Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

So-kalled research: French sociology journal retracts hoax article

with 6 comments

societeThe world, it seems, cannot get enough of Sokal-type hoaxes.

A French journal, Sociétés, has retracted an article allegedly penned by one Jean-Marc Tremblay but actually written by two sociologists, Manuel Quinon and Arnaud Saint-Martin, who spoofed the work of the journal’s editor, Michel Maffesoli.

As the Crooked Timber blog explains, the article, “Automobilités postmodernes: quand l’Autolib’ fait sensation à Paris,” published in the

is about the Autolib, an electric car rental service available on a subscription basis in Paris.

In the article, the “transgender” Autolib is described as the turning point for the modern episteme, as the return to the protection of the primordial matrix, and so on. Being well-versed in maffesolese, they know that “modern” is bad, faustian, promethean, and that “postmodern” is good, comforting and dyonisian. In less than 10 pages, they use half a dozen languages: French, English, German, Latin, Greek (in Greek and Latin alphabets), and various typographic affectations (italics, parentheses, slashes in the middle of words). The vocabulary is often complex—”glyschomorphous”, “phallogocentric”, “diairetico-schizomorphous”—but lacking any particular definition. At the center of the article lies a pun. “Essence”, in French, is both essence (as in essential), and gasoline (as in oil). Thus our fictional author writes that the Autolib is “an open car, but not in essence because it is an electric car”. They also insist that postmodernity is “gaseous”, because Zygmunt Bauman’s modernity is “liquid”. The Autolib reveals itself in conclusion as the origin of a “new directing myth for a new epoch (postmodernity)”.

A month later, on March 7, the two authors, who were former students of Maffesoli’s, disclosed their hoax, and an embarrassed Maffesoli retracted the paper, apologizing to the journal’s readers and citing Descartes. Apparently, one of the peer reviewers had said the paper was “a bit on the jargon-y side,” according to the notice.

More from Le Monde.

Like Retraction Watch? Consider supporting our growth. You can also follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, and sign up on our homepage for an email every time there’s a new post.

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 12th, 2015 at 3:13 pm

  • Spoof March 12, 2015 at 4:41 pm

    So how much other junk did Maffesoli approve under the guise of “peer review”?

  • Sylvain Bernès March 12, 2015 at 10:21 pm

    The original article is available here:
    “Ainsi la masculinité effacée, corrigée, détournée même de l’Autolib’ peut-elle (enfin !) laisser place à une maternité oblongue — non plus le phallus et l’énergie séminale de la voiture de sport, mais l’utérus accueillant de l’abri-à-Autolib’.”
    “Et c’est ainsi qu’Allah est grand”

    (The last sentence of 900 chronicles published by the French journalist Alexandre Vialatte (1901-1971, also recognized as the first translator of Franz Kafka) in “La Montagne”, between 1952 and 1971. This nonsensical closing formula, repeated each week, regardless of the topic of the Vialatte’s column, is a trademark of his offbeat humour. The sentence is now connected to something which is an obvious hoax.)

    • Nils March 13, 2015 at 3:07 am

      The word “herméneutique” in the second sentence should already have been a give-away…

  • honestscientist March 13, 2015 at 6:28 am

    Maffesoli is a shame for the French Academia. He was notably the PhD supervisor of an astrologist, one the mistresses of François Mitterrand. The aim of the lady’s thesis was to confirm the accuracy and scientific validity of the astrology, and Maffesoli offered her a doctorate in sociology!

  • Lee Rudolph March 13, 2015 at 11:14 am

    The word “herméneutique” in the second sentence should already have been a give-away…

    Hey! I am four years along (and no end in sight) with the writing of an entirely serious paper bearing the working title “Funktionskreis as hermeneutische Zirkel: A Study in Evolutionary Ontology and Mathematical Modeling”. It’s possible for an honest person to use the word “hermeneutic” (maybe not the word “hermeneutics”); in fact, to the (debatable) extent that the phrase “hermeneutic circle” makes sense, it makes its best sense when used to describe the actual iterative process of mathematical modeling.

  • Enro March 16, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    It is worth noting that the retraction notice has replaced entirely the original article. This doesn’t comply (either) with ethical guidelines such as

  • Post a comment

    Threaded commenting powered by interconnect/it code.