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Reflections on the original Sokal hoax

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There are apt to be more of these hoaxes, whether or not they’ll make any difference, so we might as well recall the details:

Some 25 years ago, consider the Sokal Affair, also called the Sokal Hoax. It was a scholarly hoax performed by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University and University College London. In 1996, he submitted an article to Social Text, a ‘revered’ journal of postmodern/cultural studies. The submission was an experiment to test the journal’s standards of rigorously analysing text for original, authentic material. However, the paper was a spoof, riddled with nonsense. It was called, Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, and was published in the journal’s spring/summer 1996 “Science Wars” issue. It was alleged at the time that leftist, anti-intellectual sentiment in liberal arts departments (especially English departments) caused the increase of deconstructionist thought, which eventually resulted in a deconstructionist critique of science. So much for deconstructionism.

So, to repeat, how did we get to this bleak situation? Dwight Longenecker, recently wrote in The Stream (Nov 17): “It’s not too hard to figure out what has gone wrong. It’s called relativism. Relativism is the idea that there is no such thing as truth, or if there is, it is impossible to state the truth accurately and authoritatively. In other words, dogma—the definite expression of truth—is impossible. Relativism has been creeping into our society like an insidious cancer for the last 70 years.”

Kenneth Francis, “Ever Since Derrida” at New English Review (December 20, 2021)

It’s one thing for scientists to want to go Woke, if they do. It’s another thing to expect the same status when facts, as well as truth, are forever negotiable.

You may also wish to read: Jonathan Bartlett: Are Sokal hoaxes really helping reform science? In Bartlett’s view, serious problems exist in today’s journals but the hoaxers seem so certain of their view that they don’t approach demonstrating it in a scientific way.

Hat tip: Ken Francis, co-author with Theodore Dalrymple of The Terror of Existence: From Ecclesiastes to Theatre of the Absurd

3 Replies to “Reflections on the original Sokal hoax

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    No, relativism isn’t the problem. Relativism DOES NOT EXIST. It’s a stupid myth.

    Everyone has a strict dogma. Everyone has a strict moral code. The dogma of seeking objective truth was repeatedly associated with genocides, starting with Marat in 1789 and continuing through Stalin and Hitler and Fauci. By now it’s a stinky dogma, so we shouldn’t be surprised that sane people reject it.

    If truth wants to regain popularity, it needs to LOUDLY reject genocide and associate itself with entertainment and fun and participation, as it did in the mid 1800s.

    http://polistrasmill.blogspot......arwin.html

  2. 2
    Seversky says:

    I agree that people crave certainty. We all need a sense of security to some extent but truth and facts are not so easy to come by when it all boils down to observations and narratives.

    Facts, as Gould wrote, are observations made so frequently that it would be perverse to deny them, at least provisionally. We create narratives which incorporate those facts in an attempt to explain them. The degree of truth in those explanations lies in the extent to which they agree with what we actually observe.

  3. 3
    jerry says:

    The degree of truth in those explanations lies in the extent to which they agree with what we actually observe.

    Nonsense!

    This is the Fallacy of Assumption. Or a form of begging the question.

    It’s also the Fallacy of Omission. What’s left out completely vitiates the assumptions made.

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