Ulf von Rauchhaupt Review Consensus: No consensus. Most often grudgingly admit that Sokal and Bricmont do debunk the examples they cite, but half think this is brilliant and half think it is irrelevant. No meeting of minds here. The positive reviews are often too gung ho, while the negative ones by and large argue completely beside the point. But it is fun reading, all of it. Sokal and Bricmont do a decent job of exposing its worst excesses, but they tend to adopt a scatter-shot technique which, ironically, rebounds against their own best arguments.
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Ulf von Rauchhaupt Review Consensus: No consensus. Most often grudgingly admit that Sokal and Bricmont do debunk the examples they cite, but half think this is brilliant and half think it is irrelevant.
No meeting of minds here. The positive reviews are often too gung ho, while the negative ones by and large argue completely beside the point. But it is fun reading, all of it. Sokal and Bricmont do a decent job of exposing its worst excesses, but they tend to adopt a scatter-shot technique which, ironically, rebounds against their own best arguments. I find all this weirdly heavy-handed and alarmist. Sokal and Bricmont have gone about damming the tidal flow of irrationality into intellectual life in an all-or-nothing manner sure to go down well with those theory-haters who long to hear bad things about such as Lacan or Kristeva, but it will be counter-productive among the broader-minded, who believe that the more styles of intellectual discourse cultures find the room and time for the healthier.
They are scientists who know philosophy, and are well read in cultural studies. Their sampling of science-palaver is comprehensive. Fashionable Nonsense is a rewarding and appalling read. As philosophers, they have not pursued reason far enough -- all the way to its sometimes unreasonable-sounding conclusions. But it should be read by every college president and trustee, to better understand how deeply the postmodernist rot has affected their institutions, undermining the very purpose of a university: the search for truth.
Aber was soll man letztlich daraus folgern? Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole.
We acknowledge and remind and warn you that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure. For those who do not recall it: Sokal submitted a paper titled Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity which he describes as "a parody article crammed with nonsensical, but unfortunately authentic, quotations about physics and mathematics by prominent French and American intellectuals.
Instead of having a good laugh and sending the essay back to Sokal the good folks at Social Text took it seriously and published it. Revealing the hoax, Sokal set off quite an uproar, only in part about the question he was addressing -- the use of science and scientific concepts and terminology in a non-scientific setting. This book is in many respects a gloss on the article. Passages are cited and ridiculed, and Sokal and Bricmont then also make some larger and more general points.
It is a bizarre debate that has evolved around this, and in fact the critical response is almost as interesting as the book itself. The passages Sokal and Bricmont present are indeed examples of bad science to put it mildly. No one can really deny that. Some critics do, however, have the gall to suggest that this is immaterial, that the ideas these great thinkers propound and propose are so significant that the use of false, misleading, and irrelevant evidence to support them is perfectly valid.
While there is something to this, and it should be kept in mind, there is no escaping that the selections offered are frightening and horrendous enough to warrant casting anything uttered by these "thinkers" into doubt.
Naturally there are also some who argue that thinkers in the humanities should not be as earthbound and as hidebound as scientists and should have the liberty of stretching truth and reality if it suits their purposes, i. Our two cents re. The selections are numbingly horrific, an outrage so maddening that we actually found it physically difficult to read the book.
Wanting to be open-minded we would like to consider the possibility that all these writers only mean all these stupid things they are saying as metaphor, but my oh my what a slippery slope that puts us on.
Sokal and Bricmont go to great lengths to maintain that they are only attacking the weak science of these works, but the inescapable conclusion is that thinkers who are willing to spew such claptrap without a thought for its meaning, and whose only goal is to cow and intimidate their audience through the use of incontestable terminology and concepts are, in fact, charlatans, and that while there might be some value in their charlatanry it is not really something we should look upon kindly.
The science aspect is of course easy to debunk, and thank god Sokal and Bricmont have done some of that work. The rest, built on the pyramid of empty jargon of literary theory, sociology, psychology, etc.
If nothing else though Sokal and Bricmont show that clarity is necessary, desirable, and really not all that hard to achieve -- would that modern culture theory at least pick up that much.
The question is not completely black and white -- of course relativism operates in many significant areas of human intercourse, including science -- the question is in the how and where and of course the why. The blanket relativism that Sokal offers in his parody is an absurdity, and easily recognizable as such. It seems fairly clear that the thinkers quoted use scientific terminology not for actual support though we are thinking that topology is a fun thing to apply to psychology , but because the abstract notion "science" lends their arguments credibility.
As Sokal and Bricmont point out, even if the science the so-called thinkers cite were accurate most of the time it still has absolutely nothing to do with what they are actually trying pretending? It is an unusual way of undermining science since the thinkers are toppled along with their false foundations , but this, surely, is the most dangerous aspect of the whole affair -- that science is pulled down to their level, when its great value is in being above such petty and mindless debate, when its strength is in the intellectual rigor it demands.
Sokal and Bricmont address the two-cultures debate, and the fact that science is so foreign to so many allowing it to be abused all the easier. It is a problem society should wrestle with. Whereof one cannot speak, a truly wise man once suggested, thereof one should remain silent. The idea never caught on. Considering foreign concepts is, of course, important, and the interplay between science, society, and social theories should be explored -- but exploration means considering, hypothesizing, using the available tools.
It does not mean stating unequivocally, especially if the statements are so inane and absurd that they must or at least should be dismissed as simply meaningless. Radical thought must be embraced -- but what the Social Text folk do is neither radical nor is it thought. That group and the thinkers they have embraced have twisted all debate into the unintellectual, returning it to the level of theological debate where anything can be proposed and propounded as long as the proper terminology and, in the case of theological debate, the reigning deities are invoked.
Proper reasoning is no longer called for -- when in fact it is the first thing that should be called for. Long live logic, indeed.
Fashionable Nonsense is a perverse and maddening book. It is like a book about child abuse, describing in graphic detail the sins of the fathers -- there should be no need for such a thing. And yet there is. An important book, it is nevertheless almost unreadable -- mainly because of the absurd passages cited extensively by Sokal and Bricmont. It is worse than books debunking psychic phenomena and the like because whereas psychics address the common man, the thinkers attacked here write in prose?
Hail Sokal and Bricmont for wasting so much of their lives on such a ridiculous but apparently necessary task. A pox on those who condemn them. Okay, we have a few differences with them too, especially stylistically Tom Wolfe tried using up all the exclamation marks available to American authors in his novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, but Sokal and Bricmont apparently found a load of them somewhere, which they diligently littered through their text.
Their sense of humor -- admittedly born out of frustration -- is also ill-suited to their enterprise and their snide asides do it no service either. The original parody, included here, is a fairly fun read it can also be found online. On the whole, however, the book is a tough slog.
Worth leafing through, but hard to recommend actually reading it.
Buy for others
Incorrect use of scientific concepts versus scientific metaphors[ edit ] The stated goal of the book is not to attack "philosophy, the humanities or the social sciences in general Sokal and Bricmont set out to show how those intellectuals have used concepts from the physical sciences and mathematics incorrectly. The extracts are intentionally rather long to avoid accusations of taking sentences out of context. Sokal and Bricmont claim that they do not intend to analyze postmodernist thought in general. Rather, they aim to draw attention to the abuse of concepts from mathematics and physics, their areas of specialty. Sokal and Bricmont define abuse of mathematics and physics as any of the following behaviors: Using scientific or pseudoscientific terminology without bothering much about technical meanings.
Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science
Background[ edit ] In an interview on the U. Gross and Norman Levitt claim that some humanities journals would publish anything as long as it had "the proper leftist thought" and quoted or was written by well-known leftist thinkers. They asserted that anti-intellectual sentiment in liberal arts departments and especially in English departments caused the increase of deconstructionist thought, which eventually resulted in a deconstructionist critique of science. What would matter would be ideologic obsequiousness, fawning references to deconstructionist writers, and sufficient quantities of the appropriate jargon. Writing after the article was published and the hoax revealed, he stated: The results of my little experiment demonstrate, at the very least, that some fashionable sectors of the American academic Left have been getting intellectually lazy. The editors of Social Text liked my article because they liked its conclusion: that "the content and methodology of postmodern science provide powerful intellectual support for the progressive political project" [sec.