Monday, July 05, 2010

Another Sokal Hoax?

This is a rather fun (or frustrating) op-ed piece. The writer gave a good brief introduction to the infamous Sokal Hoax. This was done in context to a letter-to-the-editor that he came across which he humorously imagine as being Alan Sokal writing another of his hoax, but this time, as a letter to the editor.

All this came back to me the other day on reading the letters column of the simple daily newspaper I write for, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, which is much too workaday to be confused with a highfalutin academic journal. This letter, too, seemed to view reality, facts, and all that objective folderol as a mere historical construct that needs to be brushed away so the young can be properly educated/indoctrinated. Or as the writer explained:

"Indeed, science is not an objective enterprise. It is greatly influenced by power, culture, race, gender and ethnicity. Biologist Ruth Hubbard says that facts are invented, not discovered; facts are not necessarily facts forever, as shown by the constant change in dogma in biology as new data are obtained."

Beautiful. This guff is still widespread, apparently, having spread far beyond the ivory tower, like so much smog. Two plus two equals four only because we’re told so. The germ theory of disease is but a philosophical construct. It all depends on what we’re taught, and since there are fashions in science as in all human endeavors, then science itself is only fashion — a culturally agreed-upon illusion, a bourgeois plot, as ever changeable as mere fact.


Of course, on the serious side of it, it is sad that there are now part of the general public that somehow holds that silly view. I often wonder if these people have ever done a proper science experiment. They don't realize that a subjective idea cannot make reproducible results consistently. This is one reason why many do not think that economics is a science. I often want to ask them to cite an example the last time they put their lives on something that is based on a subjective, social construct. After all, that's what they do everyday with science.


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