The Sokal Affair
The paper, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”, was published in “Science Wars” in 1996. On the day of publication, Sokal announced (in a different paper,) that the article was a hoax. He said that Social Text was “a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense”. Much heated debate followed, especially regarding academic ethics. Why did he do it?
"Why did I do it? While my method was satirical, my motivation is utterly serious. What concerns me is the proliferation, not just of nonsense and sloppy thinking per se, but of a particular kind of nonsense and sloppy thinking: one that denies the existence of objective realities, or (when challenged) admits their existence but downplays their practical relevance. At its best, a journal like Social Textraises important questions that no scientist should ignore — questions, for example, about how corporate and government funding influence scientific work. Unfortunately, epistemic relativism does little to further the discussion of these matters."
One commentator said this:
"I believe it shows three important things. First, that dubiously coherent relativistic views about the concepts of truth and evidence really have gained wide acceptance within the contemporary academy, just as it has often seemed. Second, that this has had precisely the sorts of pernicious consequence for standards of scholarship and intellectual responsibility that one would expect it to have. Finally, that neither of the preceding two claims need reflect a particular political point of view, least of all a conservative one.
It's impossible to do justice to the egregiousness of Sokal's essay without quoting it more or less in its entirety; what follows is a tiny sampling. Sokal starts off by establishing his postmodernist credentials: he derides scientists for continuing to cling to the "dogma imposed by the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook," that there exists an external world, whose properties are independent of human beings, and that human beings can obtain reliable, if imperfect and tentative knowledge of these properties "by hewing to the 'objective' procedures and epistemological strictures prescribed by the (so-called) scientific method." He asserts that this 'dogma' has already been thoroughly undermined by the theories of general relativity and quantum mechanics, and that physical reality has been shown to be "at bottom a social and linguistic construct." In support of this he adduces nothing more than a couple of pronouncements from physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, pronouncements that have been shown to be naive by sophisticated discussions in the philosophy of science over the past fifty years. "
People are so easily fooled. (myself included)