Thursday, December 9, 2021

Sokal Disavows Copycat Hoaxsters

Physicist Alan Sokal is famous for publishing a hoax article, and now he is annoyed at other hoaxsters crediting him:
From the mere fact of publication of my parody I think that not much can be deduced. It doesn’t prove that the whole field of cultural studies, or cultural studies of science — much less sociology of science — is nonsense. Nor does it prove that the intellectual standards in these fields are generally lax. (This might be the case, but it would have to be established on other grounds.) It proves only that the editors of _one_ rather marginal journal were derelict in their intellectual duty, by publishing an article on quantum physics that they admit they could not understand, without bothering to get an opinion from anyone knowledgeable in quantum physics, solely because it came from a “conveniently credentialed ally” (as Social Text co-editor Bruce Robbins later candidly admitted[12]), flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions, and attacked their “enemies”.[13]
This is a baffling comment. His article was not on quantum physics. The title was:
Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity
Quantum gravity is a failure, and has nothing to do with any real world observations or experiments. His paper is certainly not a science paper. It is a hermeneutics paper, whatever that is. He uses some physics metaphors, and makes fun of some quotes from others. That's about all.

If the edicors had sent the paper to an expert in quantum gravity, he would probably say it was an amusing little essay that should be judged for its non-physics content.

It appears that the hoax of teh Sokal hoax is that it was not really a hoax. It was a sincere expression of his opinions about physics metaphors, written in a style intended to fit the target journal.

Sokal got a lot of praise for embarrassing some humanities professors for not knowing anything about quantum gravity. But there is no reason anyone should learn anything about quantum gravity, as there are no worthwhile theories in the whole field. It is like making fun of someone for now knowing medieval scholarship on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

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