Talk:Sokal affair

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I think the article needs to address the conflation of '90s academic postmodernism and leftist politics. They are treated as one and the same throughout the article, but in fact have a very tangential relationship. There is nothing fundamentally leftist about deconstruction, and in fact there are worlds of leftist philosophers and theorists who are not postmodernists / post-structuralists. I just happens that postmodern ideas proved attractive to certain more radical members of the academic left. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:33, 14 November 2012 (UTC)


I changed "deliberately defraud" to "deliberately mislead". See the definition of fraud, which says that "Many hoaxes are fraudulent, although those not made for personal gain are not technically frauds". The goal of the Sokal affair was to make a point about science, not for personal aggrandizement or monetary gain. Calling it fraud is assuming the POV (and talking points) of one side. DanKohn (talk) 12:13, 20 October 2008 (UTC)

Some dude's unpublished article?[edit]

Why is someone's unpublished, and un-peer reviewed article cited as scientific validation of Sokal's claims about professional authority? It's especially hilarious that this appears in an article about a hoax that exposes the insufficient rigors of the peer review process. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:27, 11 October 2012 (UTC)

Academic snobbery[edit]

I'm sorry but the following passage:

Footnotes contain more obvious jokes, like the one which comments "Just as liberal feminists are frequently content with a minimal agenda of legal and social equality for women and 'pro-choice', so liberal (and even some socialist) mathematicians are often content to work within the hegemonic Zermelo-Fraenkel framework (which, reflecting its nineteenth-century liberal origins, already incorporates the axiom of equality) supplemented only by the axiom of choice."

means nothing to me. Either someone is pulling an obvious joke on me, or the above joke is not obvious.

I'll second that. What is wikipedia's audience? I'd say that articles have to be accessible to the general public to a degree. A solid block of text like the above and noted as having a "more obvious joke" is not helpful. Ironically, given the subject of the article itself, it seems like some elitist academic snobbery is at play: "if you have to ask what the joke is, you are "obviously" too stupid to be reading this article". Very poor. I'm assuming a very smug writer is feeling very superior and better than the rest of us somewhere out there in wikispace. My advice - explain the joke or delete this text from the article. Just reads like academic bollocks to me. Take 'em out and shoot the lot of them ;-) --mgaved 08:25, 27 July 2007 (UTC)
Since Sokal's entire article is in the same vein as this footnote, the only people for whom this footnote would be more of a joke than any other part of the article would be those who knew the mathematical meanings of "equality" and "choice" but not the many terms from physics brandished to similar effect by Sokal. If the footnote is a joke to them then the whole article should be a joke for physicists. Incidentally none of the eight axioms of ZF set theory are called either equality or choice (although the Axiom of Extensionality, which says that two sets are equal when they contain the same elements, comes close, and one can extend ZF set theory to ZFC by adding the Axiom of Choice, one version of which says that every set can in principle be exhausted by removing elements from it one at a time, even uncountably large sets but for those one must be very patient). --Vaughan Pratt (talk) 00:22, 6 April 2009 (UTC)

These axioms are mathematical statements and have nothing whatever to do with politics, hegemony or sociology.--Syd Henderson 03:37, 27 October 2006 (UTC)

For cultural studies people, though, it's precisely these axiom-like assumptions (in much different contexts) that are often so useful to question. It does make sense, for instance, to question our ideas about "natural" gender differences, and to suspect that a lot of these supposedly factual statements reflect ideology. In this case, Sokal is using a form that's no doubt very similar to the legitimate arguments the editors see all the time, but they probably knew nothing about the specific content. Thus, they were probably inclined to trust the expert with the specifics, while recognizing that the argument in general matched very well their social constructionist bent.
On that note, I really don't find anything ludicrous at all about this statement: "physical 'reality' ... is at bottom a social and linguistic construct", a "liberatory science" and "emancipatory mathematics" must be developed that spurn "the elite caste['s] canon of 'high science'" for a "postmodern science [that] provide[s] powerful intellectual support for the progressive political project". I mean, I've had professors who basically made exactly this argument (focusing on social science), and made it quite compellingly.

I think that this is a very good entry, and the dispute should be removed. It's probably not too surprising that scientists like me will always think that the article gives too much space to the postmodern pseudointellectuals. They are not heroes, in any sense, of this affair. They are the big losers, and there exists no acceptable justification for their having published Sokal's nonsense. Nevertheless, the article presents A LOT of quotations of their attempts to defend themselves in two long paragraphs:

In their defense, the editors of Social Text stated that they believed that the article "was the earnest attempt of a professional scientist to seek some kind of affirmation from postmodern philosophy for developments in his field" and that "its status as parody does not alter substantially our interest in the piece itself as a symptomatic document." They also examined the controversy in the context of academic editorial policies. ... The concluding sentences of their rebuttal, "Should non-experts have anything to say about scientific methodology and epistemology? After centuries of scientific racism, scientific sexism, and scientific domination of nature one might have thought this was a pertinent question to ask," may go far to illuminate the concerns which inform the postmodernist attitude.

The scientists will always think that these editors are just pompous fools, and - no doubt - the editors and their supporters will always think that Sokal's hoax was unfair, and they will always believe that the truth in science is not derived from objective reality, but it is rather built on sexism and racism - simply because these editors are not capable of any better way of thinking that fundamentalist feminism and other examples of intellectual junk. But the article does not make any judgements, it describes both parties, and I believe that it is a useful source of information for any reader - regardless of her opinion. --Lumidek 12:42, 17 Jun 2004 (UTC)

I agree; I think this article is now NPOV. I saw nothing that appeared to me biased, and I think both parties would feel their arguments have been fairly represented. I am taking the liberty of removing the NPOV dispute message. If someone still objects, feel free to revert me. On second thought, problems are left. I made some changes, adding the additional pro-Social Text arguments in the comments below. I don't think we need to worry about having "too many" pro-Social Text arguments as Sokal's argument is extremely simple and obvious (they shouldn't have published a false article), whereas Social Text's defense will have to be longer. They need to do such things as attack Sokal's honesty, defend their editorial policy, etc. So I think that in a NPOV state, more space should be devoted to pro-Social Text arguments than pro-Sokal arguments here; this doesn't express bias but simply the length of the arguments. I've addressed in greater length:
  • The argument that it was unreasonable to expect Social Text to detect fraud
  • The claim that Sokal does not understand postmodernism
Anyway, take a look at the result. --Shibboleth 01:56, 25 Jun 2004 (UTC)

Thanks much for this entry!!  :-)

Much and all as I think the excesses of postmodern philosophers deserve ridicule, this article is a fairly blatant violation of the neutral point of view. Please dig up what the journal and others said in its defence. --Robert Merkel

Wow Bob, how perceptions differ. To me this Wiki reads like a blatant attempt to de-fang Sokal's prank with pages of "context" and tedium. Everyone on planet Earth gets what he did and what it meant. To couch such a brilliant hoax in so vast and bland a survey of postmodernism is the most killing sort of writing. -- Egomet Bonmot

—Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 06:09, 9 May 2010 (UTC)

Not a lot. Backtracking, ad hominems and vaguries mainly. See for yourself:

This link is now broken. David.Monniaux 05:47, 29 Apr 2004 (UTC)

Actually, this looks like an entirely fair treatment to me--it lays out the facts of what happened and why, and summarizes the editor's response fairly. In fact, if the whole of the editor's response was included, it would be even more unfavorable to them, because they really emabarrass themselves. It should probably link to Sokal's own page and to Social Text. --LDC

The bit about the editors response was added after my initial comment. It is now substantially fairer. --Robert Merkel

[People who add major sections to an article and then try to hide it as a "minor edit" are weasels IMHO]

I do this, to greater and lesser degrees. Sorry if it really annoys anyone. I believe the "Wikipedia contributing conventions" (or whatever we want to call them) do not discourage this. I look at it this way: anybody who's actually interested in the entry will take a look at it some time in the next few days and notice the changes.

Personally, I am quite annoyed by people who feel it necessary to clutter up the list of recent changes with such notations as "corrected spelling", "added a new joke", etc., etc. I guess it takes all kinds to make a Wikipedia.

I agree - spelling and punctuation changes *are* minor edits, and should be marked as so. But adding an entirely new paragraph without registering it in "recent changes" smacks of trying to be subversive. Everyone relies on the "recent changes" list to keep track of what is being dealt with currently. As it turns out, this new paragraph was very good, and it added balance to the entire article (you'll notice I did nothing to it but remove a HR). But still, it would have been nice to know it had been added, and it certainly was not a "minor" edit. - MB
Why don't you just set your preferences so that minor edits show up in the list of recent changes? People have wildly different ideas as to what constitutes a "minor edit", so I find it's best to ignore the distinction (although I try to mark my own edits in an appropriate way). --Zundark, 2001 Oct 16

Everything about Wikipedia is subversive by traditional publishing standards. :-) Thanks, MB, for your thoughts on this (sincerely). I will consider changing my contributing style. But please note that there is nothing, so far as I know, in Wikipedia to prevent or even particularly discourage people from doing things the way I have been. Maybe I'll change. Maybe others won't. That's Wikipedia.

No, there is nothing to prevent you from doing things how you want. If you get some minor little thrill from trying to make changes subversively, then go right ahead. You have to get your kicks somehow. - MB

Ouch. I thought that was uncalled for. I try to use "sorry", "thanks", and ":-)" in the appropriate places. I'm not trying to bug you or anybody else here. Have a good one.

I think this article needs to be edited to bring it into line with neutral point of view. I agree 100% with its bias, by the way. --LMS

I have to agree. The article is still fairly POV. Sokal's hoax has had minimal effect on the humanities, and there is a reason for this - ultimately, the editors of Social Text are right that one of the thing's Sokal's credentials are supposed to mean is that he can be trusted not to deliberately screw over a journal like that. In other words, they shouldn't have had to check for a hoax. Sokal was clearly qualified to write about what he did. Beyond that, Sokal shot himself in the foot with Fashionable Nonsense, where it was clear that he didn't understand postmodern philosophy at all.

That's not the usual scientific way of handling publications. In scientific publications, referees are supposed to check the paper for consistency and sense. Of course, there's a lot that go unchecked – referees won't reproduce experiments, except in exceptional cases, and often authors will be trusted to have gotten their computations right. However, blatant nonsense is normally detected. This is necessary if only because some people do deliberately try to screw journals etc... to enlarge their publication lists, for instance.
The excuse that Social Text couldn't know Sokal's text was meaningless is not really convincing. Usually, scientific journals would contact referees competent in the domain of the papers. Why couldn't they contact some physics professors, possibly ones with a taste for the philosophical? David.Monniaux 05:47, 29 Apr 2004 (UTC)

I think the article would benefit greatly from being expanded to talk about academic responses to the affair outside of Social Text. Many, many people have weighed in on the Sokal affair, both in its immediate aftermath and more recently. --Snowspinner

I think that the point behind Sokal's hoax and the Fashionable Nonsense book was that a significant section of the humanities (postmodernist philosophy, critical theory...) is not acceptable as bona fide academic disciplines. The point that you have made here and elsewhere that Sokal has had minimal impact on those disciplines and that he is not regarded as somebody competent on them by the practicioners of those disciplines can in that light be interpreted by an unwillingness of those disciplines to reform.
To summarize, Sokal's argument is that "the emperor is naked". (Coincidentally, the second entry in Google when searching for this phrase is about postmodernism.) David.Monniaux 05:47, 29 Apr 2004 (UTC)
I admit, I am not particularly sympathetic to attempts to write off large university departments as not "bona fide academic disciplines." I mean, you're welcome to the opinion. But, given that opinion, I'm skeptical of your authority to productively comment on subjects within the disciplines on anything beyond the most general level.
As for Sokal, I think it's telling that people studying in the disciplines he attacks almost universally claim that he completely misunderstands and misrepresents the discipline. It's not an issue of unwillingness to reform - it's an issue of wholesale failure to engage with anything.
There are plenty of intelligent and productive ways to object to postmodernism - many of them have taken hold in critical theory, and straight-up postmodernism has largely lost its hold in the humanities. But Sokal's attacks just aren't among those. Sokal doesn't understand the subjects he's attacking, and that fact should be addressed in the article. Snowspinner 06:06, 29 Apr 2004 (UTC)
You've made the point before that humanities departments were the largest in most universities and that it thus gives them some legitimacy. I'm not sure about it. I have numerous friends and acquaintances in the humanities; only one seems to enjoy postmodernist thought. I think that you are projecting the situation of American academia and humanities on the rest of the world. Even at the École Normale Supérieure (you probably have heard of the place, this is where Derrida et al. studied, and Althusser was teaching before he killed his wife), the philosophy department is small and its academic choices are controversial.
In any case, it may be possible that many people enter studies in the humanities because they like literature and related topics, and this does not mean an endorsement of the research (quoted or unquoted, depending on your opinions) done in those fields.
You're then attacking me about my opinions. My opinions do not have anything to do with the case. I'm stating what I think is Sokal et al.'s underlying opinion (that postmodernism is not a valid discipline) and explaining that, in that context, that criticizing Sokal for not being recognized as a valid practicioner of those disciplines is a bit of a circular argument. Imagine that we had Astrology departments in universities – wouldn't astrologers almost unanimously attack those who criticize them?
I must say that I'm quite sympathetic to Sokal and Bricmont, for all answers I've seen to their book were ad hominem attacks, some even demonstrating that their author had not read the book they were attacking. For instance, I've seen answers that tried to muddy the waters by dragging "political" arguments into the case – that's what we would expect from people on Usenet or Wikipedia talk pages, not from respected academics.David.Monniaux 06:25, 29 Apr 2004 (UTC)
I'd make the comparison between the Evolution article and the Punctuated equilibrium article here. Evolution contains mention of creationism. Punctuated equilibrium does not. Or, if you want one on the "opposite" side, Astrology suggests that it's hooey, whereas Electional astrology leaves the issue untouched. Likewise, I think that Sokal should be mentioned on Postmodernism, but that he probably doesn't need to come up on articles on more specific topics. I also think that postmodern responses to Sokal should be mentioned here, but that, should a wealth of Sokal-related topics come up, they do not need to be mentioned on all of them. Snowspinner 06:33, 29 Apr 2004 (UTC)
Ok, that we agree on. David.Monniaux 06:35, 29 Apr 2004 (UTC)

Question: recent change, Most academic journals submit prospective articles to a blind peer-review. -> Most academic journals submit prospective articles to an anonymous peer-review. -- is this correct? Blind peer-review means that the reviewers don't know who the authors are; is anonymous review the same thing? For me it has the connotation of the author not knowing who the reviewers are (which is not, in my understanding, how peer-review typically works), but if this is a common term for the same thing, then so be it. I've never heard of "anonymous review," though I've heard of "blind review"... and perhaps it should say many instead of most -- there are a lot of fields and journals that don't bother with blind reviews because the controversy potential is not terribly high (a journal I worked at did not bother to do blind review for just this reason -- it made little difference, plus half of the reviewers had already seen earlier drafts of the papers long before). ... and for the record, I think that the NPOV issues are pretty much gone from this as it pretty clearly states the variety of opinions and statements as being held only by that particular group (this is, though, coming from someone who sits somewhat in the middle of both camps, philosophically; a fan more of Kuhn than either Popper or Feyerabend, to put it in the context of phil. of science). --Fastfission 23:42, 3 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Hi. I made the change you're referring to. "Anonymous review" just means that the authors don't know who the reviewers are. In my field (biology), that's how it almost always works--the reviewers do know who the author is--and "anonymous review" is a common term. I had never heard "blind review", but it suggested to me what you say it means (and, e.g., peer-review confirms), that the reviewers don't know who the author is. I've never encountered that in my field, despite hearing of its occasionally being suggested and experimented with. I think that merely anonymous is standard in science. Perhaps it's different in the humanities, in which case my change was hasty. Josh Cherry 00:03, 4 Jul 2004 (UTC)

I don't think it's crucial either way. "Blindedness" in this sense is usually only important in the actual studies themselves, not in the review process, as far as I know. And now that I think of it, I've seen anonymous review used in places even in the humanities (esp. NSF grant proposals, which are anonymously reviewed although one can explicitly request than certain people in the field not be reviewers). Anyway, I was just checking to make sure it was intentional and whatnot, I don't think it changes the character or point of the article (or sentence) very much. --Fastfission 19:16, 4 Jul 2004 (UTC)

NPOV tag[edit]

Should the NPOV tag be removed? This seems to be a pretty balanced article and represented both sides very well. - Ta bu shi da yu 07:39, 7 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Okay, I think that there might be some remnant of POV in the article, but it's good enough that it doesn't really warrant that label anymore. I removed it. --Shibboleth 12:13, 7 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Well written, but it seems to be missing something[edit]

Whenever I read the article I have a sinking feeling that while both sides have been represented, the crux of Sokal's experiment remains largely under-explained. For instance, the article seems to suggest that Sokal's reason for starting the hoax was because "he read a book". His complaints about the postmodernist crit-lit world are lost in what is simply a he-said/she-said after-the-fact analysis.

The key issues, as I see it, are these (or some of these): the whole post-modernist "world" is largely self-created, a particular group of generally far-left writers who write articles primarily for themselves and their "fans". The writings don't have to be about a particular area, useful, or even factual, they simply have to be "cool". It is the quality of the verbage that determines the worth of the article, and not the contents themselves. The parties involved convince themselves of the universal worth of this endevour in what appears to be a massive case of logrolling. Those who critisize aren't "on the inside", their comments are simply written off due largely to them not being well written.

THIS, I believe, is Sokal's argument, and that of many other observers. Since form wins over factuality, Sokal's experiment was to see if this was true by publishing an article that was non-factual but sounded cool. Sure enough, they printed it: even admitting that they did so because they thought it was cool that scientists were so interested in it. And after all the dust clear his comments were written off because, "in their view many of his objections are incoherent and useless"

And it's not about science either. He picked this topic because he knew it, but it would have been equally valid (and successful IMHO) had he picked ice hockey or flower arranging. Given a high enough density of the proper "code words" and a few left-leaning remarks and presto, the "insiders" find it cool that an outsider is so interested in their obviously world-changing work.

Maybe I'm full of it, and it wouldn't be the first time, but I think my comment above captures the essense of Sokal's complaints about the entire postmodernest effort. It is an algorithm-based essay writing contest, one that is convinced of its own self-worth. Yet this concern is not presented in the article at all, nor in the articles on the topics themselves. These are very real critisms, and it would seem they would be best placed here.

Maury 01:15, 23 Nov 2004 (UTC)

Hi there this paragraph appears in the article and is blatantly POV;

"This defense too seems to miss the point. It seems that the article would have never been seen as a hoax unless Sokal himself told them. That is, the editors had no idea what was real and what wasn't. The possibility exists that all of the articles are non-factual (as opposed to fraudulent), and the editors themselves appear to be both unequipped to know, and uninterested in knowing."

I recomend you add the words, "many of Sokal's defenders would say," assuming they actually said something like this, remember, ours is not to reason why, ours is but to post and die.

This article calls "Social Text" a "leading journal in the academic humanities" while the article on Sokal's book "Fashionable Nonsense" calls it "a moderately important critical theory journal"

I'm not sure which is more accurate, but it seems to me that the two articles should agree.

I had the same "feeling" that something is left out. After some rumination I believe that the source of that feeling is a misuse/misinterpretation of the NPOV policy. The post exposure "defences" almost entirely fall within the rubric of excuse-making and apologetics, which [contra-intentionally] therefore seem to convince the reader both of Sokal's point and his justification. However the "weight" of all that excuse making in sheer word-count lends the appearance of minimzing the impact of the simple message that the "experiment" actually unambiguously delivered. That point can be made in a short paragraph and is self-evident given the results. I know of no way to alleviate the "problem", if indeed it is so, except to rely on the perceptiveness of the critical reader. Afterall is not a [favorite] technique of obfuscation to drown the "opponent in verbiage? Rich Schmidt


I know nothing about this subject, but shouldn't the article's title be Sokal affair (currently a redirect) rather than Sokal Affair, in accordance with Wikipedia:Naming conventions (capitalization)? (I'd move it myself, except that I'm not certain that it isn't a proper noun phrase in this context.) —Josiah Rowe (talkcontribs) 17:09, 9 December 2005 (UTC)

  • I think you're right... I don't see any reason for the Affair aspect (even Sokal seems to use it in the lower-case when it is not in a title), but perhaps someone else has a vested interest in this... --Fastfission 02:54, 10 December 2005 (UTC)
    • Since no one has objected, I'm making the move.--ragesoss 17:06, 12 May 2006 (UTC)
    • Nevermind, I'm not an admin.--ragesoss 17:09, 12 May 2006 (UTC)

treatment of erroneous arguments[edit]

is presenting an invalid defense and treating these as equal POV? it appears the editors of social textare trying obviously to cover their asses. i mean when i first read Sokals paper i was unaware that it was a hoax... but upon reading i had the idea that it was bogus (being pretty ignorant of quantuum physics, morphic resonance, hermeneutics etc. i was 95% sure it was completely bogus).... i didn't know exactly what 'hermeneutics' was BUT i knew it had absolutely nothing to do with quantuum physics.... like you don't try to describe what goes on in a nuclear reaction with terms generated to describe anthropology....and i am not the editor of a scientific journal nor do i have a phd.... i'm inclined to conclude that the editors didn't even read the paper or whatever academic credentials should be taken from them (phds in postmodern physics?).. it would have taken about 20 minutes to look up all the concepts in the paper and conclude all couldn't possibly be related.... or one could just examine the way in which it was written. they weren't even suspicious?

morphic resonance is pretty famous pseudoscience it would have taken 5 minutes to look it up

NPOV requires that both sides be treated fairly. If one side has an invalid defense it should be apparent in the article. For instance, applicable standards of peer review could be included. However, the affair is not as simple as might seem at first glance. For instance, Social Text is not a scientific journal (clue number one is that they publish works of fiction). Maestlin 16:58, 12 May 2006 (UTC)
Maestlin is certainly right about what should be included in the article... but in response to the original poster's objections, many of the claims in the paper are not so clearly bogus as they might initially seem. In fact, many of the passages that people highlight as "ludicrous" are veritable textbook reproductions of standard social constructionsist arguments. (Imagine if I collected a bunch of statements from a physics text book, got them published, and then declared that physics was all a bunch of hooey, since I didn't know what the hell I was talking about. In some respects, that's basically what Sokal did.)
For example, you say you're sure "hermeneutics" has absolutely nothing to do with quantum physics. But, in a sense, quantum physics is nothing without hermeneutics. After all, we have to know how to interpret claims about quantum particles in order for these claims to mean anything. And, in fact, the hermeneutic issue of realism vs antirealism has historically been a central debate in quantum physics (i.e. should we interpret quantum theory as describing real things or just as providing useful instruments for talking about the world). Similarly it's certainly true that physicists describe quantum reactions without reference to anthropology, but that doesn't mean the two are unrelated. In fact, social constructionists think that physicists' descriptions are social and cultural phenomena (i.e. the sort of thing you study in anthropology). Regardless of what you think about whether physicists are "right," the fact that these descriptions come about through cultural and social processes is hard to deny.
So it's rather like tarot, where no matter what cards I pull from the deck I can interpret them as relevant to the situation at hand? :P There's a reason that physicists use mathematics as the primary language; it's much less open to interpretation than any spoken tongue. How a physicist describes their subject, and many other aspects of the behavior of the physicist, are of course a social/cultural matter, but the actual predictions aren't. And its the predictions which are the physics, not the behavior of the physicist. --Starwed 09:41, 2 April 2007 (UTC)

Gabriel Stolzenberg's essays can be found here:

Rosa Lichtenstein


I don't like the argument "Sokal's credentials should mean that his paper was correct". I'm in mathematics, and I would be dollars to donuts that a high school student could submit a paper to the most prestigious math journal and have it accepted as long as it was correct and significant, and if a big name sent in garbage I suspect that would be rejected. 03:44, 20 December 2006 (UTC) Jordan

...although, of course, it's incredibly unlikely that a high school student (without some sort of incredible school-program) would actually be able to write a paper that's both significant and correct. But, obviously, most disciplines don't work the same way as math. Social science and humanities journals typically publish works of established authors about some particular topic, without pronouncing in any way that the authors are "right." —The preceding unsigned comment was added by BrownApple (talkcontribs) 08:35, 7 January 2007 (UTC).
You're right about it being very rare for highschool students to publish in math, but I don't think any decent math journal would accept a paper by a big name without careful peer review, usually by at least two people. It seems to be like that in journals in other areas I've read (e.g. the journals the IEEE publishes). 00:45, 18 February 2007 (UTC) Jordan

"Claims in this article" section[edit]

The phrase "Arguing that quantum theory has progressive political implications" is factually incorrect; what Sokal is (facetiously) arguing is that quantum gravity has progressive political implications. This seemed such an important and easily correctible error that even I could make a contribution by correcting it, but when I went to change it, I found in brackets two different phrases for the same space: [quantum mechanics][quantum theory]. Rather than blundering into some edit dispute, I decided to voice my concern here. Quantum mechanics and quantum theory are not the same thing, and neither of them is correct in the sentence. Quantum gravity is something else, and Sokal's satirical arguments are made about quantum gravity, not quantum theory or quantum mechanics. I notice that this page isn't listed under any physics category, but I think it might be helpful to have a physicist look at it. Woonpton (talk) 17:50, 31 January 2008 (UTC)

What it actually had was [[quantum mechanics|quantum theory]] which means display the phrase 'quantum theory', but the link is to the article titled 'quantum mechanics'. In any case, WP has a quantum gravity article, and you are correct that Sokal was "arguing" for the political significance of QG at first instance, rather than QM generally or QT. So, I have been bold and made the change. EdChem (talk) 13:31, 2 February 2008 (UTC)

"ostensible" nonsense[edit]

I reverted the word "ostensible" which was just recently inserted, as I don't believe the word to be accurate in the context. "Ostensible" means something that appears to be, or is presented to be, a certain way but is actually other than it appears. So "ostensible nonsense" would mean that the paper was presented as nonsense or appeared on the surface as nonsense, but wasn't really nonsense when looked at more closely. Sokal's paper was the other way around; it was presented as, or appeared to be, a serious essay connecting quantum gravity to politics, but was actually nonsense. Woonpton (talk) 17:59, 3 April 2008 (UTC)

Peer review?[edit]

Was the journal peer-reviewed at the time or not? I've seen a reference that it was. And, even if it wasn't peer-reviewed, the editors obviously reviewed it. TuckerResearch (talk) 02:58, 18 August 2008 (UTC)

Analogy with religion[edit]

What Sokal ought to have going for him is what one might call the "natural consensus" among scientists, that teams working independently to understand the world should find themselves in agreement whenever they get together to compare notes, as at conferences. If they don't, some team must have committed either a mistake or a fraud, so goes that utopian view of knowledge and understanding.

Ironically one of the biggest obstacles to consensus is hermeneutics, a term that Sokal seems to regard as pretentious but which is the accepted term in the business for what stuff means (along with semantics, a term with similar connotations but usually applied to smaller units−both terms are popular targets of ridicule). Were Sokal to complain that his objective has been misunderstood, as anyone under such strenuous attack is likely to do, he would be making a hermeneutic appeal. (He may well have so complained, but after reading his article starting this war and his subsequent "confession" I had no further interest in reading anything by him not in his own field as his motives and attitudes seemed perfectly clear.)

It is all very well to say that the meaning resides in the mathematics, but for many people, even scientists, this breaks down when there is no accompanying intuition. Most people simply aren't capable of absorbing purely quantitative theories like quantum mechanics in the absence of accompanying reasonable interpretation. The saying in the business is, "shut up and calculate," but the physicists who can really do so are a breed apart. When quantum computation became a real subject, physicists who'd been researching and teaching quantum mechanics all their life didn't simply wade into that fray like ready-made experts, it was more like Mark Spitz learning to wind-surf and it took even the expert quantum physicists several years to absorb the mindset of quantum computation despite both being based on the same mathematics.

Both technical and social intercourse is hugely dependent on interpretation. An excellent practice when encountering discrepancies, besides checking for errors and fraud, is to compare notes on the meaning of terms. Accounting should by rights be one of the most exact of disciplines, where inaccuracies of even a penny could be questioned were pennies in short supply. Yet accounting is notorious for its dependence on interpretation, which creates room for expensive misunderstandings on the one hand (you might prefer one stock over another and find later you'd picked the wrong one because their balance sheets meant different things), and frauds on every imaginable scale on the other. Translation between languages is another area presenting endless opportunities for misunderstanding through misinterpretation.

I say Sokal's motives were clear because arguments of the kind he clearly enjoys have been going on for millennia, sometimes on purely religious matters, sometimes at the boundary of religion and ethics, or ethics and medicine (whether to save the mother or the baby when both is impossible), or ethics and war, or religion and science, etc.

When arguing within a community that is largely in agreement with its interpretations, the discussions tend to be civil and productive. When people who interpret things differently meet, things break down much more readily and rapidly. Put simply, the arguers argue past each other. Each side feels it has valid concerns that the other side must be able to see (since they are so obvious) and is simply willfully ignoring. This gets both sides very angry with each other, and it becomes a considerable effort to keep the discussion civil. In such situations the odds of reaching consensus are vanishingly small. Not unlike divorce, where if you part amicably no lawyer is needed to perform division by two, but if your spouse hates you, you are foolish not to hire the most aggressive lawyer your estate can afford to be sure you aren't robbed by your spouse's lawyer.

In this case Sokal launched a war on his own initiative as his way of arguing the case for his side. This has been a very popular tactic by military and religious leaders for as long as history has been recorded, and for all we know several times longer. The fact that many consider this debate tactic the height of incivility in bringing people to a meeting of the minds has done nothing to deter its practitioners. Expect to see many more Alan Sokals in future centuries. I place him in the shadowy underworld of physics agitators.

Why should I care if I'm neither a physicist nor a philosopher myself? (Actually I'm a little bit of both, having originally trained as the former and having strong interests in the latter, especially the exact philosophies like logic.) Mainly I care because I don't want some spacecraft flown by a crew of postmodern philosophers into a spacestation occupied by my descendants in revenge for a crusade launched by some physicist errant centuries ago. --Vaughan Pratt (talk) 20:00, 18 December 2008 (UTC)

The purpose of an article talk page, as typically noted at the top of the page, is not to discuss the topic but to discuss the article. None of the information above would be useful to the article, as it appears to be largely or entirely made up of original research and personal opinions of the editor. Woonpton (talk) 19:09, 19 December 2008 (UTC)
I should have made clearer how what I wrote bears on the article. I certainly wasn't proposing actual material for the article, which as you say would constitute WP:OR and opinions. The basis for my edit is identical to that of a lot of the other edits on the same page, namely to develop perspective on what counts as "neutral" in this affair when meeting Wikipedia's objective of neutrality by trying to move the discussion further towards a consensus of what would constitute a neutral article (actually it's already a lot of the way there already and the urgency is now perhaps less than it was a while back). You could criticize many of the other edits to this talk page as being as undocumented and opinionated as mine. The article itself should contain only supported facts, but holding the discussion to the same standard greatly hinders free discussion as you then have to put unreasonably much work into documenting every point you want to make. Instead discussants should be able to present their own perspective on the affair, and in turn should be willing to defend their perspective when challenged, and to adapt it to the discussion page's overall perspective as needed to get closer to consensus.
In that spirit if you see anything in what I wrote that you consider false or misleading I'd be more than happy to discuss it, with an eye to us both reaching a mutually agreeable understanding of it. From the perspective of Sokal and his supporters what I wrote is surely not neutral, but if a consensus emerges that they are being unreasonable, and this consensus is adequately documented and reflects a wider world consensus, then the article is not doing Wikipedia a favor by slanting it some other way. Balance and objectivity need not be identical notions, and the latter should be taken seriously in judging neutrality. --Vaughan Pratt (talk) 05:33, 20 December 2008 (UTC)

This short (explanatory) text "Analogy with religion" by Vaughan Pratt is a delight to read and is certainly a major contribution to understanding the wider significance of the Sokal Hoax. Its location here on the "Talk page" lends credence to the very concept of "Talk page" itself. Here is where we can talk about stuff related to what officially appears on the "Article page". I am, of course, provoked to contribute to this talk more substantively than my brief commenting allows. In particular, it opens the debate to other fields which might be surveyed under a similar rubric "Analogy with xxx" :-) --Михал Орела (talk) 07:14, 26 December 2008 (UTC)

I appreciate your support, Mihal. One can of worms I may have inadvertently opened here is the reconciliation of balance and objectivity. The irony is that balance is a more objective criterion than objectivity, in that it is easier to assess, seemingly reflected in Wikipedia's relevant guidelines. Yet on balance it may be the enemy of factual objectivity. The balance of US opinion in 2000 was that Bush was just as good as Gore, but would an objective observer from another planet have agreed? --Vaughan Pratt (talk) 12:23, 7 January 2009 (UTC)


The summary of deconstruction in this article is simply false. Deconstruction entails no "rewriting"... in fact it is a kind of critical reading. The paragraph there needs badly to be revised. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 02:41, 19 March 2009 (UTC)

Where would you draw the line between rewriting and writing down a critical reading? And which side of your line would you say Derrida's own examples of deconstruction lie? --Vaughan Pratt (talk) 22:39, 5 April 2009 (UTC)

It seems to me there is a NPOV issue. "The procedure is somewhat mechanical". Also, it probably this executive summary of deconstruction looks a bit weird to me; we should probably just link to the deconstruction article. Or maybe avoid mentioning deconstruction at all. Cleversnail (talk) 17:39, 3 May 2009 (UTC)

I recently removed the summary of deconstruction completely and replaced it with a link to deconstructionist instead where it is described in more detail, as Cleversnail suggested. Andrewrp thought it was vandalism and reverted it. I thought I should mention it here, and give Andrewrp a chance to defend the paragraph from the current criticism, since he want it kept. If no one steps up to defend it, I might delete it again in a few days. (talk) 16:52, 5 June 2009 (UTC)

Lack of sourcing[edit]

I'm seeing oodles of unsourced commentary, such as the peer review process or lack thereof at Social Text, their editorial position in the affair, and their review reservations at the time-- all either completely unsourced or referencing email list posts kept on some guy's website. Could someone link to original, documented, reliable sources (WP:RS) for any of this?

I started stripping the commentary out, but I'll leave this post here a few days to see if someone can fix the article. (talk) 20:50, 3 May 2009 (UTC)

If you think there are problems with a lack of sourcing, then add {{fact}} tags so people know what you are concerned about. By simply removing content, no one knows what material was problematic. I am fairly certain that the lack of peer review processes and the editors' concerns about Sokal's verbosity and excessive footnoting are well accepted aspects of the affair. EdChem (talk) 21:02, 3 May 2009 (UTC)
The IP made two changes: Comment out a passage that was sourced to an unreliable archive copy of a text, and removed another passage which was unsourced but could have been sourced to the same text. I reverted, improved the citation (it was actually a letter to the editors in Lingua Franca), and added another footnote in the appropriate place. --Hans Adler (talk) 21:59, 3 May 2009 (UTC)
Looks like there has been little activity here for a while. I'm just going through the text and trying to clean up the repetition etc. —Zujine|talk 01:33, 25 April 2010 (UTC)
Thanks for the comprehensive style edit. Hans Adler 09:05, 25 April 2010 (UTC)
My time got cut short, unfortunately. I'll do more later. —Zujine|talk 00:36, 28 April 2010 (UTC)

Excised material[edit]

I excised the following from the lead (someone had previously added "cite" tags which I have left in below):

The journal's editorial collective did, however, express concerns to Sokal about the piece, and requested changes, which Sokal refused to make.[citation needed] Wishing to include the work of a physicist, the editors decided to accept the article on the basis of Sokal's credentials.[citation needed]

The above needs to be verified before it can be included. Manning (talk) 02:33, 20 September 2011 (UTC)

Update - I found a source for the above. source. I think this ref is used elsewhere in this article as well. If someone has time can they fix the refs and restore the above to the lead (I have to get back to work). Manning (talk) 02:41, 20 September 2011 (UTC)
I added a quote from the editors' essay on Lingua Franca stating that they requested revisions. —Zujine|talk 17:30, 21 January 2012 (UTC)


I think the examples should be separated in two categories - deliberate hoaxes, like Sokal's, and "honest" frauds. Thoughts?Cosainsé (talk) 20:13, 6 April 2013 (UTC)

Why is there a Fred Newman reference?[edit]

The article has a section describing commentary about the Sokal Affair by Fred Newman. Newman was a cult leader who was briefly a psychologist (he was kicked-out for unethical behavior with patients and did not have a license to treat), and more briefly involved in the leftist movements of the 1960s. He was not a "philosopher" and not "postmodern"; he was a cult leader. His "work" is not considered reputable or scholarly, or treated as legitimate outside of the cult. There is no legitimate dispute on these points.

While Newman is certainly noteworthy -- as a cult leader, a fraud, an abuser of women, and perhaps as a perpetrator of incest (the "perhaps" refers to whether it renders him noteworthy, he admitted the incest) -- his commentary on the Sokal affair is not. Newman wrote commentaries all the time hoping to latch onto the hot topic of the day; they had no visibility outside the cult.

Someone has been altering this article, and I suspect others, so that the sum total creates the appearance that Newman was a significant intellectual or academic figure during his lifetime. He was none of these things.

I am deleting the offending sections. If someone tries to re-add them, track the IP address. I'll bet it isn't hard to figure out that its one of the remaining members of the cult doing it. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 02:02, 12 January 2014 (UTC)

Please clarify "admission" in section "Responses; Follow-up between Sokal and the editors"[edit]

In the sentence "Social Text's response revealed none of its editors had suspected Sokal's piece was a parody. Instead, they speculated Sokal's admission "represented a change of heart, or a folding of his intellectual resolve"." -- does "admission" refer to Sokal admitting the article was a joke or the admission accused of Sokal by the critics , supposedly embodied by his article, that post-modern metaphysics or whatever is actually worthwhile.