It seems that some climate “skeptics” are revelling in the publication of another hoax paper. In this case a paper called The conceptual penis as a social construct, which has now been withdrawn (an archived version is here). The authors have written about it in this blog post, and say
The publication of our hoax reveals two problems. One relates to the business model of pay-to-publish, open-access journals. The other lies at the heart of academic fields like gender studies.
Well, the first seems a reasonable inference, but suggesting that this somehow reveals a problem at the heart of academic fields like gender studies seems a bit of a stretch. It might indicate that there are some fields where complete nonsense can be made to sound scholarly, but that doesn’t mean that there is necessarily some fundamental problem at the heart of those academic fields (I will admit, though, that if sounding scholarly is valued more than clarity, then it might be worth rethinking what should be valued).
What is more, the paper was actually initially rejected and then published in a journal that they themselves acknowledged may have a slightly suspect business model. It would be highly unlikely that a single paper could ever reveal a problem at the heart of an academic field, but even less likely if it’s a paper that requires a bit of shopping around to get it published.
Anyway, why do some climate “skeptics” seem to like this story? Well, one reason is that the paper mentions climate, but another is that it allows some, like Matt Ridley, to argue that peer review of science is a deeply tainted system. Peer review is not perfect, but that some people – who try hard enough – can get a rubbish paper published in a second-rate journal doesn’t suddenly make it tainted. This isn’t to say that we couldn’t improve peer review, but (like democracy) peer review is probably the worst possible system, apart from all others.
However, what I found interesting in Matt Ridley’s article was a quote from one of the paper’s authors:
“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.”
So, someone who has published a fake paper to try and highlight some kind of fundamental bias in the academy, can’t even hide their own bias. As Ketan Joshi says in this article
Shermer, Boghossian and Lindsay inject a strong current of mean-spiritdness into their hoax, far removed from any effort to shine a light on unethical practices in publishing. Issues around rape, identity and sexuality are weird targets for sneering derision, alongside climate change action.
They’ve perceived the shape of political and moral bias in an entire field, based on a single pixel of information.
As far as I can tell, the authors are not two independent observers, but are more two people who have a problem with some of what they see in some areas of academia and so have constructed the evidence that they’re then using to argue that there is a major problem. Hardly an unbiased way to illustrate the existence of a bias.