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Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture Paperback – 11 Feb 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 488 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (11 Feb. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199561834
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199561834
  • Product Dimensions: 24.4 x 2.8 x 16.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 290,360 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

Review from previous edition If you're concerned about the role of science in making sense of our world, you need to read it. (BBC Focus, Robert Matthews)

Most scientists will be highly appreciative of and deeply fascinated by what Sokal has to say in this remarkable book. (Chemistry World)

About the Author

Alan Sokal is Professor of Physics at New York University and Professor of Mathematics at University College, London. His main research interests are in statistical mechanics and quantum field theory. Among non-physicists, Sokal is probably best known for his famous parody of postmodern science criticism, known as the 'Sokal Hoax', which aroused fierce debate in cultural circles, and received widespread coverage in the media, including front-page stories in the New York Times, the International Herald and Tribune, the Observer, and Le Monde. Alongside many publications in physics, Sokal's previous books include Intellectual Impostures (with Jean Bricmont, Profile Books, 1998; published as Fashionable Nonsense by Picador in the US).

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Tim Chippington Derrick on 12 Dec. 2011
Format: Paperback
It is not all an easy read - the first part in particular which reproduces the hoax paper in full with annotations and explanations. But it is fascinating to read the hoax article and try and wrap your head around it's twisted and mangled perported view of the "science" of quantum gravity. Knowing a bit about the physics leaves you genuinely gasping in disbelief at some of the sentences and even whole paragraphs. That such an article could have been published in all seriousness in a supposedly respected journal of any kind is simply astonishing.

But most of the book is simple and straightforward to read. There are very many quotations and references, with extensive footnotes on most pages - if you read all of these it can be harder to keep track of the main thrust of the argument, but that is a minor flaw at worst. As the other reviewers have noted, the characteristic that shines through the whole book is one of "reasonableness". At every turn, Alan Sokal is just so plain reasonable that I imagine that it would be very hard for anyone to argue against his viewpoint. This is not a book about very abstract or esoteric philosophy - it is much more grounded in the everyday world, addressing questions about what we can discover or know about the real world in practice.

Some of the areas that are scrutinised are completely new to me. The section on nursing and related pseudo-medical mumbo-jumbo sticks particularly in my memory as another area that left me reeling in shock at the utter rubbish that has been prepetrated on us, sometimes leading to worldwide recognition and awards.

Definitely worth reading for anybody who has more than a passing interest.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By R. RUTHERFORD-SMITH on 31 Mar. 2010
Format: Paperback
This book should be a deathblow to the grotesque inanities of deconstructionist and postmodernist theory which has had such a devastating effect on university humanities departments, especially in the US. It will fail to be a deathblow. Among the deconstructionist/postmodernist devotees and apologists of my acquaintance, some claim never to have heard of Sokal. They are not moved by the facts and the arguments Sokal presents, because they don't believe that there are such things as facts, nor do they believe in rational argument.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John Cranfield on 25 Oct. 2011
Format: Paperback
Alan Sokal has tackled a complex series of philosophical issues in an informative and amusing way. It is not often I laugh out loud when reading a book on philosophy. Sokal is that rarest of creatures in modern day philosophy - he is sensible. Whilst acknowledging the contribution of 'post-modern' insights into knowlege creation, he is firmly in the camp of 'reasonableness' when it comes to understanding the 'real' world. For Sokal reasonableness cannot be divorced from the methodology of scientific enquiry. He puts forward a very convincing argument. The reader must make his or own judgment.
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47 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 31 July 2008
Format: Hardcover
It was a delightful episode. For nearly two generations, the philosophical French Pox had suffused through North American universities. "Postmodernism" created artificial new disciplines, set a still unmatched standard for obfuscation, and lambasted science whenever its practitioners found the opportunity. Being busy with other things, researchers had little time to respond with more than a sad shaking of the head. Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, physicist Alan Sokal [who?] produced an article on quantum gravity, drafted in the best elusive "pomo" style and publised it in a leading postmodernist journal, Social Text.

It was a hoax. Beautifully conceived and wonderfully executed, Sokal's article demonstrated to all what a different kind of hoax had been perpetrated on North American education. In this lively recapitulation of the episode, Sokal uses the article - with updating comments - to explain his motives and to expand on them with additional essays. The original is reprinted with Sokal's commentary on what spoofs, solopsisms, outright flattery of Socal Text's editors and purposeful scientific errors even a first-year physics student would question. Obviously, none of that mattered, since the syntax was so clearly in a form those editors cherished, the "peer reviewers" overlooked or were ignorant of, the gaffes. Besides a scientist writing for a journal long known to criticise science. He was one of their own!

Revelation of the parody in another pomo journal brought much glee to the scientific community, among others, but the project failed in one significant regard. The pomo movement did not wither away - indeed many of its adherents still occupy university chairs.
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