Tuesday, August 8, 2017


Writing in New York magazine in November about the presidential campaign, Jonathan Chait said he first saw Donald Trump "as a living, breathing Sokal hoax on the Republican Party."

When the left-wing cultural-studies journal Social Text released a special issue on "The Science Wars" in April 1996, the last article stood out only because of its source: "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" was written by the sole scientist in the bunch, a New York University physicist named Alan Sokal. Liberally citing work by feminist epistemologists, philosophers of science, and critical theorists — including two of Social Text’s editors, the NYU American-studies scholar Andrew Ross and Stanley Aronowitz, a sociologist at CUNY Graduate Center — Sokal endorsed the notion that scientists had no special claim to scientific knowledge. Just as postmodern theory revealed that so-called facts about the physical world were mere social or political constructs, he wrote, quantum gravity undermined the concept of existence itself, making way for a "liberatory science" and "emancipatory mathematics."
A couple of weeks later, in the magazine Lingua Franca, Sokal revealed that he didn’t believe a word of what he’d written. It was all a big joke, but one motivated by a serious intention: to expose the sloppiness, absurd relativism, and intellectual arrogance of "certain precincts of the academic humanities." His beef was political, too: He feared that by tossing aside their centuries-old promotion of scientific rationality, progressives were eroding their ability to speak truth to power.

(from Jennifer Ruark)

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