Coming of age of the Sokal hoax

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This coming spring will mark a 15th anniversary of the infamous academic hoax, as it was in 1996 when unsuspecting editors of Social Text published an essay by a physicist Alan Sokal, titled Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity. The piece turned out being a deliberate heap of nonsense, exposed as such by Sokal in his follow-up article. There is of course a certain degree of irony in the fact, acknowledged by Sokal himself, that short of getting a Nobel Prize for physics, it is this article that he will be known for rather than anything that he has written in his own field.

Fifteen years on, Michael Bérubé offers this intelligent and thoughtful retrospect to the hoax, the broader frame of 1990s science wars and its aftermath along with some of the consequences of the unintended kind that are only now taking shape. In a rather unexpected way, the natural scientists of 2010 are threading much more cautiously when making claims over the existence of the external objective reality while the social scientists are getting very uneasy with some of the implications that follow from the broad claim that all the knowledge is subjective and socially constructed.

 

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