I am limited in my ability to determine which instances of dog-to-dog contact are rape, Wilson says in the paper. From my anthropocentric point of view, it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether canine sexual advances are desired or imposed. […] which introduces an unavoidable ambiguity in my interpretations of this variable”.
Nevertheless, she writes that the lessons of this study can help “to conceptualize and interrupt male hegemonies”. One of the reviewers replied that a few “minor fixes” were necessary but it was a “significant contribution to feminist animal geography”.
It turns out that the article was a parody created to show that some journals are ready to publish anything as long as the rhetoric matches a certain ideology, one that sees gender domination relations everywhere.
A Wall Street Journal reporter who became interested in this story after it was published ended up finding out that Helen Wilson didn’t exist: she was in fact three academics who had spent a year writing twenty parodies of articles to denounce the lack of rigor of certain journals, particularly in the fields of gender studies, studies on “breed”, sexuality studies, fat studies and of queer studies. They sent their proposals to serious journals, which have an editorial process of “peer review”, or an evaluation by experts in the same field. Seven articles were accepted, four of which were published. Five others were under evaluation and the rest were rejected. The sociology journals all refused their proposals.
Other journals that have fallen into the trap include Sexuality and Culture, who published a paper —based on thirteen fake interviews—that encouraging heterosexual men to masturbate anally might make them less homophobic and transphobic. The title is: “Going Through the Back Door: Challenging Straight Male Homohysteria, Transhysteria, and Transphobia Through the Use of Sex Toys for Receptive Penetration.”
The same goes for the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia, which published a parody article whose thesis was that any critique of gender studies is “ignorant and based on a desire to preserve one’s privileges”.
Helen Pluckrose, who is a journalist and researcher in English literature, James Lindsay, a doctoral candidate in mathematics and Peter Boghossian, a professor of philosophy a lot of fun to write these parodies but their mission is serious. They want to show that “some aspects of knowledge production in the United States have been corrupted” through an ideological bias which means that research which reveals relations of oppression linked to breed or gender are too often validated without rigorous criticism.
They were soon accused of playing into the hands of the american righte who thinks that almost all university productions in the humanities are leftist propaganda. But Pluckrose, Lindsay and Boghossian all consider themselves left-wing and believe that studying issues of gender, sexuality and racism is “of great importance to society and therefore requires considerable attention as well as a high level of academic rigor”.
In their explanatory article published in Aero magazinethey recommend that universities begin a review of all these areas of research “in order to separate the disciplines and researchers who produce knowledge from those who generate constructivist fallacies”.
Researchers have criticized them for targeting minor journals, but it turns out that professors who teach at renowned universities (like UCLA, Penn State, Trinity College Dublin or the University of Manchester) write in these publications. They have also been accused of not proving anything insofar as other disciplines, such as psychology or economics, have experienced credibility crises. But the fact that other disciplines have problems does not invalidate these criticisms.
It should also be remembered that some of these journals sometimes publish serious studies that one could easily take for parodies made by Pluckrose, Lindsay and Boghossian. In 2017, the journal that published the Portland dog study, for example, published an article on squirrels titled: “When Los Angeles Squirrels Won’t Eat Nuts: A Posthumanist Feminist Study and Consumer Politics in Southern California”.
The researcher is studying how tohave the press uses language racist and sexist connotations to evoke a population of squirrels newly arrived in Los Angeles. According to the researcher, who teaches at a University of California, these squirrels are denigrated in the press because they look for their food in garbage cans, and she puts this in parallel with the way certain categories of the population – ethnic minorities and women – are also caricatured in the media. She also mentions the “fat shaming” of these squirrels.
In 2016, an article titled “Glaciers, Gender and Science: A Feminist Glaciology Framework for Climate Change Researchî was published in the journal Progress in Human Geography. It was to explain that the study of glaciers “comes from information produced by men, about men, with masculine characteristics” and that scientific understanding of glaciers has ignored feminist perspectives. At the time, many believed it was a parody, but it was indeed an undergraduate article written by a University of Oregon professor who had received a research grant from a public foundation.