Tuesday, August 5th — The Sokal Affair

August 5, 2008

Today I Learned…

…about the “Sokal Affair,” another tidbit gleaned from the Ig Nobel awards.  The Wikipedia article on this is much more eloquent than I have a chance of being, so I will quote it:

The Sokal affair (also Sokal’s hoax) was a hoax by physicist Alan Sokal perpetrated on the editorial staff and readership of the postmodern cultural studies journal Social Text (published by Duke University). In 1996, Sokal, a professor of physics at New York University, submitted a paper of nonsense camouflaged in jargon for publication in Social Text, as an experiment to see if a journal in that field would, in Sokal’s words: “publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.”[1]

The paper, titled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity[2], was published in the Spring/Summer 1996 “Science Wars” issue of Social Text, which at that time had no peer review process, and so did not submit it for outside review. On the day of its publication, Sokal announced in another publication, Lingua Franca, that the article was a hoax, calling his paper “a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense”, which was “structured around the silliest quotations I could find about mathematics and physics” made by postmodernist academics.

The resulting debate focused on the relative scholarly merits or lack thereof of sociological commentary on the physical sciences and of postmodern-influenced sociological disciplines in general, as well as on academic ethics, including both whether it was appropriate for Sokal to deliberately defraud an academic journal, as well as whether Social Text took appropriate precautions in publishing the paper.

First of all: Duke sucks.  Second of all: so does postmodernism.  Check out the Wikipedia article for more specific references to the paper itself — some of which are very funny.

The editorial staff of Social Text won the 1996 Ig Nobel prize in Literature for “eagerly publishing research that they could not understand, that the author said was meaningless, and which claimed that reality does not exist.”


One Response to “Tuesday, August 5th — The Sokal Affair”

  1. Raf Says:

    This is hilarious!!

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