An issue that has followed me through my career is the fight against pretentious jargon and extreme epistemological relativism in the humanities. The latter is an old idea from the sociology of science which holds that scientific knowledge does not approximate truth about the world, but is instead a kind of agreement among scientists: knowledge is “socially constructed”. As a very young and angry grad student, during Scandy archaeology’s worst infatuation with this mode of thought, I was heartened to learn about physicist Alan Sokal’s 1996 hoax upon the hip post-modernist journal Social Text. He got them to print a bogus paper full of impenetrable jargon where he argued among other things that gravity is a social construct. Then he revealed the prank, arguing that the journal editors published the drivel not because they thought he was right, but because they agreed with his politics. The Left, argued Sokal, can’t afford that kind of science hostility, because that means an unwillingness to face reality. He has since gone on to write excellent books on the subject.
And now Alan Sokal is coming to Stockholm where I live! He’s speaking twice under the heading “What is Science and Why Should We Care?”.
- Tuesday 26 May. 18:00. ABF Stockholm, SveavÃ¤gen 41. 50 kronor entry fee.
- Wednesday 27 May, 18:00. Royal Academy of Sciences, Lilla FrescativÃ¤gen 4 A. Free for all, but you need to register beforehand. I’ll see you there!
Photograph taken by Sven Klinge last February, from the Zoonomian blog.