Sokal Hoax

3/7/19

In 1996 Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University and University College London, submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity". In the article he proposed that 'quantum gravity has progressive political implications' and that the '"morphogenetic field" could be a cutting-edge theory of quantum gravity'. After referring skeptically to the "so-called scientific method", the article declared that "it is becoming increasingly apparent that physical 'reality'" is fundamentally "a social and linguistic construct". It went on to state that because scientific research is "inherently theory-laden and self-referential", it "cannot assert a privileged epistemological status with respect to counterhegemonic narratives emanating from dissident or marginalized communities" and that therefore a "liberatory science" and an "emancipatory mathematics", spurning "the elite caste canon of 'high science'", needed to be established for a "postmodern science [that] provide[s] powerful intellectual support for the progressive political project". [From Wikipedia]

Of course, it was a hoax paper. Sokal wanted to show that the the liberal left agenda at the time seemed to have been hijacked by hip intellectuals and postmodernist literary theorists teaching that reality is socially constructed and about which you can say anything, especially if written in inpenetrable bollocks. Sokal has been praised as a hero on the right who wish to deride and dismiss entire fields of academia as useless endeavors but he was, in his own words: "an unabashed Old Leftist who never quite understood how deconstruction was supposed to help the working class". His aim was to promote a dialogue within academia and to remind some that there is an objective world out there that we are capable of studying systematically to discover it.

Sokal wrote of his hoax: 'From the mere fact of publication of my parody I think that not much can be deduced. It doesn't prove that the whole field of cultural studies, or cultural studies of science -- much less sociology of science -- is nonsense. Nor does it prove that the intellectual standards in these fields are generally lax. (This might be the case, but it would have to be established on other grounds.) It proves only that the editors of one rather marginal journal were derelict in their intellectual duty, by publishing an article on quantum physics that they admit they could not understand, without bothering to get an opinion from anyone knowledgeable in quantum physics, solely because it came from a ``conveniently credentialed ally'' (as Social Text co-editor Bruce Robbins later candidly admitted), flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions, and attacked their ``enemies'''. You can read the paper and Sokal's other work here: https://physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/

  • Meetup Events
  • Facebook Page
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Podcast
  • Newsletter
  • Donate at Patreon

© 2018 The Edinburgh Skeptics Society

SCVO Logo