The Good Hoax

Frequent readers here know how much I detest hoaxes, even ones just designed to be funny. News hoaxes are especially vile, as they are often designed to fool people and news outlets. These cause false rumors to spread, and send disinformation through the web and into brains, especially mushy brains. Hoaxes that consist of sufficiently ridiculous components that anyone should know they are not to be believed aren’t really hoaxes at all; they are more akin to satire. They are benign and often illuminating.

What does one make of a hoax that is simultaneously ridiculous and designed to fool people who need to be fooled in the public’s interest? I regard that as an ethical hoax. NYU physicist Alan Sokal designed and pulled off  just such two decades ago, as he described here:

For some years I’ve been troubled by an apparent decline in the standards of intellectual rigor in certain precincts of the American academic humanities. But I’m a mere physicist: if I find myself unable to make head or tail of jouissance and différance, perhaps that just reflects my own inadequacy.

So, to test the prevailing intellectual standards, I decided to try a modest (though admittedly uncontrolled) experiment: Would a leading North American journal of cultural studies… publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions?

The answer, sadly, was yes. Despite being salted with copious Authentic Frontier Gibberish like “catastrophe theory, with its dialectical emphases on smoothness/discontinuity and metamorphosis/unfolding, will indubitably play a major role in the future mathematics; but much theoretical work remains to be done before this approach can become a concrete tool of progressive political praxis,”  his article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” was peer reviewed and published in the Spring/Summer 1996 issue of Social Text.

Later, Sokal explained his motives:

“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.”

Sokal’s exposé of the sloppiness and lack of rigor in scholarship has spawned followers, as well it should. Using academic studies and papers is the ultimate appeal to authority in social and scientific policy disputes. If the journals that publish them are lazy and biased gate-keepers, they are untrustworthy authorities, which means that they aren’t authorities at all. That makes a Sokal-style hoax, properly and fairly executed, that rarity of rarities, The Good Hoax.

As they explained in the magazine Skeptic, Dr. Peter Bogghosian, a full time faculty member in the Department of Philosophy at Portland State University,  and James Lindsay,  a Phd in mathematics and the author of four books, wrote and submitted the most ridiculous paper they could think of. The title: “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct.” Here’s the abstract:

You read that right: the paper argues that penises affect climate change. Behold:

“We conclude that penises are not best understood as the male sexual organ, or as a male reproductive organ, but instead as an enacted social construct that is both damaging and problematic for society and future generations. The conceptual penis presents significant problems for gender identity and reproductive identity within social and family dynamics, is exclusionary to disenfranchised communities based upon gender or reproductive identity, is an enduring source of abuse for women and other gender-marginalized groups and individuals, is the universal performative source of rape, and is the conceptual driver behind much of climate change…. Destructive, unsustainable hegemonically male approaches to pressing environmental policy and action are the predictable results of a raping of nature by a male-dominated mindset. This mindset is best captured by recognizing the role of [sic] the conceptual penis holds over masculine psychology. When it is applied to our natural environment, especially virgin environments that can be cheaply despoiled for their material resources and left dilapidated and diminished when our patriarchal approaches to economic gain have stolen their inherent worth, the extrapolation of the rape culture inherent in the conceptual penis becomes clear. ”

The authors explain that they took great pains to make it as obvious as possible that their theory and the paper were utter garbage, and incomprehensible garbage at that, writing in Skeptic,

We didn’t try to make the paper coherent; instead, we stuffed it full of jargon (like “discursive” and “isomorphism”), nonsense (like arguing that hypermasculine men are both inside and outside of certain discourses at the same time), red-flag phrases (like “pre-post-patriarchal society”), lewd references to slang terms for the penis, insulting phrasing regarding men (including referring to some men who choose not to have children as being “unable to coerce a mate”), and allusions to rape (we stated that “manspreading,” a complaint levied against men for sitting with their legs spread wide, is “akin to raping the empty space around him”). After completing the paper, we read it carefully to ensure it didn’t say anything meaningful, and as neither one of us could determine what it is actually about, we deemed it a success.

It was a success all right.  The paper, after the journal offered some suggestions, quickly added by the authors, was published in Cogent Social Sciences. You can read the whole paper here.

The authors’ success at Sokalizing the journal led them to this conclusion:

“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. 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?”

Or the trustworthiness of science and academia?


Sources: ACHS, Skeptic Physics

60 thoughts on “The Good Hoax

  1. It reminds me of the time the Salon parody twitter account began publishing obviously ridiculous assertions that sounded Progressive – they were so laughable that they defied all reason and no thinking person could have fallen for them – they were that on-their-face idiotic. They were hilarious and great spoofs.

    Only they were so indistinguishable from actual Salon headlines that twitter shut them down.

  2. Thanks, Jack! You have provided me my biggest belly laugh in weeks. I’m somehow reminded of learnning, as an undergraduate, that Dr. Johnson, after reading Bishop Berkeley’s “ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter,” kicked a large stone and said “I refute Berkeley thus.”

    I’m not sure that’s entirely fair to Berkeley, but Sam had the same idea.

    • Johnson should have thrown the rock at Berkeley’s head. If Berk ducked, then he didn’t believe his sophistry himself.

    • To the extent that the article argues that the hoax doesn’t specifically impugn the “gender studies” academic field, I tend to agree. But the article essentially argues nobody was fooled because the journal doesn’t have any standards and therefore would publish anything. Isn’t that (academic journals will publish anything and therefore we can’t trust articles in academic journals), at least in part, what the authors are trying to prove?

    • Even if true, it does not excuse T&F from “automatically” recommending their publishing mill.

      The artificial barrier between “sociology” and “gender studies”, too, could generously be said to be overstated. What is the study of “gender” if not a subset of “the study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society”?

  3. Here is part of the problem…”Peer Review” has come to mean “fellow scientists”, not “scientists who share the same field”. Thus it is quite possible for a Proctologist to ‘review’ a paper on astrophysics. Even though he knows NOTHING about it.

  4. Except that unlike in the Sokal experiment, Cogent Social Sciences is a for-pay journal, and none of the editors involved have any credentials in the field of gender studies. This was not a prestigious scientific journal, this was bottom-of-the-barrel. So the real hoax here is the idea that this tells us anything at all about gender studies or the reliability of science or academia.

    • Chris. Please read the article at that Jack links. The authors/hoaxers discuss your objection at great length, part of which is set forth below:

      There seems to be a deeper problem here, however. Suspecting we may be dealing with a predatory pay-to-publish outlet, we were surprised that an otherwise apparently legitimate Taylor and Francis journal directed us to contribute to the Cogent Series. (Authors’ note: we leave it to the reader to decide whether or not NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies constitutes a legitimate journal, but to all appearances it is run by genuine academic experts in the field and is not a predatory money-mill.) The problem, then, may rest not only with pay-to-publish journals, but also with the infrastructure that supports them.

      In sum, it’s difficult to place Cogent Social Sciences on a spectrum ranging from a rigorous academic journal in gender studies to predatory pay-to-publish money mill. First, Cogent Social Sciences operates with the legitimizing imprimatur of Taylor and Francis, with which it is clearly closely partnered. Second, it’s held out as a high-quality open-access journal by the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), which is intended to be a reliable list of such journals. In fact, it carries several more affiliations with similar credentialing organizations.

      These facts cast considerable doubt on the facile defense that Cogent Social Sciences is a sham journal that accepted “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” simply to make money. As a result, wherever Cogent Social Sciences belongs on the spectrum just noted, there are significant reasons to believe that much of the problem lies within the very concept of any journal being a “rigorous academic journal in gender studies.”

      • It could show that legitimate journals give too much support to the predatory pay-for-play ones…or it could show that the person at NORMA who referred them to CSS did so because they knew the paper sucked and that the journal also sucked. Maybe they knew they were being pranked and decided to prank back. I just don’t think we can draw any reliable conclusions here; ironically, this hoax was intended to prove a point about lack of scientific methodology, but in and of itself doesn’t use any scientific methodology. It isn’t data, it’s an anecdote. One that will surely play into the confirmation biases of those who already have serious problems with academia and especially gender studies, but an anecdote nonetheless.

        • Even if what you state is true, it would prove that T&F acted irresponsibly and put its reputation at risk by referring garbage to an affiliate, pranking back or not. Nothing about this case makes the academic industry look good.

        • Chris, that’s a great argument a lawyer defending academia would make but where do you come down on this? What do you really think? You really dismiss this and Sokol as outliers that are indicative of nothing? Nothing to see here folks, just move along? It’s kind of as if I’m asking you after you’ve defended a defendant in a criminal trial, “So you really think your guy didn’t commit the murder?” You really believe in the positions you take or are you just a contrarian?

            • OB:

              Chris, that’s a great argument a lawyer defending academia would make but where do you come down on this? What do you really think? You really dismiss this and Sokol as outliers that are indicative of nothing?

              My first comment was clear to differentiate this from the Sokal paper, which was published in a legitimate academic journal. That was indicative of something; it was also twenty years ago. This one is indicative of nothing, for the reasons I already stated. I don’t do contrarianism; I always state what I believe.


              Chris may be thinking ahead. He knows the lack of integrity in the scientific and research establishment casts doubt on the climate change “consensus.”

              This is a silly, nonresponsive comment that merely proves my point about confirmation bias.

                • You responded to my objections about this hoax by saying I must “know” that science and academia have the problems the hoax claims it does–even though the hoax in question does nothing to actually illuminate those problems. In other words, the hoax only matters insomuch as it can be used to confirm what you already believe, regardless of its actual quality.

                  • For heaven’s sake, Chris, EVERYONE knows that science and research have these issues, and that peer reviewed publications are often sloppy and accept work, as the hoaxers suggested, based on their own biases rather than objective quality. I didn’t say this episode proves anything regarding climate change research; I do say that the red flag it sends up is very relevant to politicized research generally that is uncritically hailed as the discovered truth, and this may explain why your knee-jerk reaction is to try to marginalize its lessons.

            • Chris is a natural born defense lawyer. He needs to get himself to a law school asap. He’s got the “Cops are all liars” gene in spades.

  5. This one is genuine.

    “Today the Frankenstein phenomenon is omnipresent not only in religious myth, but in its offspring, phallocratic technology. The insane desire for power, the madness of boundary violation, is the mark of necrophiliacs who sense the lack of soul/spirit/life-loving principle with themselves and therefore try to invade and kill off all spirit, substituting conglomerates of corpses. This necrophilic invasion/elimination takes a variety of forms. Transsexualism is an example of male surgical siring which invades the female world with substitutes.”

    From the book Gyn/Ecology by Mary Daly.

    • Most feminists (outside TERFs) acknowledge Mary Daly as a transphobic kook. That quote doesn’t prove anything about the field of gender studies.

      • Query, Chris: How many semesters of gender studies courses did you take in college? Did you go to UC Santa Cruz?

        • I went to Fresno State. I never actually took a “gender studies” class, but my multicultural literature class was led by a feminist professor, and the curriculum and discussions were heavily feminist-infused. She became something of a mentor to me, and invited me into a graduate level class on Literature of the Iraq Wars while I was still an undergrad. I also took a Sociology of Race class.

      • I think you’ll find a large proportion of Gender Studies courses include Gyn/Ecology in their reading lists, and not as a Horrible Example, but a worthy, if flawed, work.

        As regards the late Mary Daily, I have some real issues with many of her views, not just confined to her alleged Transphobia.

        The views I have issues with include the ones expressed in this interview:

        WIE: In Quintessence, your idyllic continent is inhabited by women only, but the rest of the world is inhabited by women and men.

        MD: I didn’t say how many men were there.

        WIE: Which brings us to another question I wanted to ask you. Sally Miller Gearhart, in her article “The Future—If There Is One—Is Female” writes: “At least three further requirements supplement the strategies of environmentalists if we were to create and preserve a less violent world. 1) Every culture must begin to affirm the female future. 2) Species responsibility must be returned to women in every culture. 3) The proportion of men must be reduced to and maintained at approximately ten percent of the human race.” What do you think about this statement?

        MD: I think it’s not a bad idea at all. If life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth. I think this will be accompanied by an evolutionary process that will result in a drastic reduction of the population of males. People are afraid to say that kind of stuff anymore.

        Serious statements about “population reduction” and “decontamination of the Earth” regarding any group raise my hackles. Whether they be in English or auf Deutsch. I personally have a commitment to Freedom of Speech, but I have no qualms about making genocide advocates afraid to state their views, lest they be anathematised, and met with appropriate countermeasures if they try implementing their policies.

        See Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima etc.

        Better they be afraid than such horrors be necessitated again.

        That’s an aside though. My point is that a substantial part of the Feminist philosophy corpora is expressed in such impenetrable terms – much to my chagrin. In my younger days, much remark was made regarding the phallic symbology inherent in rocket stacks and swords. Yet the shape of both is a consequence of physics, not psychology. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

        Sometimes it’s not though. Amongst the midden heap that is this incoherent mess are statements that taken individually make some kind of sense. There have to be for the hoax to work.

  6. Self-delusion is powerful. The article self-identified as true. Proof enough for the deluded with an agenda.

  7. Jack wrote, “You read that right: the paper argues that penises affect climate change.”

    Based on my reading of the abstract I do not come to the conclusion that the paper argues that penises affect climate change.

    I read that the authors of this paper

    a. “argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a social construct isomorphic to performative toxic masculinity.”


    b. and that they will use “the example of climate change” to “challenge the prevailing and damaging social trope that penises are best understood as the male sexual organ and reassign it a more fitting role as a type of masculine performance.”

    My conclusion after reading this abstract is that the writers are rather sloppy in their usage of language but, as I wrote at the beginning of this comment, that does not necessarily result in me concluding that the authors argue that penises affect climate change.

    • “The conceptual penis….is the conceptual driver behind much of climate change.”

      Seems pretty clear to me. Stupid, but clear. You obviously have a deficiency in comprehending nonsense. 🙂

      • Jack,

        First you presents an abstract of an article. I read it. And then you wrote, “You read that right: the paper argues that penises affect climate change.”
        So, I read the abstract again. And — based on the abstract — I did not came to your conclusion. And I let you know.

        Now reading your response, I understand that when you wrote, “You read that right” you supposed that I (/ the readers of this post) should have read the whole article.

        My fault. 🙂

        Your feedback made me feel disenfranchised Jack, especially the sentence, “You obviously have a deficiency in comprehending nonsense.” made me feel like I was dicked over by you and I wondered whether your conceptual penis was the conceptual driver behind much of this hypermasculine feedback.

        After some reflecting on your feedback I realized that my self-worth would be better served by a change in how I engage in the discourses of this blog post, that by avoiding the hypermasculine penis-centric take I could come to another perspective and … as we all know: All perspectives matter!

        My perspective on “You obviously have a deficiency in comprehending nonsense.” has changed towards: Yes! You are right! And I’m proud of it!

        Because those who do comprehend this nonsense are those who publish it as a relevant article and cite this article in their own scientific work.

        Those who do not comprehend this nonsense are in good company. As the original authors wrote in their skeptic article: “After completing the paper, we read it carefully to ensure it didn’t say anything meaningful, and as neither one of us could determine what it is actually about, we deemed it a success.”

        • When submerged in heteronormative dimorphic thinking, one tends to overlook polymorphic tropes of particular concern. This leads to biased vegetable soup, or a word salad, for those who are already less conventional. In laymen’s terms, heat at medium until fully developed ideas are springing forth. Hence, the biases of patriarchy are corrected for when the texture remains soft, but firm. Do not add water, as this is patronizing.

  8. This blog resurrected a past memory.

    I remember having one of those topic wandering study group conversations with a small group in the fall of 1996 when I was auditing another advanced physics class just for “fun”. One of the 20 something students started talking about something they had read from what turned out to be the Sokal’s Quantum Gravity piece that Jack referenced above, the student was trying to explain what they had read and another student (peas in a pod) chimed in trying to help explain; I got the idea that they had both read and had at least briefly talked about it. I hadn’t heard of the paper, knew nothing about it, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the heck they were trying to explain, so me being the person I am, I naturally said it sounds like nonsense to me. Since I was the old fart in the small group of five, the rest of them ganged up on me and delivered an onslaught of rationalizations about the academic achievements of Sokal including stuff like how dare I call his work nonsense, he’s a professor and something to the effect of you’re just old and you just don’t understand. I blew off their childishness and got the study group back on track on what we were supposed to be studying; although I didn’t know what it was at the time, I guess I was using the Julie Principle.

    The next day was a discussion day with the professor; I brought the Sokal subject up and I said that what the other students were trying to explain sounded like nonsense and asked the professor if they just hadn’t explained it very well. The professor had the two students try to explain what they were talking about and the others from the group chimed in again with the same rationalizations; they were obviously irritated that I brought it up in class discussion and they sounded like they were hell bent to make me look like the idiot they thought I was. The professor let the students go on and on about it for a few minutes and then he interrupted with an explanation; luckily the professor knew what they were talking about and the professor explained that the paper was nonsense, it was written as a hoax, and the and the old fart in the room out reasoned the young whipper snappers. You coulda heard a pin drop in the room when the professor said that.

    What happened next likely changed the perspective of some of the younger students in the class. The entire discussion that day was focused on why the younger students fell for a scientific hoax even though they really didn’t understand it, why they resorted to assumptions and rationalizations to support an argument that they couldn’t understand, and why the old fart wasn’t willing to bow to the scientific nonsense, the rationalizations, or the peer pressure. It was a really interesting class.

    That professor told the class that he thought this was such an important learning experience for the class that he was going to somehow fit it into future classes. There was an extra credit question on the final that touched on the discussion from that day.

    Reflecting back on that resurrected memory for a while this morning rang a bell, I think we are seeing that same blind willingness to fall in line without using critical thinking to evaluate what’s presented across the board in our society these days and it’s really disturbing. The dumbing down of our society is not non-existent.

    • There’s a huge inclination to accept what experts says as Gospel truth. The expert is the smart one, I’m the uneducated neophyte, and if I don’t understand it, surely the failure is on my end. Thus, rather than try to debunk the expert, I should be obligated to stretch to my utmost to understand what the expert is saying. If I still can’t understand even then, it must mean that I’m just not smart enough. It can’t possibly be that the expert, who has years and years of study behind him, who has the peer-review process backing him, could be wrong.

      Moreover, there’s a great deal of confirmation we get in accepting what the experts say. Often enough, they are right. After all, cars run, planes fly, bridges don’t fall down, and tiny black holes created by particle colliders really do extinguish themselves in mere fractions of seconds, instead of consuming the entire earth or opening a gateway to a parallel dimension.

      • Ryan Harkins wrote, “There’s a huge inclination to accept what experts says as Gospel truth. The expert is the smart one, I’m the uneducated neophyte, and if I don’t understand it, surely the failure is on my end. Thus, rather than try to debunk the expert, I should be obligated to stretch to my utmost to understand what the expert is saying. If I still can’t understand even then, it must mean that I’m just not smart enough. It can’t possibly be that the expert, who has years and years of study behind him, who has the peer-review process backing him, could be wrong.”

        I agree. Today we can see this exact thing happening in many, many discussions about climate change. I do NOT want to deflect to a discussion of climate change so please no one go down that path.

  9. While I was a graduate student at the University of Wyoming, one of my office mates was approached by a group who offered, for a couple of thousand dollars, to do all the research for his Master’s Degree and write up the results in a guaranteed-to-pass thesis. Supposedly my office mate tracked down some of the reviews of this group and found that some had indeed managed to attain a Master’s using services like this. As a disclaimer, I didn’t personally follow up on it, or investigate to see if people were later identified for their fraudulent activity.

    A year or two later, my advisor was showing me a website that generated very scientific-sounding, but utterly meaningless journals, complete with references. The abstracts this random generator produced weren’t too far off from some of the jargon-laden examples quoted above. One of the claims to fame of this website was that it had actually managed to get a couple of these randomly-generated papers approved at conferences. I think this link to SciGen will take you to the site my advisor found.

    My time in academia impressed on me that journal papers are far from the infallible entity we would like them to be. There were people in my field (theoretical computer science) that had a reputation of getting three papers out of each finding they’d made: the initial paper, the correction of the initial paper, and the correction of the correction. I was always worried that, if I ever actually made any findings worth publication, I would have missed some error in my logic that would render my results invalid, and yet people for decades hence would utilize my results in their research, leading to error cascading down for generations.

    Watching professors trying to make tenure, I was also impressed at how important getting published is. If a professor didn’t publish enough articles and didn’t bring in enough grant money to help him do the research to publish those articles, he would be denied tenure. Professors denied tenure do not linger in their institutions. While grant money can come from a great many sources, a great deal is funded by the federal government. This has the impact of encouraging that only the research the current administration is interested in is conducted. For anyone who believes that academic research is free of bias or politics, I have some nice beachfront property near Casper, WY I’d love to sell you. The tenure process and grant process has a cascade effect that even impacts peer review. Those who get the money get their research, and those who get their research get published, and those who get published are then among those who then get to peer review. Bias adds to bias in the whole process. This happens even in my field of theoretical computer science, and it certainly happens in the softer sciences where bias is unavoidable because of all the assumptions that have to be made to even begin research.

    This is not to indicate that we should trust nothing out of academia, or that the process is irretrievably broken. There is a great deal of good that comes from the system, and I personally cannot think of any better way to ensure that good research is conducted. But it should give us all a moment of pause when we hear things like “settled science” or “x% of scientists agree”, because the institute is not immaculately conceived, is not infallible in its process, and thus is never above criticism or further review.

    I’m still on the fence personally whether any hoax, even this one, is ethical. A lie is a lie, even if it is told for a good purpose, even if it is told so that anyone paying attention realizes it is a lie. That the hoax breathes fresh air into a system that might be getting a little stagnant, that it reveals laxity where laxity should not occur, is good, and for the life of me I can’t think of a better way to call attention to a lack of intellectual rigor, but I still wonder if the fact that it did succeed as it did wasn’t moral luck.

  10. The hoax article is very careful to never argue how the “conceptual penis” can be used to explain anything; it simply asserts that it is the best explanation repeatedly. Genius.

    It does accurately describe its approach to its argument: “discursive criticism”. I looked up discursive, and it basically means “disorganized, prone to tangential side topics”. It was overall a beautiful example of semantically null content, although it was slightly distressing how much mumbo-jumbo could be cited to other authors. How their biographical statement did not tip anyone off is beyond me….

  11. I just read the entire “The conceptual penis as a social construct” article. I literally spit my coffee out through my nose all over my keyboard when I read this, “climate change is genuinely an example of hyper-patriarchal society metaphorically manspreading into the global ecosystem.”

    Luckily I have a cover on my keyboard for just such occasions but I did have to shut down my computer to clean up everything.

  12. This reminds me of the many, MANY hoaxes perpetuated on the modern art community. Everything from kids’ scribblings to a urinal have been celebrated at one time or another by duped urban sophisticates as masterpieces of artistic genius. There is no limit to the sorts of stupid things you can fool rich people into considering brilliant.

    In reality most elitist thoughts, trends, tastes, and passions are fraudulent in some way. Yoga isn’t really an ancient practice. “Wine-tasting” is about as legitimate a skill as fortune-telling. Starbucks’ coffee lost in a blind taste test to McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. Organic food isn’t really healthier. These are just luxury items that certain people are willing to pay extra for in order to achieve status. There is no inherent virtue or value in something being favored by a “better” kind of people.

    There’s really no reason academia should be any different. Ideas that don’t hold up to scrutiny (Marx, Nietzsche, Blavatsky) have a hard time catching on with the average person because they are, on their face, absurd or just plain wrong. But their rejection by the common-sense-having majority makes them exotic, and therefore attractive to the elite. Thus, some of the smartest people can believe the dumbest and most easily-debunked things, for the same reasons that they pretend to enjoy the comedy of Sarah Silverman.

  13. Were I asked to conduct a review by a peer in a field I know something about (remember I’m talking hypothetically), I’d begin by examining the citations. Are they legitimate or are they focused on something else? Do the citations keep referring to other papers by the same author? Where and when were they published?
    It’s sorta like the way dogs sniff fire hydrants, but a bit more sophisticated.

    • Al,
      Personal opinion here; it’s better to read the paper then to read the references so the references can be read in context with the paper you are reading. Sometimes you might have to reread the original paoer you’re reviewing a couple of times to get the full context.

      Point of fact: sometimes even if a paper that’s referenced that is blatantly skewed a particular direction it may have particular references within that paper that are very relevant regardless of the overall skew of the referenced material.

      Don’t completely discount due to biased source, check what exactly is being referenced.

      • I sent a reply, but I don’t see it, so I hope I’m not being redundant.
        I would read the abstract before jumping to the citations. You are correct that he citations may be excellent but the paper is skewed. By checking the citations, I can get an idea about what the author is trying to say. The bias (or fraud) should pop right out.
        “I heard what you said, Secretary, but I want to know the source of your information.”

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