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They manage to publish ridiculous studies in scientific journals

Three people succeeded in a hoax in the United States by publishing entirely invented research articles in several sociology journals, with ridiculous conclusions, in order to demonstrate, in their opinion, the lack of rigour of these journals.

In total, seven of the trio’s twenty articles were accepted by journals, overcoming the feared obstacle of peer review committees supposed to check the academic rigour of the articles.

Explosive subjects
This is not a new sport, and the hoax is consistent with high-profile precedents, including that of physicist Alan Sokal, who in 1996 attacked a review of cultural studies; this time, the fake articles have in common explosive social topics: gender, racism or sexuality, what the authors of the hoax call “grievance studies”.

More than a year of hard work
“When you make absurd and horrible ideas politically fashionable enough, you get them validated at the highest level,” says James Lindsay, who earned a PhD in mathematics in 2010 at the University of Tennessee and has been fully involved in this project for the past year and a half.

The canine culture of rape
The studies were sent under pseudonyms. One of them, published in May in the journal Gender, Place & Culture and finally withdrawn, claimed to study the dog culture of rape in dog parks, drawing parallels with men. Another analysis of why a man masturbating to a woman without her consent commits sexual assault. A paper was a feminist rewrite of a chapter by Mein Kampf.

Dildos and transphobia
Some articles were essays, but some claimed to rely on data, such as interviews, which is theoretically verifiable. This was the case for a study on the impact of anal dildo use by heterosexual men on their transphobia.

Expected reform
“If our project demonstrates one thing, it is that current research in these disciplines cannot be trusted,” James Lindsay told AFP. But the goal of the project, he says, is to “reform” these disciplines, not to destroy them.

A dangerous method
While the hoax made people giggle on Twitter, researchers were concerned about the method and ethics of the false perpetrators, as well as the general conclusions that some might draw for the targeted disciplines.

All concerned
Quality or fraud problems are not limited to the humanities or low-rated journals. Even the largest scientific journals must regularly withdraw articles submitted by sometimes famous researchers.

Transparency standards
There are thousands of scientific journals in the world. Some organizations have established transparency standards, but their adoption by the publishing media varies widely. For medical or biological sciences, these standards include, for example, submitting raw data to the peer review committee to verify the results. In the social sciences and humanities, communicating transcripts of interviews raises confidentiality issues,” says David Mellor of the Center for Open Science. But “we encourage as much transparency as possible,” he says.

The other two trappers are Peter Boghossian, professor of philosophy at the University of Portland, and Helen Pluckrose, editor of AreoMagazine.com, a site that published a detailed account of the deception.

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