Sokal affair

Sokal affair (cartoon)
A Sokal affair stylized cartoon, about the relative ease of Sokal affairing different fields: engineering, liguistics, sociology, and literary criticism.
In science, Sokal affair refers to a seemingly reputable scholarly publication, superficially, that is written purposely using scientifically-sounding, albeit fictional terms and concepts, so to pass for academic work, but one that turns out to be an inside and or hidden joke, once the punchline is unveiled; in short, an inside joke discussion of made up theory that looks real on the surface.

The original Sokal affair publication was American electrical engineer Peter Elias’ 1958 article “Two Famous Papers”, wherein he makes a parody of the Shannon bandwagon by reviewing two fictional articles, tabulated below (left). [1]

In this case, it was an inside joke: in particularly, regular readers and conference goers of the Institute of Radio Engineers, Transactions on Information Theory, were well-honed to the growing number of varied and endless publications stemming from Claude Shannon's information theory.

The second article, shown below (right), was by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University, who in early 1996 submitted an science article entitled ‘Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity’, to Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies, in which he proposed that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct:

Elias (1958)

Sokal (1996)
“Information Theory, Photosynthesis, and Religion.”
“Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.”
“The Optimum Linear Mean Square Filter for Separating Sinusoidally modulated Trianglular Signals from Randomly Sampled Stationary Gaussian Noise, with Applications to a Problem in Radar.”

Intellectual Impostures (1998)
Alan Sokal's 1998 book on how his Sokal affair helped to expose intellectual impostures.
The difference between the two is that in the whereas in the Sokal case, for the readers and editors of Social Text, the joke was on them. Specifically, on its date of publication (May 1996), Sokal revealed in the magazine Lingua Franca that the article was a hoax, identifying it as "a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense, structured around the silliest quotations [by postmodernist academics] he could find about mathematics and physics."

1. (a) Elias, Peter. (1958). “Two Famous Papers” (pdf), IRE Transactions: on Information Theory, 4(3):99, Sep.
(b) Mitra, Partha, and Bokil, Hemant. (2008). Observed Brain Dynamics (Appendix A: The Bandwagon by C.E. Shannon, pg. 343; Appendix B: The Two Famous Papers by Peter Elias, pg. 345). Oxford University Press.
2. (a) Sokal, Alan. (1996). “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”, Social Text, May.
(b) Sokal, Alan. (1996). “Article”, Lingua Franca, May.

Further reading
● Thims, Libb. (2012). “Thermodynamics ≠ Information Theory: Science’s Greatest Sokal Affair” (Ѻ), Journal of Human Thermodynamics, 8(1): 1-120, Dec 19.

External links
Sokal affair – Wikipedia.

TDics icon ns

More pages