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.
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From Publishers Weekly:
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.
In 1996, NYU physicist Sokal published a paper entitled Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity in an academic journal. Shortly thereafter, and to great furor, Sokal reported that his paper was a parody of postmodernism. This collection of 10 essays, six of which have been previously published, expands upon the central ideas of that academic joke. Sokal demands a respect for evidence and attacks postmodernists, fundamentalists and the muddle-headed of all political and apolitical stripes. The opening chapter presents the original hoax paper in its entirety, with the addition of annotations describing how he came to write it and explaining all the inside jokes. In subsequent chapters, Sokal explains how postmodernists confuse truth with claims of truth, fact with assertions of fact, and knowledge with pretensions to knowledge, and demonstrates how pseudoscientists have adopted a similar perspective. In biting prose, he analyzes the concept of therapeutic touch being promoted in nursing and Vedic science being advanced by Hindu nationalists. Though he concludes with his weakest argument—that religion is simply another form of pseudoscience—Sokal consistently asks the reader to think clearly and follow the evidence, regardless of where it may lead, and for that alone he deserves respect. (May)
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