Manchester investigates PhD student’s masturbation paper

‘Wanking is not a research method; it is just wanking,’ says professor, as doctoral candidate chronicles how he ‘enjoyed’ provocative cartoon images of boys

August 10, 2022
University of Manchester
Source: iStock
University of Manchester

The University of Manchester is investigating how one of its PhD students was allowed to publish a journal paper describing how he masturbated to sexualised images of young boys.

The Sage journal Qualitative Research, which published the paper subtitled “Using masturbation as an ethnographic method in research on shota subculture in Japan” by the Swedish doctoral candidate Karl Andersson, will also review how the article on a manga comic genre depicting sexual encounters involving young boys was vetted, amid calls for its editors to resign.

The controversy erupted after the paper, originally published in April, was widely shared online this week. The Conservative MP for Harborough Neil O’Brien tweeted: “Why should hard-working taxpayers in my constituency have to pay for this academic to write about his experiences masturbating to Japanese porn?”

In the open-access paper, Mr Andersson, who thanks his PhD supervisor at Manchester “for always encouraging me to go where my research takes me”, explains how he decided to “masturbate only to shota” for three months. Those experiences led him to conclude that “it’s impossible for your brain to be blank during masturbation”.

However, some academics challenged his research claims for “masturbation as a method” and questioned the lack of any mention of ethics approval by his university or publisher, with one academic telling Times Higher Education that it was the “most morally offensive paper I have ever read”.

Others highlighted that possessing fictional images of minors in a pornographic context is banned in the UK, although it was unclear where the research was conducted and different rules relating to cartoons apply in Japan and countries such as the US and Germany.

“Masturbating to images of young boys and passing it off as scholarship normalises paedophilia,” said Alice Sullivan, professor of sociology at UCL, adding that “it suggests a complete lack of intellectual or ethical standards” at the journal, whose “editors should consider their positions”.

“Wanking is not a research method; it is just wanking,” continued Professor Sullivan, adding: “People attempting to defend this on academic freedom grounds do not understand what academic freedom is or why it matters.”

Mr Andersson’s PhD, on “how fans of subcultural comics in Japan experience desire and think about sexual identities”, is funded by Manchester’s School of Arts, Languages and Cultures.

Michelle Shipworth, a lecturer at UCL’s Energy Institute, said she struggled to see how a “three-month masturbating spree with Japanese ‘comic’ images of child porn constituted a ‘form of disciplined inquiry that aims to contribute to a body of knowledge or theory’”.

The “deeply problematic” paper – which may have been exempt from ethics review as it did not involve other participants, she suggested – “brings legitimate and usually highly valuable humanities, social science and qualitative research into disrepute. As a social scientist who uses qualitative methods, I find that very disturbing,” said Dr Shipworth.

Mr Andersson did not respond to THE’s request for comment, but recently posted a YouTube video in which he mentioned he was reviewing his research plans after they were rejected by a university ethics committee. In another video, he described shota comics as a “brilliant example of extreme expression” which “blur the gap between fiction and actual reality” and questioned the rationale for some countries’ decision to ban the comics.

Manchester said the publication of “the work of a student, now registered for a PhD, has 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 added.

Sage said it was “investigating” the paper to see if it complied with guidance from the Committee of Publication Ethics.


Print headline: Manchester quizzed over PhD funding for author of masturbation paper

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Reader's comments (10)

This is not research and taints academia. It does not advance knowledge nor serve any public interest. It is a disgrace.
It is just trying to normalise paedophilia; this is absolutely disgusting!
There can be no doubt that this paper is unethical by the code of any discipline, that it uses images that are illegal in the UK, and is pathetically poor scholarship. Any qualitative researcher should be outraged that this area of scholarship has become an international laughing stock. What troubles me most is that this paper was published *in April* and until this week, no one in the academic community either noticed or cared. There was astonishingly poor judgement on the part of the author/researcher. But many other academics and departments should be doing some serious soul-searching: his PhD supervisor, Dr Kinsella, (whom he thanks in the paper acknowledgements); the Manchester academic from the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures who passed his annual review earlier this year; the paper's TWO peer reviewers; the editors of Qualitative Research (all sociologists at Cardiff University); the numerous esteemed researchers on QR's editorial board; and the hundreds of academics who must have seen this paper when it was published 'online first' 3.5 months ago, observed that it violated the ethical codes of every discipline and was likely illegal, but chose to say nothing.
As a young Ph.D. researcher I remember being told that "journals are not for reading, they are for publishing in", which may explain why it slipped through the public net, as it were. Shame on the editors of the journal, however (looks like a cosy 'Publication Club' has been created here), and the reviewers, and what on earth was this guy's supervisor doing/thinking ? It beggars belief. This is so bad, it's almost funny.
I am afraid this is the logical conclusion of the weak and muddled ‘methodologies’ that have become acceptable in Humanities and Social Sciences. ‘Critical Discourse’, even many so-called ‘Content Analysis’ and ‘ethnographic’ studies only reinforce the prejudices of the researcher and provide no new, genuine knowledge.
I completely agree with you! I came here to make the same comment and am glad that someone else is willing to point out the truth! Relativism at its very worst. It was all destined to lead to this and although I am experiencing some real Schadenfreude, it is tempered by the distastefulness of the case in question.
I have campaigned for less publicly funded academic research for over a decade and this seems to prove my point. There is too much "worthless" / inappropriate" research and too many research papers on the same subjects, read by hardly anyone other than those directly involved. In some cases, it seems, not even read by those supposed to be reviewing the work (are they paid for their reviews or unpaid?)
Did it take 3 whole months to refine his technique? Surely mention in passing that some 'readers' of these comics use them as stimulation for self-arousal would have sufficed.
This part of a wider campaign to make paedophillia accepted by society. The term Minor attracted persons (M.A.P.S) has been pushed into the LBGTQ community and their people lobbying that community into accepting attraction to children as “normal” I have to prejudice against any gender preference, you can choose to be whatever you want and we are free to question and research the world and our species but we must stand up to those that seek to rape and kill our children.
Sorry , my damn iPhone just wants to auto correct every thing I type. Ignore my previous post. This is What I am trying to say... This is part of a wider campaign to make paedophillia accepted by society. The term Minor attracted persons (M.A.P.S) has been introduced into LBGTQ community and there are people lobbying that community into accepting attraction to children as “normal” I have no prejudice against any gender preference or race. We’re all cool you can choose to be whatever you want and we are free to question and research the world and our species but we must stand up to those that seek to rape and kill our children.