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Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and…
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Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture (original 2008; edition 2008)

by Alan Sokal

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1946142,660 (4.14)2
In 1996, Alan Sokal, a Professor of Physics at New York University, wrote a paper for the cultural-studies journal Social Text, entitled 'Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity'. It was reviewed, accepted and published. Sokal immediately confessed that the whole article was a hoax - a cunningly worded paper designed to expose and parody the style of extreme postmodernist criticism of science. The story becamefront-page news around the world and triggered fierce and wide-ranging controversy. Sokal is one of the most powerful voices in the continui… (more)
Member:jedharris
Title:Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture
Authors:Alan Sokal
Info:Oxford University Press, USA (2008), Hardcover, 448 pages
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Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture by Alan Sokal (2008)

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So people don't like being told what to do, yet they don't have a problem listening to pseudoscientists and homeopaths? The problem is a lot simpler: people like to feel smart. Smarter than those around them. And science, real science is difficult to understand, which makes people feel dumb.

So the solution comes when the media and pseudoscientists dumb it down and add their very own spin on it. "Resveratrol, a chemical found in red wine, has slight beneficial effect in vitro" suddenly becomes "A glass of red wine a day keeps cancer away" and then "Wine cures your cancer! No need for those "expert" doctors". This makes people feel smart because they "understand" science and at the same time gives them the impression that they can take control of their health by following a set of simple, cheap steps. People don't want to hear "whatever you do, however healthy you are, you may still get cancer one day", they like to believe that they are in control. So as long as pseudoscientists offer simple (although ultimately useless) solutions to people's worries, they will pay attention to them, instead of doctors and scientists who have to work within the confines of reality and evidence.

At heart we simply do not spend enough money on communication. Local authorities, governments, scientists, etc. no-one really values communication. We are suspicious of its power and view it as the first thing to cut when budgets are tight.

The bigger part of the EU's problems have been to do with effective communication of what it does, how it works, how it benefits individuals and communities across Europe. All institutions involved in helping to move humanity towards a better, fairer, greener place need to be working 24 hours a day to inform and to work with the communities they serve to ensure that everyone understands why public policy is as it is, and to ensure there is a living and constructive dialogue taking place.

The biggest gift that education can give anyone is the ability to know when you are being bullshitted. With the internet, social media, and the great global subconscious this is more important than ever. If we want to avoid returning to the Dark Ages, as demagogues exploit ignorance and cynicism to their own advantage, we need to invest in peer to peer communication.

Why should we just accept what scientists say is good for us when they lie and change their minds? We've been told for years that if you have marginally high blood pressure, you should take medicine to reduce it. Now it turns out it will only prolong your life for less than a week. The consensus in the medical world is still that high cholesterol is bad for you, but now it turns out that people with high cholesterol live longer and that statins only help 1 in 128 people and their side-effects affect 1 in 10.

(I'm not saying that one is right and the other wrong, just that it's contradictory. And by the way, there aren't two types of cholesterol - one good, one bad - there is only one cholesterol.)

Same with GMO foods. When we will people see that it's all about what will make money for the big corporations - it's not for our good at all.

When scientific research is independent of Monsanto, Pfizer etc. and all the information is freely available, I'll begin to trust it. Until then, I'll be sceptical of every so-called expert and want to know what kickbacks he/she is getting. ( )
  antao | Aug 27, 2020 |
Much more than I expected in more ways than one.

I expected the text of the Sokal Hoax exposing anti-reality post modernism but the extensive footnotes where a bonus.

Then there was plenty of food for thought exploring more examples that started from merely doubting the existence of a real world and the equality of all points of view when it comes to matters of fact but progressed into the direct promotion of nonsense beliefs at the expense of science and to the detriment of innocents.

I was particularly dismayed to spot yet another ocean of alternative silliness lapping at the shores of rationality in the form of Rogerian nursing.

Finally I was delighted to find a perspective on the Politics of the Left at challenged my previous views and seems to make good sense. With a bit of luck this might even lead me to changing my mind about some things, for good, evidence based reasons of course. ( )
1 vote psiloiordinary | Jan 27, 2013 |
A compilation of papers by Sokal about Science, Philosophy of Science, Culture, and Politics, including an annotated reprint of his famous 1996 Social Text hoax. Discussing issues related to postmodernism and science studies, phylosophy of sciences, and religion, this collection should be read by everyone woried about the dire consequences of sloppy reasoning in academia and in everyday life. ( )
  FPdC | May 24, 2010 |
The physicist who wrote the notorious 1996 "transformative hermeneutics" paper satirizing postmodernist sophists goes on to give these Enlightenment-rejecting "sociologists of science" a well-deserved further bashing. He somewhat surprisingly finds a link between postmodernism and pseudoscience and classifies organized religions as pseudosciences. He also essays religion's massive delusionality, its implications for politics, and the danger it poses for civilizational survival.
  fpagan | Mar 28, 2009 |
Postmodernism Turned Upside Down

I remember vaguely in my pre-academic days about this guy who wrote a spoof on postmodernism which was published by a journal. It hit the ivory tower like an earthquake and the so-called elitists were never the same after it. It was the moment we entered the post-postmodern age.

That man was Alan Sokal, NYU physicist, and his book "Beyond The Hoax" is a behind the scenes look at the article that rocked the Annales School of philosophy. Since I had never read the original article, I almost had to read the first section twice, first the article on its own, then going back to read Sokal's annotations. It is really quite remarkable what he got away with.

The primary motivations behind Sokal's philosophical critiques against postmodernism are simple: postmodernism was an elitist philosophy which undermined the shared commitment to the struggle for social justice. Throughout the book, you do get the sense of Sokal's own secular humanist convictions, progressivism without the pretension and condescension.

Perhaps even better are the series of essays he includes after his article hoax. In his polemic against the radical-social-constructivist philosophizing in "Science Studies," Sokal argues that it became an all-purpose tool with which to discredit any emperical study whose conclusions one dislikes. Like all hypocrites, the radical postmodernists are guilty of selectivity and reductionism that they so boldly proclaim they are against. The most fascinating of the essays though is "Pseudoscience and Postmodernism," where Sokal shows how paradoxically the mystical and the skeptical work to reinforce each other. Perhaps less well-thought out however is his essay "Religion, Politics, and Survival" where Sokal is clearly out of his depth when discussing topics related to Islam.

Overall, I found this to be one of the best philosophical books I've ever read. Sokal is straight-forward, exploratory, and sufficiently intriguing to read. I recommend this to anyone who wants an intellectual response to postmodernism. ( )
  bruchu | Feb 24, 2009 |
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In 1996, Alan Sokal, a Professor of Physics at New York University, wrote a paper for the cultural-studies journal Social Text, entitled 'Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity'. It was reviewed, accepted and published. Sokal immediately confessed that the whole article was a hoax - a cunningly worded paper designed to expose and parody the style of extreme postmodernist criticism of science. The story becamefront-page news around the world and triggered fierce and wide-ranging controversy. Sokal is one of the most powerful voices in the continui

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