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Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  771 ratings  ·  82 reviews
In 1996, Alan Sokal published an essay in the hip intellectual magazine Social Text parodying the scientific but impenetrable lingo of contemporary theorists. Here, Sokal teams up with Jean Bricmont to expose the abuse of scientific concepts in the writings of today's most fashionable postmodern thinkers. From Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva to Luce Irigaray and Jean Baud
Paperback, 320 pages
Published October 29th 1999 by Picador (first published 1997)
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Assessing the usefulness or relevance of philosophy is a seemingly confounding endeavor. It becomes even trickier when approaching a specifically nuanced trend or style of philosophy. Since endless question-begging thought cycles are the genesis of any given philosophy, there is understandable difficulty in posing additional ones that might trump the foundation of that given philosopher's logic or reasoning. To add to that, there is the incessant theoretical backpedaling and earnest apologetics ...more
In 1996, Alan Sokal submitted an article to Social Text entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity." If that title means little to you, that's OK because the article was, in fact, nonsense. It was part of an elaborate hoax and parody that Sokal was perpetrating on those who subscribe to "epistemic relativism," i.e., the belief that modern science is nothing more than myth, a "social construction."

This philosophy is particularly endemic to mod
Lane Wilkinson
Sep 10, 2007 Lane Wilkinson rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone sick of the post-modern hegemony
Shelves: postmodernism
"We can clearly see that there is no bi-univocal correspondence between linear signifying links or archi-writing, depending on the author, and this multireferential, multi-dimensional machinic catalysis. The symmetry of scale, the transversality, the pathic non-discursive character of their expansion: all these dimensions remove us from the logic of the excluded middle and reinforce us in our dismissal of the ontological binarism we criticised previously"

This quote, from psychoanalyst Félix Guat
Jul 08, 2010 Keely marked it as to-read
Why is it that whenever a theory of social science is found to be flawed, and loses the respect of the scientific community, it manages to find new success as a branch of literary criticism? Freud's theories are by this point laughable, and yet they persist as viable modes of literary analysis. Marx's tautological economic theories have gone the same way. If I had to predict, I'd say Chomsky is up next.

There is a point at which ahistoricism and structuralism are willing to accept any method, any
Dave Brick
If you've ever had to read the postmodernist writings of Focault, Derrida, Lacan, or any of their innumerable disciples and come away with only the vaguest idea as to their meaning, you might want to read this book. But if like me, you regularly have to encounter postmodernism in the flesh and just don't get it, this is a must-read. It will reassure you that incoherent sentences mixed shameless displays of (false) erudition--although extremely humorous--cannot change the fact that reason, eviden ...more
Worthless Bum
Alan Sokal is known for having written a splendid parody known as the "Sokal Hoax", a paper submitted and published in the journal "Social Text" which criticizes certain academic trends in literary criticism, philosophy, and sociology, such trends being largely influenced by certain French philosophers. Categorizing these trends and philosophies under the regrettably vague moniker "postmodernism" (a term whose vagueness owes itself in no small part to the tendency for obscurity, inconsistency, a ...more
Sami Ghanem
A demolishing of the pretentions of philosophical frauds such as Lacan, Kristeva, Baudrillard and co. has been needed for some time now. Alan Sokal, perpetrator of the famous Sokal Hoax (in which a joke paper full of outrageous scientific nonsense cloaked under the guise of left-wing cant was accepted straight-faced into a trendy cultural studies journal), delivers here a scholarly dissection of the abuse of scientific concepts employed by post-modern philosophers. A professor of mathematics and ...more
I wanted to like this, I really did. It was completely relevant to my interests. I'm sick of the contempt for the sciences communicated by the humanities even after their post-60s dialogue with scientific language. I think that actually understanding the concepts one uses to break down the convention of analogy is interesting. I don't think that the doubts and complexities of actual science are fundamentally responsible for political and social damage. Sokal could have been moderate, understandi ...more
Oh, how badly the Left needs more books like this, boldly championing scientific objectivity and facts over political or spiritual ideologies that abuse science to gain legitimacy and further their agendas.

The story of the origin of this book is a playful one: the author submitted a parody article, called Transgressing the Boundaries, to a postmodern scientific journal. In it he demonstrates every abuse of science he's seen, conflating subjects that have nothing to do with each other, exaggerati
Although this is an important book, it is not a very enjoyable one to read, for the simple fact that the authors felt compelled to quote at length from some of the most disfigured and meaningless jumbles of words that I have ever seen sewn together in the guise of sentences.

A major portion of the book is given over to reproductions of original 'postmodernist' sources that ramble for pages on end, with trifling comments by the authors on how the different scientific concepts have been misinterpre
Leila T.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I'm not a fan of much academic work that tends to be considered 'postmodernist' (well, maybe I agree with the conclusions often enough - I'm a fairly radical relativist on a lot of things, for example - but I can't get down with the style), and I'm definitely not a fan of academics writing at length about subjects of which they have little understanding, so this book is largely preaching to the converted with me. Still, it was kinda surprising just how utterly ridiculous some of the works discus ...more
This book started off as a prank when Sokal sent an article to Social Text which was full of nonsense, but used pomo's vague and pompous style and confirmed some of their social/political beliefs. The editors, excited that a physicist has converted to their side, promptly published the article. Once caught, they refused to publish the subsequent paper in which Sokal explained the reason for his prank and how absurd the first article had been.

Richard Dawkins said it best in one of his essays in
I would have given it five-stars if not for all the semantically incoherent non-sequiturs quoted ad nauseum. But that's just me being post-postmodernism in seminal abrasiveness of the complacence of fashionable academia and all its derivatives (e.g. math, physics, chemistry; i.e. anything non contained within the set of non-humanities or social sciences {i.e. set of non-humanities conjoined with the set of non-social-sciences}). Neither complete or consistent due to the implications of Godel's t ...more
Charlotte Sanders
This book intelligently and hilariously calls out postmodern criticism on everything that makes me completely disgusted by it. The authors (both of whom are physicists) summarize their work this way:

"Let us start by recognizing that many 'postmodern' ideas, expressed in a moderate form, provide a needed correction to naive modernism (belief in indefinite and continuous progress, scientism, cultural Eurocentrism, etc.)."
"Our focus [in this book] is limited to certain intellectual aspects of postm
One will never be grateful enough to Sokal and Bricmont for pointing fingers towards a naked emperor. Being French, I know far too well how postmodernism/poststructuralism/social constructivism (or whatever other stupid name a certain intelligentsia wants to call itself) damaged a whole field of academics and, as such, modern intellectual life and debate. Stemming from the like of Lacan, Deleuze, Kristeva, Baudrillard, Irigaray, Latour, Virilio and co (to name just the ones targeted here) there ...more
“Not all that is obscure is necessarily profound.” (186)

Jampacked with sarcastic criticism, hilariously awful postmodernist quotes, and brief clarifications of confused science and math, Fashionable Nonsense is excellent. Because words are hard, I'll let the authors speak for themselves:

“This book deals with mystification, deliberately obscure language, confused thinking, and the misuse of scientific concepts.” (xi)

“The word ‘abuse’ here denotes one or more of the following characteristics:
Ferda Nihat Köksoy
ŞAKANIN ARDINDAN-Postmodernizmin Bilimsel, Felsefi ve Kültürel Eleştirisi-
Kitaptan Alıntılar ve Sentezler:
***Duke Üniversitesi tarafından yayınlanan ve postmodernistlerin ağırlıkta olduğu SOCIAL TEXT dergisinde yayınlattığı sosyal içerikli uzun makalenin, aslında bilerek yanlışlarla doldurulmuş bir şaka olduğunu, bu yanlışların fark bile edilmediğini; bu durumun bilinen en önemli isimler için (Lacan, Derrida, Lyotard, Deleuze, Guattari, Baudrillard vb.)
En este libro se exponen algunos de los abusos que comenten algunos pensadores y filosofos de la corriente posmodernista, del uso de conceptos matemáticos, físicos y de otras ciencias, para adornar su discurso, o para exponer puntos de vista triviales o banales. Se hace una revisión de algunas referencias que hicieron uso los autores para redactar una parodia de un artículo de esta corriente; en dicha revisión se expone con rigor las falacias en las que caen los autores de dichas referencias.
On display is lots of nonsense written in the postmodern tradition, specifically by philosophers that can basically be classified as epistemic relativists. In the first several chapters, the responses by the authors to absurd passages from Lacan and Kristeva are quite detailed. As the book goes on, punctuated by several intermezzo chapters which give some background, much of the commentary becomes lazy. The authors begin to appeal to the self-evidence of the ridiculousness on display.

David Glenn Dixon
Washington City Paper
Arts & Entertainment : Book Review

Liberté, Egalité, Obscurité
By Glenn Dixon • March 12, 1999

"If there's no math in it, it isn't science." Thus went the rejoinder propellerheads offered religious enthusiasts when, in the '80s, hinterland zealots attempted to get Genesis taught in public schools under the rubric of "creation science." But what of the inverse? If there is math in it, is science an inevitability? As any kid who sat through the first month of Mr. Glahn's 9th-
Daniel Maturana
This is a must read for anyone that has been exposed to so-called 'postmodern' thinkers. Personally, I think many of the ideas put forth by postmodern philosophers are intriguing, specially if not taken too seriously (which in many cases seems to actually be the intent). But I find the clueless use of mathematical and scientific jargon to appear more authorative ridiculous. It is rather entertaining to see some of the most pompous philosophers' absurd statements dissected. The book also has a su ...more
Dorian Neerdael
Ce livre vient donner suite à ce qu'on a appelé l'affaire Sokal. Il vient approfondir l'opinion de ce physicien qui avait déjà montré au monde scientifique son dégoût pour tout le verbiage postmoderne.

En tant que scientifique, il se permet d'analyser les passages mathématisant, physicalisant ou logicisant de certains ouvrages philosophiques influents. Il constate que le langage scientifique compliqué est souvent utilisé pour noyer les lecteurs dans une pseudo-érudition, et pour donner à un texte
This is a very interesting follow-up to the famous "Sokal hoax", wherein physicist Alan Sokal wrote an spoof article, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity", and then submitted it to Social Text, a leading postmodern journal that publishes articles in the area of "science studies". As he suspected, the journal accepted the article, and what's more selected it for a special upcoming issue on the topic. In this book, Sokal discusses the background ...more
Sokal and Bricmont launch a devastating critique of the pretentious and obscurantist tendencies of several authors in the pomo canon in this book. Their specific locus of attack is these philosophers' (and I use the term here in a very loose sense) misuse and deliberate abuse of scientific and mathematical concepts as a strategy to embellish and give an aura of credibility to very bad writing.

[A caveat: I'm not a philosopher, physicist, mathematician, literary theorist, psychoanalyst or even we
Sometimes I surprise myself at the depth I'm willing to go to expand my brain. Over the past few years I've been reading a lot of books and listening to others in audiobook form. Here is one I actually read on my tablet. It gets to the heart of what it means to be a scientist, and also how recent ideas establishing truth (Popper's falsification, Kuhn's paradigm, Mill's induction method, etc.) seem to never quite work out. Interesting that individuals who would trash science reap the benefits of ...more
I've wanted to read this book for some time, after learning of the infamous Sokal Affair. Alan Sokal wrote an article parodying postmodern language and thought, in which he suggested that quantum gravity was a social construction, and successfully published the article in a prominent journal of postmodern criticism. The book, coauthored with Jean Bricmont, follows up this parodic criticism with a sustained attack on postmodernist misuse of scientific and mathematical language and concepts.

Now, I
Maciej Chojnacki
Na początek test:

"Zdarza się, że stała-granica sama występuje jako stosunek do cało�ści Wszech�świata, któremu zostają przyporządkowane wszystkie elementy przy skończonych warunkach (ilo�ść ruchu, siły, energii...). Brak tylko układów współrzędnych, do których odsyłają człony tej relacji: oto więc drugi sens granicy, zewnętrzne obramowanie lub zewnętrzna referencja. Te proto-granice, poza wszystkimi współrzędnymi, generują głównie odcięte prędkoś�ci, na których się wzniesie osie współrzędnych. C
Scott Smith
Another book in defense of science against postmodernism. Sokal has some weight to add to his argument with his hoax he published in the 90s. He wrote a fake scholarly article about how science is a culturally constructed endeavor and got in published in a prestigious journal before revealing that it was a hoax and that he wanted to prove how irrational the whole "academic left" is.
rather than attack post-modernism in general like the last book I read, this one focuses on specific theorists like
Anyone who is, loves, or respects and admires scientific science must read this book. More than any other book in the repertoire of my library, this “pernicious” tome has become my all-time, all-space favourite. And I say that without any semblance or dissimulation of favoritism.

To begin, the substantialized evidentiality presumes less in the foreknowledge of the reader, than many works less fundamentally incorpsulated in trendy meaninglessness. The unraveling of the philosophical ground-work on
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Alan David Sokal (born 1955) is a professor of mathematics at University College London and professor of physics at New York University. He works in statistical mechanics and combinatorics. To the general public he is best known for his criticism of postmodernism, resulting in the Sokal affair in 1996.

Sokal received his B.A. from Harvard College in 1976 and his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1
More about Alan Sokal...
Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture Random Walks, Critical Phenomena, and Triviality in Quantum Field Theory

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“We have seen in this book numerous ambiguous texts that can be interpreted in two different ways: as an assertion that is true but relatively banal, or as one that is radical but manifestly false. And we cannot help thinking that, in many cases, these ambiguities are deliberate. Indeed, they offer a great advantage in intellectual battles: the radical interpretation can serve to attract relatively inexperienced listeners or readers; and if the absurdity of this version is exposed, the author can always defend himself by claiming to have been misunderstood, and retreat to the innocuous interpretation.” 5 likes
“A mode of thought does not become 'critical' simply by attributing that label to itself, but by virtue of its content.” 4 likes
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