In 1995, a New York University physicist named Alan Sokal, frustrated by what he considered the misuse of science by academic philosophers and literary critics, decided to play a meaningful prank. After studying the arcane jargon of postmodernism, he cooked up a superficially au courant but patently ill-founded paper called "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" and submitted it to the journal Social Text
, edited by a collective of academic celebrities. Wooed by the article's apparent endorsement of their approach and evidently unschooled in basic science, the editors accepted and published the paper.
The Sokal Hoax gathers Sokal's paper; the Social Text editors' arch, wounded reply when it was revealed, in the pages of the academic journal Lingua Franca, that the paper was a transparent scam; and a selection of journalistic accounts, letters to the editor, and accusations and counteraccusations surrounding what came to be called "the Sokal hoax." Some of these documents are thoughtful, addressing ways in which it might be possible to bridge the wide gap between the sciences and the humanities. Many, however, are defensive and polemical, almost embarrassing to read. They compound Sokal's charge that faddishness has overcome common sense in the halls of academe, and that the postmodern emperor has no clothes.
In its modest way, the collection is an entertainment, serving as an anthology of ivy-covered silliness. More seriously, it adds depth to Sokal's collaboration with physicist Jean Bricmont, Fashionable Nonsense, and other books about the hoax and its implications, which continue to excite discussion. --Gregory McNamee
"Readers who struggle through Sokal's essay will be relieved to find the rest of the book lucid, readable, and positively stimulating."--Kirkus Review