Fashionable Nonsense Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science

Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont

Picador

0312204078

9780312204075

Trade Paperback

320 Pages

$18.00

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A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

In 1996, Alan Sokal published an essay in the hip intellectual magazine Social Text parodying the scientific but impenetrable lingo of contemporary theorists. On the heels of the fierce academic debate that followed the hoax, Sokal teams up with Jean Bricmont to expose the abuse of scientific concepts in the writings of today's most fashionable postmodern thinkers. From Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva to Luce Irigaray and Jean Baudrillard, the authors document the errors made by some postmodernists using science to bolster their arguments and theories. Witty and closely reasoned, Fashionable Nonsense dispels the notion that scientific theories are mere "narratives" or social constructions, and explores the abilities and the limits of science to describe the conditions of existence.

REVIEWS

Praise for Fashionable Nonsense

"Although Sokal and Bricmont focus on the abuse and misrepresentation of science by a dozen French intellectuals, their book broaches a much larger topic—the uneasy place of science and understanding of scientific rationality in contemporary culture."—Thomas Nagel, The New Republic

"Take the most hallowed names in current French theoretical thinking, divide by one of the sharpest and most irreverent minds in America, multiply by a half-dozen examples, render in good, clear English—and you have a thoroughly hilarious romp through the postmodernist academy. Several years ago, Sokal struck a devastating blow against intellectual obscurantism with his famous Social Text parody, and Fashionable Nonsense delivers the perfect coup de grace."—Barbara Ehrenreich

"The modem sciences are among the most remarkable of human achievements and cultural treasures. Like others, they merit—and reward—respectful and scrupulous engagement. Sokal and Bricmont show how easily such truisms can recede from view, and how harmful the consequences can be for intellectual life and human affairs. They also provide a thoughtful and constructive critical analysis of fundamental issues of empirical inquiry. It is a timely and substantial contribution."—Noam Chomsky

"The spirit of expertly delivered comeuppance inhabits Fashionable Nonsense . . . [Sokal and Bricmont's] case is strong."—Thomas Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle

"Sokal is trying to stake out a territory free from the political claims of culture."—Edward Rothstein, The New York Times

"A brilliant and entertaining book . . . Fashionable Nonsense exposes the fraud."—The Advocate

"Sheer chutzpah and cleverness . . . The book is a sobering catalog of idiocies by some of those claimed to be the best thinkers of our times . . . I recommend this book."—Russell Jacoby, Los Angeles Weekly

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"No doubt there exist thoughts so profound that most of us will not understand the language in which they are expressed. And no doubt there is also language designed to be unintelligible in order to conceal an absence of honest thought. But how are we to tell the difference? What if it really takes an expert eye to detect whether the emperor has clothes? In Fashionable Nonsense, Sokal and Bricmont give us the background information that should convince any reasonable person that the hoax was earnestly needed and richly justified. A splendid book."—Richard Dawkins, author of Climbing Mount Improbable and The Blind Watchmaker

"This book may have little effect on its actual subjects, who long ago parted ways with rational debate. But it should be read by every college president and trustee, to better understand how deeply the postmodernist rot has affected their institutions, undermining the very purpose of a university: the search for truth."—Heather MacDonald, The Wall Street Journal

"An excellent discussion . . . a plea for a sensible understanding of science and a welcome antidote to irrationality."—Simon Moss, Houston Chronicle

"[An] important and well-documented book . . . Every passage is followed by the authors' often humorous debunking of the writers' garbled science and obscure language. It's good reading."—Raleigh News-Observer

"What they reveal is scandalous . . . true hilarity . . . The physicists aren't staging some sort of anti-theoretical pogrom; they're just standing up for rationality."—Glenn Dixon, Washington City Paper

"[An] audacious debunking . . . The authors' fervor and the precision of their writing makes this a most engaging read."—Publishers Weekly

"This is a valuable and well-argued document in one of the key philosophical debates of our time."—Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads

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BOOK EXCERPTS

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Alan Sokal is a professor of physics at New York University.

Jean Bricmont is a theoretical physicist with the Université de Louvaine in Belgium.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont

  • Alan Sokal is a professor of physics at New York University. He is the author of "Transgressing the Boundaries," the parody that appeared in Social Text, from which Fashionable Nonsense originated, and is coauthor, with Roberto Fernández and Jürg Fröhlich, of Random Walks, Critical Phenomena, and Triviality in Quantum Field Theory.

    Jean Bricmont is a theoretical physicist with the Université de Louvain in Belgium.
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