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Sokal hoax 20 years old. Is the peer review system unreformable?

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Yes, 20 years old:

The hoax journal paper genre was started, as Dreier explains, by New York University physicist Alan Sokal in 1996. Sokal aimed to skewer the postmodern dogma that facts, even in mathematics and physics, are merely a social construct. He submitted an article to Social Text, a postmodern cultural studies journal, that, “shorn of its intentionally outrageous jargon, essentially made the claim that gravity was in the mind of the beholder.”

From Jennifer Ruark at Chronicle of Higher Education:

How the physicist Alan Sokal hoodwinked a group of humanists and why, 20 years later, it still matters. (paywall)

But do Sokal hoaxes still matter? Are we not now in the age of post-fact science? (“I’m a factual relativist. I abandoned the idea of facts and “the truth” some time last year. ”)

And what has changed? Does it really come down to:  As long as they’ve got the cred and the gear, they’re doing science?

See also: Peer review “unscientific”: Tough words from editor of Nature

The Hoax on Us: Drivel, Fraud & Gibberish in Scientific Papers

Big Sokal hoax at Physics arxiv?

Here’s why Japanese universities are shedding liberal arts departments

Another hoax journal article retracted

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3 Replies to “Sokal hoax 20 years old. Is the peer review system unreformable?

  1. 1
    Silver Asiatic says:

    A Sokal paper on any matter of evolutionary theory would be too easy. It would also generate no outrage. Nobody would care how fake it was or what it said. Most of them are hoaxes anyway, although perhaps intending to be serious science – it’s a lot of guess-timates and bad statistical inferences.

  2. 2
    wd400 says:

    Well, write one and let’s find out.

    Of course, you may want to read one first…

  3. 3
    EvilSnack says:

    One method that could be used to rescue peer review is to publish the hypothesis that underlies the paper to be reviewed, and actively solicit those who already disagree with the hypothesis to review the paper.

    As an observer in debates here and in various other places on the Internet, I notice that humanity in general has great difficulty detecting errors in the logic of an argument when we agree with the conclusion. I see it on every side of every argument, both from people with whom I agree and those with whom I do not.

    I therefore hypothesize that the same could be true of research. A peer reviewer who a priori disagrees with the findings of an experiment is more likely to find problems with the methodology, whereas someone who a priori agrees with the findings is more likely to gloss over them.

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