AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXVIII, No. 1, Spring 1996


Controversy over Spoof of Radical Sociology of Science

A small group of radical sociologists, questioning the privileged status of scientific knowledge, have often focussed on physics; physicists have correspondingly been among the chief critics of this academic trend. Now NYU physicist Alan Sokal has attracted close inspection by writing a parody of the genre which was accepted as serious discourse by a sociology-oriented journal. Sokal's article, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," liberally quotes and paraphrases from respected sociological writers, but it is recognizable as nonsense to anyone trained in physics. His article was published alongside authentic writings on science and society in a special issue of Social Text (spring/summer 1996). For honesty's sake Sokal simultaneously exposed his spoof in Lingua Franca (May/June 1996). Even more than he expected, Sokal has provoked intense discussion and comparison of the standards for discourse enforced within sociology and physics.

For the articles and latest commentary, readers are advised to visit Sokal's Web site

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