The academic paper that claimed penises cause climate change was reviewed and approved with no changes by two peer reviewers at a scientific journal.
Cogent Social Sciences has updated the article "The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct" after its authors revealed it was a hoax. The paper claimed the primary male sex organ is "problematic," presents "significant problems for gender identity," and causes climate change.
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Authors Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay, academics who used pseudonyms to publish the paper, put the word males in scare quotes and claimed "there are many women who have penises" on the first page. They said they made their observations by "searching trending hashtags" on Twitter.
"At best, climate change is genuinely an example of hyper-patriarchal society metaphorically manspreading into the global ecosystem," they wrote.
None of this raised any flags among peer reviewers at Cogent Social Sciences, including one who accepted the paper with no changes.
The paper's title still appears on the homepage of the Cogent Social Sciences website, but the "high quality peer review" journal had to update the article after discovering the paper was a hoax.
"We understand the authors' intention was to question the field of gender studies, and the fact it came to be published in one of our journals is disappointing and has led us to conduct a thorough investigation," Cogent Social Sciences said in a statement.
Cogent Social Sciences said the paper ended up in its peer review system after initially being denied by the journal's parent company Taylor and Francis, an international academic publisher.
Taylor and Francis found the article unsuitable and intended to "reject it outright as unsound," but the paper was "inadvertently referred" to Cogent Social Sciences through an electronic article-sharing program.
The paper then ended up in the hands of a senior editor at Cogent Social Sciences to begin the peer review process. Those who reviewed the paper made no major edits or recommendations for changes.
"The article was received by a Senior Editor and sent out for peer review as is standard," Cogent Social Sciences said. "Two reviewers agreed to review the paper and it was accepted with no changes by one reviewer, and with minor amends by the other."
Cogent Social Sciences said the mistake occurred because the two reviewers' "expertise did not fully align with this subject matter," although they had "relevant research interests."
The paper was filed under the subjects of gender studies, "Postmodernism of Cultural Theory," and feminism, and listed the key words "penis; feminism; machismo braggadocio; masculinity; [and] climate change" on the first page.
"We do not believe that they were the right choice to review this paper," Cogent Social Sciences said of its reviewers.
"Peer review depends significantly on trust between authors, academic editors, peer reviewers and publishers, supported by appropriate systems and processes," Cogent Social Sciences said. "While we continue a thorough review to ensure these are as robust as possible, we are taking three immediate steps."
The journal said it is reviewing its peer review process, its "academic editor and peer reviewer education program," and working with Taylor and Francis to "minimise the risk of such a situation happening again."
In fact, the writing style of Boghossian and Lindsay's paper was not unlike other academic papers.
Using manspreading as a metaphor for climate change is comparable to a Ph.D. dissertation that claimed fat women are a bigger threat to the male patriarchy because they "physically take up more space."
Boghossian and Lindsay said their paper made nonsensical arguments and should never have been accepted under any circumstances. Cogent Social Sciences publishing their paper made it a successful Sokal-style hoax on gender studies.
"‘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," they said. "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?'"
Request for additional comment from Cogent Social Sciences was not returned. An email to Dr. Jamie Halsall, a social sciences lecturer at Huddersfield University in the United Kingdom who is listed as a reviewing editor of the penis social construct paper, was also not returned.