Academic hoaxes make for interesting reading and demonstrate bias

3 08 2010

I have been reading up on the Sokal affair

In 1996, physicist Prof. Sokal submitted the hoax article “Transgressing the boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” in the postmoderist friendly journal “Social Text”. 

In the hoax article, Sokal wrote some gems such as this:

“since “physical reality” is, at bottom, a social and linguistic construct, a “liberatory science” and an “emancipatory mathematics”, spurning “the elite caste canon” of “high science”, must be established for a “postmodern science [that] provides[s] powerful intellectual support for the progressive political project.”

Ha ha. 

Sokal reasoned that if the presumption of editorial laziness were correct, the nonsensical content of his article would be irrelevant to whether or not the editors would publish it; what would matter would be ideologic obsequiousness, fawning references to deconstructionist writers, and sufficient quantities of feminist and socialist thought

For the original article, see Sokal’s own page:

What was truly remarkable to me, was that the “Social Text” journal editors accused Prof. Sokal of behaving unethically in deceiving them!  Personally, I think they should gaze into the looking glass, have a cold hard look at themselves and lift their game.  How about, don’t publish obviously fake articles! 

If nothing else, hoaxes such as these are a great example of the power and importance of our underlying ideology and in particular our epistemology.  We are all influenced by our explicit and implicit philosophical ideas.  Philosophy is the prime mover and this is an important point of which many people are not aware.  Human beings have a consciousness that operates by a process of integration to form concepts, we then integrate concepts to build principles upon which to guide action.  These principles are an unavoidable part of being human.  Therefore, I’m not anti-principle per se, like some.  This would ironically be a principle anyway, (eg/ sceptic or pragmatist epistemology).  Like everyone, I’m against what I consider to be bad and dangerous ideology.  For example, I strongly dislike religions and nihilism. 

We often see allegations of bias and sloppy thinking in the media and other arenas.  eg/ conservative media personalities often lament the left leaning bias of the main stream media.  Andrew Bolt has been criticising the left leaning bias of the ABC with several recent articles including this one: New media, but same ABC bias

But I’m not surprised by the ABC’s left leaning bias.  The ideologies driving socialist and fascist ideas dominate our society.  eg/ altruism, mysticism, pragmatism, determinism, populism etc.  I don’t think those committing bias are even aware they may be biased, because they are operating from a different world view.   

Another example along the same lines would be all those US comedians who made a lot more fun of Bush than Obama, even though Bush jokes became old very quickly, like those annoying man vs women or black vs white stereotype jokes.  (Incidentally, there do seem to be a disproportiate number of bad US comedians and bad US comedy shows.  Lift your game!).  And the same trend occured in Australia.  Rudd got off easy compared to Howard.  (Personally I’d like Bush, Obama, Rudd and Howard to be heavily ridiculed – I don’t like any of them).  The same thing happened in the UK during the early 80s.  Comedians seemed to be able to simply mention Thatcher and they’d get a laugh.  
My point is that you can’t expect comedians in our society to be impartial.  They have a certain ideology and they’ll focus on certain issues and have certain emotional reactions to these issues.     

To finish off, the wikipedia entry on the Sokal affair had some interesting links to more academic hoaxes at the end of the article.  Next I’m going to do some light reading into hoaxes particularly in the world of modern art.  Although judging by some of the rubbish in the South Australian art gallery’s modern art section, I suspect 90% of artists and critics are in a constant state of playing a nasty joke on the public.  🙂




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