Much of the discussion of the “conceptual penis” paper is flaccid

quick takes

The comments are a Quick Take on an article in The [London] Times: Peer review of science is a deeply tainted system– Matt Ridley

giphy2A lot of what is being written about “The conceptual penis as a social construct” paper is right wing, opportunistic anti-intellectual nonsense. The paper was published in a shoddy journal. While peer review has serious problems. they are not exposed by this paper getting into a low ranked journal.

Publication of this paper supposedly demonstrates the leftist bias of academia. I don’t get that.

I suppose I would be considered ‘leftist” for some purposes in some contexts, but it is not a very useful category. To put me in this category lumps me with people with whom I have little in common and separates me from people from whom I have much in common. To suggest that a significant aspect of my behavior is explained by this categorization needs a lot more evidence than simply categorizing me.

The author of the conceptual penis paper is nonetheless quoted in The Times:

“Neither paper would have been published if it had not fitted the prejudices of much of academia: leftist, postmodern, relativist, feminist and moralising. “The academy is overrun by left-wing zealots preaching dangerous nonsense,” says Boghossian. “They’ve taught students to turn off their rational minds and become moral crusaders.”

I think the statement says more about his warped view of academia than about academia.

The Times article nonetheless makes some quotable excellent statements about the flaws of peer review.

As a system of ensuring quality in research, peer review is in deep trouble. It allows established academics to defend their pet ideas and reward their chums. Its one-sided anonymity, in which the referee retains his anonymity but the author does not, could hardly be better designed to ensure cronyism.

Worse, as a recent report by Donna Laframboise, a Canadian investigative journalist, concluded: “A journal’s decision to publish a paper provides no assurance that its conclusions are sound . . . Fraudulent research makes it past gatekeepers at even the most prestigious journals. While science is supposed to be self-correcting, the process by which this occurs is haphazard and byzantine.”

True, so true. I spent a lot of my time frustrated by such an out-of-control peer review system that resists correction, no matter how egregious the junk is that gets published. No matter how the hype and misrepresentation of data that is exposed.

But these wise observations are misplaced in a discussion of the conceptual penis paper. I would very much welcome these comments expanded in another context.

Please leave Peter Boghossian (aka Peter Boyle, Ed.D) and James Lindsay (aka, Jamie Lindsay, Ph.D.) to work their conceptual penis any way they like. Just look away if you have something better to do. We all do.