Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Fashionable Dialogue: More on Sokal

Graham Harman has a response up about Sokal. It seems my last post wasn't clear. Absolutely the editors should have rejected the article. My belief is that they published it because of (a) the fact the article went out of the way to flatter the editors, as Graham points out, and (b) the fact they were impressed to be in dialogue with an actual scientist. Regardless, I don't think those are excuses for having published the article, those are some of the things the article publication indicts.
Garham also says he doesn't remember that the editors asked the article to have a lot of its footnotes removed. For that claim I am depending on the factual accuracy of the spin the editors put on the situation in their Lingua Franca defense. You can read it here, but they contend that:
Having established an interest in Sokal's article, we did ask him informally to revise the piece. We requested him (a) to excise a good deal of the philosophical speculation and (b) to excise most of his footnotes. Sokal seemed resistant to any revisions, and indeed insisted on retaining almost all of his footnotes and bibliographic apparatus on the grounds that his peers, in science, expected extensive documentation of this sort. Judging from his response, it was clear that his article would appear as is, or not at all.

To my knowledge Sokal never contested this claim.

As to the postmodern jargon laden nature of journal articles back then, I am in complete agreement with Graham on this one. It was an embarrassment. And considering he is a little older than I am, my guess is he was in the academy dealing with that sort of writing. Ouch.

EDIT: Graham responds here. I don't have anything smart to say except I found the discussion in the comments section actually more interesting than my actual post. So you should read them. Thanks to Craig and Paul for that exchange.

DOUBLE EDIT: Craig has a follow up, post here.