Truth’s Caper

From The New Republic:

Book_2 Every reader of this magazine is likely to have heard of the “Sokal hoax,” the most celebrated academic escapade of our time. Everyone is also likely to know the story in outline: how in 1996 the radical “postmodernist” journal Social Text published an article submitted by Alan Sokal, a mathematical physicist at New York University, with the mouthwatering title “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” Sokal then revealed the article to be a spoof, a tissue of nonsense that he had painstakingly assembled in order to parody the portentous rubbish that flew under the colors of postmodernism. By publishing Sokal’s submission, the emperors of that tendency revealed themselves to be as naked as the rest of academia had always suspected, and with this one coup Sokal himself became the toast of the town, a celebrity, a hero of the resistance.

Since then, he and others have written extensively about the hoax and its significance. Some have attempted to defend the editors of Social Text, but they could not do much to stop the laughter. Some pursed their lips at the impropriety of hoaxing, but ridicule is a good weapon. Most thought that the editors had brought it on themselves. Sokal himself has written numerous essays, and also a book about it, with Jean Bricmont (Impostures intellectuelles, published in America in 1998 as Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science). His new book brings together ten essays, beginning with a thoroughly annotated text of the hoax submission itself. Most of these essays have been published at various times since the hoax came out, and the hoax itself, in all its delicious pottiness, is easily available on the Web.

More here.