The ‘Conceptual Penis’ and Its ‘Pay-To-Publish’ Critics




It appears Ketan Joshi is a more common name than I knew, and as a result this blog was originally published with reference to the wrong Ketan Joshi’s papers. I have now corrected this and apologised for the mixup.

Phil Torres has contacted me by email: “I can honestly affirm that I have never paid to publish an article”. He is working on a follow-up article which I shall link to here when it is published.

As many of you would have noticed, Drs. Lindsay and Boghossian’s hoax article about the ‘conceptual penis’ caused a considerable amount of controversy to say the least.

Intended as a hoax in the style of Sokal, some took the paper for a great work of satire, and as if to demonstrate its effectiveness, others managed to find genuine insight within the paper’s word salad. This is especially surprising when you consider the authors of the paper said this:

“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.”

A few people (PZ Myers, Ketan Joshi, Phil Torres who writes as Philippe Verdoux, and Amanda Marcotte) were particularly vocal about the pay-to-publish aspect of their hoax. They called Lindsay and Boghossian’s ethics into question, and denounced pay-to-publish model of journals.

The general implication was that Lindsay and Boghossian had simply paid their way into publication rather than exposing the post-modern sensibilities found within this particular field of study. Boghossian and Lindsay claim they did not pay to have their article published, however the response to it made me wonder if any of their critics had – and if so, whether they would consider that detail grounds for dismissal of their own work.

I took a look at the journals where PZ Myers, Ketan Joshi, Phil Torres (Philippe Verdoux), and Amanda Marcotte published to see if their paper had ever appeared in pay-to-publish journals. While we do not know the details of how much they paid to have their articles published, or even if they paid at all, below is a list of the journals and their fees where their articles have appeared.

To be clear: I do not know if they (or someone on their behalf) paid publication fees or not. Here is my direct question to these individuals: “Have you ever paid, or had anyone pay on your behalf, a fee for publishing a paper or papers?”

PZ Myers
Journal of Neuroscience

Fee: $1,260 for members and $1,890 for nonmembers

PZ’s articles:

Growth cone dynamics during the migration of an identified commissural growth cone

Development and Axonal Outgrowth of Identified Motoneurons in the Zebrafish

Cell-cell interactions during the migration of an identified commissural growth cone in the embryonic grasshopper

Ketan Joshi


Frontiers in Public Health

Fee: A Type Articles $1,900, B Type Articles $875, C Type Articles $450, D Type Articles: Free

Joshi’s article: Fomenting sickness: nocebo priming of residents about expected wind turbine health harms
Phil Torres (Philippe Verdoux)

Fee: $2500

Verdoux’ article: Emerging Technologies and the Future of Philosophy


Fee: $2400

Verdoux’ article: Technology and our epistemic situation: what ought our priorities to be?

Amanda Marcotte
Journal of School Psychology


Fee: $1800

Marcotte’s article: Incremental and predictive utility of formative assessment methods of reading comprehension

I am eagerly awaiting their responses so that it may bring clarity to this issue of pay-to-publish journals and their credibility.

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  • Publication fees are the norm in science journals, including open-access ones. I think I’ve paid “page charges” (the same thing) for about every single one of the 100+ article I’ve published. I don’t understand why payment to publish an article, which is absolutely the norm in open access journals, is even an issue worth criticizing. It’s just a way to avoid the real issue raised by the “conceptual penis” paper and THOUSANDS like it documented at the Real Peer Review site:

    • “Publication fees are the norm in science journals, including open-access ones”. I didn’t know this. That’s a really useful piece of information. Why aren’t more people aware of this or pointing it out?

    • Jerry: you need to understand that a mere 4% of humanities journals are pay-to-publish, whereas (I can’t remember an exact number — but ask me for a citation, I could find it) something like 40% of science journals require people to pay money. Please, Jerry, do some research about this issue before making overly confident claims.

      Also, I confirmed with NORMA and Taylor & Francis (T&F) that NORMA did NOT recommend Cogent Social Sciences to B&L. Rather, it was T&F who did, for monetary rather than academic reasons. The “NORMA recommended the pay-to-publish journal Cogent” was described in the non-peer-reviewed Skeptic article authored by B&L as “damning,” yet it never happened. B&L were intellectually irresponsible in not checking out this recommendation without confirming it, just as they, Skeptic, and you ere intellectually irresponsible for advertising this as a victory against gender studies.

      Look, there have been literally *hundreds* of fake scientific papers published in open-access, pay-to-publish, peer-review scientific journals. Yet *no reasonable person* would conclude that these papers undercut science. Please, do the right thing and publicly acknowledge that this “hoax” says something (wholly unoriginal) about pay-to-publish journals, but absolutely nothing about gender studies. (Which is not to say that gender studies deserves no criticism.) The credibility of the skeptics community is on the line.


      • I should also add that Jerry commits the confirmation fallacy in his post: finding a number of instances of pay-to-publish journals that a legitimate doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of non-legitimate journals out there. See, for example, for a bit more on the issue — but don’t stop your research here!

        • Yes, there are plenty of “scam” open access journals that only exist to make money. And there are lots of open-access journals that charge fees that are legitimate and reputable and have proper peer review. From the mere fact that they charge article fees one cannot tell one way or the other. That’s why the critics are wrong to make an issue of it.

          Now, given that, what is your argument that “Cogent Social Sciences” is a scam journal, as opposed to one by a reputable publisher that is attempting to build a genuine reputation?

          • I disagree with “From the mere fact that they charge article fees one cannot tell one way or the other. That’s why the critics are wrong to make an issue of it.” The reason is that a mere 4% of humanities journals require authors to pay for publication. In other words, it is *not* common for humanistic scholars to pay journals, whereas it is not *uncommon* for scientists to pay. The fact that Cogent charges authors should immediately make is suspect to anyone willing to think critically for a moment.

            Second, Cogent has almost *nothing* to do with gender studies at all. It was recommended to the gullible authors of the “hoax” by Taylor&Francis, not NORMA, which itself is not a particularly reputable journal. At least one person on the editorial board of Cogent recently said she had no idea she was part of the Cogent team (i.e., they added her without her knowledge), and not a *single* senior editor has a background in gender studies. Their expertise lies in (I kid you not) tourism, criminology, development planning, geography, sport management and communication sciences. Does that sound legit to you? (Pause! Give yourself at least .4 nanoseconds to reflect on this.)

            As I wrote in my article, “Submitting an article on gender studies to that particular journal and then claiming that its publication proves that gender studies is idiotic is tantamount to a creationist writing a fake article about evolutionary biology, publishing it in an unknown pay-to-publish non-biology journal (whose editorial board includes no one with expertise in evolutionary biology), and then exclaiming, “See! The entire field of evolutionary biology is complete nonsense.”” Not a single heavy-handed “skeptic” like Jerry Coyne has offered a good response to this, because frankly there isn’t one.

          • The fact that Cogent charges authors should immediately make is suspect …

            Given that Cogent is an “imprint” name for a whole slew of journals, across many areas of academia, then no, it doesn’t make it suspect. Yes, Open Access pay-to-publish is a relatively new business model, and not (yet) common in the humanities, but again, that alone does not make is suspect. (see here for an intro to the Cogent series of journals)

            … and not a *single* senior editor has a background in gender studies. Their expertise lies in (I kid you not) tourism, criminology, development planning, geography, sport management and communication sciences. Does that sound legit to you?

            Well it is “Cogent Social Sciences” (which sounds fairly broad) rather than specifically a gender-studies journal.

            Submitting an article on gender studies to that particular journal and then claiming that its publication proves that gender studies is idiotic …

            You’re right that this one hoax along doesn’t prove much (any more than the Sokal Hoax did), but then it’s not the only relevant piece of evidence. People have been criticising postmodernist-style “gender studies” for ages, and there are plenty of intended-seriously papers that one could point to

      • (Finally, may apologies for so many posts: I can say honestly that I never paid to publish any of my articles. See my response to Peter B. posting this on FB. I honestly don’t know of any philosophers or social scientists who have *ever* paid for a paper to get published. If Metaphilosophy is now charging authors it’s a darn shame, because they were a tier 1 journal, as I recall.)

  • Jordan Peterson claims that Humanities and Social Science papers are typically written only for their own closed circle, are very rarely if ever cited and they end up in libraries who pay for their publication with public funds. They end up on library shelves where practically nobody reads them.

  • The fee you have listed for the Journal of School Psychology is misleading since this is optional. One would only pay it if one wants to publish one’s article open access. Most of us don’t do this because we can’t afford it, and this is very different from the pay-to-publish journals where the fees are not optional.

  • the difference being that these journals have a legitimate peer review process. the publishing fee is usually budgeted in the research grant. high raking journals ( are difficult to get into due to the rigorous process of review by other scientists in the relevant field. this does not guarantee that shoddy science does not get published in them, but i would be shocked if a gibberish article could get published in Gender and Society (Impact Factor 2.400). You might not agree with the conclusions or even of the legitimacy of the topics, but you will not be able to Sokal hoax a journal like that. For that you need to go way down the list, which was done in this particular instance. There are examples in other fields of study as well, so it is not limited to the social sciences or post modernism: published in

  • Oh boy. Okay, first up – there’s more than one Ketan Joshi, my man. I’m also not the Ketan Joshi that’s an astrologer in Hyderabad, nor am I the Ketan Joshi selling herbs in Switzerland. There are quite a few of me around the world.

    Um, second, I would have been six when I was publishing on fructose, and fifteen when I shifted gear into publishing on chemistry.

    Maybe a little cursory fact-checking on those authors would have revealed that they’re not me?

    Anyway; I actually have co-authored work in an open-access journal, Frontiers in Public Health:

    Frontiers and open access aren’t exactly perfect, each with their fair share of controversies and issues (Frontiers once published a HIV denialist article!!), but of course, my blog post wasn’t intended as a criticism of open-access pay-to-publish, nor as a defence of them. My blog post was specifically about the hoax, and the conclusions drawn from it. Diverting attention away from the claims and logic of the piece and somehow using the publication history of critics as a defence is pretty illogical – I think there’s basic consensus on the fact that there are pointed issues around publication and peer review, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this weakness was exploited and bad conclusions were drawn from it.

    Again, there’s a useful and interesting conversation to be had around the issues underpinning publication and peer review, but turning this into tribal warfare is boring and definitely seems to discourage cursory skepticism and fact-checking.

    I’m also not sure why you didn’t link to my article but if your readers want to assess my claims for logic and fact-checking, they can do so here:

    • Hi Joshi,

      Thank you for your comment. Apologies for my error. I have now noted the mistake and corrected it.

      Would it be possible to confirm whether you’ve ever paid fees to publish?

      Many thanks

      • Sure, I haven’t paid but a fee was paid for that article I was a co-author on, for publication. It’s a grey area I know, but in essence, it was paid on my behalf.

        Again, I’m having trouble understanding how that makes the claims drawn from the hoax article any less irrational, but I’d be keen to read some further explanation.

        If the argument is essentially that I’m a hypocrite for criticising pay-to-publish journals whilst having had co-authored work published in them, I hope you can understand how that doesn’t quite work when you think about it for a bit. My arguments in the piece I wrote were specifically about the claims behind the hoax, rather than a wholesale dismissal or approval of a specific model of publication. Cogent was obviously dodgy af, and a lowly-ranked journal didn’t even accept their paper for publication.

        This isn’t about an industry or publishing model, it’s about a specific journal, a specific paper and the claims made in the article and by those who shared it.

        It might be worth focusing on the original claims, and the specifics of the critiques, rather than generalisations that weren’t made in the first place.

        • Ketan Joshi: This entire fiasco has been deeply wounding to those who care about facts. Not only was the B&L “hoax” (which “L” is now calling a “joke paper”) riddled with factual errors that neither B&L nor Skeptic have publicly corrected (because doing so would be ideologically inconvenient, of course), but I’ve been asking Stephen for several days to remove my name from this blog post: as a matter of verifiable fact, I have never once paid to be published, and I even attached screen shots of and forwarded editor emails from both Metaphilosophy and Foresight confirming that, contra the claims of this article, which people are still reading, they *do not* charge authors. A correction needs to be made fast because misinformation is spreading — but if there’s one thing this “hoax” reveals it’s that misinformation is, well, kinda okay if it suits your narrative.

What do you think? Leave some comments!