During what is known now as the "Science Wars", she was part of a debate regarding the value-neutrality of the sciences. This aspect of her work has been criticized by some scientists. Harding referred to Newton'sPrincipia Mathematica as a "rape manual" in her 1986 book The Science Question in Feminism p. 113, a characterization that she later said she regretted. The full quotation however is rarely given, but it is given in Alan Sokal's Beyond the Hoax on page 120-121:
Traditional historians and philosophers have said that these [rape and torture] metaphors are irrelevant to the real meanings and referents of scientific concepts ... But when it comes to regarding nature as a machine, they have a quite different analysis: here, we are told, the metaphor provides the interpretations of Newton’s mathematical laws: it directs inquirers to fruitful ways to apply his theory ... But if we are to believe that mechanistic metaphors were a fundamental component of the explanations the new science provided, why should we believe that the gender metaphors were not? A consistent analysis would lead to the conclusion that understanding nature as a woman indifferent to or even welcoming rape was equally fundamental to the interpretations of these new conceptions of nature and inquiry. Presumably these metaphors, too, had fruitful pragmatic, methodological, and metaphysical consequences for science. In that case, why is it not as illuminating and honest to refer to Newton’s laws as “Newton’s rape manual” as it is to call them “Newton’s mechanics”?