This is the fourth in a series on what I have started referring to as “2nd Wave Internet Skepticism”. 2nd wave internet skepticism seems to fold tribalism in under the guise of critical thinking. It includes a lot of rhetoric that I first saw in the “Men’s Rights Activism” movement. The same rhetoric can be seen in the modern neo-nazi movement known as the “alt right”. These guys (and I do mean guys, mostly white guys) seem to think that because they’ve figured out that 9/11 truth and chemtrails are bullshit that anything they dislike, ranging from feminism to trans rights and beyond, is also bullshit. I imagine many skeptics will disagree with the ideas I am presenting here, and that’s fine. I have found that the cult of 2nd wave internet skepticism generally hates criticism even though many of those in the movement suggest that “safe spaces” are ruining everything. Hypocrisy and perceptions of one’s own victimhood are on full display in this, the war of really bad ideas.
The Race To The Bottom: The Conceptual Penis
Michael Shermer’s Skeptic Magazine wrote “the conceptual penis as a social construct”, a fake gender studies paper and tried to have it published in NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies. It was not published there. So what did they do? Well, they published it in a “pay to play” journal. To make a long story short, they made the whole thing up. It wasn’t a scholarly article, it was a hoax. Cogent Social Sciences published the article and suggested a fee of over $600, which the authors of the article never ended up paying. The authors of the article said they paid nothing, but it’s not like Cogent didn’t ask for money, the authors just didn’t pay. Not paying for services received? All’s fair in love and war I suppose but the mileage that the authors and Skeptic Magazine got out of this with 2nd Wave Internet Skeptics would have been well worth the fee.
One of the authors, James Lindsay, wrote:
When [a more reputable journal] rejected the paper and offered to transfer it to Cogent, we realized that there was a two-pronged opportunity here. One is to test gender studies and related fields, as indicated, and the other is to expose the problem of pay-to-publish open-access journals, which are in part largely motivated (unlike mere vanity journals) to exploit an enormous problem in the academic world at the moment: publish-or-perish atmospheres in academic departments, especially for tenure consideration. We fully realize that going with a journal like Cogent increased our probability of publication and thus muddied the waters on our point against gender studies, but to expose two problems at once . . . was too good to pass up.
These folks had a clear bias, but of course their bias wasn’t bias at all because they are critical thinkers. And to prove this, they published an article about gender studies in a pay to play journal that isn’t even a gender studies journal. I guess when you don’t have any biases at all because you say so, you get to have a little bit more license than those who are not criticalthinkers™.
From Skeptic Magazine:
“We suspected that gender studies is crippled academically by an overriding almost-religious belief that maleness is the root of all evil. On the evidence, our suspicion was justified”
Obviously unbiased and based purely in critical thinking, because reasons. And of course the dickbag leadership in the 2nd wave of internet skepticism rejoiced on twitter.
In my humble opinion (take it with a grain of salt if you are a criticalthinker™) the amount of bias in this so called “social experiment” is, while not shocking, quite profound. The dishonesty of it all. Attempting to publish in a more reputable journal, being turned down, and then publishing in a shitty pay to play journal might be an indictment of shitty pay to play journals, but the dickbags over at Skeptic Magazine celebrated it as a "victory" over an entire field of academia that they seem not to like, which it certainly is not, but alas the faithful cannot see it. Of course there was no bias, the authors and Shermer himself, well, they are criticalthinkers™. Because reasons. Question everything else.
The reason some gender studies papers sound all jargony is because they are. Just like any paper about quantum physics or, and I am talking to you Sam Harris, neuroscience. Hell, if you read an article about audio engineering and you don’t have a background in audio engineering, it might look like nonsense to you. If you were editing a publication that had articles about any of those things but you had no background in those fields, it would all look like garbldy gook. And if you were pressed for time and if the people who owned your publication were demanding results (and by results I do mean money), you’d be just as likely to publish an article written by someone who was hoaxing you using fake jargon you don’t understand as to publish a good article written by someone who does know their shit using real jargon that you don’t understand. But a hoax article about audio engineering making it into such a publication would not in fact mean that audio engineering is bullshit. It would mean that you work for a shitty publication. And that’s all it would really mean.
So just keep in mind that when you start with a conclusion and then incrementally lower the standard of proof you will accept for your conclusion, you will eventually find the proof you want. No matter whether it’s Infowars, Natural News, Geoengineering Watch or… Skeptic Magazine? It’s often a race to the bottom in the war of bad ideas.
I wanted to give a special shout out to the guys at Cognitive Dissonance Podcast and The Reality Check Podcast for their coverage of this. Some of the ideas in this article were inspired by their analysis. Thanks for being awesome!