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The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs!


A friend directed me to this fun little article from the Jewish World Review. I’m not a regular reader of JWR, so missed this wonderful little piece from Paul Greenberg, in which he recalls the Sokal Hoax of 1996. For those not familiar with it, the Sokal Hoax was an article written by Professor Alan Sokal, a professor of Physics at New York University and submitted to a not too widely followed academic journal called Social Text as part of a series on Science wars. The article was entitled Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,( Social Text, Spring/Summer 1996), and was, according to Greenberg,

… itself a little masterpiece of satire. And the text that accompanied it was a perfect parody of the whole genre, complete with its indecipherable prose, layer upon layer of ideological rectitude, masses of arcane references, sociological gibberish, and the usual yard of footnotes that gradually swallows the text — like a pet boa constrictor that’s grown out of control. Vladimir Nabokov used the same trick in his “Pale Fire,” which is to academia what his Lolita was to motels.

The whole point of this story is that Sokal disgruntled more than a few fellow academics with his blatant, purposeful exposure of their dogmas. There are, I think, parallels to what is taking place today in the way dogmatic Darwinism is defended or how articles subject to peer review are selected for publication. The impetus for Greenberg’s article was a letter to the editor in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette in which the writer of a letter to the editor opined, “Indeed, science is not an objective enterprise. It is greatly influenced by power, culture, race, gender and ethnicity. Biologist Ruth Hubbard says that facts are invented, not discovered; facts are not necessarily facts forever, as shown by the constant change in dogma in biology as new data are obtained.”

To that, Greenberg responds with:

Beautiful. This guff is still widespread, apparently, having spread far beyond the ivory tower, like so much smog. Two plus two equals four only because we’re told so. The germ theory of disease is but a philosophical construct. It all depends on what we’re taught, and since there are fashions in science as in all human endeavors, then science itself is only fashion — a culturally agreed-upon illusion, a bourgeois plot, as ever changeable as mere fact.

All of this reminds me of a scene from The Last Battle, the final book in C.S. Lewis’s series The Chronicle of Narnia. At one point in the story, Narnia has been betrayed into the hands of the Calormen Empire, worshippers of the evil god, Tash, and haters of Aslan, the Great Lion (the God figure in the Narnia stories). The Narnian Dwarfs had had enough of betrayals and not knowing who to believe and decided to take matters into their own hands and side with themselves instead of fighting for Narnia. A handful of the dwarfs find themselves tossed into a stable by the Calormens. But, the truth was that the stable door was both a door into the stable, as well as a door into Aslan’s country. What one saw when tossed in, depended on their worldview.

Unfortunately, all the dwarfs could see was the darkness of the inside of the stable. All they could smell was the dank, smelly orders of a barn. Even though Aslan stood right before them, in all his golden glory, all they could see was what they expected to see inside a stable. Aslan’s lush country, awash in sunshine was right before them, yet they continued to bumble about in their darkness, even believing the delicious food brought to them by Lucy was straw and horse meal. Their mantra became “the Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs!”

This strikes me as a good analogy for the state of things with respect to ID and Darwinism. The splendor and glory of a beautifully designed universe and biological structures is viewed by the dwarfs of Darwinism as the cold, end result of the blind, purposeless forces of matter and energy evolving over eons of time through mere chance and/or necessity. Even when contrary evidence is staring them in the face (like Aslan to the Dwarfs), they see only what their Naturalism will allow them to see, and therefore must explain away the intricate details of actual design with improbable calculations of the powers of chance and/or necessity. And, as Sokal’s Hoax reminds us, those blinded by their dogmas, are easily taken in by the darkness of the stable, instead of seeing the sunshine of Truth!

You know what I was wrong. I'm coming to realize more and more the nature of the beast. :/ Phaedros
What do you do to guard against interpreting data through whatever ideological grid you have in place?
Independent verification of observations and experimental results. Testing the entailments of theories and hypotheses. Petrushka
I suspect that the reason Sokal did not attempt reasoned argument at the start is because of the perception, justified in the opinion of this writer, that reasoned argument would fall on deaf ears.
I think the point of the Sokal essay was to demonstrate that reasonableness has been abandoned for big words strung together into incomprehensible mush. When a whole class of people cannot distinguish between serious gibberish and ironic gibberish, it means they are all brain dead. They are patting each other on the back for having big vocabularies and the ability to make grammatically correct compound sentences. Petrushka
Hello Sooner Emeritus,
...your “science” is relentless argument that physical evidence supports what you already know must be true...
Sadly, relentless argument in support of what must be true is what characterizes perspectives on both sides of the aisle, IMO. How can this be avoided? What do you do to guard against interpreting data through whatever ideological grid you have in place? SteveB
Instead of making a reasoned argument to these people he used deceit in order to embarass the entire journal as though there haven’t been bad experiments with faulty methodologies and poor conclusions printed in the harder science journals.
I suspect that the reason Sokal did not attempt reasoned argument at the start is because of the perception, justified in the opinion of this writer, that reasoned argument would fall on deaf ears. EvilSnack
UDers’ frequent invocation of C. S. Lewis in matters of science is the stuff of satire.
Why? He was a scholar of the time period and history of thought that produced science (have you read The Discarded Image?), and he was aware of all of the philosophical presuppositions of science, and obviously smart enough to evaluate and deconstruct materialist philosophies that arise on occasion from science. Clive Hayden
Phaedros: Let's assume that Greenberg used a 'club' instead of a 'lamp'. It didn't work, did it? Bernie Goldberg wrote a book called "Bias". After having worked at CBS for years and years, he came to the conclusion that the media did indeed have a built in bias towards the left. He wrote the book with the very good intention of gently pointing this out the all of his former comrades. What was the reaction? He was completely ostracized; and now you can see him on Fox News Channel. What has been so incredibly shocking to me is the only recent discovery of the tremendous bias that exists in the science community. You would think: "This is science. Personal opinion shouldn't matter." But, oh, it surely does. And is both an indictment of current science, and the end to the idea that science can be the savior of humankind. Fr. Stanislaus Jaki wrote a book entitled: "The Savior of Science." All of what we are witnessing demonstrates that science itself needs to be saved from the effects of fallen human nature. PaV
I've been meaning to post this for a while, mostly in relation to Climategate. Here's the blurb for Alan Sokal's 2008 book Beyond the Hoax:
Now, in Beyond the Hoax, Sokal takes on a new and more dangerous set of targets. The hoax article (included here with new explanatory footnotes) exposed the fallacies in the post-modernist critique of science, which asserts that facts, truth and evidence are mere social constructs. Today, right-wing politicians are happily manipulating these basic tenets of postmodernism to obscure the scientific consensus on global warming and biological evolution, at the same time as fundamentalists of all faiths are insisting loudly that their dogmas must be granted 'respect'. Sokal exposes the dangers in such thinking and defends a worldview based on respect for evidence, logic and reasoned argument over wishful thinking, superstition and demagoguery of any kind.
Now, from p. xvi of the text itself, a magnificent twofer:
Alas, much has changed in the past decade — and not for the better. Back in the 1990s, conservatives could make rhetorical headway by insisting that postmodernist academics posed a dire threat to reason and scholarship.12 This was always an exaggeration — even in those days, the pomo orthodoxy in a handful of elite literature departments paled in comparison with the capitalist orthodoxy in economics departments and business schools — but it did at least contain a grain of truth.13 Ten years on, that zeitgeist is unrecognisable. The assault on reason and science now clearly comes from the right, led by an unholy (and uneasy) alliance of big corporations seeking to escape environmental and safety regulations and religious fundamentalists seeking to impose their dogmas on education and health policy.14 [BUSH!!] It thus transpires that even sociologist of science Bruno Latour, who spent several decades stressing "the social construction of scientific facts"17, now laments the ammunition he fears he and his colleagues have given to the Republican right, helping them to deny or obscure the scientific consensus on global warming, biological evolution and a host of other issues:
While we spent years trying to detect the real prejudices hidden behind the appearance of objective statements, do we now have to reveal the real objective and incontrovertible facts hidden behing the illusion of prejudices? And yet entire Ph.D. programs are still running to make sure that good American kids are learning the hard way that facts are made up, that there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth, that we are always prisoners of language, that we always speak from a particular standpoint, and so on, while dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives.18
All of the above is from Amazon's free preview of http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Hoax-Science-Philosophy-Culture/dp/0199239207 Sokal. (Apologies for any transcription errors.) Footnote 18 is to a version of Latour's priceless "Why Has Critique Run out of Steam?" from 2004. (Of course, as Latour basically admits but Sokal doesn't, what really changed — what provoked the political realignment and reworking of narratives that gave us the Science Peace, the New Atheism, and probably the salad days of the unassailable climate consensus — wasn't some objectively new behaviour on the part of the US right but al-Qaeda setting us up the planes.) anonym
DonaldM, UDers' frequent invocation of C. S. Lewis in matters of science is the stuff of satire. If you believe that evolutionary biology somehow compares to deconstructionism, and you admire the Sokal hoax, then let's see you publish a satirical work in a scientific journal. It happens that I accept creation of the Universe. But when someone leaps to anthropomorphize that creation, i.e., begging the question of why it must issue from an entity that is like a human, I recognize a philosophical dwarf. (There are plenty of theologians who agree that the source of the Universe is of a different type than the things within it, and that the personhood of God is a difficult issue.) I also accept the mystery in existence. If your answers to the ultimate questions come from a Holy Book, then do not pretend that they come from nature. If your "science" is relentless argument that physical evidence supports what you already know must be true, then spare us deceitful talk about falsification. Lawyering in the court of public opinion is not science. What I know does not amount to much. But I do know that Einstein demonstrated that Newton was foolish to think he had gotten into the mind of God. And I know that I mean and I purpose. I am not a dwarf mewling pathetically for scientific proof that Something Beyond means and purposes me. Sooner Emeritus
I agree with you totally there. Phaedros
I simply don't agree with the tactic here. I think the climategate situation was different in that its actions had a huge impact socially and politically and they were deliberately withholding information. I don't think anyone would tolerate any kind of hoax in a biology or chemistry journal for any reason so why tolerate it here? Phaedros
Phaedros, I think you've completely missed the point I was making. Whether or not one agrees with Sokal's method, the point I'm making with referencing it is to highlight the blindness to facts and truth staring so many academics, especially in the sciences, in the face. Sokal's articles makes that point pretty clear, whether or not you agree with how he did it. DonaldM
I disagree with Phaedros. I think the Sokal hoax was not only brilliant, but necessary, so that the world could see the low academic standards and the intellectual vapidity of much of modern social science. There is no excuse, none, for *any* of the referees who passed the phoney article. The fact that they couldn't see that it was unadulterated B.S. shows that they themselves were so steeped in such B.S. that they no longer could tell B.S. from scholarship -- and unfortunately that is true of a good number of social science Ph.D.s. Similarly, the hacking of e-mails regarding climate change, while more morally questionable because it involved illegal activity, was ultimately morally justifiable because it revealed to the world the contemptuous, dogmatic, elitist attitude that our leading climate change scientists -- the ones who are actively trying to influence world policy -- have toward their academic opponents, and it revealed to the world the tyrannical tendencies of scientific orthodoxies. Even though the guys caught with their hands in the cookie jar have now been cleared of any formally unethical behavior, i.e., of actually cooking data, they can never be cleared, in the public mind, of the charge that they approach climate change questions with fixed prejudices -- as they in fact do. Thanks to the hacker, the world has seen the dirty underbelly of "establishment science", and knows how these very influential people think and wheel and deal behind the scenes. I'm an academic myself. I have the greatest reverence for true academia and true scholars and scientists. But I hate what modern academia has become: on the social sciences side, largely B.S. in the service of a left-wing view of society, religion and politics; on the science side, a massive scramble for power, influence, and mega-research grants. There continue to be good and noble scientists and scholars, but the world needs to know the hypocrisy of academics, a hypocrisy covered up by the saccharine speeches at graduation ceremonies. The Sokal hoax was justified, and more than justified. It was heroic. T. Timaeus
Phaedros, I think this passage to be very applicable here. 2 Samuel 12. Then the LORD sent (A)Nathan to David And (B)he came to him and said, "There were two men in one city, the one rich and the other poor. 2"The rich man had a great many flocks and herds. 3"But the poor man had nothing except (C)one little ewe lamb Which he bought and nourished; And it grew up together with him and his children. It would eat of his bread and drink of his cup and lie in his bosom, And was like a daughter to him. 4"Now a traveler came to the rich man, And he was unwilling to take from his own flock or his own herd, To prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him; Rather he took the poor man's ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him." 5Then David's anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, "As the LORD lives, surely the man who has done this (D)deserves to die. 6"He must make restitution for the lamb (E)fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion." 7Nathan then said to David, "(F)You are the man! wagenweg
I just think that if you feel you're right then you shouldn't have a problem with coolly and gently laying down your reasoning. I don't think hmiliating someone is conducive to them accepting the truth, and in fact it will more likely alienate them. The question I would ask is this; was this about the trth or was it about Greenberg? If you want to bring the light in from outside the cave do you bring it in as a club or as a lamb? Phaedros
Phaedros: It's not being dishonest when you're laying it on so thick that only an ignoramus couldn't notice. It's being satirical, and it's being pedagogical--illustrating for people the errors of their ways. I'm really baffled by your take on this. You should first laugh; and then you should learn the lesson that is there to be had: namely, using the right words (the orthodox words) can conceal poor reasoning. Darwinists are guilty of this quite often. Many research articles, e.g., simply plug in the usual catchwords about evolution, words that add nothing to the understanding of their results, and that oftentimes simply obfuscate them. PaV
I remember reading about this some time ago and I've thought about it quite a bit. Ultimately, what he did was irresponsible and dishonest. Instead of making a reasoned argument to these people he used deceit in order to embarass the entire journal as though there haven't been bad experiments with faulty methodologies and poor conclusions printed in the harder science journals. I think Greenberg fundamentally misunderstood what he was doing and that the journal he hoaxed was working possibly with different subject matter than he was used to. Now, of course they could be wrong but don't use a dishonest tactic like he did to make your point. Phaedros

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