Sunday, February 19, 2006

Alan Sokal Articles on the "Social Text" Affair

I generally consider myself well-read, but it wasn't till relatively recently i.e. a couple of months back that I came across the 'Sokal Affair'/'Social Text' Affair. This comes as a bit of a surprise considering the sheer hillarity of the incident, but also more importantly, has a massive bearing on the current Intelligent Design fiasco and this increasingly absurd situation of the Right coopting the Left's arguments based on post-modernism.

Very briefly, Alan Sokal, a Professor of Physics at NYU, submitted a parody of a work based upon the post-modernist's attacks/perceptions of Science to a leading North American journal of cultural studies. Entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity", it was published in the Spring/Summer 1996 issue of Social Text.

But what it basically was a a mishmash of quotations drawn from and flattering certain post-modernist scholars, attacking his field of science and generally playing to their ideology.

I recommend reading "A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies" which was basically his follow-up work exposing his hoax, summarising the absurdity of what he wrote. And it has to be read to be believed.

I will be the first to acknowledge that my Liberal bent is very much the result of post-modernism and its critiques of general/universal metanarratives (yes, it's a real word =P) particular in the form of universalising morality and religion. As such, given the inherent subjective valid normativity of each worldview, the discourse then becomes (for me at least), "which is best" not "which is true" (because everything is 'true'). And I think that generally explains my predisposition to tolerance (even towards fundamentalism), liberal democracy, secularism and human rights even as I can admit their inherent subjectivity.

But back to the one of the first points made, if one looks at the critiques made by IDers against Evolution i.e. Science as a religion, just another worldview, just a theory yada yada, you'll find a lot of the same premises and arguments used by the post modernists' attacks on Science as one goes through the Sokal Affair.

So just keep that in mind the next time you hear about fundamentalists' calls for 'teaching the controversy'.



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