Reality Conditions

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Sokal must be either laughing or crying

Remember the Sokal affair? When Sokal made his hoax, he was not mainly interested in making the point that "postmodern" critical theory was full of pseudoscientific nonsense. His central aim was to serve as wake-up call for the academic political Left, telling them that endorsement of "relativism" about science was against all the best interests of the Left and robbed critics of the status quo of the weapons offered by fact-based knowledge.

Now, a decade later, sociologist of science Bruno Latour (who was one of the main targets of Sokal) is finally coming to his senses. Too bad it has required years of abuse and misrepresentation of science from the Bush administration to make him realize that:

And yet entire Ph.D programs are still running to make sure that good American kids are learning the hard way that facts are made up, that there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth, that we are always the prisoner of language, that we always speak from one standpoint, and so on, while dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives.

Sokal, and all the scientists that were on his side, can now say all with one voice: "I told you so!!!!"


  • Well now, I like Latour. I think the blog you linked was correct in saying that he should stop beating himself up and start countering the extremist misuses of his concepts. To a certain degree, relativism is important and enlightening; we should be aware of where our paradigm comes from, and of the fact that history implies that it won't be the last paradigm we have. I don't believe that scientists are essentially paper-pushers, but I do think we should be cognizant that science is not immune to the influences of money, politics, and bureaucracy.

    That said, as with any other good concept (like, say, absolutism), this one's really dangerous when taken too far. Latour would be a valuable ally when fighting against the misuse of relativism and the belief that a whim is as good as a theory. I'm glad he's consciously aware of that.

    By Blogger jess, at 10:46 PM, April 26, 2006  

  • I like Latour too. We Have Never Been Modern is a kick in the head (that's good). He's quite clear there that he's not the postmodern relativist of Sokal's nightmares. (Actually neither are a lot of the usual suspects; their acolytes, however....)

    Thanks for the link - I'll check it out.

    By Blogger Duck, at 3:59 AM, May 04, 2006  

  • By Anonymous Bryce, at 10:53 AM, November 12, 2011  

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