Sunday, June 4, 2017

Meanwhile, in the academy. On the shambolic standards of academic publishing.

Long-time readers may recall the attention we devoted back in June 1996 to the delicious hoax perpetrated by the physicist Alan Sokal in the pages of the bogus (but highly touted) lit-crit journal Social Text. Entitled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” Sokal’s essay was a piece of deliberate nonsense. Its argument was, among other things, “that physical ‘reality,’ no less than social ‘reality,’ is at bottom a social and linguistic construct,” and that “scientific ‘knowledge,’ so far from being objective, reflects and encodes the dominant ideologies and power relations of the culture that produced it.” My, how the scientific illiterates who edited Social Text salivated to those ideas! They had always believed, or said they believed, that “physical reality” was only a “social construct”—wasn’t everything?—and here was an honest-to-God professor of physics telling them they were right all along! Hurrah!

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