This Isn’t Incompetence

This is a delightful hoax.

Abstract: We propose some novel tools to combat the long existing problem of inter-galactic parasites such as Klaousmodiumcruzi which are known to have caused havoc amongst various populations. We present solution after attentively observing various scientific procedures undertaken by the greatest scientists of our times who existed in segmented Claymation. In total we have investigated 31 different experiments and propose this ground-breaking quick fix which will truly transform the field. We’d also like to boast that our work has received accolades from the scientists whose work we followed including the greats like R’onaldI’saac and Charles Kao.

Farooq Ali Khan shopped that paper to fourteen low-quality biology journals, got it printed in three and accepted in an additional five.

Three of the journals rejected the paper outright, including Journal of Bacteriology & Parasitology, which sent Ali Khan commentary from the reviewers. “The article’s language is very confusing and many words doesn’t make any sense to me, for instance, dinglebop, schleem, schwitinization,” one reviewer said. “Is this a joke?” Another asked. “Intergalactic parasites?”

Alan Sokal’s hoax reads quite differently.

There are many natural scientists, and especially physicists, who continue to reject the notion that the disciplines concerned with social and cultural criticism can have anything to contribute, except perhaps peripherally, to their research. Still less are they receptive to the idea that the very foundations of their worldview must be revised or rebuilt in the light of such criticism. Rather, they cling to the dogma imposed by the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook, which can be summarized briefly as follows: that there exists an external world, whose properties are independent of any individual human being and indeed of humanity as a whole; that these properties are encoded in “eternal” physical laws; and that human beings can obtain reliable, albeit imperfect and tentative, knowledge of these laws by hewing to the “objective” procedures and epistemological strictures prescribed by the (so-called) scientific method.

Unlike Ali Khan’s, Sokal’s hoax is not obvious to a lay reader. Sean Carroll has attended a conference where philosophers and scientists debated whether time exists. You can earn a degree by studying both “hard” and “soft” sciences, using the knowledge from one to reflect on the other. There is serious study into whether or not physical constants are really constant. The “objective” procedures of science have changed over time and are reached by consensus. It takes a lot of domain-specific knowledge to spot anything wrong with Sokal’s paper (hint: “boundary conditions“). While Ali Khan’s hoax exposes journals with poor quality control, which could lead to a race to the bottom if unchecked, Sokal’s hoax tells us that if you say you’re a physicist people trust you to get the physics right.

Sorry, did you think that Sokal’s hoax was similar to Ali Khan’s? You wouldn’t be alone.

In sum, I intentionally wrote the article so that any competent physicist or mathematician (or undergraduate physics or math major) would realize that it is a spoof. Evidently the editors of Social Text felt comfortable publishing an article on quantum physics without bothering to consult anyone knowledgeable in the subject. […]

While my method was satirical, my motivation is utterly serious. What concerns me is the proliferation, not just of nonsense and sloppy thinking per se, but of a particular kind of nonsense and sloppy thinking: one that denies the existence of objective realities, or (when challenged) admits their existence but downplays their practical relevance. […]

In short, my concern over the spread of subjectivist thinking is both intellectual and political. Intellectually, the problem with such doctrines is that they are false (when not simply meaningless). There is a real world; its properties are not merely social constructions; facts and evidence do matter. What sane person would contend otherwise? And yet, much contemporary academic theorizing consists precisely of attempts to blur these obvious truths — the utter absurdity of it all being concealed through obscure and pretentious language. […]

Politically, I’m angered because most (though not all) of this silliness is emanating from the self-proclaimed Left. We’re witnessing here a profound historical volte-face. For most of the past two centuries, the Left has been identified with science and against obscurantism; we have believed that rational thought and the fearless analysis of objective reality (both natural and social) are incisive tools for combating the mystifications promoted by the powerful — not to mention being desirable human ends in their own right. The recent turn of many “progressive” or “leftist” academic humanists and social scientists toward one or another form of epistemic relativism betrays this worthy heritage and undermines the already fragile prospects for progressive social critique. Theorizing about “the social construction of reality” won’t help us find an effective treatment for AIDS or devise strategies for preventing global warming. Nor can we combat false ideas in history, sociology, economics and politics if we reject the notions of truth and falsity.

But when you look closer, you realize Sokal didn’t understand his own hoax.

Astonishing statements, hardly distinguishable from those satirized by Sokal, abound in the writings of Bohr; Heisenberg, Pauli, Born and Jordan.  And they are not just casual, incidental remarks.  Bohr intended his philosophy of complementarity to be an overarching epistemological principle-applicable to physics, biology psychology and anthropology. He expected complementarity to be a substitute for the lost religion.  He believed that complementarity should be taught to children in elementary schools.  Pauli argued that “the most important task of our time” was the elaboration of a new quantum concept of reality that would unify science and religion.  Born stated that quantum philosophy would help humanity cope with the political reality of the era after World War II. Heisenberg expressed the hope that the results of quantum physics “will exert their influence upon the wider fields of the world of ideas [just as] the changes at the end of the Renaissance transformed the cultural life of the succeeding epochs.”

So much confidence did these architects of the quantum theory repose in its far-reaching implications for the cultural realm that they corresponded about establishing an “Institute for Complementarity” in the US.  The aim of such an institute, to be headed by Bohr, would be to promote Bohrian philosophy. The aging Max Born begged Bohr not to leave him out of this enterprise.

He thought his paper was implausible on the face of it, yet even brilliant physicists would find the thesis plausible. We can chalk this up to partisan blindness: Sokal let his political beliefs cloud his objectivity, such that what he thought was outlandish was actually within bounds.

If you’ve followed along with my two posts on Boghassian’s latest stunt, you can see the same theme repeating. Indeed, they even hint at this in their write-up and methodology.

The goal was always to use what the existing literature offered to get some little bit of lunacy or depravity to be acceptable at the highest levels of intellectual respectability within the field. Therefore, each paper began with something absurd or deeply unethical (or both) that we wanted to forward or conclude. We then made the existing peer-reviewed literature do our bidding in the attempt to get published in the academic canon. […]

Sometimes we just thought a nutty or inhumane idea up and ran with it. What if we write a paper saying we should train men like we do dogs—to prevent rape culture? Hence came the “Dog Park” paper.


Summary: That dog parks are “rape-condoning spaces” and a place of rampant canine rape culture and systemic oppression against “the oppressed dog” through which human attitudes to both problems can be measured and analyzed by applying black feminist criminology. This is done to provide insights into training men out of the sexual violence and bigotry to which they are prone. Arguably our most absurd paper.

There’s a little plausibility there, but I think most people would consider this idea outlandish. So let’s dig into the details: did they advocate for conventional clicker training, or use something more harsh like chokers?

This article addresses questions in human geography and the geographies of sexuality by drawing upon one year of embedded in situ observations of dogs and their human companions at three public dog parks in Portland, Oregon. The purpose of this research is to uncover emerging themes in human and canine interactive behavioral patterns in urban dog parks to better understand human a-/moral decision-making in public spaces and uncover bias and emergent assumptions around gender, race, and sexuality. Specifically, and in order of priority, I examine the following questions: (1) How do human companions manage, contribute, and respond to violence in dogs? (2) What issues surround queer performativity and human reaction to homosexual sex between and among dogs? and (3) Do dogs suffer oppression based upon (perceived) gender? …

…. Uh, wait a minute. This paper doesn’t seem to have anything to do with training human beings! That’s just part of the abstract, though, by definition a gloss on what they actually did; the true test is in the Methodology section, where all the details are.

From 10 June 2016, to 10 June 2017, I stationed myself on benches that were in central observational locations at three dog parks in Southeast Portland, Oregon. […]

During these observational sessions I gave particular scrutiny to two space-defining categories of a-/morally salient behavior: human companion behavior as it related to dogs and canine actions. The following fall into the former (moral behavior) category: how human companions engaged, ignored, or broke up ‘dog fights’ (aggression between or among dogs) and dog humping/rapes, collection of dogdroppings, use of leashes, humans raising their voices (subjectively determined), use of shock collars, and general human and dog interactions, especially ways in which gender, apparent gender, or gendering interacted within the spaces. The following fall into the latter category of a-/moral canine behavior: penetrative acts among dogs, humping without penetration, dog fights, and urinating and defecating in unauthorized areas (e.g. on a human’s leg or another dog’s head or body or in the communal water bowl). I ignored non-violent dog interactions that elicited reactions and punishments from owners (such as canine coprophagy) because, while they remain relevant to those lessons derivable from observing human–dog interactions within animal spaces that reveal themes of material-semiotic performativity of human/animal relationships (…), they fall outside of the purview of this investigation.

This paper does not look at training men like dogs! Let’s take a quick peek at the Results section, to double-check that.

Averaging across my data, in my observational vicinity there was approximately one dog rape/humping incident every 60 min (1004 documented dog rapes/humping incidents) and one dog fight every 71 min (847 documented dog fights). … These numbers increased or decreased based upon the number of male dogs present at any given time, rising at times to one such incident or the other every three to five minutesduring peak male-density periods. In general, more dog rapes/humping incidents occurred when more male dogs were present, and, somewhat surprisingly, 100% of dog rapes/humping incidents were perpetrated by male dogs. […]

Humans made some attempt to intervene in dog fights 99% of the time, by raising voice(s) (91%), attempting to physically intervene (19%), and other behaviors (29%) including shocking dogs who wore electric dog collars, swinging leashes, pulling out food, blowing horns, and in rare cases singing at the dogs or (once) doing jumping jacks next to the dogs, presumably as a distraction.

The response to dog rapes/humping incidents, however, was markedly different than to dog fights. The data suggest that the deciding variable for whether or not a human would interfere in a dog’s rape/humping incident was the dog’s gender. When a male dog was raping/humping another male dog, humans attempted to intervene 97% of the time. When a male dog was raping/humping a female dog, humans only attempted to intervene 32% of the time. Moreover, humans encouraged the male dog (to ‘get her, boy!’ in one case) 12% of the time and laughed out loud 18% of the time when a female dog was being raped/humped.

Confirmed. But training men does make an appearance… in the Discussion/Future Work section, as a metaphor. Emphasis mine:

Metaphorically, however, we are now better positioned to answer the question, ‘What specific and thematic lessons can be learned from dog parks that have the potential to further equity, diversity, inclusion, and peaceful coexistence and improve human-animal spaces?’ … For example, in dealing with dog rape/humping, though all forms of human physical assault (including against non-human animals) are still violence against the vulnerable and cannot be condoned, the administration of an electric shock at the first signs of rape-like behavior within my observations always elicited a rapid cessation of an ongoing dog rape/humping. By (nonviolent) analogy, by publicly or otherwise openly and suddenly yelling (NB: which was also effective at stopping dog rape/humping incidents) at males when they begin to make sexual advances on females (and other males in certain non-homosocial contexts), and by making firm and repeated stands against rape culture in society, activism, and media, human males may be metaphorically ‘shocked’ out of regarding sexual violence, sexual harassment, and rape culture as normative, which may decrease rape rates and disrupt rape culture and emancipate rape-condoning spaces.

It is also not politically feasible to leash men, yank their leashes when they ‘misbehave,’ or strike men with leashes (or other objects) in an attempt to help them desist from sexual aggression and other predatory behaviors (as previously, this human behavior as directed at dogs, though a sadly common anthropocentric mistreatment of animals, is not ethically warranted on dogs). The reining in or ‘leashing’ of men in society, however, can again be understood pragmatically on a metaphorical level with clear parallels to dog training ‘pedagogical’ methodologies. By properly educating human men (and re-educating them, when necessary) to respect women (both human and canine), denounce rape culture, refuse to rape or stand by while sexual assault occurs, de-masculinize spaces, and espouse feminist ideals – say through mandatory diversity and harassment training, bystander training, rape culture awareness training, and so on, in any institutions that can adopt them (e.g. workplaces, university campuses, and government agencies) – human men could be ‘leashed’ by a culture that refuses to victimize women, perpetuate rape culture, or permit rape-condoning spaces.

If you’ve ever written a scientific paper, you know that the Discussion/Future Work section is where you get to cut loose. I can predict what the consequences of my research are, I can suggest future experiments, I’m free to speculate so long as it’s grounded in what I just researched. Training men like dogs isn’t an extension of what this paper researched, but because the authors invoke it as a metaphor they’re allowed to follow that flight of fancy. And because that flight made it into the paper, they’re allowed to summarize it in the abstract (emphasis mine):

… and (3) Do dogs suffer oppression based upon (perceived) gender? It concludes by applying Black feminist criminology categories through which my observations can be understood and by inferring from lessons relevant to human and dog interactions to suggest practical applications that disrupts hegemonic masculinities and improves access to emancipatory spaces.

“Suggest practical applications” is ambiguous; if you read past the abstract you’ll realize it applies to “educating human men” and “denouncing rape culture,” but if you were first primed to think the paper was about training human beings like dogs you’d initially assume it involved clicker training or choke collars. This is very shady, but it could still carry some pedagogical value if the reviewers didn’t consider it a metaphor.

Reviewer 1: The discussion of the analogy between leashing male dogs prone to rape and sexually aggressive men is undoubtedly of merit, but the paragraph seems to endorse physically shocking male dogs who rape (and not men). If this is indee[d] the author’s position then the author needs to be explicit about it and defend it given objections that, despite its good intentions to stop a physical sexualized assault, it still constitutes human physical assault/violence against already vulnerable animals.

Reviewer 2: I can see someone reading this manuscript and asking, “Are you trying to say that human rape and dog rape are equivalently violent acts?” Of course you are not saying that they are equivalent, but that they stem from similar oppressive and systemic roots and that each is a violent act in its own right. But it might be helpful to sort of have response ready for that question.

Reviewer 3: It strikes me that the author’s data is perhaps more suited to answering questions about how human discourses of rape culture get mapped onto dogs’ sexual encounters at dog parks – leaving out the question of whether or not each of these encounters constitutes rape. For instance, this doesn’t strike me as a paper about “dog rape culture” (implying a rape culture among and between dogs) so much as how human rape culture is reflected in human responses to canine sexual encounters at the dog park?

This is in another universe from Ali Khan’s hoax. This isn’t even on the same level as Sokal’s hoax. We can easily grant that Boghossian and his co-authors were incompetent enough to accidentally create a semi-legit gender studies paper, when they thought they were crafting nonsense. But they can’t claim to be ignorant of what their own paper said.

Almost nobody reads these hoax papers, yet everyone trusts the people who wrote them to accurately describe what they contain. So if you write one thing, and say you wrote another, you can fool a lot of people into believing what you say instead of seeing what you did. Before people can sit down and actually read what you wrote, the news articles and opinion pieces have already been blasted all over the world. The principle of charity means that the people who read you, both peer reviewers and journalists, will soften their words and add shades of gray which look weak next to confident partisan screeds.

I regret to inform you that we have now considered your paper “Human Reactions to Rape Culture and Queer Performativity at the Dog Park” but unfortunately feel it unsuitable to send for review for consideration for publication in Gender, Place and Culture.

Specifically, you would need to engage more explicitly with debates in feminist geographies – in terms for example of animals and black feminist geographies – for us to consider sending your paper for external review. I would warmly welcome a manuscript that placed this work into a feminist geography context. Debates feeding into these discussion have populated the pages of the journal for some time. And with a bit of effort, this work could fit the journal.


I was Reviewer 1 for the Masturbation = Rape hoax paper that tried to get published in Sociological Theory. As a grad student, it was my first time being asked to review a paper for a journal. I’m glad I recommended a reject, and the paper was rejected.

I remember thinking at the time that it was probably a master’s thesis that a student immediately turned around to try to get published. Lots of long block quotes with no explanation. Long sections with no organization. I mentioned this all in the review.

So I structured my review off of a constructive rejection I received from ASQ where the reviewer clearly read the paper, pointed out problems, and offered suggestions for how to proceed. It was the type of rejection where I immediately wanted to work on the paper again.

I don’t like reviews that reject the premise of the paper outright. I’ve received reviews like that since my papers are on the porn industry. So I tried to buy into the paper and offer paths forward. These are the comments that the hoax authors quoted in their write up.

Anyways, I guess I could be more critical in the future, but I assumed a grad student had written a confusing paper and I tried to be constructive. I’m embarrassed that I took it as seriously as I did, I’m annoyed I wasted time writing a review, and I’m glad I rejected it.


We might find some solace in the fact that we’ve been through all of this before. Sokal showed already, more than 20 years ago, that postmodernism had run amok and certain sections of the research literature were a waste of ink and paper. Writing in Lingua Franca at the time, he expressed his concern and anger at the implications of this dross: “Theorizing about ‘the social construction of reality’ won’t help us find an effective treatment for AIDS or devise strategies for preventing global warming,” he said.

That sort of scholarship never went away, and yet, surprise, surprise: Civilization hasn’t yet collapsed.


No one in these fields should feel good that so many of these submissions made it past peer review. If you had told me ex ante that three reasonably educated people could publish more than half of their cockeyed submissions in fields beyond their specialty, it would not make me sanguine at all. This shouldn’t be exaggerated; as James Stacey Taylor notes, only two of the seven journals that accepted these hoax papers “could be considered mainstream academic journals.” Two still strikes me as too many, however. So the most important takeaway of this paper is just how easy it is for some scholars to fake their way into a peer-reviewed publication, even if it’s not a widely cited one.

When you factor in that this doesn’t appear to be isolated to one paper

But other accepted papers, I think, use a trick: invent some fake data of interest to the journal, and include a discussion section with some silly digressions. The journal accepts the paper because the core is the interesting data, and then the hoax coverage says that the paper is about the silly digressions. For example, the core of the dog park paper is a fake observational study showing that humans, especially males, are faster to stop male-on-male dog sexual encounters than male-on-female sexual encounters. I think that’s fine; it is actually indicative of heteronormativity or homophobia or whatever. The paper also has an angle about canine rape culture, and that is indeed silly, but the paper is not best described, as The Chronicle of Higher Education did, as being “about canine rape culture in dog parks in Portland”.


I see a lot of reaction to this stunt along the lines of this post: nitpicking minor inconsistencies, correcting readers on the nature of peer review, etc. What I don’t see is anybody grappling with is the fact that a respected academic journal will publish Mein fucking Kampf if you modernize some buzzwords. And no, we’re not talking about a gotcha with an out-of-context sentence. It was a whole chapter. A WHOLE CHAPTER.


Did you read the paper in question? Or the reviews? The author’s description of “fashionable buzzwords switched in” seems to be entirely dishonest; the rewrite is extensive enough that I could barely identify which section(s?) of the relevant chapter was the source. For example there’s a repeated theme of avoiding coercion while aiming for unity, which isn’t part of the MK chapter.

In any case, there isn’t much in the way of “eliminationist rhetoric” unless you use a lot of creative interpretation maybe; even in the original chapter, the relevant section is mostly “list of things for building a political movement” without too much regard for the content of the movement, which include things like “you can’t do things by half measures” and “improving people’s living conditions will make them care about your movement.” Where a point that mentions “destroying enemies” occurs in MK, it is completely omitted, not buzzword-swapped or watered down or rewritten, for the paper. Consequently, the paper consists of platitudes about how feminists should be more united and try really hard to fight all kinds of oppression. Hardly deep insights (as the reviewers from Feminist Theory, which rejected it, noted), but also not reasonably described as “the basic ideology of Naziism coated in a thin layer of estrogen.”

… this looks less like incompetence, and more like deliberate fraud. And I’m not alone in saying that.