The author of this work is unusual in that he is best known for a hoax he perpetrated on an unsuspecting journal in the spring of 1996
Beyond the hoax: science, philosophy and culture
Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press 2008 | 465pp | ?20.00 (HB) ISBN 9780199239207
Reviewed by Dennis Rouvray
The author of this work is unusual in that he is best known for a hoax he perpetrated on an unsuspecting journal in the spring of 1996. The journal in question was Social Text , a publication devoted to the broad area of cultural studies and the spurious paper he submitted to it bore the grandiose title ’Transgressing the boundaries: towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity ’.
His idea was to find out whether a paper which parodied the pretentious and antiscientific language adopted in journals of this kind would be accepted. The ruse worked and Sokal’s paper was not only accepted but also praised for its content. Just three weeks after its publication, however, Sokal revealed that his contribution was in fact a hoax. Word rapidly spread throughout the entire academic world and also far beyond and Sokal rocketed to fame (or notoriety) virtually overnight. Since that time, Sokal has taken it upon himself to tirelessly champion what he refers to as a scientific world view and to defend it against all comers.
The book under review is Sokal’s account of what has happened since his hoax paper appeared.
In chapter one the now heavily annotated paper is reproduced and in subsequent chapters Sokal discusses the ongoing saga of his battle against the forces of anti-intellectualism. He has taken on a wide range of targets that have included astrologers, creationists, New Agers, postmodernists, eco-radicals and even politicians and religionists. Any individual or group that attempts to obstruct or pervert the strictest adherence to rational thought and intellectual honesty comes in for a sharp lashing from Sokal.
One can only admire his boldness and persistence in uncovering instances of sloppy and sometimes dangerous thinking and in setting the record straight. I feel it is fortunate that practising scientists who merely want to get on with their science rather than continually defend it have such a well-informed and doughty defender in their corner. Most scientists will be highly appreciative of and deeply fascinated by what Sokal has to say in this remarkable book.