Editorial Splendours and Miseries of the Science Wars

In Higher Superstition, published early in 1994, biologist Paul R. Gross and mathematician Norman Levitt denounced an `Academic Left' at once militant and ill-informed in its criticisms of science. Gross and Levitt showed sharp eyes for the pretentious and absurd in the works of American postmodernists, feminists, multiculturalists, radical environmentalists and, alas, exponents of science studies -- that is, historians, philosophers and sociologists of science. In the Autumn of 94, physicist Alan Sokal, inspired by Gross and Levitt's book, submitted a spoof article portentously entitled `Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity' to Social Text, a leading journal in the expanding field of cultural studies. As he later told Janny Scott of the New York Times : I structured the article around the silliest quotations about mathematics and physics from the most prominent academics, and I invented an argument praising them and linking them together. All this was very easy to carry off, because my article wasn't obliged to respect any standards of evidence or logic. The editors of Social Text were hoodwinked. By an unhappy coincidence, shortly after receiving Sokal's article they decided to produce a special `Science Wars' collection, including the unrefereed article together with responses to Higher Superstition. `Transgressing the Boundaries' duly appeared in the Spring/Summer 96 double issue, accompanied by articles from a number of those denounced by Gross and Levitt and lampooned by Sokal -- the perfect setting!
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