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Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture
"In 1996, physicist Alan Sokal played an elaborate trick on some unsuspecting humanists and social scientists — namely, the editors of the leftist journal Social Text — by submitting an essay filled with at least six kinds of nonsense. The editors didn't catch (or were willing to countenance) the nonsense and published the essay...."Michael Bérubé, American Scientist (read the entire American Scientist review)
Synopses & Reviews
When physicist Alan Sokal revealed that his 1996 article, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," published in Social Text, was a hoax, the ensuing scandal made the front page of the New York Times and caused an uproar among the post-modernists he had so hilariously--and convincingly--parodied.
Now, in Beyond the Hoax, Sokal revisits this remarkable chapter in our intellectual history to illuminate issues that are with us even more pressingly today than they were a decade ago. Sokal's main argument, then and now, is for the centrality of evidence in all matters of public debate. The original article, (included in the book, with new explanatory footnotes), exposed the faulty thinking and outright nonsense of the postmodernist critique of science, which asserts that facts, truth, evidence, even reality itself are all merely social constructs. Today, right wing politicians and industry executives are happily manipulating these basic tenents of postmodernism to obscure the scientific consensus on global warming, biological evolution, second-hand smoke, and a host of other issues. Indeed, Sokal shows that academic leftists have unwittingly abetted right wing ideologies by wrapping themselves in a relativistic fog where any belief is as valid as any other because all claims to truth must be regarded as equally suspect. Sokal's goal, throughout the book, is to expose the dangers in such thinking and to defend a scientific worldview based on respect for evidence, logic, and reasoned argument over wishful thinking, superstition, and demagoguery of any kind.
Written with rare lucidity, a lively wit, and a keen appreciation of the real-world consequences of sloppy thinking, Beyond the Hoax is essential reading for anyone concerned with the state of American culture today.
Famed for his 1996 hoax that parodied the extreme postmodernist criticism of science, Alan Sokal here exposes many other examples of charlatanism, deflating the postmodernists of the left, the fundamentalists of the right, and the muddle-headed of all political and apolitical stripes. Sokal does revisit his infamous hoax--the original article is included in the book, with new explanatory footnotes--to illuminate issues that are with us even more pressingly today. But the book ranges far beyond this one famous case, to reveal for instance how conservative politicians and industry executives are happily manipulating the vaporous tenets of postmodernism to obscure the scientific consensus on global warming, biological evolution, second-hand smoke, and a host of other issues. Written with rare lucidity, a lively wit, and a keen appreciation of the real-world consequences of sloppy thinking, Beyond the Hoax offers an engaging argument for the vital importance of evidence-based science, showing that clear thinking, combined with a respect for evidence, are of the utmost importance to the survival of the human race.
About the Author
Alan Sokal is Professor of Physics at New York University and Professor of Mathematics at University College London. He is co-author with Roberto Fernandez and Juerg Froehlich of Random Walks, Critical Phenomena, and Triviality in Quantum Field Theory, and co-author with Jean Bricmont of Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science.
Table of Contents
Part I: The Social Text Affair
1. Transgressing the boundaries: Towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity [annotated version]
2. Transgressing the boundaries: An afterword
3. Truth, reason, objectivity, and the Left
4. Science studies: Less than meets the eye
5. What the Social Text affair does and does not prove
Part II: Science and Philosophy
6. Cognitive relativism in the philosophy of science
7. Defense of a modest scientific realism
Part III: Science and Culture
8. Pseudoscience and postmodernism: Antagonists or fellow-travelers?
9. Religion, politics and survival
10. Epilogue: Epistemology and ethics
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