Is This the World’s Most Bizarre Scholarly Meeting? - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Start with Noam Chomsky, Deepak Chopra, and a robot that loves you no matter what. Add a knighted British physicist, a renowned French neuroscientist, and a prominent Australian philosopher/occasional blues singer. Toss in a bunch of psychologists, mathematicians, anesthesiologists, artists, meditators, a computer programmer or two, and several busloads of amateur theorists waving self-published manuscripts and touting grand unified solutions. Send them all to a swanky resort in the desert for a week, supply them with lots of free coffee and beer, and ask them to unpack a riddle so confounding that it’s unclear how to make progress or where you’d even begin.

Then just, like, see what happens.

A new academic hoax: a bogus paper on “the conceptual penis” gets published in a “high quality peer-reviewed” social science journal

Oh, the humanities!

It’s been 21 years since physicist Alan Sokal submitted a bogus paper to a special “Science Wars” issue of the cultural studies journal Social Text. His paper, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity“, maintained that quantum gravity was a social construct, using many bizarre quotes from postmodern scholars to make its case. Almost immediately after the paper was published, Sokal revealed it was a hoax in an article in Lingua Franca.

The “Sokal Affair” inspired a lot of debate, as well as accusations that Sokal himself was unethical in submitting the paper, but I thought it made its point superbly: much of the social sciences and “culture studies” in academia is intellectually vacuous—a repository for dumb ideas couched in bad prose.

Now we have another hoax: a piece on the “conceptual penis” published in the journal Cogent Social Sciences, self described as “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.”

A .pdf of the hoax article is available here, and Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay's writeup on is available here.

As for retorts, here is one by Ketan Joshi, and another over at Daily Nous.

Helen Pluckrose has written a rejoinder to the criticism over at AERO Mag: SOKAL AFFAIR 2.0: PENIS ENVY: ADDRESSING ITS CRITICS

The Great Shame of Our Profession, by Kevin Birmingham

[...] All of this is to say that the profession of literary criticism depends upon exploitation. Even this formulation is too soothingly vague, so let us be more direct: If you are a tenured (or tenure-track) faculty member teaching in a humanities department with Ph.D. candidates, you are both the instrument and the direct beneficiary of exploitation. Your roles as teacher, adviser, and committee member generate, cultivate, and exploit young people’s devotion to literature. This is the great shame of our profession. We tell our students to study literature because it will make them better human beings, that in our classrooms they will learn empathy and wisdom, thoughtfulness and understanding. And yet the institutions supporting literary criticism are callous and morally incoherent.

The New Intellectuals

One night this spring, the New York Institute for the Humanities hosted a gathering to discuss, as the title of the event put it, "new public intellectuals." At the front of a crowded room, seated at a rectangular table, were three paragons of this ascendant breed — Nikil Saval, co-editor of n+1; Sarah Leonard, a senior editor at The Nation; and Jon Baskin, co-editor of The Point. All are under 40, not pursuing careers in academe, and integral to what the event’s organizers hailed as a "renaissance in cultural journalism."

It is a notably upbeat claim, especially when compared with the hand-wringing that typically accompanies talk of public intellectuals in America, who seem always to be in the act of vanishing. The few who remain pale in comparison to the near-mythic minds that roamed the streets of New York in the 1930s and 1940s, when rents were cheap, polemics were harsh, and politics were radical. Or so goes the conventional wisdom. What happened? Intellectuals who couldn’t survive as freelance writers — and as New York gentrified, who could? — became professors. By the 1960s, few nonacademic intellectuals remained. Careerism and specialization gradually opened up a gulf between intellectuals and the public. The sturdy prose of Edmund Wilson and Irving Howe gave way, by the mid-90s, to the knotted gender theorizing of Judith Butler and the cult-studies musings of Andrew Ross.

Student journalists are under threat.

Well, here’s some great news to cheer you up: The American student press is under siege! Apparently, we’ve been too busy blowing gaskets over professor watch lists and “safe spaces” to recognize the actual biggest threat to free speech on college campuses today. According to a new report by the American Association of University Professors, in conjunction with three other nonpartisan free-speech advocacy organizations, a disquieting trend of administrative censorship of student-run media has been spreading quietly across the country—quietly, of course, because according to the report, those censorship efforts have so far been successful.

The report finds that recent headlines out of Mount St. Mary’s University, for example, may be “just the tip of a much larger iceberg.” Indeed, “it has become disturbingly routine for student journalists and their advisers to experience overt hostility that threatens their ability to inform the campus community and, in some instances, imperils their careers or the survival of their publications.” The report chronicles more than 20 previously unreported cases of media advisers “suffering some degree of administrative pressure to control, edit, or censor student journalistic content.” Furthermore, this pressure came “from every segment of higher education and from every institutional type: public and private, four-year and two-year, religious and secular.”