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The Sokal Hoax: The Sham That Shook the Academy Paperback – September, 2000

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The Sokal Hoax: The Sham That Shook the Academy + Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture + Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science
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Editorial Reviews Review

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


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 271 pages
  • Publisher: Bison Books (September 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803279957
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803279957
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #896,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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66 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 2, 2001
Format: Paperback
The Sokal Hoax is one of those rare bits of mischief with a purpose that turns up the illumination thereby allowing all of us to clearly see that the emperor has no clothes, the emperor in this case being the intellectual left of postmodernist thought as exemplified in the persons of Social Text editors, Bruce Robbins and Andrew Ross, the "victims" of this very clever and meticulously planned sting. That they were hoisted with their own petar, as it were, was particularly pleasing to those of us who cannot abide pseudobabblese and academic gibberish, ingredients that have unfortunately become a staple of New Age and postmodern expression. One hopes that the Sokal affair has opened the eyes of academia to the extent that intellectuals will now appreciate the importance of writing in a clear and communicative manner without fear that others can thereby discern the quality of their ideas.

Here the editors of Lingua Franca have put together the definitive collection of articles on the entire succès de scandale including the text of physicist Alan Sokal's article itself, Sokal's revelation article in Lingua Franca, and the reply of the Social Text editors, Bruce Robbins and Andrew Ross, whose publication of Sokal's parody of social constructionist thought and expression brought about their academic embarrassment. These are followed by selected letters to the editors in response to the affair. I particularly enjoyed the insightful letters by Franco Moretti of Columbia University and Lee Smolin of Penn State. Next are reactions from the press, both domestic and foreign, including stories by Stanley Fish, George Will, Bruce Latour, and seventeen others, including another piece by Alan Sokal from Le Monde (Paris).
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60 of 68 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on May 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
If you're in a very specific crowd, the brouhaha covered here is a real riot. I am a current graduate student who went back to school after being out in the "real world" (i.e. business and industry), and have been subjected to the dense theory and nonsensical "culture wars" of the academy. I have found relatively few people in graduate education who have ever been out in the real world, where actual practical work is done. I was astonished to find that there are professors doing large research projects on the field I used to work in, because we rarely (if ever) saw these academic treatises, written by professors who have never worked in the field and assume they can effectively study it from a detached intellectual standpoint. But these guys don't seem to care if their writings never get even remotely close to the populations that they think they're helping, because in the university system it's publish or perish. It's better to have a few other professors tell you that you know what you're talking about, than to have any kind of effect on the lives of real people.
This kind of nonsense has been exposed by the Sokal hoax covered here, though in this case it's all within the academy. Sokal's fake paper, submitted to a trendy but gullible "cultural studies" journal, is an absolutely brilliant piece of parody in which he used a heap of big words, obtuse theory, and hip namedropping while saying absolutely nothing. This book presents Sokal's paper and then the defensive and whiny rebuttals of the journal's editors after they learned they were hoodwinked, followed by just about everything that was said in the international academic press about the whole affair.
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74 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on November 14, 2000
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Sokal's parody of postmodern thought is thoroughly witty and enjoyable, and especially so if you are moderately literate in math and science. If you have little tolerance for the fashionable jargon of postmodern criticism, you will delight in the way Sokal has put the screws on the pretensions of this pompous movement.
One of Sokal's important contributions is to quote liberally from the postmodern gurus of the French academic establishment. Reading Lacan, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattarri, and their colleagues for meaning is virtually impossible (the French, by the way, is no more lucid than the English translations), so the several quotes from their work in Sokal's essay are about as close as any rational reader will get to their work.
But what they say is indeed hilarious. Here is Derrida: "The Einsteinian constant is not a constant, is not a center. It is the very concept of variablity--it is, finally, the concept of the game." This, of course, means absolutely nothing--even in context. But at least it is not wrong, as is the following from Lacan: "This diagram [the Mobius strip] can be considered the basis of a sort of essential inscription at the origin, in the knot which constitutes the explains many things about the structure of mental disease. If one can symbolize the subject by this fundamental cut, in the same way one can show that a cut on a torus corresponds to the neurotic subject, and on a cross-cut surface to another sort of mental disease." Lacan is justly famous--here we see him taking silly to the heights of sublimity.
Here is Lacan again: "...human life could be defined as a calculus in which zero was irrational.
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