I have long suspected that the hard sciences are going the same way as “softer” pursuits, like sociology: namely, they have become too political and unscientific to be taken seriously. A howling hoax just played on the so-called respectable physics community – read: academically sanctioned or tax-funded community (either description will do) – argues my point. And it has the added benefit of slamming what passes for academia in these softer sciences.
The hoax against the physics community is apparently in retaliation for an earlier embarrassment inflicted on the social sciences by a physicist.
In spring 1996, the academic journal Social Text published an article by Alan Sokal, a professor of physics at New York University, titled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” The journal, which is committed to radical politics and controversial views, is a renowned influence within the “cultural studies” community. In lay terms, the gist of Sokal’s article was to argue that the traditional concept of gravity was a fiction created by capitalism that would be swept away by a postmodern (socialist/feminist) theory of quantum gravity.
On the same day that the article appeared in print, Sokal confessed to the academic trade publication Lingua Franca that his piece was a spoof and the “august” editorial board of Social Text just couldn’t tell the difference.
Sokal meant to highlight the absurdities that pass for research in the social science now that they have become dominated by postmoderns and relativists.
Now two French semiologists – the science of reading signs – who published at least five pieces in respected, mainstream physics journals have declared those essays to be parodies consisting entirely of Cuisinarted string-theory buzz phrases. Even worse, the two brothers Igor and Grichka Bogdanov earned graduate-level physics degrees from Ie Universite de Bourgogne by defending two equally bogus dissertations.
In this mud-slinging war between the hard and soft sciences, both realms are deserving targets of ridicule. Perhaps the mutual discrediting will lead academics to wonder whether state-funded, state-regulated research and pursuit-of-truth is disastrous in any field of knowledge? What are the odds?
Now the Bogdanov Brothers are claiming that their papers are serious, and the accusations of a “hoax” constitutes the hoax itself. Meanwhile, the prestigious journal Classical and Quantum Gravity has decided to cease using the two referees who accepted one of the Bogdanov papers for publication. I would agree with a friend’s comment, “Knowledge is expanding faster than the quality control,” but I am not sure that it is knowledge that is expanding