Two US academics fabricated a 3,000-word paper on "the conceptual penis as a social construct" and managed to get the gender studies paper published in a peer-reviewed social science journal.
Philosophy professor Peter Boghossian and mathematician Dr James Lindsay said "the paper was ridiculous by intention, essentially arguing that penises shouldn't be thought of as male genital organs but as damaging social constructions."
The pair – who assumed the pen names Peter Boyle and Jamie Lindsay – said that it "should never have been published" and admitted to filling it with jargon yet somehow, it was published in a UK journal called Cogent Social Sciences.
While the duo described the paper as "absurd" and "ridiculous by intention", independent academic reviewers tasked with checking the piece described it as "outstanding", the Times reported.
One reviewer reportedly heaped praise on the authors for effectively communicating "the issue of hypermasculinity through a multidimensional and non-linear process".
In an article published in the magazine Skeptic, Boghossian and Lindsay wrote: "We assumed that if we were merely clear in our moral implications that maleness is intrinsically bad and that the penis is somehow at the root of it, we could get the paper published in a respectable journal."
After finishing the paper, Boghossian and Lindsay said they both read it "to ensure it didn't say anything meaningful".
A spokesperson for the publishing house associated with Cogent Social Sciences told the Times: "We are currently investigating the publication of this paper and will be commenting on it once we have had the opportunity to look into this thoroughly."
Boghossian and Lindsay said the hoax highlighted a two-pronged problem for academia. One is the "echo-chamber of morally driven fashionable nonsense coming out of the postmodernist social 'sciences' in general, and gender studies departments in particular".
The second issue, they said, lies with "pay-to-publish journals with lax standards that cash in on the ultra-competitive publish-or-perish academic environment."