Oct 03, 2018

Trolls in the grievance academy

This (a) is truly mind-boggling:

This process is the one, single thread that ties all twenty of our papers together, even though we used a variety of methods to come up with the various ideas fed into their system to see how the editors and peer reviewers would respond. Sometimes we just thought a nutty or inhumane idea up and ran with it. What if we write a paper saying we should train men like we do dogs - to prevent rape culture? Hence came the “Dog Park” paper. What if we write a paper claiming that when a guy privately masturbates while thinking about a woman (without her consent - in fact, without her ever finding out about it) that he’s committing sexual violence against her? That gave us the “Masturbation” paper. What if we argue that the reason superintelligent AI is potentially dangerous is because it is being programmed to be masculinist and imperialist using Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Lacanian psychoanalysis? That’s our “Feminist AI” paper. What if we argued that “a fat body is a legitimately built body” as a foundation for introducing a category for fat bodybuilding into the sport of professional bodybuilding? You can read how that went in Fat Studies.

At other times, we scoured the existing grievance studies literature to see where it was already going awry and then tried to magnify those problems. Feminist glaciology? Okay, we’ll copy it and write a feminist astronomy paper that argues feminist and queer astrology should be considered part of the science of astronomy, which we’ll brand as intrinsically sexist. Reviewers were very enthusiastic about that idea. Using a method like thematic analysis to spin favored interpretations of data? Fine, we wrote a paper about trans people in the workplace that does just that. Men use “male preserves” to enact dying “macho” masculinities discourses in a way society at large won’t accept? No problem. We published a paper best summarized as, “A gender scholar goes to Hooters to try to figure out why it exists.” “Defamiliarizing,” common experiences, pretending to be mystified by them and then looking for social constructions to explain them? Sure, our “Dildos” paper did that to answer the questions, “Why don’t straight men tend to masturbate via anal penetration, and what might happen if they did?” Hint: according to our paper in Sexuality and Culture, a leading sexualities journal, they will be less transphobic and more feminist as a result.

We used other methods too, like, “I wonder if that ‘progressive stack’ in the news could be written into a paper that says white males in college shouldn’t be allowed to speak in class (or have their emails answered by the instructor), and, for good measure, be asked to sit in the floor in chains so they can ‘experience reparations.’” That was our “Progressive Stack” paper. The answer seems to be yes, and feminist philosophy titan Hypatia has been surprisingly warm to it. Another tough one for us was, “I wonder if they’d publish a feminist rewrite of a chapter from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.” The answer to that question also turns out to be “yes,” given that the feminist social work journal Affilia has just accepted it. As we progressed, we started to realize that just about anything can be made to work, so long as it falls within the moral orthodoxy and demonstrates understanding of the existing literature.

Okay, but you'd have to write a huge number of troll papers to get results like this past peer review, right?


We wrote 20 papers and submitted them to the best journals in the relevant fields (more on this below) with considerable success, even though we had to take the project public prematurely, and thus stop the study, before it could be properly concluded. At the time of publishing this, we have:

  • 7 papers accepted.
  • 4 of these have been published online.
  • 3 more have been accepted without having had time to see publication through. (This can take months).
  • 7 papers still in play when we had to call a halt.
  • 2 have been “revised and resubmitted,” and are awaiting a decision...
  • 1 is still under first review at its current journal
  • 4 are left hanging with no time to submit them to journals after rejection (2), revise and resubmit (1) or reject and resubmit (1).
  • 6 retired as fatally flawed or beyond repair.

  • 4 invitations to peer-review other papers as a result of our own exemplary scholarship.
    (For ethical reasons, we declined all such invitations. Had we wished to fully participate in their culture in this way, however, it would have been an unrivaled opportunity to tinker with how far we could take the hypothesis that the canon of literature within these fields gets skewed in part because the peer-review process encourages the existing political and ideological biases.)

  • 1 paper (the one about rape culture in dog parks) gained special recognition for excellence from its journal, Gender, Place, and Culture, a highly ranked journal that leads the field of feminist geography. The journal honored it as one of twelve leading pieces in feminist geography as a part of the journal’s 25th anniversary celebration.

By standard measures, they should all have tenure now:

To summarize, we spent 10 months writing the papers, averaging one new paper roughly every thirteen days. (Seven papers published over seven years is frequently claimed to be the number sufficient to earn tenure at most major universities although, in reality, requirements vary by institution.) As for our performance, 80% of our papers overall went to full peer review, which keeps with the standard 10-20% of papers that are “desk rejected” without review at major journals across the field.

But they probably would have trouble with tenure review committees, given statements like this:

The biggest difference between us and the scholarship we are studying by emulation is that we know we made things up.