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Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  1,821 ratings  ·  173 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 October 1st 1997)
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Ahmad Sharabiani
Impostures Intellectuelles = ‎Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science, c2003‬, Alan Sokal, Jean Bricmont
Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science (French: Impostures Intellectuelles), published in the UK as Intellectual Impostures, is a book by physicists Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont. Sokal is best known for the Sokal Affair, in which he submitted a deliberately absurd article to Social Text, a critical theory journal, and was able to get it publis
Oct 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
J.G. Keely
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
Mar 04, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfic-misc
This is a book that serves its modest purpose reasonably well, but after finishing it, I was left mostly wondering whether it was a purpose that needed to be served.

First, a note on context -- this book was co-authored by Alan Sokal, the perpetrator of the (in)famous Sokal Hoax. I won't describe or weigh in on the hoax here, since there has been a lot said about it elsewhere (this article by Michael Bérubé is a good even-handed retrospective), and also because this book is a much less inherently
Nov 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
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 rated it really liked it
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
Dave Brick
Jan 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Some things need to be said. An enjoyable, somewhat academic discussion, but food for thought for those who feel comfortable with this genre.
Oct 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I think it's crucial that respectable academics stop purveying semantically vacuous nonsense that egregiously expropriates terms that have precise scientific meanings, with demonstrably no understanding whatever of those meanings, for the purpose of furthering an atmosphere of moral equivalency for sense and nonsense. (I use the word "respectable" contextually: the perpetrators of this furtherance of discursive entropy are respected by many of the academics within their own fields.) ...more
Dec 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Ed Erwin
Aug 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, science
For a long time I thought that Sokal's famous hoax publication, plus this book, were intended to show that modern philosophers, particularly in France, are spouting nothing but nonsense. But recently I saw a bit of a yootoobe video where some guy says that is not what Sokal was doing, and that Sokal himself said so.

Well, the yootoober was right. Sokal and Bricmont are saying something more limited and more nuanced. They have two main points:
1. Some (not all) journals publishing philosophical art
Jul 17, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Benedict Reid
Aug 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you ever find yourself thinking the postmodern French philosophers actually have a point. This is the book you need to read. It is simply undeniable proof that postmodern thinking is word-games, not actual theories. More sense is in these pages than most undergraduate arts degrees.
Stephie Williams
Nov 20, 2017 rated it liked it
This book shows up some of the postmodernists and poststructuralists misuse and abuse of mathematics and science (especially physics). One of the authors, Alan Sokal, wrote a paper that mimics these types of scholars as a hoax, published in the postmodernist journal Social Text, which is included as appendix A, followed by some further comments in appendix B. The scholars, all I believe are tenured professors, hence why I am calling them scholars, are Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray ...more
Aurélien Thomas
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
Harry Doble
I give Fashionable Nonsense five stars because for all its shortcomings, it achieves exactly what Alan Sokal & Jean Bricmont set out to do. This book is a few things: a love letter to science, a critique of bad academic writing, a plea for clarity and reason in the political left. But to understand what this book is, you also have to understand what it is not. Contrary to popular belief, this is not an attack on postmodernism and the humanities at large by arrogant scientists who simply don't ge ...more
Aug 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
Thanks to this book I came to realize why I didn't understand so many things of the continental philosophy classes at the university: we were simply taught either bullshit or deepities. It's a shame our money is spent so foolishly to support the production of postmodern and obscurantist crap. ...more
Vikas Lather
Jan 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A must read for all who are interested in social science
Apr 18, 2018 rated it did not like it
If you have a positive opinion of this book please read Glynos and Stavrakakis' text Postures and Impostures, Goshgarian' review of this text, and Peter Matthews' 'Lacan the Charlatan' ...more
Worthless Bum
Feb 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Brett Williams
Apr 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Postmodern medicine that tastes good!

This book will keep you laughing for hours. It’s about The Sokal Hoax, a phony article made up of esoteric scientific jargon applied to social issues through convolutions of logic and obfuscated language. Sokal then infiltrated postmodernist turf when he got his paper published in one of their premier journals, “Social Text: A daring and controversial leader in the field of cultural studies.” The paper was an instant smash throughout postmodern circles, later
Feb 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Katja Riya
Nov 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020, sceptic
All these revelations of math manipulations are quite funny but I got tired and in the final, I had the feeling: ok, so what, that postmodern intellectuals abuse the poor poor science?
Mar 13, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Frank Kool
Jul 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's sad to consider just how badly we still need books like this. More than two decades after its publication (1998) following the Sokal affaire (1996), "fashionable nonsense" still manages to lure people in by merging pseudo-scientific ramblings with grievances.

When I first encountered texts from the likes of Deleuze, Lacan, and Irigaray as a philosophy student, my response was a mixture of puzzlement, amusement, and an overall "not my cup of tea" attitude. It seemed like harmless little fun,
Feb 18, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Ali Faqihi
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Important and at times humorous book by Sokal and Brimont where they depict the pseudoprofundity of few post-modern "philosophers" of the 20th century and come to demonstrate how these charlatans abuse complex mathematical/hard-science concepts -which they got no clue about- into some meaningless set of social "theories". I honestly don't understand how some of these "intellectuals" were/are taken seriously, Lacan and Baudrillard then, today in the form of Ronell and Zizek. Additionally and abov ...more
Jan 18, 2010 marked it as to-read
I've heard so much about this book, and I just can't imagine why I haven't read it! ...more
Leila T.
Aug 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sheng Peng
May 21, 2018 rated it liked it
I only read the commentary parts of it. The quoted nonsense is just too tough to get through, which manifestly is one of the main points the book wants to demonstrate. Point taken.
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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

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