last updated 7-26-2002

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Critical Thought and Religious Liberty

Postmodernism and Science
Reviews and Criticisms
The Social Text Affair
Philosophy of Science
The Debates

Many at work in the field of cultural studies argue that "science is politics by other means," insisting that scientific inquiry is profoundly shaped by ideological concerns. In this hard-hitting collection of essays, scholars from both the sciences and the humanities refute the claims of cultural critics who allege that scientific results tell us more about social context than they do about the natural world. Featuring one lively accessibly writen essay after another, A House Built on Sand raises a vigorous, high-stakes debate to a new level of seriousness.

With the emergence of "cultural studies" and the blurring of once-clear academic boundaries, scholars are turning to subjects far outside their traditional disciplines and areas of expertise. In this book, the authors raise serious questions about the growing criticism of science by humanists and social scientists on the "academic left."
Counters the deconstruction of scientific texts by literary critics and the rejection of scientific patriarchy by feminists, warning that 300 years of scientific achievement are under fire from scholars who know almost nothing about science.

Postmodernism Links
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  Alan Sokal's Page
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  Literary Theory and Criticism
  Martin Ryder's Page
  Postmodern Culture
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  Postmodernism Generator, The
  Science Wars Homepage

Postmodernism and Science

Postmodernism: What is it, and What is Wrong With It?: by Andreas Saugstad  "'Postmodernism' is not easy to define. The term is used in philosophy, literature, social sciences and architecture. Different postmodern thinkers may have different opinions, and people from different fields may have somewhat different definitions of 'postmodernism.' And if there is one thing postmodernists donít tend to like, it is fixed criteria or dogmatism, so perhaps we should be careful trying to give a final definition of the term. But in this article I will focus on postmodernism as used in philosophy."

Feminist Epistemology & Philosophy of Science: by Elizabeth Anderson
"Feminist epistemology…studies the ways in which gender does and ought to influence our conceptions of knowledge, the knowing subject, and practices of inquiry and justification. It identifies ways in which dominant conceptions and practices of knowledge attribution, acquisition, and justification systematically disadvantage women and other subordinated groups, and strives to reform these conceptions…so that they serve the interests of these groups."

Impartiality, Neutrality and Autonomy: Three Components of the Idea that Science is Value Free: by Hugh Lacey

Science is a Human Creation: by Harvey Shepard
"In recent months important and stimulating articles by David Mermin and Sam Schweber have appeared in Physics Today relating to the cluster of issues broadly termed the 'science wars.' Although Alan Sokal's spoof may have brought the issue to the surface for many scientists and led them to speak out, it has been simmering for a very long time."

Science–A House Built on Sand?: Friedrich Stadler and Noretta Koertge
An interview with Noretta Koertge, professor of the History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University, and editor of the superb book on postmodernism and science, A House Built on Sand (Oxford, 1998).

The Cultural Challenge to Scientific Knowledge: by Dinshaw Dadachanji
"Scientists and science critics are engaged in a crucial battle over whether science is a body of objective truth or subjective constructs influenced by prevailing social beliefs and values. [And] if there is any conclusion we can draw from all this, it is that science is not practiced in idealized situations, insulated from social influences, but neither can scientific knowledge be cast in purely relativistic terms."

Review of Bruno Latour's Pandora's Hope: by Felix Stalder
"Pandora's Hope is an extension and update of Bruno Latour's two most important books, Science in Action and We Have Never Been Modern.…In this bold book Latour lays out the basic arguments for why it is possible, and necessary, to bypass the dead-end debate between realists and relativists."

Reviews and Criticisms

Postmodernism Disrobed: by Richard Dawkins
A review of Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont's Intellectual Impostures.

Introduction to Fashionable Nonsense: by Alan Sokal, Jean Bricmont
"The goal of this book is to make a limited but original contribution toward the critique of the admittedly nebulous Zeitgeist that we have called 'postmodernism.' We make no claim to analyze postmodernist thought in general; rather, our aim is to draw attention to a relatively little-known aspect, namely the repeated abuse of concepts and terminology coming from mathematics and physics."

    A Review of Intellectual Impostures: by Craig R. Whitney
    "[In their book Sokal and Bricmont] argue that such revered French philosophers as Jacques Lacan, Luce Irigaray and Gilles Deleuze just don't know what they're talking about when they try to use scientific and mathematical concepts. Indeed, they dare to suggest that some postmodern philosophizing may just be 'true intoxication by words, combined with complete indifference to what they mean.'"

In Defense of Bacon: by Alan Soble
"I dare not hazard to guess as to how many people read Harding's article in the Times. How many clipped out that scandalous bit of bad publicity for science and put it on the refrigerator, or how many still have some vague idea tying science to rape. But the belief that vicious sexual metaphors were important to science has gained some currency in the academy."

Bashful Eggs, Macho Sperm, and Tonypandy: by Paul R. Gross
"Here I examine one of those: old think and new think on 'conception.' I leave to experts on the other subjects an appropriate response to each. The 'conception' case, though, is one for which I feel a certain urgency. Among other reasons, it has been my field of research for forty-three years. As presented in the Newsweek account — and now in hundreds of college classrooms across the country — the story is pure Tonypandy."

The Revolution That Didn't Happen: by Steven Weinberg

Can Science Explain Everything? Anything?: by Steven Weinberg

Review of Whose Science? Whose Knowledge?: by Alan Soble
"Harding claims that something significant can be learned from the historically constant conjunction of the control of science by men and men's use of technology to destroy people in war and to ravage the planet in pursuit of profit, and that feminist science, which serves feminist rather than androcentric goals, would not be destructive in these ways.…There is a serious, not frivolous, conviction here that women are the better half of humanity, even if that moral and epistemological superiority is due not to their own effort or nature but their social location, their oppression, their roles."

Review of Whose Science? Whose Knowledge?: by Dave LeBoeuf
"Throughout the book, in one way or another, [Harding] is forced to characterize all of science (from mathematics and physics to the social sciences) as being a monolithic historical weapon of a white, Western, eurocentric, bourgeois, privileged, androcentric, masculinist interest group. Harding's book is legion with such caricatures, both explicitly and implicitly, and they are crucial for making her argument coherent."

Benighted Elite: by Walter Olson
"Few practicing scientists, apparently, pay close heed to the Science Studies sideshow, and it would be easy to dismiss it as just a form of academic self-entertainment, especially given the jokey stance of many in the field . . . Yet Science Studies has had real influence."

Hall of Mirrors: by Richard Dawkins
"How should scientists respond to the allegation that our 'faith' in logic and scientific truth is just that—faith—not 'privileged' over alternative truths?"

Leftist Science and Skeptical Rhetoric: by Jeffrey Shallit
Review of Paul Gross and Norman Levitt's Higher Superstition.

The New Creationism: by Barbara Ehrenreich and Janet McIntosh
"Ellsworth's experience illustrates the trend — in anthropology, sociology, cultural studies and other departments across the nation — to dismiss the possibility that there are any biologically based commonalities that cut across cultural differences."

Reflections on the Science Wars: by Norman Levitt
This short article was originally published in Scipolicy, October 4, 1998.

Review of Knowledge, Difference, and Power: by Laura Miller

The Social Text Affair

All Things Considered: "Parody" May 15, 1996.
"Robert Siegel talks with Alan Sokal, a professor of physics at New York University, about his parody of practitioners of 'science studies.' He tells how he deliberately wrote an article questioning the validity of measuring physical 'reality' using nonsensical phrases, and submitted it to a well-respected academic journal. The editors published it as a serious treatise, not realizing it was written as a joke."

A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies: by Alan Sokal
"For some years I've been troubled by an apparent decline in the standards of intellectual rigor in certain precincts of the American academic humanities.… So, to test the prevailing intellectual standards, I decided to try a modest (though admittedly uncontrolled) experiment."

Postmodern Gravity Deconstructed, Slyly: by Janny Scott
"A New York University physicist, fed up with what he sees as the excesses of the academic left, hoodwinked a well-known journal into publishing a parody thick with gibberish as though it were serious scholarly work. The article ["Transgressing the Boundaries"] appeared this month in Social Text, a journal that helped invent the trendy, sometimes baffling field of cultural studies. Now the physicist, Alan Sokal, is gloating. And the editorial collective that publishes the journal says it sorely regrets its mistake."

What the Sokal Hoax Ought to Teach Us: by Paul A. Boghossian
"I believe it shows three important things. First, that dubiously coherent relativistic views about the concepts of truth and evidence really have gained wide acceptance within the contemporary academy, just as it has often seemed. Second, that this has had precisely the sorts of pernicious consequence for standards of scholarship and intellectual responsibility that one would expect it to have. Finally, that neither of the preceding two claims need reflect a particular political point of view, least of all a conservative one."

What the Social Text Affair Does and Does Not Prove: by Alan Sokal
"In this essay I'd like to discuss briefly what I think the 'Social Text affair' does and does not prove. But first, to fend off the accusation that I'm an arrogant physicist who rejects all sociological intrusion on our 'turf,' I'd like to lay out some positive things that I think social studies of science can accomplish."

Professor Sokal's Bad Joke: by Stanley Fish  (and Sokal's reply)

Sokal's Hoax: by Steven Weinberg, New York Review of Books, 1996.
"Like many other scientists, I was amused by news of the prank played by the NYU mathematical physicist Alan Sokal. Late in 1994 he submitted a sham article to the cultural studies journal Social Text, in which he reviewed some current topics in physics and mathematics, and with tongue in cheek drew various cultural, philosophical and political morals that he felt would appeal to fashionable academic commentators on science who question the claims of science to objectivity."

After The Sokal Affair and Impostures Intellectuelles: by Gen Kuroki
A repository of articles related to Alan Sokal's role in, what is now called, the Science Wars; Also includes reviews and commentary with respect to Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont's book Impostures Intellectuelles. Very useful site; excellent content and very well organized.

Transgressing the Transgressors: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Total Bullshit: by Gary Kamiya, Salon Magazine, 1996.
"Anyone who has spent much time wading through the pious, obscurantist, jargon-filled cant that now passes for 'advanced' thought in the humanities knew it was bound to happen sooner or later: some clever academic, armed with the not-so-secret passwords ('hermeneutics,' 'transgressive,' 'Lacanian,' 'hegemony,' to name but a few) would write a completely bogus paper, submit it to an au courant journal, and have it accepted."

Philosophy of Science

Can We Know the Universe?: by Carl Sagan
"The search for rules, the only possible way to understand such a vast and complex universe, is called science. The universe forces those who live in it to understand it. Those creatures who find everyday experience a muddled jumble of events with no predictability, no regularity, are in grave peril. The universe belongs to those who, at least to some degree, have figured it out."

Science as Falsification: by Sir Karl Popper
"It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory—if we look for confirmations. Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions; that is to say, if, unenlightened by the theory in question, we should have expected an event which was incompatible with the theory—an event which would have refuted the theory. Every 'good' scientific theory is a prohibition: it forbids certain things to happen. The more a theory forbids, the better it is."

Science as Successful Prediction: by Imre Lakatos
"Thus the crucial element in falsificationism is whether the new theory offers any novel, excess information compared with its predecessor and whether some of this excess information is corroborated. Justificationists valued 'confirming' instances of a theory; naive falsificationists stressed 'refuting' instances; for the methodological falsificationists it is the — rather rare — corroborating instances of the excess information which are the crucial ones;"

The Scientific Method: How We Acquire Knowledge: by Massimo Pigliucci  "While facts can provide confirmation or refutation of a theory, a simple accumulation of facts does not automatically yield scientific knowledge. Facts need to be interpreted, and this interpretation is performed in the context of a framework of understanding, whether it is a generally accepted theory or a new theory in the making."

Hypotheses, Facts, and the Nature of Science: by Douglas Futuyma

The Most Precious Thing We Have: The Difference Between Science and Pseudoscience: by Michael Shermer (1998).

A Skeptical Look at Karl Popper: by Martin Gardner
"The more often a conjecture passes efforts to falsify it, Popper maintained, the greater becomes its 'corroboration,' although corroboration is also uncertain and can never be quantified by degree of probability. Popper's critics insist that 'corroboration' is a form of induction, and Popper has simply sneaked induction in through a back door by giving it a new name."

The Debates

Talk of the Nation: "Thomas Kuhn's Scientific Revolutions" August 16, 1996.
"Einstein's theory of relativity to Copernican astronomy, we all know about scientific ideas that changed the way people think about the world. How do revolutionary advances in science come about? In this historian and philosopher Thomas Kuhn. Plus, a look at current revolutionary theories with guests Daniel Garber, David Sloan Wilson and Eliene Augenbraun."

The Connection: "Path to Truth?" July 27, 2000.
Has the Scientific Method charted a new path to the Truth? Science is where most people look now for truth that's objective, predictable, in a word "scientific." Philosophy, though, asks whether the Truth of science is Real. Guests include Daniel Dennett (Tufts) and Richard Rorty (Stanford).

Talk of the Nation: "Science Equals Truth?" May 31, 1996.
"Can science ever reveal the ultimate truths of the Universe? Or does the scientific method have its limitations? In this hour of Science Friday, two science journalists will debate whether scientists will ever uncover a 'theory of everything.'" Guests are John Horgan (author of The End of Science, 1997) and George Johnson (author of Fire in the Mind, Knopf, 1995).

Ideas and Issues: "Deconstruction," May 7, 2000.
Hugh LaFollette interviews Stanley Fish, professor of English and law at Duke University and executive director of the Duke University Press, which publishes the journal Social Text.

Talk of the Nation: "The Goals of Physics" December 14, 2001.
"Can all of the questions of physics be solved by understanding quarks, leptons, and other tiny particles? Will a 'theory of everything' really solve everything? Or are there some things that that kind of physics won't be able to explain? In this hour, we'll take a look at different approaches to physics."

The Connection: "Science, Reason and Genetics" April 17, 2000.
"Some of Richard Dawkins' many readers have asked him how he gets up in the morning knowing he is nothing but a collection of selfish genes in an uncaring universe. But Richard Dawkins wonders why people consider science so bleakly, thinking it robs life of warmth and worth. To him, science is filled with wonder, beauty, and awe. Dawkins contends that when Newton explained the prism, he didn't rob the rainbow of its mystery as the poet Keats complained, he opened the door to the greater wonders of relativity and an expanding universe." (listen here)

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