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Masturbation study removed from journal after backlash


Sage journal removes controversial article by Manchester PhD student “due to ethical concerns”

A controversial article by a Manchester doctoral student, in which he used masturbation to erotic comics depicting young boys as a research method, has been removed from the journal where it was first published.

A study by Karl Andersson, a PhD student at the University of Manchester, published in the Sage journal Qualitative Research in April on “using masturbation as an ethnographic method in research on shota subculture in Japan” sparked outrage on social media last week.

Shota refers to comics and illustrations that, as the study described it, “feature young boy characters in a cute or, most often, sexually explicit way”.

Following the publication, several academics and public figures criticised the study and the procedures that allowed it to be conducted and published in a peer-reviewed journal.

‘Ethical concerns’

The university and Sage have launched investigations into the study.

The journal has now removed the article from its website, leaving just the title and the removal notice.

The removal notice says: “Due to ethical concerns surrounding this article and the social harm being caused by the publication of this work, the publishers have now agreed with the journal editors and have decided to remove the article while this investigation is ongoing in accordance with Cope (Committee of Publication Ethics) guidelines.”

There is also a “correction” now posted on the article URL, saying: “We began investigating the publication of the above paper on Aug 9, 2022, and are continuing our investigations. We will consider closely all guidance from the Committee of Publication Ethics and ensure that any actions taken comply with COPE standards.”

The University of Manchester declined to comment on the development.

Last week a spokesperson for the institution said the publication had raised “significant concerns and complaints, which we are taking very seriously”.

“We are currently undertaking a detailed investigation into all aspects of their work, the processes around it and other questions raised. It is very important that we look at the issues in-depth. While that investigation is ongoing, it would not be appropriate for us to comment further at this time.”

Social psychologist and research consultant Petra Boynton said that the paper “has only been removed and not retracted”.

“I am astonished it has not been retracted,” she told Research Professional News. “An investigation is warranted and I hope results will be shared transparently. However, that should not prevent the paper from being retracted by the journal as a matter of urgency and ethical practice.”

Research Professional News has approached Andersson and Sage Publishing for comment.