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Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science Paperback

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (October 29, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312204078
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312204075
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,455 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

In 1996, an article entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" was published in the cultural studies journal Social Text. Packed with recherché quotations from "postmodern" literary theorists and sociologists of science, and bristling with imposing theorems of mathematical physics, the article addressed the cultural and political implications of the theory of quantum gravity. Later, to the embarrassment of the editors, the author revealed that the essay was a hoax, interweaving absurd pronouncements from eminent intellectuals about mathematics and physics with laudatory--but fatuous--prose.

In Fashionable Nonsense, Alan Sokal, the author of the hoax, and Jean Bricmont contend that abuse of science is rampant in postmodernist circles, both in the form of inaccurate and pretentious invocation of scientific and mathematical terminology and in the more insidious form of epistemic relativism. When Sokal and Bricmont expose Jacques Lacan's ignorant misuse of topology, or Julia Kristeva's of set theory, or Luce Irigaray's of fluid mechanics, or Jean Baudrillard's of non-Euclidean geometry, they are on safe ground; it is all too clear that these virtuosi are babbling.

Their discussion of epistemic relativism--roughly, the idea that scientific and mathematical theories are mere "narrations" or social constructions--is less convincing, however, in part because epistemic relativism is not as intrinsically silly as, say, Regis Debray's maunderings about Gödel, and in part because the authors' own grasp of the philosophy of science frequently verges on the naive. Nevertheless, Sokal and Bricmont are to be commended for their spirited resistance to postmodernity's failure to appreciate science for what it is. --Glenn Branch --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The authors of this audacious debunking apparently want nothing less than to embarrass some of the foremost academic stars of the postwar period?including Jacques Lacan, Luce Irigaray and Paul Virilio, among other luminaries in the humanities?for their "abuse of science." Sokal, a professor of physics at NYU, and Bricmont, a theoretical physicist with the Universite de Louvain in Belgium, offer an argument that's an offshoot of Sokal's notorious 1996 prank in which he submitted an article, high in jargon and low in logic, to a cultural studies journal, which accepted it immediately. After Sokal revealed the hoax, bitter debates raged within academia. Here, he and Bricmont continue where the hoax left off, waging a war of wits with thinkers who, they say, adopt science as a metaphor for their own more literary purposes. The authors also attack critics who fabricate pseudoscientific theories of their own, and much of their book is dedicated to building methodical cases against the academics' principles and logical flaws. The authors fervor and the precision of their writing makes this a most engaging read.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

158 of 178 people found the following review helpful By Laon on December 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Hard work to write, easy to read: instead of vice versa November 2, 2000
This book is not, centrally, an attack on deconstruction, post-modernism, social constructionism and so on. It is instead a tightly focussed attack on some French writers who are often associated with those ideas, Lacan, Deleuze, Kristeva, Baudrillard and others.
Without confronting those writers' central ideas, "Fashionable nonsense" devastates their reputations. It shows them claiming authority in various scientific fields, using scientific "expertise" to enhance their authority and credibility, to bolster arguments on non-scientific propositions by analogy with scientific propositions, and to scare away dissenters. For example Lacan makes claims about topology for both his analogy and his argument on some matter concerning phallic psychology. Most readers, like me, would not know whether Lacan's topology was reasonable or absurd, but Sokal and Bricmont show that Lacan wasn't merely "inaccurate"; he was "meaningless".
It's reasonable to ask if Sokal and Bricmont are right about topology (and the other branches of science cited by the book's targets), while Lacan and the others were wrong. In a symposium in the November 2000 edition of "Meta Science", hostile critics of "Fashionable Nonsense" confronted Sokal and Bricmont. But only one critic even attempted to dispute that the book's targets wrote ignorant nonsense about science. This was Lacanian, who attempted to defend Lacan's topology: and that sole attempted defence was clearly and crushingly rebutted. It seems clear that in its science the book's credibility is unshaken.
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61 of 72 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on September 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
In 1994, physicist Alan Sokal from NYU, became fed up. A certain postmodernist influence within the academic community was challenging standards of logic, truth and intellectual inquiry. Could he possibly write a sham article bad enough to be obvious nonsense to any undergraduate physics student, yet good enough to get published in a leading pomo periodical? Unfortunately for the members of the screening committee for "Social Text," the answer was "yes."

The article itself is presented in the back of "Fashionable Nonsense," complete with explanations about the misrepresented physics and the embedded jokes. It caters to agendas of pomo authorities rather than relying on logic, drips with unreadable prose and has outrageous claims about scientific theories. It includes an illogical train of thought, but apple-polishes the gurus it parodies. Sokal says, "The fundamental silliness in my article lies in the dubiousness of its central thesis and in the 'reasoning' adduced to support it. Basically, I claim that quantum gravity had profound political and social implications."

When Sokal saw that his article was actually going to be published, he began writing his expose of the hoax. They were published in different magazines on the same day. Sokal achieved instant infamy and the fallout lasted for years.

In preparing to write his article, Sokal researched writings from many offending authors, but could only use a small part of the data. This book taps the files of his research and attempts to document more completely the repeated abuse of concepts from math and physics by postmodernist authors.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 18, 1999
Format: Hardcover
While the sections on the French theorists are amusing and/or depressing, the chapter on positivism, empiricism, and induction is the most worthwhile. It gets to the heart of what it means to be a scientist, and also how recent ideas establishing truth (Popper's falsification, Kuhn's paradigm, Mill's induction method, etc.) seem to never quite work out. While this discussion is inserted more for the purpose of educating a non-scientific readership, it very nicely complements some other writings (Windshuttle, on the challenge to objectivity that the post-modernists (Focault, Derrida,...) have made. The authors' style is straighforward, and a bit earnest, but well worth adding to your library if these issues concern you.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 26, 1999
Format: Hardcover
At first, I have to admit I enjoyed this book because of some personal reasons: as History graduate I was concerned and disappointed by the effects of posmodern theories in the social sciences. As Sokal and Bricmont say, natural sciences have nothing to fear from all that, but History! Sokal and Bricmont have commented the main and most important works of the posmodern doctrine, but maybe they haven't read the kind of stupidities and nonsenses arranged by the average posmodern followers, not to talk about the surrealistic discussions you can have with some of them. All that is on its way to destroy humanities and transform them into some kind of incomprehensible mystifications.
Maybe worst are the consequences in pedagogy: I've read that students errors shoulnd't be corrected by teachers, they simply express the "internal dynamic" of the student. An that in an official regulation for secondary teachers! Everyone can imagine what kind of education will outcome from that. Seeems like someone want us to be as stupid as possible.
But if that wasn't all, I am, as a progressist, even more worried about epistemological relativity. I couldn't and still cannot see what's progressive in the statement that there's no absolute truth and that every social or cultural group has his own relative truth. I simply haven't heard any better argument to justify ideas like negation of holocaust or white suprematism or any other absurds and evident falsehoods in the same or similar way. If neonazis defend and are convinced by those "theories", are they in the same level of truth than the victims of the holocaust? To be crude: is the holocaust a social discourse, only referable to their victims? To answer fast and clear: NO, there is a real and verifiable truth.
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