Science: Annotated Bibliography of Nonsense in Art and Literature Objectivity May Be a Moveable Feast but Is Extending This Unthinkingly to Science Really Viable? Kenan Malik Argues That It Is Not. While, Overleaf, Relativism Is Defended
Malik, Kenan, The Independent (London, England)
THE SOKAL HOAX: THE DEBATE BEGINS
In the autumn of 1994, Alan Sokal, a New York physicist, submitted an essay on theories of quantum gravity to Social Text, a leading cultural studies journal. Entitled "Transgressing the boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity", the paper claimed to expose the philosophical and political implications of modern theoretical physics. It began by deriding scientists for clinging to the "dogma imposed by the long post- Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook" that "there exists an external world, whose properties are independent of any individual human beings". It ended with an attack on traditional mathematics which "is portrayed as a woman whose nature desires to be the conquered Other" and a call to arms to establish, instead, an "emancipatory mathematics" uncontaminated by "the crisis of late- capitalist production relations".
A few months after the essay was published (in the spring of 1996) Sokal revealed it to be a hoax, an extreme parody of post-modern arguments about science. Sokal had in fact stitched together the article from real quotes from leading post-modern philosophers and cultural studies thinkers, including editorial board members of Social Text, to create what he called an "annotated bibliography of nonsense". Sokal perpetrated the hoax, he says, because he was concerned with what he calls "the post-modern abuse of science". Much recent commentary on science by historians, sociologists and philosophers, Sokal believed, was simply inane and has sacrificed academic standards for ideological commitment. He wanted to see whether a leading academic journal "would publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if a) it sounded good and b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions." The editors of Social Text, he observed, "apparently felt no need to analyse the quality of the evidence or the cogency of the arguments" because they "like its conclusion that the content and methodology of post-modern science provide powerful intellectual support for the progressive political project." Over the past two years the "Sokal hoax" has become an international cause celebre, leading to furious debates in the op- ed pages of national newspapers, innumerable conferences and thousands of Internet pages. At the heart of the controversy has been debate about the role of science and the status of science studies - a new discipline forged by historians, philosophers, sociologists and anthropologists who wish to scrutinise science in the same way as they would any other human activity, such as sport, literature or politics. Most proponents of science studies believe that science occupies too privileged a place in modern society and has become akin to a new religion. They deny scientists' claim to an objective truth and argue instead that scientific theory and practice are the product of social rules and conventions. There are no such things as universal scientific laws, they claim; rather all knowledge is relative to the cultures that produce it. Not surprisingly, many scientists have objected to such claims, deriding philosophers and social scientists for their willingness to accept nonsense as good academic coin. In their turn, proponents of science studies accuse their critics of demanding a privileged place for science and refusing to allow their work to be scrutinised by outsiders. Now Sokal has returned to the fray with a new book, Intellectual Impostures, published next month by Profile Books. Co-authored with Belgian physicist Jean Bricmont, it is a trenchant attack on what the authors see as the "post-modern abuse of science". Its publication in France led to a great storm - much of it is a sustained attack on such notable French intellectuals as Jacques Lacan and Jean Baudrillard. One of its targets, the philosopher Julia Kristeva, has accused …
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Publication information: Article title: Science: Annotated Bibliography of Nonsense in Art and Literature Objectivity May Be a Moveable Feast but Is Extending This Unthinkingly to Science Really Viable? Kenan Malik Argues That It Is Not. While, Overleaf, Relativism Is Defended. Contributors: Malik, Kenan - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: June 28, 1998. Page number: 68,69. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.