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A Painful Sting Within the Academic Hive

Roger Kimball

Wall Street Journal.
29 May 1996.

As more and more literary academics and professors of cultural studies turned their attention to the "discourse" of science, not even the canons of scientific truth and accuracy were safe from this new form of academic barbarism. ("Discourse, by the way, is academic shorthand for "socially constructed," i.e. determined by politics, not truth.

But scientists have begun to take notice. In 1994, biologist Paul Gross and mathematician Norman Levitt provided the first serious expose of this destructive trend with their book "Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels With Science." And now, with one piece of brilliant satire, a young New York University physicist named Alan Sokal my finally have punctured the hyperinflated hot-air balloon of cultural studies.

Mr. Sokal submitted an essay entitled "Transgressing Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" to a trendy left-wing quarterly called Social Text, which is edited at NYU and published by Duke University Press. Mr. Sokal's piece is a jargon-laden thicket of academic gibberish in which he alleges a deep connection between quantum theory and radical politics.


In short, the essay is nonsense from start to finish. But Mr. Sokal submitted it to Social Text in order to see whether (as he put it in the journal Lingua Franca) "a leading North American journal of cultural studies ... would publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions."

The answer was yes. Mr. Sokal's essay appeared a few weeks ago in a special issue of Social Text devoted to the "Science Wars--that is, to the war against science being waged by the partisans of cultural studies.


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