Saturday, July 09, 2005

Don't forget the Sokal hoax

Nine years ago, New York University physics Professor Alan Sokal submitted a paper to the prestigious cultural studies journal, Social Text, entitled Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity. It was a complete and utter hoax. You can read the paper here. It is one of the best comeuppances delivered to the pretentious academic left ever written. We need to remember that lots of people (especially professors of non-materialist sciences) take themselves way too seriously, and that the Emperor's new clothes really aren't there. Here's a sample of Sokal's paper, which purported to show that quantum gravity is affected by politics:
In quantum gravity, as we shall see, the space-time manifold ceases to exist as an objective physical reality; geometry becomes relational and contextual; and the foundational conceptual categories of prior science -- among them, existence itself -- become problematized and relativized. This conceptual revolution, I will argue, has profound implications for the content of a future post-modern and liberatory science.

Some choice commentaries about the hoax:

...and from Sokal himself:
The displacement of the idea that facts and evidence matter by the idea that everything boils down to subjective interests and perspectives is -- second only to American political campaigns -- the most prominent and pernicious manifestation of anti-intellectualism in our time.

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