I got a hoax academic paper about how UK politicians wipe their bums published

Gary Lewis, Royal Holloway

I had what seemed like rather a good idea a few weeks back. Building on some prominent findings in social psychology, I hypothesized that politicians on the right would wipe their bum with their left hand; and that politicians on the left would wipe with their right hand.

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Ludicrous? Yes – absolutely. But for once my goal wasn’t to run a bona fide scientific study. Instead, I wanted to see if any “journal” would publish my ass-wiping “findings”.

For those who haven’t yet come across the term, “predatory journals” are becoming a bit of a nuisance in science. They actively masquerade as legitimate mainstream journals, often with similar layouts and names – although they very likely have essentially zero threshold for publication, despite typically claiming to operate with rigorous peer review processes.

Most academics will know the irritation of receiving multiple spam emails per day soliciting manuscripts or inviting one to join editorial boards of unfamiliar journals. Much more importantly, though, these predatory journals are undermining the credibility of scientific publishing because the research they publish appears to be largely unvetted.

So partly out of frustration with this situation, but also out of curiosity, I wanted to see just how low the bar for publication might be. This is the story of my “study”.

Which hand do you use?

There is a well-known theory in social psychology – so-called unconscious social priming. The basic idea is that words or concepts can prime our behaviors. The best-known finding in this field is the report that presenting participants with words to do with old age (“bingo”, “knits”) made them walk more slowly afterwards compared to a control condition (although also see this paper for a more rounded perspective as several findings in this field of research have been controversial in their own right).

So it seemed to me that there was an obvious prediction for political science – specifically, that politicians from the right should wipe their ass with their right hand (and vice versa).

But there was a snag to my theory. We know that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, and vice versa. And in a stunning feat of logic, I realized that the theory had things the wrong way around. Politicians from the right would surely wipe with their left hand, and those from the political left with their right hand. And as we shall see, this careful reasoning paid off handsomely.

My (fictional) research assistant camped outside the Houses of Parliament and essentially stalked “MPs”. She used a large folder of pictures to identify these politicians’ left vs right leaning tendencies. And when a potential participant was seen on the street, the research assistant walked up alongside the politician, indicated that she was a psychological scientist doing a study, provided a brief consent form, and then asked which hand they wiped their bottom with.

This yielded nine (fictional) participants in total, including “Boris Johnski” and “Teresa Maybe”, although one data point had to be discarded – that of “Nigel F. ‘Arage”. He, rather meanly, told my research assistant to “bog off” when asked the hand-wiping question. And so his data was necessarily excluded from the analysis.

But that didn’t matter – because the data from our sample of eight fully confirmed the theory. Politicians do indeed wipe their asses with the contralateral hand. I could scarcely believe my eyes – but of course the statistics never lie.