Reflections on the Science
I admit to facetiousness. I also allow that facetiousness is the
rhetoric of despairin this case, despair over the dreadful pickle into which the
academic community in the USand I suppose elsewherehas gotten itself over the
last two decades or so. STSat least in the most flamboyant andto use a
dreadful phrasepathbreaking versionsis to me both example and symbol of the
universitys growing inability to carry through one of its major intellectual
functions, to wit, the filtering of new ideas and the winnowing out of thosemost of
themthat have small or ephemeral value. Why this function has atrophied to such a
drastic degree is an interesting questionfar more interesting than the
interrogatives put to standard science by its would-be analysts in the STS community.
"Politics"political attitudinizing, that is, and the kind of magical
thinking that accompanies itis one obvious reason. There are doubtless deeper
sociological reasons as well, possibly correlated with socio-economic factors that I
personally cant begin to analyze. Suffice it, however, that intellectual celebrity
in much of the humanities/social sciences wing of academia, has in large measure ceased to
be correlated with precise thinking, or command of evidence, or even fundamental
intellectual honesty. What remains? A certain glibness, together with an effectual
strategy for presenting onesself as in passionate solidarity with the wretched of the
earth, in various guises. To find a flock of examples native to STS, merely consult the
bibliography of Sokals gag paper. Or, to take a fresher example uncontaminated by
jocular intent, look at David Mermins paper in the current "Social Studies of
Science." I call attention to this because Mermin (a very good physicist, by the
way), for reasons that I infer to involve personal connections at least as much as
philosophical stance, is determined to take a concilliatory tack, and to meet the STS
community halfway, as it were. Nontheless, his analysis is as fully damning as anything I
have seen written by an out-and-out "science warrior" on this side of the fence.
One is left with the inescapable sense that some of the senior sages of STS are so
philosophically naive, silly, and self-deluded that its plainly as pointless to
think in terms of "dialog" with them as with a UFO cultist. The only
differenceand who knows how long that will last?--is that the vagaries of academic
fashion in the last few decades have endowed the former with university positions and
professorial titles. As the Wizard says, who needs a brain when you have a diploma?
STS has very little of significance to say about how science and
technology come to pass in society. Youd be much better off reading "Scientific
American," "American Scientist," and "Business Week" if
thats what youre interested in learning. STS has blown it completely, for the
transient satisfactions of being transgressive, or whatever the favored phrase now may be.
Greshams Law has had its vengeful way with the field, pretty much. On the
intellectual level, if not the institutional one, the "science wars" were over
shortly after the first shots were fired, and it is curiousity, rather than passionate
concern about the outcome, that leads me to keep an eye on all the rather pointless
Still, I brood about the larger fate of the university. The reason
for my current disquiet may be found in the new book by Kors and Silverglate, "The Shadow
University," which is a sort of catalogue raisonne of recent "PC"
horror stories. They are all well-documented, and all very, very true and, in sum, a
depiction of ghastly moral cowardice and the appalling eagaerness of the shallow and
mediocre to assume, or, worse, to abet, inquisitorial pretensions.
The connection with STS? Somehow, I cant escape the conclusion
that the same intellectual atmosphere that turned the administrators of many major and
minor universities into shamefully gutless and puerile apparatchiks had something to do
with the pattern of seemingly inexplicable indulgence and preferment granted to the
fatuous dogmatics of "orthodox" STSand its expositors. (Latour at IAS? You
can make a better case for Jerry Springer.) Of course, a the contamination extends to a
spectrum of other fieldsbut I wont go into that now.
- Books by Norman Levitt
Flight from Science and Reason
- Paul R. Gross (Editor), et al / Paperback / Published 1997
Superstition : The Academic Left and Its Quarrels With Science
- Paul R. Gross, Norman Levitt (Contributor) / Hardcover / Published
Superstition : The Academic Left and Its Quarrels With Science
- Paul R. Gross, Norman Levitt (Contributor) / Paperback / Published
- The Flight
from Science and Reason (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, V. 775)
- Paul R. Gross (Editor), et al / Paperback / Published 1996
and Gauss Maps in Piecewise-Linear Topology (Lecture Notes in Mathematics, Vol. 1366)
- Norman Levitt / Paperback / Published 1989
Professor of Physics, New York University [ firstname.lastname@example.org ]
the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity"
- This is the original "parody" article, published in Social Text #46/47, pp. 217-252
Available in three formats:
(one large file, 142 KB: easiest to download and print)
(many smaller files: perhaps easier to browse)
(365 KB, 39 pages)
Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies"
- This is the article in which I reveal the parody, published in Lingua Franca, May/June 1996,
Available in three formats:
Also available in German and in Finnish.
the Boundaries: An Afterword"
- Here I explain in more detail why I wrote the parody. This
article was submitted to Social Text
but rejected by them on the grounds that it did not meet their intellectual standards. It
has now appeared in Dissent
43(4), pp. 93-99 (Fall 1996) and, in slightly different form, in Philosophy and
Literature 20(2), pp. 338-346 (October 1996).
in two formats:
Plea for Reason, Evidence and Logic"
- Transcript of a talk presented at a forum at New York University on
October 30, 1996. It was reprinted in New
Politics 6(2), pp. 126-129 (Winter 1997). A slightly expanded version of this
talk was presented at the Socialist Scholars
Conference (New York, March 30, 1997) and was published under the title "Truth,
Reason, Objectivity and the Left" in the Economic and Political Weekly
(Bombay), April 18, 1998, pp. 913-914.
mystifications philosophiques du professeur Latour"
Latour's Philosophical Mystifications"
- Reply to an article by Bruno Latour. Published
in Le Monde, 31 January 1997, page 15.
the Social Text Affair Does and Does Not Prove"
- Published in A
House Built on Sand: Exposing Postmodernist Myths about Science, edited by
Noretta Koertge (Oxford University Press, 1998), pp.
9-22. Reprinted, in slightly different form, in Critical Quarterly
40(2), pp. 3-18 (Summer 1998).
Intellectuelles" (by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont)
- Book published in French by Éditions
Odile Jacob, October 1997 (ISBN 2-7381-0503-3). Click here for a brief
summary, and here for the first
chapter, both in French. The book can be ordered on-line (from anywhere in the world)
In New York City it is available at Posman Books
(University Place between Waverly Place and 8 St., telephone 212-533-2665) and at the NYU Bookstore (18 Washington Place, telephone
The English edition was published in the UK in
July 1998 by Profile Books under the
title Intellectual Impostures; it can be ordered on-line from Internet
Bookshop. Lecturers in the UK, Europe and British Commonwealth who are considering the
book for potential student use may obtain an academic inspection copy. The book will
be published in the US in November 1998 by Picador USA, an imprint of St. Martin's Press, under the title Fashionable
Nonsense; it can be ordered on-line from Barnes
and Noble or amazon.com.
Translations into Catalan, Chinese (Taiwan), Dutch, German, Greek, Italian,
Korean, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese
(Portugal) and Spanish are in the works. I will
post more information as it becomes available.
Furor over Impostures Intellectuelles"
réactions face à la parution d'Impostures Intellectuelles"
à Vincent Fleury et Yun Sun Limet"
- Article, by Jean Bricmont and Alan Sokal, published in the Times Literary Supplement (London), 17
October 1997, p. 17 and, in slightly modified form, in Libération
(Paris), 18-19 October 1997, p. 5. Also available in Hungarian and Spanish.
bon usage des métaphores"
- Reply to an article by Jean-Marc
Lévy-Leblond. Published in La Recherche,
November 1997, page 8.
critiques de Derrida et de Dorra ratent leur cible"
- Reply, by Jean Bricmont and Alan Sokal, to articles
by Jacques Derrida and Max Dorra. Published in Le
Monde, 12 December 1997, page 23.
- Debate in Lingua
- Debate in Dissent
- Debate in Tikkun
- Debate in Libération
canular du professeur Sokal", by Natalie Levisalles (Libération, 3
guerre des sciences aura-t-elle lieu?", by Natalie Levisalles (Libération,
30 September 1997)
sans feu", by Robert Maggiori (Libération, 30 September 1997)
Sokal-Bricmont", by Vincent Fleury and Yun Sun Limet (Libération, 6
- "Réponse à
Vincent Fleury et Yun Sun Limet", by Jean Bricmont and Alan Sokal (Libération,
18-19 October 1997)
se passe-t-il?", by Jean Bricmont and Alan Sokal (Libération, 18-19
- Debate in Le Monde
- "La mystification pédagogique du professeur Sokal", by
Nicolas Weill (Le Monde, 20 December 1996)
n'est pas Socrate", by Denis Duclos (Le Monde, 3 January 1997)
vraie signification de l'affaire Sokal", by Jean Bricmont (Le Monde, 14
- "Haro français sur le professeur américain", by Pierre
Guerlain (Le Monde, 14 January 1997)
- "Y a-t-il
une science après la guerre froide?", by Bruno Latour (Le Monde, 18
mystifications philosophiques du professeur Latour", by Alan Sokal (Le Monde,
31 January 1997) Also
available in English
de rire de Sokal", by Jean-Jacques Salomon (Le Monde, 31 January 1997)
au ciel, à Sokal et à ses pareils", by Michel Rio (Le Monde, 11
contre docteurs", by Régis Debray (Le Monde, 18 March 1997)
Alan Sokal face aux `imposteurs' de la pensée française", by Marion Van Renterghem
(Le Monde, 30 September 1997)
risque du `scientifiquement correct'", by Roger-Pol Droit (Le Monde, 30
non, ce n'est pas la guerre", by Jacques Treiner (Le Monde, 11 October
available in English.
impérialisme?", by Hubert Krivine (Le Monde, 11 October 1997) Also
available in English.
et Bricmont ne sont pas sérieux", by Jacques Derrida (Le Monde, 20
November 1997) Also
available in Portuguese.
et politique", by Max Dorra (Le Monde, 20 November 1997)
critiques de Derrida et de Dorra ratent leur cible", by Jean Bricmont and Alan Sokal
(Le Monde, 12 December 1997) Also available
- "Requiem pour un moralisme scientifique", by Henri-Pierre
Jeudy (Le Monde, 12 December 1997)
sots calent" [et les briques montent?!], by Jacques Bouveresse (Le Monde de
l'Éducation, January 1998)
- "Des normaliens jugent l'affaire Sokal", interview with
Mikaël Cozic, Léon Loiseau and Grégoire Kantardjian (Le Monde de l'Éducation,
- "Nous sommes tous des imposteurs", by Roger-Pol Droit (Le
Monde, 2 October 1998)
- Debate in La Recherche
une écologie des pratiques", interview with Isabelle Stengers (La Recherche,
relativisme alimente le courant irrationnel", interview with Jean Bricmont (La
Recherche, May 1997)
paille des philosophes et la poutre des physiciens", by Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond (La
Recherche, June 1997)
bon usage des métaphores", by Alan Sokal (La Recherche, November 1997)
cow-boy et l'apothicaire", by Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond (La Recherche,
ou frémir?", by Amy Dahan-Dalmedico (La Recherche, December 1997)
est-il scientifique?", by Marc Darmon and Charles Melman (La Recherche,
pamphlet salutaire?", by Jean-Paul Gouteux (La Recherche, March 1998)
Sokal et la balkanisation de la science", by Michel Claessens (La Recherche,
Latour et Alan Sokal", by Hector J. Sussmann (La Recherche, May 1998)
Comte et l'affaire Sokal", by Eric Sartori (La Recherche, July/August
- Debate in Physics World
- Debate in Folha de São Paulo
telhado de vidro do relativismo", by Cláudio Weber Abramo (Folha de São
Paulo, 15 setembro 1996)
brincadeira de Sokal...", by Roberto Campos (Folha de São Paulo, 22
razão não é propriedade privada", by Alan Sokal (Folha de São Paulo,
6 outubro 1996)
razões do relativismo civilizado", by Jesus de Paula Assis (Folha de São
Paulo, 6 outubro 1996)
parodista de si mesmo", by Olavo de Carvalho (Folha de São Paulo, 21
- "O rei está
nu", by Roberto Fernández (Folha de São Paulo, Jornal de Resenhas, 11
intelectuais", by Jacques Derrida (Folha de São Paulo, 19 abril 1998)
crítica sem fundamento", by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont (Folha de São
Paulo, 19 abril 1998)
minutos de notoriedade", by Bento Prado Jr. (Folha de São Paulo, Jornal de
Resenhas, 9 maio 1998)
e fantasias", by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont (Folha de São Paulo, Jornal de
Resenhas, 13 junho 1998)
Takes Academia for a Ride with Parody", by Linda Seebach (May 12, 1996)
the Transgressors: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Total Bullshit", by Gary
Kamiya (Salon, May 17, 1996)
Smite Don", by Robert Paul
Physics Prof Drops a Bomb on the Faux Left", by Ruth Rosen (Los Angeles Times,
op-ed, May 23, 1996)
Cocktail", by Katha Pollitt (The Nation,
June 10, 1996)
Mathematician Reads Social Text", by Michael C. Sullivan (Notices of
the American Mathematical Society, October 1996)
Hoax", by Steven Weinberg (New York
Review of Books, August 8, 1996). See also "Sokal's Hoax: An
Exchange" (New York Review of Books, October 3, 1996), with
contributions by Michael Holquist, Robert Shulman, George Levine, M. Norton Wise, Nina
Byers and Claudio Pellegrini and a response by Steven Weinberg.
the Sokal Hoax Ought to Teach Us", by Paul Boghossian (Times Literary Supplement, December 13,
1996). Also available in German, Portuguese and Spanish.
Science Wars in India", by Meera Nanda (Dissent, Winter 1997)
Science Wars", by Harold Fromm (The Hudson Review, Winter 1997)
and the Left", by Barbara Epstein (New
Politics, Winter 1997)
- "Splendours and
Miseries of the Science Wars", by Nick Jardine and Marina Frasca-Spada (Studies in History
and Philosophy of Science, June 1997)
Doing Your Job: Some Lessons of the Sokal Affair", by Bruce Robbins (Yale Journal of
Criticism, Fall 1997)
Plea for Science Studies", by Philip Kitcher (published in A House Built on Sand: Exposing
Postmodernist Myths about Science, edited by Noretta Koertge, Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 32-56)
faux prophètes", by Jean-François Revel (Le Point, 11 octobre 1997)
ataca de nuevo", by Miguel de Asúa (Ciencia Hoy,
psicoanálisis y posmodernismo", by Michel Sauval (Acheronta, Diciembre 1997 and
Julio 1998). Also available in English and French.
- "Pour une
véritable philosophie postmoderne des sciences", by Patrick Peccatte (La revue M,
Sokal, science and the police", by Bruce Robbins (Radical Philosophy,
and Writing-Desks: Sokal and the Two Cultures", by Ronald Shusterman (Philosophy and
Literature, April 1998)
Impostori: L'esperimento di un fisico con i Cultural Studies", by Giovanni B.
Clemente (Il Mondo 3,
symptoms of Gödel-mania", by Kevin Mulligan (Times
Literary Supplement, May 1, 1998)
Plattenslagere", by Niels Buch-Jepsen (Weekendavisen [Denmark], 20 Maj
- "Alan Sokal y
las preciosas ridículas", by Hernán Díaz (Prensa Obrera, 25 junio 1998)
disrobed", by Richard Dawkins (Nature,
9 July 1998)
- "Le pauvre
Sokal", by John Sturrock (London Review of
Books, 16 July 1998). See also letters 30 July and 20 August.
Impostures", reviewed by Christopher Norris (The Independent, 18 July 1998)
- "Impostures intellectuelles", reviewed by William G. Faris
(Notices of the American Mathematical Society,
August 1998): available in PDF
and Postscript formats.
the Sokal affair", by Mick Underwood
it", by Joe Kaplinsky (LM,
Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science, by Paul R. Gross and
Norman Levitt (Johns Hopkins University
Press, April 1994, 2nd ed. October 1997). Available from amazon.com,
and Noble and Internet
- Science Wars, edited by Andrew Ross (Duke University Press, November 1996).
Available from amazon.com,
and Noble and Internet
- Impostures Intellectuelles, by Alan
Sokal and Jean Bricmont (Éditions Odile Jacob,
October 1997). Available at present in French and English; other languages forthcoming.
- Défense des sciences humaines: Vers un désokalisation?, by
Marc Richelle (Mardaga, January 1998). Available from FNAC.
- A House
Built on Sand: Exposing Postmodernist Myths about Science, edited by Noretta Koertge
(Oxford University Press, August 1998). Available
and Noble and Internet
Sokal ou la querelle des impostures, by Yves Jeanneret (Presses Universitaires de France, September 1998). Available
- Impostures scientifiques: Les malentendus de l'affaire Sokal,
edited by Baudouin Jurdant (Alliage
#35-36, été-automne 1998, co-edition with La Découverte). Available from FNAC.
The Human Nature Review © Ian
Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM