Review: Beyond the Hoax: Science and Culture (Alan Sokal)
Much of the material is the same as in Sokal and Bricmont's earlier book. But there is some new material as well. I especially found the stuff on hindu nationalism and pseudoscience interesting, and the stuff on pseudoscience in nursing. Never heard of that before, but it wasnt totally unexpected. All health related fields hav large amounts of pseudoscience. It is unfortunate that the most important fields are those most full of pseudoscience!
Part III goes on to treat weightier social and political topics using the
same lens. Chapter 8 analyzes the paradoxical relation between pseudo
science and postmodernism, and investigates how extreme skepticism can
abet extreme credulity, using a series of detailed case studies: pseudosci
entific therapies in nursing and “alternative medicine”; Hindu nationalist
pseudoscience in India21; and radical environmentalism. This investigation
is motivated by my suspicion that credulity in minor matters prepares the
mind for credulity in matters of greater import — and, conversely, that the
kind of critical thinking useful for distinguishing science from pseudoscience
might also be of some use in distinguishing truths in affairs of state from
lies. Chapter 9 takes on the largest and most powerful pseudoscience of all:
organized religion. This chapter focusses on the central philosophical and
political issues raised by religion in the contemporary world: it deplores the
damage that is done by our culture’s deference toward “faith”, and it asks
how nonbelievers and believers can find political common ground based
on shared moral ideas. Finally, Chapter 10 draws some of these concerns
together, and discusses the relationship between epistemology and ethics as
they interact in the public sphere.
surely this is true.
#115 The idea that theories should refer only to observable quantities is called operationalism.-, far
from being postmodernist, it was popular among physicists and philosophers of physics in the first
half of the twentieth century. But it has severe flaws: see Chapter 7 below (pp. 240-245) as well as
Weinberg (1992, pp. 174-184).
i thought this was a part of logiclal positivism, and it seems that it was. i knew about operational definitions.
When all is said and done, the fundamental flaw in Merchant and Hard
ing’s metaphor-hermeneutics is not exegetical but logical. Let us grant for the
sake of argument that some of the founders of modem science consciously
used sexist metaphors to promote their epistemological and methodological
views (this much is probably true, even if Merchant and Harding have exag
gerated the case). But what would that entail for the philosophy (as opposed
to the history) of science? Apparently the critics wish to claim that sexism
could have passed from metaphor into the substantive content of scientific
methods and/or theories. But if modem science does in fact contain sexist
assumptions, then surely the feminist theorists ought to be able to locate and
criticize those biased assumptions, independently of any argument from his
tory. Indeed, to do otherwise is to commit the “genetic fallacy”: evaluating an
idea on the basis of its origin rather than its content.
Putting aside the florid accusations of rape and torture, the argument of
Merchant and Harding boils down to the assertion that the scientific rev
olution of the seventeenth century displaced a female-centered (spiritual,
hermetic, organic, geocentric) universe in favor of a male-centered (ratio
nalist, scientific, mechanical, heliocentric) one.21 How should we evaluate
To begin with, one might wonder whether the gender associations claimed
for these two cosmologies are really as univocal as the feminist critics
claim.22 (After all, the main defender of the geocentric worldview — the
Catholic Church — was not exactly a female-centered enterprise, its adora
tion of the Virgin Mary notwithstanding.) But let us put aside this objection
and grant these gender associations for the sake of argument; for the princi
pal flaw in the Merchant-Harding thesis is, once again, not historical but log
ical. Margarita Levin puts it bluntly: Do Merchant and Harding really “think
we have a choice about which theory is correct? Masculine or feminine, the
solar system is the way it is.”23
The same point applies not only to astronomy but to scientific theories
quite generally; and the bottom line is that there is ample evidence, indepen
dent of any allegedly sexist imagery, for the epistemic value of modem sci
ence. Therefore, as Koertge remarks, “if it really could be shown that patri
archal thinking not only played a crucial role in the Scientific Revolution but
is also necessary for carrying out scientific inquiry as we know it, that would
constitute the strongest argument for patriarchy that I can think of!”24
true story :D
Of course, the feminist science-critics are not only archaeologists of
300-year-old science; some of their critique is resolutely modem, even post
modern. Here, for instance, is what Donna Haraway, professor of the history
of consciousness (!) at the University of Califomia-Santa Cruz and one of
the most acclaimed feminist theorists of science, says about her research:
For the complex or boundary objects in which I am interested, the
mythic, textual, technical, political, organic, and economic dimensions
implode. That is, they collapse into each other in a knot of extraordinary
density that constitutes the objects themselves. In my sense, story telling
is in no way an ‘art practice’ — it is, rather, a fraught practice for narrat
ing complexity in such a field of knots or black holes. In no way is story
telling opposed to materiality. But materiality itself is tropic; it makes us
swerve, it trips us; it is a knot of the textual, technical, mythic/oneiric,
organic, political, and economic.2
As right-wing critic Roger Kimball acidly comments: “Remember that this
woman is not some crank but a professor at a prestigious university and
one of the leading lights of contemporary ‘women’s studies.’ ”26 The saddest
thing, for us pinkos and feminists, is that Kimball is dead on target.
women's studies is nearly completely trash. reminds me of the article about black studies in the US: https://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/the-most-persuasive-case-for-eliminating-black-studies-just-read-the-dissertations/46346
This theory is startling, to say the least: Does the author really believe
that menstruation makes it more difficult for young women to understand
elementary notions of geometry? Evidently we are not far from the Victorian
gentlemen who held that women, with their delicate reproductive organs,
are unsuited to rational thought and to science. With friends like this, the
feminist cause has no need of enemies.
the worst enemy of women: women.
[after quoting Lacan]
Mathematicians and physicists are used to receiving this sort of stuff in
typewritten envelopes from unknown correspondents. Lacan’s grammar and
spelling are better than in most of these treatises, but his logic isn’t. To put it
bluntly, Lacan is a crank — an unusually erudite one, to be sure, but a crank
interesting. i will ask Sokal to expand on that theme.
So, if we look critically at realism, we may be tempted to turn toward
instrumentalism. But if we look critically at instrumentalism, we feel forced
to return to a modest form of realism. What, then, should one do? Before
coming to a possible solution, let us first consider radical alternatives.
[after quoting Plantinga]
Let us stress that we disagree with 90% of Plantinga’s philosophy; but if he is so eloquently on
target on this particular point, why not give him credit for it?
i was surprised they quoted him, but then, they make that comment. perfect play!
Let me stress in advance that I will not be concerned here with explaining
in detail why astrology, homeopathy and the rest are in fact pseudoscience;
that would take me too far afield. Nor will I address, except in passing, the
important but difficult problems of understanding the psychological attrac
tions of pseudoscience and the social factors affecting its spread.28 Rather,
my principal aim is to investigate the logical and sociological nexus between
pseudoscience and postmodernism.
For a shrewd meditation on the former question, see Levitt (1999, especially pp. 12-22
and chapter 4). The latter question is indirectly addressed by Burnham (1987), in the context
of a fascinating history of the popularization of science in the United States in the nineteenth
and twentieth centuries.
For my own part, I have been struck by the fact that nearly all the pseudoscientific systems
to be examined in this essay are based philosophically on vitalism: that is, the idea that living
beings, and especially human beings, are endowed with some special quality ( “life energy”,
elan vital, prana, q i ) that transcends the ordinary laws of physics. Mainstream science has
rejected vitalism since at least the 1930s, for a plethora of good reasons that have only become
stronger with time (see e.g. Mayr 1982). But these good reasons are understood by only a tiny
fraction of the populace, even in the industrialized countries where science is supposedly held
in high esteem. Moreover — and perhaps much more importantly — the anti-vitalism charac
teristic of modem science is deeply unsettling emotionally to most (perhaps all) people, even
to those who are not conventionally religious. See again Levitt (1999). Of course, none of these
speculations pretend to any scientific rigor; careful empirical investigation by psychologists
and sociologists is required.
Sokal mentions the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Rosa experiment.
the proponents must really feel bad... even a child can disprove their beliefs. how study are they??? hopefully, it was only a fringe idea, right, right?
When I first heard about Emily’s experiment, I admired her ingenuity but
wondered whether anyone really took Therapeutic Touch seriously. How
wrong I was! Therapeutic Touch is taught in more than 80 college and uni
versity schools of nursing in at least 70 countries, is practiced in at least
80 hospitals across North America, and is promoted by leading American
nursing associations.32 Its inventor claims to have trained more than 47,000
practitioners over a 26-year period, who have gone on to train many more.33
At least 245 books or dissertations have been published that include “Thera
peutic Touch” in the title, subject headings or table of contents.34 All in all,
Therapeutic Touch appears to have become one of the most widely practiced
“holistic” nursing techniques.
cited from pseudoscience source:
ur intuitive faculty is nothing other than a source of sound premises about the
nature of reality.... [T]here exists within us a source of direct information about
reality that can teach us all we need to know.
top #1 reason not to teach Plato's nonsense.
But of course, those who believe in Genesis or transubstantiation do not
consider these ideas to be crazy; quite the contrary, they think that they have
good reasons to hold their beliefs. Indeed, Harris argues convincingly that
whenever any person P believes any proposition X — at least in the ordi
nary sense of the English word “believe” — this requires, first of all, that P
must believe X to be true, i.e. to be a factually accurate representation of
the world; and secondly, that P must think he has good reasons to believe
X, in the sense that he envisions his belief as caused, at least in part, by
the fact that X is true. As Harris puts it (p. 63), “there must be some causal
connection, or an appearance thereof, between the fact in question and my
acceptance of it.”
this kind of causal reliabilism will not work. cf. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/platonism-mathematics/#EpiAcc