HHHHHH    H  H H E      T       OnLine
HHHHHH    H HH H E      T
HHHHHH    H HH H EEEE   T       Welcome!
About H-Net H-Net HOME PAGE Search H-Net

Commentary on the Sokal Affair.

Professor Alan Sokal's Homepage.
This site contains "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," the article which started the controversy, as well as "A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies," the article in which Sokal revealed the hoax. There are also many links to his papers and commentary by others.

Joe Amato's response to Michael Berube in Electronic Book Review.

Why is there a national controversy over at social text?... how might it have been defused, if not avoided?... in what follows, i'd like to work through some of the ins & outs of this ongoing debate, in the process advocating a more fully dialogic use of electronic fora...

Sokal and Social Text discussion.

This page has many links to discussion and comentary by Jason Walsh following through the discussion of the Sokal Affair.

Mystery Science Theater - Lingua Franca (July/August 1996).

This past May, Lingua Franca published an author's confession. In "A Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies," professor Alan Sokal of NYU revealed that he had written a deliberately absurd article entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," submitted it to the journal Social Text, and witnessed the article's subsequent acceptance and publication. In Sokal's view, the publication of his piece indicated a "decline in the standards of rigor in certain precincts of the academic humanities."

Almost immediately, Sokal's stunt set off an avalanche of discussion about academic jargon, postmodern theory, and the propriety of hoaxes. The Internet was inflamed; articles linking quantum physics and Jacques Lacan appeared (for the first time?) in The New York Times and Newsweek. In this issue, Lingua Franca presents a series of considered responses to the whole affair: The editors of Social Text respond to Sokal in a full-length essay, which is followed by a rejoinder from Sokal, and letters from readers.

Martin E. Rosenberg's commentary.

Since I do literature and science, and since I know the work of Andrew Ross, I found Sokal's actual satire hilarious, and it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. But Sokal's self-righteous justification of his actions actually run counter to his purported goal.

Background commentary.

[Ed. For those of us who have been residing under a cabbage-leaf, could we have some definition and background on the Sokal Affair/ "hoax"? I know the tune, but the words are unfamiliar. -MG]

Alex Brown.

Sokal's article, last in the collection, is mind-numbing in its use of postmodernist jargon, its descriptions of difficult theories of contemporary physics, and its amateurish recitation of ham-handed caricatures of recent left and feminist critiques of science and technology. It's a paper and ink barbiturate.

A Mathematician Reads Social Text.

Of course, Sokal's experiment does not settle the issue, but rather points to the need for further study. Did he merely pull a fast one on the editors of Social Text, or is the field, known as the social or cultural studies of science, itself truly bunk? In an attempt to answer this question I have read the other articles in the issue of Social Text in which Sokal's article appeared. It was a special issue devoted to what the editor calls ``Science Wars,'' (capital S, capital W). The call for a special issue on this topic was motivated as a response to the book, Higher Superstition; the academic left and its quarrels with science, by Paul Gross and Norman Levitt, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

The Salon Dailey.

Sokal's piece uses all the right terms. It cites all the best people. It whacks sinners (white men, the "real world"), applauds the virtuous (women, general metaphysical lunacy) and reaches the usual "progressive" (whatever that word is supposed to mean) conclusion. And it is complete, unadulterated bullshit -- a fact that somehow escaped the attention of the high-powered editors of Social Text, who must now be experiencing that queasy sensation that afflicted the Trojans the morning after they pulled that nice big gift horse into their city.

Andrew Ross 2.

I find these days that what terrorizes my graduate students is not the prospect of taking on thinkers like Hegel, Husserl or Heiddegger, which is what used to terrify me when I was a graduate student. But, rather, what terrifies them most, and engages them at the same time, is the job of meeting the challenge of scientific rationality and all of its imposing institutional fortifications. This is a task which I think they feel more responsive to than have previous generations of cultural critics. Why do they feel more responsible for meeting the critical challenges of science? Well, cynical commentators might say that it is all part of the colonising will of cultural studies to penetrate every last sanctum of the field of knowledge. It is the sort of tired complaint that we hear much of these days from self-proclaimed outsiders, which is no more productive, in my view, than attempts to police cultural studies from within, which I see as quite futile.

An article about the Sokal prank.

By now, everyone who still reads a newspaper has heard of the Sokal Prank. The story of the literary hoax perpetrated by Alan D. Sokal, a professor of physics at New York University, found its way onto the front page of The New York Times, two more articles in the Times, an AP wire story, and even the front page of my local daily, The Austin American-Statesman (which serves a university town but which does not typically cover the arcane intellectual parrying of the academic elite). While the prank probably reached its half-life a couple of weeks after Sokal admitted his hoax, it may have faint ripples for some time to come. Predictably, however, reportage of the Sokal Prank blows obscuring smoke before an important issue that the mainstream media rarely mentions: the role of science and technology in a modern democracy.


Nexa Bibliography on Sokal Controversy, with Abstracts and links to works cited.

Assorted Links

Science Wars by Andrew Ross.

In a speech in New Orleans last fall, Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson declared that "multiculturalism equals relativism equals no supercollider equals communism." Was this some babbling formula for a conspiracy theory of the end of the millennium, escaping the fevered lips of a mad scientist? Or was it the same old witches’ brew of cold war paranoia reduced to its basic stock? Wilson has had a go at playing Cassandra before, and many would consider his brand of sociobiology -- which glorifies aggressive competition -- to be a classic product of the mentality of militarist science. But his comment referred to a new arena of conflict that some have dubbed the Science Wars, a second front opened up by conservatives cheered by the successes of their legions in the holy Culture Wars. Seeking explanations for their loss of standing in the public eye and the decline in funding from the public purse, conservatives in science have joined the backlash against the (new) usual suspects -- pinkos, feminists and multiculturalists of all stripes.

An E-mail list with discussion of Sokal, etc.

I find this whole episode and people's response to it fascinating. Some people seem to suggest that Sokal has merely shown up certain narrow intellectual currents to be bereft of sense, while others seem upset with what they consider Sokal's too easy dismissal and simplistic interpretation of sophisticated ideas about the nature of knowledge and reality.

Another E-mail list that could be of interest.

Wow, it is indeed a very drab picture the one Joe draws in his last posting on the Sokal hoax. The social scientists who endeavour to study the making of science from their own vantage point appear in it as a bunch of ruthless schemers who scramble cealessly after their own piece of the cake or *of the action*, to use a more maffia-like expression! I find a distinctively savage parodic flavour, somewhat in the line of Jonathan Swift's *Modest proposal*, in many of the paragraphs in which Joe depicts the sinister utopia of these humanists and social scientists, who could not care less about the truth.

Generously Supported by Michigan State University and The National Endowment for the Humanities.
Comments to H-Net Web Staff,Michigan State University Copyright ©1996, H-Net, Humanities and Social Sciences OnLine.