Talk:Science wars

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I have gone over the article and basically it needs to be extensively edited, if not substantially re-written, in order to achieve anything like a non-POV voice.

Please note: The whole term “Science Wars” arose out of polemical books and mass media coverage.

The article needs to emphasize the fact that it depicts obscure and complicated academic topics from the perspective of a mainstream debate that necessarily distorts them into two "camps". This needs to be stated right off the bat so that people who want to find out about these highly academic subjects are not misled.

There are errors of fact and of reasoning, as well as a good deal of vague, tortuous, or deceptive language. Note that, according to wikipedia, “postmodernism” refers to a gigantic historical-philosophical trend with no central or defining formal argument, while “scientific realism” refers to a specific formal argument in philosophy of science which can be precisely defined.

This categorical disparity says something about the POV of this article. It has recourse to the definitional rigor of 'scientific realist' and the necessary vagueness of 'postmodernist' in order to characterize the two camps. This is bound to make the 'postmodernist' side seem vague and confusing. And it is bound to make the scientific realist side seem precise, since in the article they are simply defined as those who affirm the truth of science which the postmodernists allegedly challenge or reject.

The first few sections seem to have been written and edited by people who were determined to characterize 'postmodernism' exclusively in these polemical terms of the science wars. They are thus misleading because the layperson could easily think that postmodernist philosophy was primarily about the Science Wars: about attacking natural science like math or physics when it obviously was not.


1. "The postmodernists questioned scientific objectivity, and undertook a wide-ranging critique of the scientific method and of scientific knowledge, across the gamut of the disciplines of cultural studies, cultural anthropology, feminist studies, comparative literature, media studies, and science and technology studies.”

This sentence doesn’t tell you much about the dispute. At the most it describes vague tendencies and a huge number of fields of study. Postmodernism might be commonly defined and associated with questioning the status of objective truth. What exactly this means is another question. But to say that postmodernism constituted a “wide ranging critique of the scientific method and scientific knowledge” is a POV statement essentially taken out of the mouths of Gross & Levitt / Sokal & Bricmont. Also, it’s a little unclear why these particular disciplines and not others are included, so it might be helpful to include a citation listing how each of these disciplines might have been implicated in a perceived “wide ranging critique of the scientific method”. If these particular disciplines were identified by 'scientific realists', this needs to be indicated with a proper citation.

2. “The scientific realists countered that objective scientific knowledge is real, and accused postmodernist critics of having little understanding of the science they were criticising.”

This sentence makes it seem like the postmodernists were claiming that objective scientific knowledge was fake, since the scientific realists “counter” their argument by claiming it is "real". This is POV, since the discussions started the other way around, with the scientific realists accusing the postmodernists of irrationalism. Who among the postmodernists were criticizing science? What kinds of science were they criticizing? Many postmodern scholars right about the 19th century and before, when the word "science" has much broader applications than it does today. Thus the second part of the sentence is more to the point: the critics were accusing the postmodernist critics of not understanding natural sciences.

3. My proposal for an accurate, non-POV statement about the “scientific realists” as they were defined in the Science wars, based on the above:

A-They identified scholarship across a wide range of disciplines outside of the sciences as being implicated in the general tendency of postmodernism

B-They accused scholars in these disciplines of not understanding science and making irrational claims because of this tendency.

However, where is this alleged “wide ranging critique of scientific method”? Does it exist in reality or does it exist in the POV of the people who wrote books about postmodern attacks on science? The article seems to define ‘scientific method' in these sentences primarily and first and foremost in terms of that which the postmodernists might have been, in various ways, critiquing! This is a highly POV claim!

To summarize: Gross/Levitt/Sokal/Bricmont were not responding to specific arguments that actually “attacked” or denied science in any substantive sense: the postmodernists weren’t saying that gravity doesn’t work or that the theory of relativity is a fictitious illusion. Many if not most of them didn't even write about natural sciences! Gross et al were identifying claims that were allegedly LIKE saying these things, or that amounted in their view to the same thing in the realm of ideas. They were criticizing what they saw as bad scholarship, poor reasoning, and the misuse of scientific terms in American academia, and they were associating these trends with postmodernisn philosophy, mostly from France. See (see

4. “Some interpreted Kuhn's ideas to mean that scientific theories were, either wholly or in part, social constructs, which many interpreted as diminishing the claim of science to representing objective reality (though many social constructivists do not put forward this claim), and that reality had a lesser or potentially irrelevant role in the formation of scientific theories.”

This sentence is confusing, probably because it has been mutated by trying to write out POV. The sentence says: Some people interpreted Kuhn as a social constructivist, which lead to a Kuhnian social constructivist position which affirmed that scientific objectivity was diminished. However, many social constructivists do not deny scientific objectivity. Kuhnian social constructivists, however, thought that reality was potentially irrelevant in the formation of scientific theories.

What about Kuhnians who do not accept social constructionism? Do they accept or reject scientific objectivity? Why does the article say that many social constructivists do not deny scientific objectivity, but does not say the same thing of postmodernists? All these categorical claims are either vague, misleading, trivial, or false. I'm not even sure what Kuhn is doing in this article since he has nothing to do with the science wars except insofar as certain critics blamed him for postmodernism, which is POV. Doesn’t this section just apply the lables of “Kuhnian” and “social constructivist” to someone who potentially thinks that reality does not exist, i.e. a "postmodernist?" This kind of statement, which gradually introduces and defines its vague labels in order to associate them with an untenable position revealed at the end of the sentence, is highly POV language!

It sounds to me like this description was written by somone who knows little about either Kuhn’s ideas or about social constructionism, but has read about them in a POV secondary source. There are no substantial readings of any specific sections of Kuhn, nor any good scholarship about him from after the science wars cited. The only source on Kuhn listed is almost 30 years old and labels him as an “irrationalist” ; I haven’t read this book, but I do know that Kuhn continues to be studied seriously by real philosophers of science in American to this day, many of whom are scientific realists, so the 30-year-old POV citation is a bit of a problem. People should consider closely reading the most notorious chapter of Kuhn's book, Chapter 10, where a lot of the problems with his ideas come up.

5. “Post modernism Further information: New Left, Critical theory, and Western Marxism"

The “further information” section seems to implicitly connect Marxism and Critical Theory to a relativizing, perspectivalist viewpoint of scientific discovery based on identity categories like race and gender. While some American scholars might have interpreted Marxism and critical theory ideas in this way, most do not. Thus this section is POV, if not outright deceptive, especially because it is labelled 'postmodernism' and says barely anything useful or informative about postmodernism.

6. "A number of different philosophical and historical schools, often lumped together as "postmodernism", began reinterpreting scientific achievements of the past through the lens of the practitioners, often assigning political and economic conditions as formative a role in theory development as scientific observations. Rather than being held up as heroes of knowledge, many scientists of the past were scrutinized for their connection to issues of gender, sexual orientation, race, and class. “

What does it mean to say that political-economic conditions played as formative a role in theory-development as scientific observations?

If what the sentence (6) above means is that many philosophers had started to look to people’s social conditioning as a cause or basis of scientific ideas, well, they had been doing this for over 100 years, since the advent of sociology in the 19th Century, well before ‘postmodernism’ was even thought of or Kuhn and Foucault were even born.

There are a number of problems here. It is certainly a matter of interpretation how formative a role an individual philosopher assigns to political and economic explanations in the historical appearance of scientific observations. Someone who says that Newton's law of gravity is a white male theory is, of course, denying scientific realism. But is this kind of claim central to postmodern thought? Or is this the view of the 'scientific realists'?

Gross/Levitt/Sokal/Bricmont were saying that postmodernism was responsible for this kind of view, but that is their POV. Studying and assigning importance to the political and economic factors in scientific revolutions is no "postmodern" invention. People have been doing this for quite a while now. See, for example, the last 200 years of scholarship on the 17th Century.

Example: knowledge of probability mathematics did not appear in its sophisticated modern form until the mid seventeenth century, but the reason for its appearance has nothing to do with a strict binary between "scientific observation" or "social construction". The epistemological-historical problems are more intricate, involving the emergence of knowledge among multiple subjects during a certain period. [Cf. Ian Hacking. The Emergence of Probability, intro, ch. 1 & 2]

The same could be said of 18th Century natural history. Precisely BECAUSE it was observation-based, early biology was conditioned by existing social factors (such as navigational considerations, overseas exploration, geographical knowledge, classification techniques, etc.) that determined plants and animals could be collected, how they could be examined, and when, where, and how.

[See these reputable Cambridge University sources which have nothing to do with postmodernism: Allan G. Debus. "Man and Nature in the Renaissance" and Richard S. Westfall. "The Construction of Modern Science: Mechanisms and Mechanics." Cambridge History of Science Series; please note that the latter's use of the word 'construction' has nothing to do with 'social constructionism']

What this article tries to do is to take extreme reductionist theses about personal identity and project them as a central anti-scientific features of 'postmodernism'. Of course, there may have been some 'postmodernists' who said things like this, but the general claim is certainly POV. The article needs to either list specific examples or remove this section.

7. “The attack upon the validity of science from the Humanities and the social sciences worried many in the scientific community…,”

Again, was there really an attack on the validity of science? Who was worried and what was making them worried? The article just asserts that there was an ‘attack’ that worried scientists. But I can find no evidence, other than in Gross&Levitt/Sokal&Bricmont and in American media coverage parrotting the claims of their books, that any such attack was ever intended. If such scientists were indeed “worried” about an “attack”, then a citation is required, because it is highly likely that these scientists would have read or heard of Gross/Levitt/Sokal/Bricmont’s books or media coverage about them, and much less likely that they would have known much about postmodernism. Also: “Validity” can mean logically valid, or it can mean “producing the desired result; effective”. The sentence above conflates the two: it makes it seem like someone who might have had moral questions about the use of scientific knowledge and its technological consequences was implicated in a widespread view alleging that science made no logical sense (whatever that argument might entail).

8 “…especially when the language of social construction was appropriated by groups who claimed to proffer alternative scientific paradigms. Many scientists perceived that as attempted political control of science in society, e.g. so-called ‘creation science,’ ‘intelligent design,’ and the continuing creation-evolution controversy.”

Who were the groups claiming to proffer alternative scientific paradigms? What does this even mean? Does the word Paradigm refer to the Kuhnian use of the word? If it does, how so?

9 NOTE 6: "The review in The Journal of Higher Education (Vol. 66, No. 5, 1995) snidely suggested that book’s final sentence proved that politics and the epistemology and the philosophy are science are inter-related."

Clearly the person who wrote this thinks that since science is above politics, and since Gross/Levitt/Sokal/Bricmont were scientists, their books must have been above politics too. But this is POV, because their books were not works of science.

— Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:50, 12 December 2011 (UTC)

A few things:
  • You may wish to consider getting an account if you're going to do much (and signing them)...
  • It's somewhat hard to read and respond to something as long as the above, since it's generally disapproved of to split someone else's talk-page comments up.
  • In terms of "postmodernists" vs "scientific realists":
    • You might want to take up the debate over the definition of "postmodernism" on that page
    • I noted below that while the lead talks about "scientific realists", the rest of the article talks about scientists; the two are not the same. Perhaps some categorization problems could be assisted through fixing this?
1: Exactly what would the postmodernists say they were doing (to the degree to which they said anything comprehensible to others - I'm sorry, but I've tried to read some material produced by Foucault and the like and found it rather heavy going...)? Citation(s) for this?
2: In terms of claiming that the word "science" was much broader prior to the 20th century, I'd be interested in seeing some material backing that up. It is unfortunately the case that much that can be better described as a precursor to science is instead described as prior versions of science; IMO, only with the scientific method did real science emerge. (Note that the original people generally identified today as scientists would have called themselves "natural philosophers".)
2/3/7: Why, pray tell, would various scientists be attacking postmodernists if they weren't saying things against science? The likelihood of scientists looking for the causes of, say, decreased funding in the humanities is rather slim unless there was some reason for it, in my experience - scientists are much more likely to look to the politicians and similar types for why there's a problem. Scientists are rather direct-minded; after all, nature doesn't lie to us. (Types like Randi are so important in busting pseudoscience because they know how people do deception and concealment.)
4: "Social construct" and "social constructionism" are among the terms that make "postmodernists" hard to read, BTW.
5: Left-wing types are probably being connected in due to groups like Science for the People. (I'm sorry, but science is most definitely not for the people, nor should it be, any more than it should be in the service of anything but the truth (or at least what will behave enough like the truth for it to be treated as such for all suitable intents and purposes). If the "people" find objectionable something science has discovered - e.g., evolution, genetics influencing intelligence and personality, or whatever - that's indicating something needing fixing about the "people", not science. End of rant...) Lysenko is also someplace in there, as their intellectual forefather...
6: A claim that science is affected in the short term by social events is uncontroversial, as is a claim that the uses to which scientific discoveries are put is affected by social events. What becomes problematic is when people start claiming that science doesn't self-correct and find its way to the truth long-term (the overwhelming evidence is that it does).
7: At least one perspective on science - one with both scientific realism and instrumentalism as influences - is that the two meanings of "validity" that you mention are equivalent. If something works like truth, then it is truth, for all suitable intents and purposes. I don't see how in the world most readers are going to connect "validity" to anything except the first meaning ("truth"), however.
8: I'm not sure what you mean by "a social-constructivist reading".
9: Are you meaning "philosophy of science" by "philosophy are science"?
The above is a partial response - I need to go to bed... Allens (talk) 05:00, 12 December 2011 (UTC)

RESPONSE: This is the same responder under a different IP code. I apologize in advance for not having an account. I plan to get one soon.

Let me see if I can clear this up a little by showing how specific sentences betray a general misunderstanding of what is designated by 'postmodernism' in this article. That's the main problem. It is important to keep in mind that "postmodernism" is a pretty vague label. What kinds of fundamental philosophical positions or discrete points of view it allegedly takes up are pretty unclear. My own opinion is that the term is an institutional construction used by some academics to argue that there is a mandate or coalition for certain kinds of inquiry , and by others to argue that there is a bad or undesireable general tendency in disciplines outside the natural sciences. That gap or divide is what this article is attempting to describe.

If you can cite a case of some, or even several, academics who quoted or cited Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, or whoever, in order to say that the scientific principle of validity had been refuted--well, that's that individual or group of individuals' problem; it says nothing at all about the general movement of 'postmodernism' in academia. Again, the term is a very broad and general label of diverse trends. It doesn't designate a coalition, ideology, or left-wing typology. Or, at the very least--the people who think that it does are, for the purposes of this article, representing a distinct POV.

5 & 6. Again, take the sentence: "A number of different philosophical and historical schools...began reinterpreting scientific achievements of the past through the lens of the practitioners, often assigning political and economic conditions as formative a role in theory development as scientific observations". This sentence is so broad and vague I don't know what it means. It could be said of almost any group of intellectuals discussing science in almost any period of modern history. It is uncontroversial. Of course political and economic conditions play a role in theory development. That doesn't imply that science doesn't self-correct or improve itself.

7-I understand what the principle of scientific validity is, rest assured. Although your point is well taken. The sentence is still misleading and POV because of an ambivalence in the phrase "attack on the validity of science". Since no major 'postmodern' thinker (with the possible exception of some latecomers like Bruno Latour, who later apologized) has ever attacked the validity of science, at least to my knowledge--the above phrase is clearly designed to give a pejorative account of postmodernism (i.e. implying they are crazy irrealists or imbeciles since they think truth doesn't work).

2/3/7 Take a look at the contents of the journal SOCIAL TEXT (the one Sokal directed his attack towards) if you want to understand why it was necessary for Sokal & co. to invent a strawman they decided to call 'postmodernism' in order to levy their attack. That journal does a lot of theoretical work on race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, disability, etc. with strong post-colonialist, feminist, and queer stances. Regardless of what one might think of the proliferation of discourses surrounding identity politics and 'political correctness' in academia, it isn't hard to see that Sokal & co. wanted to villify all of it by arguing that it's intellectual founders or forefathers (the postmodern philosophers like Foucault and Derrida) were imbeciles. Since one cannot reasonably reach this conclusion, and since to say or imply it in an encyclopedia article in terms that more or less repeat exactly what Sokal & co.'s very strong (and generally discredited) say is obviously POV, the article should be entirely re-written in order to reflect to actual reasons for Sokal & co.'s attack.

This would be a collective undertaking. It would involve reading and citing books that actually try to calmly and rationally deal with the reasons for the science wars, without instituting a blanket rejection of all French philosophy from the 60s and 70s and dangerous or bad. The historical background provided in an encyclopedia entry cannot merely be generalizations about extremely diverse and disparate thinkers in 20th Century philosophy and history of science--Kuhn, Popper, Foucault, etc, so the History section needs to be rewritten. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:25, 14 June 2012 (UTC)


"...and so laid fertile foundations for postmodernism to grow on.", is not a fact, but rather a matter of opinion and should be presented as such. This article shouldn't be hijacked by Stove-cultists the way they once turned the page on David Stove into a fawning shrine, this time around with their anti-Popper fixation/rhetoric. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:39, 9 June 2008 (UTC)

I would concur. One is hard pressed to find a consensus that Popper is the starting point for postmodernism. Also the rest of the Historical Background section is rather poor and I would contend numerous claims made in it. Popper, Kuhn and Feyerabend are just very different thinkers. And their characterization in this context is shallow at best. Not a single "postmodern" thinker or school is mentioned by name but it is claimed that "A number of different philosophical and historical schools, often lumped together as "postmodernism", began reinterpreting scientific achievements of the past through the lens of the practitioners, often assigning political and economic conditions as formative a role in theory development as scientific observations." I actually do not have a deep issue with that, this is indeed how social science always works, i.e. look at the conditions under which things happen, yet this is just completely unsourced. It also does not present the proper prehistory of sociology in any way and makes it appear that sociology is kind of an irrelevant between philosophers of science and postmodernists. The passage reads as if logical positivism is the correct position and departure from it was the issue. However I think it's not historically tenable to even hold that most scientists ever were logical positivists! Overall the historical background section is tendentious (against sociology, against Popper/Kuhn/Feyerabend) and might contain original research. I think the article would be better off with that part simply removed or replaced with something that has better standards. There are more problems: For example the main passage starts with: "The attack upon the validity of science from the Humanities and the social sciences worried many in the scientific community" yet this is an unsubstantiated claim. First off not even Feyerabend, one of the most radical thinkers of the philosophy of science "attacked the validity of science", nor did Kuhn, or any serious social scientist I have ever read. Basically this is a poorly founded unreflected premise. If a thinker attacked science the thinker should be referenced. The same sentence continues: "[..] worried many in the scientific community, especially when the language of social construction was appropriated by groups who claimed to proffer alternative scientific paradigms. Many scientists perceived that as attempted political control of science in society". Again this is subjective (biased against humanities and social sciences) and unsourced. How does whoever wrote this quantify that many in the scientific community were worried? Which groups appropriated "social construction"? How did they proffer alternative scientific paradigms? All this is claimed, unsourced. It smacks of original research and bias. (talk) 04:29, 11 March 2010 (UTC)

Good article[edit]

This is a very balanced and NPOV account of some things that are or should be encyclopedic, and is an examplar on the strengths of Wikipedia. I've noticed that some WP topics within the philosophy of science tend to have a systemic postmodernist/ relativist bent, and this one in particular breaks the mold by relying on facts. Good job all. I learned some things!-- 02:09, 23 April 2006 (UTC)

  • I respectfully disagree. The Historical Background section is reasonable, but once the article reaches the Science Wars proper it becomes biased. I have encountered claims that some among the "realists" chose extreme examples of postmodernism and social construction for critique, while presenting them as typical; nothing is said about this. Nothing is said about the possibility that Sokal betrayed the trust of editors who accepted his article in good faith, however misplaced. Only one "postmodernist" is discussed, and that in order to include a rather petty criticism that is then dismissed with a wave of the hand. This article is hardly the worst Wikipedia has to offer, but I would not consider it an exemplar, or notably NPOV and balanced. Maestlin 00:50, 10 May 2006 (UTC)
  • It is certainly implied that the editors were not aware of Sokal's experiment.. putting it in the emotional terms you suggest would be weasel and irrelevant. As for these claims you have encountered, feel free to include them in the article the moment they become sourcable. Until then, nothing should be said about them. I can personally vouch for the fact that the paragraph about Stoltzenberg/Derrida was not introduced "in order to include a rather petty criticism that is dismissed with a wave of the hand".. correct me if this is not what you were referring to. Zargulon 07:32, 10 May 2006 (UTC)
  • There was no experiment in the standard scientific sense of the term and not merely because of a forgivable lack of rigor. There was at most the beginning of an experiment, which was terminated when Sokal revealed the hoax. As Zargulon surely noticed, Sokal offered no proof that his attempt to flatter the editors was successful and that, if it was, it influenced their decision to publish his article. (Indeed, how could he have known such things? Was he a fly on the wall at their meetings?) In scientific terms, he provided no evidence of a causal relation or even a correlation. For the latter, he would have had to repeat the "experiment" several times, which became impossible after he revealed the hoax. Gabriel Stolzenberg.
Then it must really suck to be those editors. By the way, when I was a kid and someone pulled out the chair I was going to sit on in the third grade and I fell on my ass -- well I knew they had done that, and just fell on my butt so the class would laugh. Yeah, that's the ticket. 16:33, 14 November 2007 (UTC)
  • About a year after the Sokal affair, an editor of Social Text told me that all the editors but one were strongly against publishing Sokal's submission, not because they suspected that it was a hoax, they didn't, but because, in their opinion, it was a very bad article. And yet, according to some science warriors, because of the editors' alleged "postmodern relativist" ideology, they shouldn't have cared about the quality of the article. Gabriel Stolzenberg
While I regard personal accounts like this to be important sources of information, they don't meet Wikipedia expectations of "verifiability" and "no original research." Do you know if anything to that effect has been published? Maestlin 16:12, 6 June 2006 (UTC)
  • Maestlin: Regarding Sokal's "betrayal", the primary job of a journal editor is to ensure that only quality work is accepted to their journal. Obvious rubbish, such as Sokal's article, should be picked up by them or by the reviewers that they use. If it is not, this is either because they aren't doing their job properly, or the field that they're working in is so intellectually muddled that they can't tell a serious article from patent nonsense. Of course Sokal "betrayed" the editors by covertly submitting nonsense, but in doing so he revealed how the journal editors in turn "betrayed" their readers by completely failing to do their job. Postmodernism has, in part, only got itself to blame for this - at times it has practically encouraged obfuscation and sophistry. I entirely accept that it has a role in intellectual life (as "realists" sometimes forget they have a subjective filter), but it needs to be caught wearing the Emperor's New Clothes less often. Anyway, that said, if you would like to improve the balance of article, go ahead. Cheers, --Plumbago 08:46, 10 May 2006 (UTC)
  • Several phyicists who criticized "Social Text" for publishing Sokal's article told me that if the author had been Einstein, not Sokal, it would have been right for "Social Text" to publish it, no matter how goofy or unintelligible it was. Yet, on the face of it, none of the criticism "Social Text" received depends on who the author was. Is there a less obvious dependence on it? Gabriel Stolzenberg
  • I disagree that Sokal betrayed the editors.. I think that is a partisan way of putting it. The other party might equally state that the so-called postmodernists were mocking science. We have no right here to impute bad faith either to them or to Sokal. Sokal claims he was trying to combat a faction whose activities were highly detrimental to scholarship, and in which the editors of the journal in question were complicit. It is plausible that this was indeed his main motive, and there is no evidence to prove otherwise. I do not believe that it is balanced to describe Sokal's act as betrayal. One cannot betray someone to whom one owes no loyalty. Zargulon 10:29, 10 May 2006 (UTC)
  • Sokal explained what his main motive was and it is not what it is said to be here. His explanation also helps to explain why he chose the journal, "Social Text." Recall that when Bruno Latour said that the reason "Social Text" fell for the hoax was simply that it was a bad journal, Sokal immediately came to its defense. You can look it up. Gabriel Stolzenberg
  • I agree. I put betrayal in quotes because I don't look at it that way at all. Sokal's approach may seem somewhat prank-ish, but it illustrated more vividly than a dozen "letters to the editor" what was going wrong in that quarter of postmodernism studies. Cheers, --Plumbago 10:33, 10 May 2006 (UTC)
  • I think the possibility of betrayal Maestlin mentioned is that perhaps the editors recognized that they could not make sense of the article, but made an exception because it was a very well-regarded scientist who seemed interested in critical theory. But the problems with this article mainly stem from an insufficient discussion of positions and arguments of the "postmodernist" side. For example, many of the people who were later attacked in Higher Superstition found the initial Sokal hoax funny and a telling indictment the people running Social Text, but found the expanded critiques of science studies and critical theory so far off base that they largely just ignored them or dismissed them as hopelessly ignorant. I'll try to look up some of the relevant articles and book reviews and add some material soon.--ragesoss 14:55, 10 May 2006 (UTC)
  • I think you mean "Fashionable Nonsense" not "Higher Superstition, which appeared before the hoax." Gabriel Stolzenberg
  • Yes, I saw that the word possibility was used but betrayal is still a groundless accusation against Sokol. It is like the home team coach saying we should consider the possibility that the game was fixed after the away team wins. Won't happen here. Zargulon 16:43, 10 May 2006 (UTC)
  • If the editors "could not make sense of the article, but made an exception because it was a very well-regarded scientist" they're still guilty of short-changing their readers. They'd just be bowing to authority then (which might make another of Sokal's points for him). Anyway, your point about Higher Superstition is an interesting one. It's the sort of thing that should be developed in the article itself. Cheers, --Plumbago 17:07, 10 May 2006 (UTC)

To be a good example of Wikipedia NPOV, the article must strive to present both sides of this recently controversial topic. Currently, it does not. Zargulon says that: putting it (the Sokal hoax) in the emotional terms you suggest would be weasel and irrelevant. What are the emotional terms in question? "Betrayed the trust"? "Good faith"? I think it's a fair summary of one editor's reaction. If I am misrepresenting it, still the reaction itself deserves coverage. Regardless of whether any of us think the editors themselves erred or betrayed their readers' trust, they were participants and their view is an important part of the Science Wars. Is it partisan? Yes, by definition, but that's why it deserves to be included. I did not make it up and I am not trying to impose my own viewpoint on the article. ragesoss is exactly right, I pointed it out because it is one example where a part of the postmodernist side could easily be added. I mentioned the Derrida episode not because the critique of Stoltzenberg is wrong in itself (maybe it's spot on, though a source is vital here), but because it contributes to the overall impression of the article that the "postmodernists" didn't even make a serious attempt at responding to the "realists." This is an article about a war and a war has sides. Right now, only one side is covered. I only have a passing familiarity with the Science Wars, I don't know the most important people and articles to include, which is why I commented on the talk page instead of editing the article, and I probably wouldn't have done that if it weren't for the editor who called this an "exemplar." Maestlin 17:11, 10 May 2006 (UTC)

The "critique of Stoltzenberg" I mentioned was a part of the article at the time I wrote. It has since been removed, along with some other bits. You might have trouble following the talk from May unless you look at the edit history of the article. I have had the chance to read some of the relevant publications since I made that statement above, so now I am inclined to say that the critique is probably not "spot on." It was extracted below, in the section on Weinberg, but the extract has been interspersed with comments. I'll repost it here:

Gabriel Stolzenberg in particular has criticised Gross, Levitt, Sokal and others for what he describes as "hatchet jobs" upon the work of prominent postmodernists. He charges them with exactly the same criticism they level at the postmodernists: that they don't understand the texts and ideas they are discussing. Drawing on a series of examples, Stolzenberg argues that many realists relied on uncharitable reconstructions of arguments, ignoring their context and often openly failing to understand the texts they heap disdain upon. He quotes an example when Steven Weinberg attacked a remark made by philosopher Jacques Derrida to a colleague about "the Einsteinian constant". After describing the remark as "babble", Weinberg stated that he had "no idea what it is intended to mean". Stolzenberg presents this a revealing admission that Weinberg had not attempted to understand the context of the remark.

In fact, Weinberg may well have tried to understand the context of the remark; his success in his own field of theoretical physics suggests that he is adept at analysing the work of his peers. A more convincing interpretation of Weinberg's "no idea ..." remark is that in Weinberg's opinion Derrida had used language which fell so far short of communicating what he intended that Weinberg could not even approximately reconstruct Derrida's point. Crucially, Stolzenberg does not then elaborate on Derrida's context himself, fuelling claims that Weinberg's "babble" description would have been further justified, rather than refuted, by revealing it.

Hope that helps. You should consider using four tildes ~~~~ to sign your posts; it will add a timestamp as well as your username. That makes it easier to sort out the conversation later, or match it up to a past version of the article if there are questions. Maestlin 16:04, 6 June 2006 (UTC)

  • I thank Maestlin for making the above fragments of the discussion available to me. Here I will comment both on them and some related parts of the discussion.

I am accused of offering no evidence for certain claims I made about Weinberg's criticism of Derrida. It is true that I offered no evidence for them. But this is because I didn't make them! You can look it up.


My one published critique of Weinberg's criticism of Derrida is in "Reading and relativism: an introduction to the science wars." This is chapter 4 of "After the Science Wars," edited by physicists, Keith Ashman and Philip Baringer. See the section, "The oracle of deconstruction." This essay is also available at

        Weinberg's Response To Levine 

The most disturbing of these accusations is that I presented no evidence that Weinberg did not try to understand the context in which Derrida made his remark. But I never claimed that he didn't try to understand it! Indeed, in his response to George Levine, he did try. And I made my own attempt to do so in the course of writing about Weinberg's attempt in his response to Levine.

           Was Weinberg Negligent? 

It also is alleged that I claimed that Weinberg was negligent in his treatment of Derrida's remark. But I did not say this, nor do I believe it. In my view, the "hatchet jobs" of the science warriors did not display negligence.

              Seven Examples 

Here are some examples from the discussion, each followed by my comment.

1. "After describing the remark as 'babble.' Weinberg stated that he had 'no idea what it is intended to mean.' Stolzenberg presents this as a revealing admission that Weinberg had not attempted to understand the context of the remark."

Comment. As I explained above, the second sentence is false. Similarly false statements were used to convict me of shoddy scholarship by noting that I offered no evidence for the claim I am alleged to have made. Of course, I offered no evidence. I didn't make the claim.

2. "Crucially, Stolzenberg does not then elaborate on Derrida's context himself, fueling claims that Weinberg's "babble" description would have been further justified, rather than refuted, by revealing it."

Comment. Because I DID elaborate on Derrida's context, the claim that my NOT doing it "fueled" certain claims is absurd.

3. "Stolzenberg does not even justify it himself.. it is just rhetoric."

Comment. See above.

4. "Weinberg's status was invoked to challenge specifically Stolzenberg's unreasonable keenness to attribute negligence to Weinberg, which was essential to Stolzenberg's critique (if you flatter it by calling it that)."

Comment. As I noted above, I never suggested that Weinberg was negligent. Furthermore, the claim that his status is relevant here is unsourced and, hence, worthless.

5. "in Weinberg's opinion Derrida had used language which fell so far short of communicating what he intended that Weinberg could not even approximately reconstruct Derrida's point."

Comment. Yes, and if Weinberg was part of Derrida's intended audience, this would be valid grounds for criticism. But was he?

6. "[Weinberg's] success in his own field of theoretical physics suggests that he is adept at analysing the work of his peers."

Comment. This is another unsourced claim. Furthermore, Weinberg and Derrida are not peers.

7. "the fact remains that there was no appeal to Weinberg's authority, merely to his habitual behaviour."

Comment. It was NOT an appeal to Weinberg's habitual behavior but rather to the author's speculation about it, which, unlike the behavior, cannot carry any explanatory burden.

Gabriel Stolzenberg 04:27, 18 July 2006 (UTC)

Please don't make too much of that word possibility. I only meant that it was a different viewpoint, one that was expressed at the time. I didn't mean I was trying to cover every imaginable excuse. It was poorly worded and I think it's a better use of all our times to focus on what the editor said, not what I said. Maestlin 17:15, 10 May 2006 (UTC)

May 2005[edit]

I've added lots of content and removed the sentence "This article can be confused with science during the civil war." because I have no idea to which civil war it refers!

You did a good job, thanks! --Fastfission 17:06, 24 May 2005 (UTC)

December 2005[edit]

Whilst Weinberg may be correct in his attack, it is equally plausible that Derrida knew exactly what he was talking about, and that by taking it out of its true context Weinberg was conducting exactly the kind of shoddy scholarship he claimed to be against.

That seems kinda lame. If what Derrida's statements didn't make any sense (And I have read them, they don't) then why is it Weinberg's fault that he didn't know what Derrida was trying to convey. Is Weinberg supposed to be psychic and read Derrida's mind before he can comment? Seems like a really lame countargument to me. (CHF 10:07, 11 December 2005 (UTC))
  • Lame is all that is necessary here. Derrida is the defendant. His lawyer only needs to create doubt in the mind of the jury. Weinberg is the prosecutor. He has to meet a higher standard. If Weinberg merely wished to create doubt that Derrida knew what he was talking about, that would have been a very different matter.Gabriel Stolzenberg

Were or are?[edit]

(From article) "The Science wars were a series of intellectual battles in several of the academic humanities in the 1990s".

In "What the Social Text Affair Does and Does Not Prove"[1], Alan Sokal writes of the term "Science Wars"

"The term was apparently first coined by Social Text co-editor Andrew Ross, who explained that 'the Science Wars [are] a second front opened up by conservatives cheered by the successes of their legions in the holy Culture Wars. Seeking explanations for their loss of standing in the public eye and the decline in funding from the public purse, conservatives in science have joined the backlash against the (new) usual suspects -- pinkos, feminists, and multiculturalists'. (Andrew Ross, ``Science Backlash on Technoskeptics, The Nation 261(10) (October 2, 1995): 346-350, quote at p. 346. See also Ross, ``Introduction, op. cit., p. 6.)

In light of the ongoing political and scientific debate in the U.S. on teaching Intelligent Design in the schools, might we want to "re-open" the discussion (article) of Science Wars here, from something that "was" a feature of the 1990s to something that "is" ongoing now?

  • It's not up to us (on Wikipedia) to re-open things. I'm pretty sure the larger consensus is that nobody is fighting the old "Science Wars" anymore in any real sense, and I've not heard label the current debates over ID as part of the "Science Wars". --Fastfission 13:39, 23 November 2005 (UTC)


Personally, I think this paragraph should go, unless someone can find sources for it:

In fact, Weinberg may well have tried to understand the context of the remark; his success in his own field of theoretical physics suggests that he is adept at analysing the work of his peers.
  • Weinberg's success suggests no such thing. It does not even suggest that he read much of the work of his peers. Or even his own earlier work. Gabriel Stolzenberg

An alternate interpretation of Weinberg's "no idea ..." remark is that in Weinberg's opinion Derrida had used language which fell so far short of communicating what he intended that Weinberg could not even approximately reconstruct Derrida's point.[citation needed]

Crucially, Stolzenberg does not then elaborate on Derrida's context himself, fuelling claims that Weinberg's "babble" description would have been further justified, rather than refuted, by revealing it.

1."Weinberg may well have tried..." is simply speculation.

True. "There is no reason to believe that Weinberg did not try.." would be better. Zargulon 08:55, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
  • What Weinberg may have tried to do is irrelevant unless he offered proof of his attempt as evidence. He is the prosecutor, not the defendant. The jury is not supposed to try to guess what evidence the prosecutor might have had but did not choose to share with us. Gabriel Stolzenberg
That is simply a way to introduce the same speculation in different words.
I completely disagree. You must have a strange definition of speculation. Zargulon 16:38, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
[2] "3. Reasoning based on inconclusive evidence"
That doesn't describe the quote, but it describes Stoltzenberg's reasoning perfectly. Zargulon 22:54, 15 May 2006 (UTC)

2."...his success in his own field of theoretical physics suggests that he is adept at analysing the work of his peers": argumentum ad verecundiam.

Agreed. This needs rephrasing.

Zargulon 08:55, 15 May 2006 (UTC)

  • I wonder how long this suggestion would survive a close reading of books about Nobel Prize winners and, more generally, about the history of science, including contemporary science. Start with Newton. Does this claim apply to him? Does it apply to Ilya Prigogine? Gabriel Stolzenberg
This is not argumentum ad verecundiam. Weinberg's stature is being used not to suggest that he is correct, merely to suggest that he was not negligent.
Zargulon 16:42, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
How strange you wrote "agreed" before. David Sneek 19:20, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
I don't know why you find this strange. I agreed that the sentence needed changing, and still feel that way. Subsequently when I looked up arg. ad ver. meant, I discovered that your reasoning was based on a misunderstanding of that term. I hope you understand it better now. Zargulon 22:54, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
Weinberg's status as a physicist was invoked to suggest Stolzenberg's critique was wrong, without actually showing where it was wrong. David Sneek 06:35, 16 May 2006 (UTC)
On the contrary, Weinberg's status was invoked to challenge specifically Stolzenberg's unreasonable keenness to attribute negligence to Weinberg, which was essential to Stoltzenberg's critique (if you flatter it by calling it that). Zargulon 09:52, 16 May 2006 (UTC)
There you go again. "Unreasonable" according to whom? David Sneek 10:11, 16 May 2006 (UTC)
Stoltzenberg does not even justify it himself.. it is just rhetoric. But you have changed the subject twice now, first to escape your misuse of a the term argumentum ad verificandum, and second to escape the discrediting of your suggestion that Weinberg's authority was being used as a blunt instrument. What exactly are you trying to achieve with this dancing? Zargulon 11:11, 16 May 2006 (UTC)
It takes two to tango... But seriously, have you even read Stolzenberg's texts? He bases his claim that Weinberg did not try to understand Derrida on quotations from Weinberg's articles. Maybe his interpretation is right, maybe it's wrong, but to say that Weinberg is a great scientist is not a counterargument; it is an appeal to authority. David Sneek 11:39, 16 May 2006 (UTC)
I am not familiar with the part of Stolzenberg's work in which you claim he attempts to justify his accusation of negligence against Weinberg.. feel free to direct me to chapter and verse.

But it's immaterial to this thread; you still don't seem to understand that Weinberg's authority was not being appealed to at all. If the text had said "Weinberg may well be right about Derrida because Weinberg has an history of scholarly integrity", that would have been an appeal to authority. What it actually says is "Right or wrong, Weinberg is likely to have approached this matter with scholarly integrity, because Weinberg has an history of scholarly integrity". Please try to understand the distinction. If Stoltzenberg said to me, "a walrus dug that big hole in your garden", and I said (rightly or wrongly) "it was probably our dog, it's always digging holes", do you really see that as an appeal to the dog's authority? Zargulon 13:18, 16 May 2006 (UTC)

  • The main problem here is not with the analogy, which is not perfect but pretty good, but with Zargulon's apparent assumption that Weinberg has a shining record of scholarly integrity. He seems to have no idea of the can of worms he would be opening if he tried to pursue this in a serious way, beginning by trying to give a satisfactory definition of "scholarly integrity." Gabriel Stolzenberg.
Of course Stolzenberg's text matters. He reads Weinberg's article and concludes on the basis of certain contradictions and unsupported assertions that in this particular instance Weinberg did not make a serious effort to understand the philosophical context. Whether or not Stolzenberg is right about that is independent of general considerations about Weinberg's success and adeptness as a physicist. David Sneek 16:38, 17 May 2006 (UTC)
Independent of your tenuous and as yet unsourced claims about Weinberg having made contradictions and unsupported assertions, and about Stoltzenberg having attempted to justify his accusation of Weinberg's negligence, the fact remains that there was no appeal to Weinberg's authority, merely to his habitual behaviour.

I expressed this with crystal clarity in my previous response, which I suspect you did not condescend to read. Zargulon 16:59, 17 May 2006 (UTC)

3."An alternate interpretation of Weinberg's "no idea ..." remark is...": it's not our job to offer alternative readings, unless sourced.

Stoltzenberg's reading of Weinberg's remarks is very far from normative. This needs to be said. Zargulon 08:55, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
Iff sourced. David Sneek 15:57, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
So if one ingoramus says something, and the community as a whole ignores it rather than denies it, WP should present it as the only going opinion? I think not. Zargulon 16:38, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
It's reasonable to discuss whether Stolzenberg's comments should be here (I think they should), but it is quite another thing to say that wikipedia should offer alternative interpretations, even if no sources for such interpretations are made available. David Sneek 19:20, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
Ok. I think S's comments shouldn't be here. Then the second question will not arise. Zargulon 22:54, 15 May 2006 (UTC)

4."Crucially, Stolzenberg does not then elaborate on Derrida's context himself, fuelling claims that Weinberg's "babble" description would have been further justified, rather than refuted, by revealing it." More speculation.

This is most definitely not speculation. Zargulon 08:55, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
Not only is it unsourced speculation (whose claims are fuelled?), it is also untrue: in both of his articles linked to Stolzenberg discussed the context of the remark far more extensively than any of Derrida's detractors. David Sneek 15:57, 15 May 2006 (UTC)

Any thoughts? David Sneek 18:57, 10 May 2006 (UTC)

  • I agree it should be struck unless a source can be identified. Anyway, it's just plain wrong. High competence in one's field does not automatically transfer into competence in any other area, least of all crossing the science/humanities divide in academic writing. If it's a published refutation of Stolzenberg, though, leave it in. Enough time should be allowed to give others the chance to find a source. While we're on the subject, the previous paragraph should also be given sources. I would like the opportunity to read the comments of Weinberg and Stolzenberg in context. Maestlin 19:08, 10 May 2006 (UTC)
Scratch that last request, and kudos to David Sneek for adding sources so quickly! Maestlin 20:40, 10 May 2006 (UTC)
Since the citation request is not being allowed to stand, I have cut the whole paragraph. Without some sort of verification, it violates W:OR, which forbids the following:
  • "It introduces an argument, without citing a reputable source for that argument, that purports to refute or support another idea, theory, argument, or position;"
  • "It introduces an analysis or synthesis of established facts, ideas, opinions, or arguments in a way that builds a particular case favored by the editor, without attributing that analysis or synthesis to a reputable source;"
I won't get into a revert war over this, but I fervently hope that others will either find a source or explain why the paragraph does not violate the original-research ban before restoring or reverting it. Maestlin 03:45, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
I disagree that paragraph constitutes original research. There are parts of it which are not ideal, but if Stoltzenberg's highly tenuous point stays in, it is biased to suggest that it went unanswered. Maybe you could try to change that paragraph instead.

Alternatively remove Stoltzenberg's point altogether.. it is not clear to me that his opinion is notable, particularly as someone who has crossed the Science-Humanities divide. Zargulon 08:55, 15 May 2006 (UTC)

  • The last statement is both false and offensive. I am passionately committed to science. I come from a family of scientists, from whom I learned early on the meaning and glory of scholarly integrity. In the Science Wars, I criticized my science warrior colleagues, mathematicians, physicists and philosophers, for behaving in a way that dishonored science by radically violating its ethos. In my view, it was they who crossed a divide, not I. Gabriel Stolzenberg
Stolzenberg is a mathematician, Weinberg a physicist, Derrida was a philosopher; everybody involved in this debate must somehow cross that divide, as Derrida's remark on physics was part of a philosophical discussion. To say that "it is biased to suggest that [Stolzenberg's articles] went unanswered" is a bit silly: if nobody can find a source that addresses Stolzenberg's critique, maybe it really went unanswered. (Stolzenberg, by the way, is notable enough for Sokal and Bricmont, who wrote a lengthy reply to him [3].). David Sneek 15:57, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
  • In Bricmont & Sokal's reply to my book review, "Kinder, gentler science wars," the authors make accusations that it is important to correct. I do this in "Reply to Bricmont & Sokal: Sometimes the obvious is the enemy of the true" It's available at my Sokal affair web site and in "Reply to the replies," downloaded from the journal, "Social Studies of Science." (However, in the published version of the latter, the last page is garbled.) Gabriel Stolzenberg
That's interesting, you guys said above that by dint of Weinberg's not being a philosopher it is reasonable to believe that despite his reputation and scholarship (which greatly exceeds Stoltzenberg's by any stretch of the imagination) he did not make a serious effort to understand the context of Derrida's remarks but dismissed them casually.
  • What do you know about such reputations and the possibility of comparing them? Gabriel Stolzenberg
And yet when Stolzenberg makes this implication about Weinberg, without the slightest evidence in support, and despite having no more authority in this discussion than Weinberg, the assumption is that it was taken seriously. 

This is a clear double standard. Also I feel that an articulate person trying to establish consensus should be able to do better than the adjective "silly".. like Weinberg, I don't have the slightest idea what you mean. I acknowledge the Weinberg paragraph had problems, but not as many as the preceding one dealing with Stoltzenberg. So, since you are determined to delete one, I shall delete the other. Zargulon 16:33, 15 May 2006 (UTC)

You are distorting what was said--well, what I said, at least. To go back to the original paragraph, it doesn't just say that he was in the habit of analyzing his peers, it says that he was "adept" at it. Here's what that says to me: he is skilled at discovering the meaning in the works of his peers, and could have uncovered meaning in Derrida if there had been any to be found. Now, maybe that's not what is supposed to be said, but that's what it does say to me. I don't think anyone said that it's impossible to cross the S-H divide, but competence does not automatically transfer. I think the paragraph implies that it does, at least in one direction.
I agree that implication should be removed. Zargulon 22:54, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
Am I applying a double standard? Maybe, don't know. I think you are applying one to this article. Above, you tried to correct me when I said (in a talk page!) that the article should include a "possibility," because you mistakenly thought I was making up that possibility (again, my reading; correct me if I am wrong). But in this case, you want an unsourced possibility to be kept in. I call that trying to have your cake and eat it too. Maybe removing the entire section is the best and most neutral solution for now. ragesoss or one of the other able editors interested in historiography can write it up from scratch if it is an episode worthy of inclusion. Maestlin 18:21, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
I did not suggest that you were making up the possibility, I suggested that Stoltzenberg was making up the possibility, and that the article should not give it credence even as a possibility, because there was not the slightest shred of evidence for it. I apologize if this was unclear. Zargulon 22:54, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
I think the focus on Derrida and a few specific comments on each side was problematic; the article is better off without it. From the sources David Sneek has provided, we could reframe it into a more general discussion Stoltzenberg's critique and Sokal & Bricmont's respose. Even that is somewhat narrow, considering the amount of material available about the science wars, but it would be something to build on.--ragesoss 18:33, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
Personally I think a discussion of Derrida's "Einsteinian constant" should be here. The quote was a central theme, a constant so to speak, during the Science Wars. It was ridiculed in Higher Superstition, used in Sokal's famous fake article, and picked up by both Steven Weinberg and Thomas Nagel. We could perhaps cite more other sources along with Stolzenberg.

I agree with both the above opinions. The paragraphs as they stand should be removed until someone is prepared to give a more comprehensive overview, in which the Einsteinian Constant remark and its repercussions should of course enter. Zargulon 22:54, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
I apologize if Zargulon was offended by my use of the word "silly". I still think it is a mistake, though, to claim that "it is biased to suggest that it went unanswered", if you can't point to someone actually aswering it.
I am not so easily offended, I was merely trying to encourage you to write more carefully, for the sake of efficiency of the discussion. Zargulon 22:54, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
Stolzenberg does, by the way, try to make the case that Weinberg did not seriously attempt to understand what Derrida meant: it is on page 8,9 and 10 here. As I said above, I do not think it is wikipedia's job to offer alternative interpretations; we should only present them if we can source them. David Sneek 19:20, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
IMO this should be revised to contain lots of words along the lines of "silly" as quotes. Revisiting some of this material after years of absence, I was struck by the emotion-laden language that kept cropping up. This dry article fails to capture the spirit of the Science Wars. Maestlin 19:51, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
Then be bold. I feel that more direct quotations and less paraphrasing would be a step in the right direction. Zargulon 22:54, 15 May 2006 (UTC)
Here's a good emotion-laden quote (though probably justified, since it's talking specifically about Gross and Levitt):

"If nothing else, Gross and Levitt have reinforced a weird pre-Copernicanism that views the entire social universe as revolving around scientists and the suspects all bodies with slightly eccentric orbits as displaying antiscience tendencies." (from Andrew Ross's introduction to the Social Text issue).--ragesoss 04:43, 16 May 2006 (UTC)

I can't imagine anything that could possibly "justify" such an opinion. But as a quote which illustrates the hyperbolae used in the science wars, it could go in the page. Zargulon 11:13, 16 May 2006 (UTC)

Actually, when Higher Superstition was reviewed in Science (I haven't been able to check what Nature said about it; though it was reviewed) there were raised eyebrows regarding its treatment of social science, so this opinion isn't entirely unique (at least, that's my subjective, deconstructivist reading of said socially constructed review). Cheers, --Plumbago 11:23, 16 May 2006 (UTC)

Where to go from here[edit]

As I see it, this article needs to be expanded in the following ways:

  • More quotes and discussion of the argument from Higher Superstition; this is basically what started the science wars, what the social text issue was explicitly created in response to.
  • More about the reactions to Higher Superstition (especially reviews), ranging from dismissal (already described in the article) to acceptance with moderate skepticism or concern about the polemical tone (Science as Plumbago describes it, and likely others), to enthusiasm (in a number of science journals and elsewhere).
  • Discussion of the immediate reactions to the Sokal affair and Weinberg's entrance as a central figure.
  • The back and forth over Derrida, with referenced material for what each side argued (the now-removed referenced paragraph about Stolzenberg is a start, but it needs to start by fleshing out what the sciencce warriors were saying about Derrida, from first-hand sources rather than Stolzenberg's description. Sokal's satirical treatment of Derrida in hoax paper might be a good place to start, although it could go further back, according to Stolzenberg).
  • The gradual petering out of explicit argument, and the ways in which interpretation of the science wars is still frequently contentious (as this discussion page clearly demonstrates).

--ragesoss 15:07, 16 May 2006 (UTC)

Regarding the infamous Derrida quote, I would suggest the following sources:
David Sneek 16:52, 17 May 2006 (UTC)
It would also be nice if there was a more long-term historical account of it somewhere which more specifically discussed the more immediate origins (I'm sure it's no coincidence that the physicists start giving a damn about sociologists at the end of the Cold War when their funding is cut) and discusses the more long-term and analytical effects on scholarship (at least in the U.S., it is hard to say that they had no effect on scholarship in the humanities at least -- though it didn't result in any great recantations, it certainly seems to have changed the tone of some studies). Just my two cents. I don't know if there is a reliable (neutral) secondary literature on this (if there is, I'd be interested in it). --Fastfission 03:04, 9 June 2006 (UTC)

Explanation of changes to lead paragraph[edit]

As you'll see, I added quite a few additional disciplines to the list of research areas that produced postmodernist thought antagonistic to the rationalist concept of science. This is entirely in accord with the facts of the matter, so I don't see how this could be disputed; if you've actually read 'Higher Superstition,' I'm sure you'll agree. One of the basic rhetorical ploys of Higher Superstition -- a ploy that, to my mind, gravely undermines the book's value -- was to equate science and technology studies with the work of people in a variety of other disciplines that have little or nothing to do with STS. To be sure, there are people within STS who can justifiably be labelled "postmodernists" ... people who reject the concept of an "objective reality." But most followers of the Strong Program, and I would number myself among them, strongly disagree with this. David Bloor, who is generally considered the founder of the Strong Program, emphatically stated (in Knowledge and Social Imagery) that the Strong Program does not deny that there is such a thing as objective reality or verifiable truths that can be discovered through scientific techniques. (If you are shocked by this statement, may I suggest that you read the book?) The relativism of the Strong Program is methodological, not epistemological. (I acknowledge that not all Strong Program followers share this position, but I believe that most of them do.)

Why would a scholar employ methodological relativism? When anthropologist E.E. Pritchard studied witchcraft beliefs among the Azande in Africa, he had something of a crisis, brought on by culture shock and his deeply devout Catholicism. He pulled himself out of this by coming up with the principle of impartiality, which is one of the four principles of the Strong Program. As Evans-Pritchard put it, if you are going to study the religion of what was then called a "primitive tribe," you had no hope of doing decent sociology unless you FORCED yourself to remain absolutely impartial regarding the truth or falsity of the natives' beliefs. It is only when the analyst understands this, and commits to it, that the sociological dimension snaps into focus. Having spent two years living in a Hindu village in northern Sri Lanka, where long ago I studied the local foundations of ethnic conflict, I can assure you that this is by no means an inconsequential thing. It is the very foundation from which a scholarly approach to the subject must necessarily begin.

Studying science is like that. It's very easy to get caught up in hero worship of the winners and disgust with the pseudo-science of the losers. Does this mean I don't think there is an objective truth? Absolutely not. It means that I can't do my study unless I try to keep that question on the back burner.

One of the points that hasn't come out in all the talk about the Science Wars is this: There were many scholars within STS, including myself, who were as disgusted with postmodern 'scholarship' as the authors of Higher Superstition. I remember a conference where I sat for well over an hour listening to an English professor rail against the evils of technology. Later, I asked him whether he actually KNEW anything about technology. He replied, "I don't have to know anything. I already know from my political analysis that it is evil." His talk amounted to the single most vapid collection of nonsense I have ever heard in my life.

While I readily concede that some STS scholars are guilty of idiocy of this sort, I am still deeply disgusted that the authors of Higher Superstition chose to equate the work in my field with the crap that Higher Superstition was so easily able to skewer.

And it wasn't very much fun to come to this Wikipedia article and find, in the version of the page prior to my corrections, that the locus of postmodern radical relativism was "science studies," which the original author may have mistakenly thought to be a general term, but which is in fact equated with STS by most people. Let me be clear: I am willing to admit that some STS scholars joined forces with postmodernism and fully deserved criticism for this, but to make our field take the entire blame for what was in fact a far more widespread phenomenon is not only inaccurate, but fundamentally unjust.

So you are probably wondering, what does a Strong Program advocate such as myself think about the global warming controversy? The principles of symmetry and impartiality tell us to look for social causation in both camps. No problem with the global warming skeptics. As for the international community of scholars who have united to declare a consensus on the anthropogenic causes of climatic change, clearly there are social factors at work. They have, for one thing, collaborated earnestly to get this message across, no doubt dragging along some of their colleagues who were less than 100% sold on the idea.

To be honest, I don't think that the Strong Program should address this controversy.

Doing so, inevitably, would only provide global warming skeptics with additional ammunition, and lead to further public confusion. Perhaps, even, it would be fundamentally unethical, even monstrous. And you know why? I strongly believe -- having spent several long weeks examining the scientific literature (hundreds of sources) to make sure -- that there is no question about it: they are correct. My colleague Steve Fuller fell into this trap head-first, I believe, when he was asked to testify about how an STS scholar would view intelligent design. The Strong Program tells him, quite rightly, that both the Darwinian and Intelligent Design camps are socially constructed, to a degree. What Steve failed to acknowledge, I think, is to WHAT degree.

                                                        Bryan 00:02, 16 August 2006 (UTC) (Bryan Pfaffenberger, Univ. of Virginia). 

Do please visit and join our community.

Bryan 00:02, 16 August 2006 (UTC)

This article is not NPOV anymore[edit]

It now does a much better job of presenting the ideas and reactions of Gross and Levitt's critics than it does in presenting their views and the reasons those views resonated so strongly among scientists and engineers. The only cure for this is to go back to sources and provide more information on the original arguments and the subsequent analysis. Unfortunately this is going to make me reacquire a bunch of books that I had shipped off to the used books store long ago. Sigh Rusty Cashman 21:43, 8 December 2006 (UTC)

US centric?[edit]

Is it me, or this article talks about things that happened in the US, "nobody" outside the US took notice or cares about, and yet presents them as global?

It's just I never heard of all of this, and the article doesn't say a single time where did it happen... (Where were those journals from, where were they read, where were those movements -postmodernists, etc- centered, etc.) --euyyn 23:38, 18 December 2006 (UTC)

The debate itself was probably centered in the U.S. in terms of the location of journals and conferences, but it's hardly true that nobody outside the US took notice or cared about it. The "postmodernists" are usually considered to be centered in France, although American humanities departments are a secondary center; the scientists involved were mostly centered in the U.S., although Jean Bricmont was based in Belgium. The issue got at least as much play in France as in the U.S., though. --Delirium 21:25, 20 January 2007 (UTC)
It's good to hear it was not an exclusive US question. But anyway my point remains the same; just change US by US+France. The problem is that the conflict described is not localized properly (well, at all), somehow implying anyone should be aware of it. People who had never heard of it before (as me) are left wondering if it was a US thing or what. --euyyn 00:16, 19 February 2007 (UTC)
I hadn't been aware of the term before coming here, but the dispute is very familiar. From a German perspective, I wonder if it's not in some way a reenactment of the Positivismusstreit of the 60s. But funnily, the only reference to Popper in the article paints him as a proto-pomo, so I guess the analogy is not so straightforward.-- (talk) 01:55, 28 October 2008 (UTC)

"Symmetry principle" / "Strong programme"[edit]

There's no mention of the idea of the "Symmetry principle" and/or "Strong programme -- the idea that science studies scholars should write purely sociologically about how some scientific hypotheses replaced other scientific hypotheses among the community of scientists, without taking into account agreement with experimental observations, scientific truth, etc. (in some cases even denying that such a thing as objective truth exists). The "Symmetry principle" / "Strong programme" may not actually be all that important in science studies, but it seems to have been disproportionally significant in creating friction between science studies types and real scientists... AnonMoos (talk) 14:50, 9 February 2008 (UTC)

Lead, rest of article have some differences[edit]

The lead cites scientific realists, while the rest of the article cites scientists. There's a difference - it's perfectly possible to be a scientist with an instrumentalist viewpoint, or with something in-between (if I published something on the philosophy of science myself, as opposed to actually working on science :-}, I'd point to my own viewpoint as an example of the third...). Allens (talk) 04:34, 5 December 2011 (UTC)

Bias in last paragraph[edit]

I almost laughed when I read the last paragraph, especially the final quote by Bruno Latour. I'm not a scientist or a critical theorist, and I have no pony in this race. However, the suggestive quality of the last paragraph is reductive, disingenuous, and indicates a clear bias in favor of the scientists. I'm a little shocked by it. 2602:306:3893:7900:F862:E0E3:7687:F9A4 (talk) 02:49, 24 July 2015 (UTC)