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Beyond The Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture Paperback – 7 May 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 488 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, U.S.A. (7 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199561834
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199561834
  • Product Dimensions: 24.4 x 2.8 x 16.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 77,321 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
PC-infested people beware! You won't be the same person after reading this book and it won't self-destroy. A superior read and not putdownable.
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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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Format: Paperback
When I read about the Sokal hoax years ago, I thought it was clever, amusing and rather unethical, but I had not read beyond the headlines and the title of the hoax paper. If this matches your view, please read the book. It is a lot better than those headlines would imply.

The book begins with a detailed analysis of the hoax itself. What made the hoax so incisive was not its parodying of post-modern rhetoric, but its quotations. Using their own words, Sokal clearly proves that the post modernists, particularly Derrida and Lacan, really do write gibberish, and have no clue about what they are talking about.

Why is this important? Scientists and reasonable philosophers can simply ignore Derrida and Lacan, most of whose work seems to me to be based on bad puns that only work in French anyway.

The book is important because it is about truth. As Sokal points out, if you treat all truth as relative, how can you criticise the tobacco companies, or American foreign policy, or global warming? Scientific truth only differs in from everyday truth in the rigour of its evidence; what scientists do is not qualitatively different from what plumbers do, when tracking down why your central heating does not work. It is not possible to undermine science without also undermining all rational argument.

Perhaps a refreshing aspect about Sokal's writing is that he does not reserve his bullets for his enemies. He is rather like a child with an Uzi -- everything and everyone gets a bullet. (Actually, there are no bullets for Noam Chomsky -- maybe Sokal needed one friend to write a review for the back cover.) Anywhere he sees careless logic, woolly epistemology, or even bad spelling and translation he fires his barbs: his quotations are peppered with sic marks.
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Format: Paperback
What can I add to the four reviews posted (I'm glad to see they're still coming out of the woodwork) other than to say that this is a beautifully produced volume (and cheap at the price) that does NOT cover simply the heroic hoax but uses a reprint of said spoof article as an excuse to attack irrationality of all kinds; its importance cannot be overrated.

I feel the choice of type has a lot to do with this book's charm, and the gorgeous, heavy paper, which combine to give it a faint olde-world coppery feel. Tell me I'm not cracking up
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