Is this the most bizarre paper ever published in a peer reviewed journal?
Simon Oxenham covers the best and the worst from the world of psychology and neuroscience. Formerly writing with the pseudonym "Neurobonkers", Simon has a history of debunking dodgy scientific research and tearing apart questionable science journalism in an irreverent style. Simon has written and blogged for publishers including: The Psychologist, Nature, Scientific American and The Guardian. His work has been praised in the New York Times and The Guardian and described in Pearson's Textbook of Psychology as "excoriating reviews of bad science/studies”.
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A paper titled "Welcome to My Brain" has been published in the journal Qualitative Inquiry by Sage which is so unintelligible that it is baffling beyond belief. Unfortunately, the paper is behind a pay-wall, but some of the highlights are below.
"This article is therefore about developing recursive intrinsic self-reflexive as de- and/or resubjective always evolving living research designs. Inquiry perhaps full stop—me: An auto-brain—biography and/or a brain theorizing itself; me theorizing my brain. It is thus about theorizing bodily here brain and transcorporeal materialities, in ways that neither push us back into any traps of biological determinism or cultural essentialism, nor make us leave bodily matter and biologies behind. It is an attempt of seeing the real as/through/in its material-discursive coconstitutive complexity and produce research from within an ontology and epistemology where ‘matter and meaning are mutually articulated’ (Barad 2007, p. 152). It is about learning and memory cognition and experiment poetic and/or creative pedagogical science; learning ultimately pedagogy as movements in/through space."
As in the case of the paragraph above, bizarrely, much of the paper is taken up by explaining what the paper "is about", without actually really telling us what the paper is about, or telling us anything for that matter:
"It is broad and multifaceted and with open-ended references to any kind of sense-making procedure, a domain of uncharted dimensions my auto- brain- biography - ethnomethodology attempt."
The author dips in and out of the third and first person...
"I told you this was chaotic and noisy and my own moving sensations of sound touch taste and smell."
..and repeatedly for some reason that remains unclear, mentions a character named John:
"I call him—me . . . John. You?"
"Taxonomies, knowledges, and research that must die to be resurrected as will in me . . . John."
There are repeated references to the concept of the Möbius strip, knitting, and of course, John:
"Knitting John, John knitting. Knitting John Möbius. Möbius knitting John. Giant Möbius Strips have been used as conveyor belts (to make them last longer, since “each side” gets the same amount of wear) and as continuous-loop recording tapes (to double the playing time). In the 1960’s Möbius Strips were used in the design of versatile electronic resistors. Freestyle skiers have named one of their acrobatic stunts the Möbius Flip. The wear and tear of my efforts. My stunts, enthusiasm knitting. My brain and doubling and John."
I'm grateful it's not just me that's baffled, I did for a moment wonder if I was myself losing it, but after tweeting my shock, I received dozens of replies from befuddled scientists, one retweeting the article asking his followers if he'd had a stroke. Many more replied asking if the paper was a joke along the lines of the Sokal affair. I decided to contact the author to inquire whether this was the case and to request a concise explanation in layman's terms, this is the author's reply:
My paper is an attempt to show that pedagogy (education) is a complex science. It is an attempt to show the complexity and multiplicity of teaching and learning and what inclusiveness thus differences might ultimately mean. It is an attempt to create a picture of the very important but often underestimated hard theoretical/practical work teachers do with their students. It is an attempt to write against reductionism and instrumentalism. It is a paper about enthusiasm, desire, joy and love in schools and in research on schools. Do you know what they are?
To my mind this paper demonstrates only that unwarranted complexity in communication can get in the way of science to the point of obscuring it completely (and that there is no bottom limit to what the journal Qualitative Inquiry will publish. As for Sage, it's not the first time they've published a journal that a little more than just touches the sublime).
There has recently been a resurgence in the good old "is psychology a science debate". As far as I'm concerned psychology certainly is science, but it's obfuscating work like this that gives the discipline a bad name. Work like this is a pertinent reminder that just because something is published in a peer reviewed journal doesn't mean it is good science or intelligible and just because someone uses big words doesn't make their ideas more meaningful, but it can make them less so. If anyone can enlighten me further, please do so in the comments.
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