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Those Rubes Won’t Run Themselves!

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A couple of scholars assert that they’ve got a sequel to the Sokal Hoax that discredits gender studies:

We used this preposterous sentence to open a “paper” consisting of 3,000 words of utter nonsense posing as academic scholarship. Then a peer-reviewed academic journal in the social sciences accepted and published it.

This paper should never have been published. Titled, “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct,” our paper “argues” that “The penis vis-à-vis maleness is an incoherent construct. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a gender-performative, highly fluid social construct.” As if to prove philosopher David Hume’s claim that there is a deep gap between what is and what ought to be, our should-never-have-been-published paper was published in the open-access (meaning that articles are freely accessible and not behind a paywall), peer-reviewed journal Cogent Social Sciences.

If you have a modicum of, er, skepticism, that journal name alone should ring alarm bells, and sure enough:

But their hoax gives us absolutely no reason to believe this. First, let’s look at the “journal” that they were accepted at. Like all the digital, open-access journals run by Cogent (a house most people have never heard of before now) it charges authors fees to publish. No reputable journal in the humanities does this. Worse yet, it allows authors to “pay what they can”. This appears to signal that this journal publishes work from authors who can’t get institutional support to publish in it. (Or, if they could, don’t seek this as they would prefer it not be widely known that they’re paying to publish.) The journal boasts also that it is very “friendly” to authors (a clear sign of a suspect outlet) and notes that it doesn’t necessarily reject things that might not have any impact. (!) It also only uses single blind review. The whole thing just screams vanity journal.

[…]

Having managed to pay for a paper to be published in a deeply suspect journal the hoaxers then conclude that the entire field of Gender Studies is suspect. How they made this deductive leap is actually far more puzzling than how the paper got accepted. (It’s thus more than a bit embarrassing that one of them’s a philosophy professor–who, ironically, teaches critical thinking.) I’ve no doubt that there are many things to criticize about Gender Studies. But that a suspect journal published a hoax paper whose topics was gender studies-ish isn’t one of them.

UPDATE: The first journal that Bognossian and Lindsay submitted their hoax paper to, and that rejected it, was NORMA: The International Journal for Masculinity Studies. This journal doesn’t even hit the top 115 journals in Gender Studies. So, what happened here was that they submitted a hoax paper to an unranked journal, which summarily rejected it. They then received an auto-generated response directing them to a pay-to-publish vanity journal. They submitted the paper there, and it was published. From this chain of events they conclude that the entire field of Gender Studies is “crippled academically”. This tells us very little about Gender Studies, but an awful lot about the perpetrators of this “hoax”…. and those who tout it as a take down of an entire field.

El. Oh. El. So the only “hoaxes” here are 1)two academics got suckered into paying to publish in one of those pay-for-play vanity journals whose spam you are very likely familiar with if you’re an instructor with an .edu email and 2)the inevitable parade of hacks touting this non-story as if it proves anything. This stunt discredits gender studies about as much as Alec Rawls self-publishing Crescent of Betrayal discredits cartography and Islamic studies.

While we’re here, it’s worth noting that this crude trolling is really nothing like the Sokal hoax. Even had they gotten this article into some minor real journal, it wouldn’t actually show anything. Let’s say I was to write an article full of what I considered to be specious arguments on behalf of a Supreme Court decision I considered outrageously bad, like Seminole Tribe or Shelby County, and got it published in, say, the Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy. This would demonstrate…that liberals and conservatives differ on the merits of a Supreme Court opinion. Only it still wouldn’t really demonstrate anything even if one grants that the article didn’t meat acceptable standards and was accepted for ideological reasons, because the idea that one bad journal article that was approved by an editor and one or two peer reviewers or group of law students or whatever could discredit an entire field is transparently idiotic.

What Sokal was up to was considerably more subtle and important than some of his admirers understand. There are two things that make the Sokal hoax more interesting than this silly “durr, this bad article proves that an entire academic field has no merit, durr” exercise:

  • While the hoax arguably had some implications for critical theory as a whole, Sokal was looking specifically at how some critical theorists talked about scientific concepts that were directly in Sokal’s area of expertise.
  • More importantly, some of the most damning gibberish in the Sokal Social Text article was found in direct quotes from major names in the field. That some big-name theorists were writing about science while having no idea what they’re talking about is actually important. The fact that some editors at a respected journal in the field didn’t notice is also interesting.

The Sokal hoax actually revealed something interesting. Getting one bad article published in an academic journal wouldn’t, and these would-be hoaxers didn’t even accomplish that much.

…Of course the likes of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris would fall for this embarrassingly obvious con:

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  • Tristan

    I love that they paid for it.

    • Brett

      A good chunk of money, too! I can’t imagine paying $625 just to troll people on the web for a few days.

      • sergius

        On Twitter, Peter Boghossian claims that nobody paid anything.

        But at the end of their article in Skeptic in footnote 2 they say, “Instead, the article was externally funded by an independent party.”

        Regardless, the paper is ridiculous either way and they didn’t prove what they think they did.

      • Barry_D

        “A good chunk of money, too! I can’t imagine paying $625 just to troll people on the web for a few days.”

        Some right-wing ‘think tank’ likely paid that bill, along with the authors’ salaries.

      • Pat

        A number of well-regarded open access biology journals charge up to $5000 to publish peer reviewed papers.

        • Denverite

          In my spouse’s field, most of the tip top academic presses (big name ones, like Cambridge or Harvard or Toronto or Chicago) require a payment of $5k or so to get their books in print. My understanding is that most authors break even or do a little better once all the royalties come through, but there are no guarantees. But my understanding is that most schools pay that for their own faculty.

          • Pat

            HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA

            Not if they can charge your grant instead.

    • MJSS

      I love that they apparently bought into Umberto Eco’s Garamond/Manutius scam, and are now bragging about it.

      • wjts

        Heh. I think I’ll reread that – it’s been four or five years.

  • shah8

    Gonna have to run a fsking of the Tuvel paper. Tho’ it does seem like all of the critical race theorists rolled their eyes and said they’re not touch that mess.

    The short and sweet is that it seems to be another conservative con, where a overtly sophomoric argument gets a bunch of get out of jail free axioms and then got a professional philosophy argument all dolled up. In doing the argumentation, Tuvel relies on her audience to understand Dolezal as a predatory and invasive whiteness without her assistance, such that a analogy to trans people would also be seen as invasive and predatory. You *could* think this is all energetically paranoid, and Tuvel was an honest student doing real philosophy, but there are a number of throw-away asides in that paper, some of them clearly wrong in an inflammatory way, like effectively stating that Michael Jackson caused his own vitiligo out of a desire to be white. 1) Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease, and isn’t really caused by bleaching, tho’ you might be able to trigger it, out of simple skin damage. 2) Michael Jackson, from what I know, had substantially the same feelings about blackness as Prince did. 3) The example of Jackson is a lot more highly charged, in terms of his frequent accusations of pederasty, than perhaps using Sammy Sosa, who would have been far more appropriate.

    Additional notes:

    Trans-racial is a term used and needed by international adaptees.

    Trans-racial in the honest sense as far as non-adaptees would mean “race-traitors”. People who abandon privileges. You’d be talking about Joane Mullholland, and not Rachel Dolezal. You’d be talking about the people who married Asian people and abandoned privilege to live in the constrained lives of Asians before the early 1960s–even to the point of leaving for internment camps. Not Rachel Dolezal. Race is a concept fundamentally centered around privilege, and not ethnicity (as Otto’s good point in another thread explains), and trans-race is a cut across privilege. That’s a big part of what international adaptees have to deal with emotionally, too.

    • Nick never Nick

      I’m not certain that this is a fair reading of Tuvel’s paper — you seem to be arguing that she claims people should be able to change their race in the same manner that they change their sex. My understanding of her paper is that she is using the two categories, gender and race, to examine the assumptions or leeway that society grants people who want to shift into a different category.

      • shah8

        Her thesis explicity is:

        “In this article, I argue that considerations that supports transgenderism extends to transracialism. Given this parity, since we should accept transgender individual’s decision to change sexes, we should also accept transracial individual’s decision to change races. I entertain and reject four objections that suggest society should not accept an individual’s decision to change races.”

        I’m pretty sure I have the right of this, ya think? It’s directive, not exploratory.

        • Snuff curry

          It’s trolling, is what it is, in typical disingenuous, faux sincere who-me?, JAQing off TERF fashion, designed to muddy waters for the sake of Thought Experiments that conveniently push bigoted talking points but at a lower, more defensible register.

          Plus, y’know, trans people are not “deciding” to “change” “sexes.” That she approaches trans racialism [sic] as an issue of “ethics,” involving “conversion,” is an obvious tell. She also accuses black people of “transphobia” (and “racialism!”) in their criticism and mockery of Rachel Dolezal.

          • Origami Isopod

            The concern trolling of the open letter against Tuvel’s piece by various (overwhelmingly white, male, and cis) academics, with much hand-wringing over its chilling effects on freedom of expression, has been something to see. The Crooked Timber thread was pretty egregious: There’s a poor trans woman in there who feels forced to apologize repeatedly for being “rude” while other commenters are openly permitted to question whether her gender identity is valid and to link to hardline TERF websites. Meanwhile, John Holbo in comments is defending such open transphobia because it’s intellectualized (read: civil).

            That said, I do think it’s a bit odd that at least one of the signatories of the letter is on Tuvel’s dissertation committee.

            • twbb

              The attacks on the vindictive bullies who tried to ruin her professional career have been something to see as well.

              Tuvel’s lead persecutors were privileged white cis women co-opting the oppression of others to score cheap rhetorical points. Actual black and trans voices have tended to be far more thoughtful on the subject.

              • Origami Isopod

                LOL, poor ickle Rebecca Tuvel. Truly, being called out for bigotry is just like being burnt alive.

                As for “actual black and trans voices,” would those include Zoé Samudzi, whom Chris Bertram at the end of the CT thread tut-tuts for using the word “cockroaches” to describe TERFs and Dolezal (because they’re sooo in danger of being genocided, I guess)? Or Trans Lady Academic, whose reply (like Samudzi’s) is linked in comment 278 in the CT thread?

                • twbb

                  “LOL”

                  She got death threats LOL LOL LOL.

                  “Truly, being called out for bigotry is just like being burnt alive.”

                  Where’s the bigotry? Have you read the article? And can you cite a single person who claims Tuvel is facing something like “being burnt alive.”

                  And that’s the ultimate idiocy; Tuvel is a bog standard pro-trans rights, anti-racist progressive academic who’s “bigotry” consists of not using the precise terms and referencing the precise authors that her critics insist she use.

                  “As for “actual black and trans voices,” would those include Zoé Samudzi, whom Chris Bertram at the end of the CT thread tut-tuts for using the word “cockroaches” to describe TERFs and Dolezal (because they’re sooo in danger of being genocided, I guess)?”

                  Ohhh absolutely, a PhD student with a blog and the anonymous author of comment TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY EIGHT are clearly the “LEAD persecutors” I mentioned, and not the tenured white cis academics who are attacking Tuvel publicly in the Chronicle of Higher Education and who coordinated both the open letter and the apology letter. By the way, two examples don’t make a “trend.”

                  And the black and trans people who have criticized the attack on Tuvel, what are they, sellouts to you?

                  More, specifically:
                  “whom Chris Bertram at the end of the CT thread tut-tuts for using the word “cockroaches””

                  You are actually defending the use of the term? Seriously?

                • Origami Isopod

                  Have you read the article?

                  I read Zsamudzi’s Storify, which quotes amply from it. You don’t need to eat a whole shit sundae to know that it’s shit.

                  And can you cite a single person who claims Tuvel is facing something like “being burnt alive.”

                  Um, Jesse Singal, Brave Defender of Beleaguered Transphobes, has been calling this a “witch hunt.” Why don’t you take it up with him? Also it looks like you’re doing the same bait-and-switch that the blogger I last linked to called out: Indeed, that Tuvel has received online abuse from anonymous commentators (who doesn’t, as a woman?) serves as a convenient bait-and-switch for Singal–who, just paragraphs prior, was chastising academics for relating transphobic speech to transphobic violence. Now, suddenly, the academic objections describing scholastic inadequacies of Tuvel’s piece are equivalent to the YouTube comments section.

                  And that’s the ultimate idiocy; Tuvel is a bog standard pro-trans rights, anti-racist progressive academic who’s “bigotry” consists of not using the precise terms and referencing the precise authors that her critics insist she use.

                  If you’re going to write a paper dealing with fields you’re unfamiliar with, I’d think you’d want to familiarize yourself with their basic concepts and terminology. Or is that only for the “hard” sciences?

                  Ohhh absolutely, a PhD student with a blog and the anonymous author of comment TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY EIGHT are clearly the “LEAD persecutors” I mentioned

                  I referred back to the CT thread so as not to get stuck in the spam filter by posting multiple links. How about you provide some links now?

                  And the black and trans people who have criticized the attack on Tuvel, what are they, sellouts to you?

                  No, because I try my best not to speak over people who suffer oppressions that I don’t. Maybe you should try that.

                  You are actually defending the use of the term? Seriously?

                  Context. It’s a thing. Do you also think “die cis scum” is a literal death threat?

                • twbb

                  I read Zsamudzi’s Storify, which quotes amply from it. You don’t need to eat a whole shit sundae to know that it’s shit.

                  So you have an article that is criticized on one hand by a variety of folks (including white, black, trans, and cit) and defended on the other hand by a variety of folks (including black, white, trans, and cis), and rather than evaluate the author you just pick a specific person to believe in?

                  Indeed, that Tuvel has received online abuse from anonymous commentators (who doesn’t, as a woman?) serves as a convenient bait-and-switch for Singal–who, just paragraphs prior, was chastising academics for relating transphobic speech to transphobic violence. Now, suddenly, the academic objections describing scholastic inadequacies of Tuvel’s piece are equivalent to the YouTube comments section.

                  Unreal. That’s what you just did before, when you cited comments from the CT post. And you are mischaracterizing what happened. Nobody’s objected to “describing scholastic inadequacies.” That’s part of academia. If you don’t like an article, you write a piece attacking it. The inane demand for a retraction because it’s not the article the retraction-writers would have written is the problem. Hypatia is supposed to examine gender from an interdisciplinary perspective. Interdisciplinary does not mean “only use this analytical framework and these specific references.”

                  If you’re going to write a paper dealing with fields you’re unfamiliar with, I’d think you’d want to familiarize yourself with their basic concepts and terminology. Or is that only for the “hard” sciences?

                  She wasn’t unfamiliar with the field, and she has the right to decide which of the scholarship she accesses makes it to her paper. That it should be retracted because she didn’t use, and I quote, the “framework” her critics insisted she use and the exact links. Why don’t you just take a look at her reference list, if you don’t want to read the whole paper.

                  I referred back to the CT thread so as not to get stuck in the spam filter by posting multiple links. How about you provide some links now?

                  http://www.chronicle.com/article/Why-Tuvel-s-Article-So/240029

                  httpdailynous.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/hypatia-open-letter-to-re-tuvel.jpg
                  Alexis Shotwell was the contact person while Cressida Heyes posted it on facebook. Guess the race of both. Heyes motivation may have something to do with the fact that engaged with

                  No, because I try my best not to speak over people who suffer oppressions that I don’t. Maybe you should try that.

                  Judging by your posting history, you’re not succeeding.

                • shah8

                  twbb, we can tell when you’re not engaging in the extant criticism,

                  and no, we’re not going to do dueling experts distractions.

                • Lady Mondegreen

                  I read Zsamudzi’s Storify, which quotes amply from it. You don’t need to eat a whole shit sundae to know that it’s shit

                  Don’t feel bad. Samudzi didn’t read Tuvel’s paper before she began attacking it, either.

                  LOL

                  tut tuts for using the word “cockroaches”

                  She didn’t get “tut tuts” for “using the word cockroaches.” She got “tut tuts” for calling people cockroaches.

                  You may lack intellectual rigor, but at least you make up for it with callousness and dishonesty.

                • Origami Isopod

                  Oh, look, it’s one of Ophelia “HDU call me a TERF!! I’m just asking questions about gender, okay???” Benson’s asslickers. Go back to B&W and be as gender-critical as you want over there.

                • Lady Mondegreen

                  Gee, with brilliant argumentation like that, I can’t imagine why the world doesn’t take you seriously.

                • twbb

                  Oh go to hell you ridiculous caricature of a person.

                • Origami Isopod

                  Sorry you have no arguments other than Outraged White Dude Defending the Honor of Frail White TERFhood.

            • Snuff curry

              The Crooked Timber thread was pretty egregious

              That’s their masthead, as far as I’m concerned. Even with the recent non-functional automatic moderating tear.

              Holbo (who seems to lack expertise in all things, hence adopting a permanent But a Simple Caveman Routine to great effect) is a reactionary knob, full-stop.

              That said, I do think it’s a bit odd that at least one of the signatories of the letter is on Tuvel’s dissertation committee.

              I do think, emphatically, she was served poorly by her committee and advisors. Even if only by omission, they encouraged her to take a steaming pile o’ shite in public and then play with it.

              • Origami Isopod

                Holbo (who seems to lack expertise in all things, hence adopting a permanent But a Simple Caveman Routine to great effect) is a reactionary knob, full-stop.

                Yes, the persona of the mild-mannered old fellow who’s just so boggled by all these shouty people who are completely unlike himself and who have the temerity to think he should treat them as his equals. It’s so very tiresome.

                • Snuff curry

                  Blithely indulgent headmaster act. YES. That’s it exactly.

          • Nepos

            While it may be a troll, I’m not sure it’s wrong. Race, like gender, is a social construct, an arbitrary division of people by physical characteristics, and each culture has its own definition of race. In fact, I think you would find that race varies to an even greater extent than gender among cultures; consider how different the definition of “black” is in different places and times.

            And, in fact, people DO change their race, both permanently (“passing”) and temporarily (a mixed-race individual switching “race” when interacting with different sides of the family.)

            The problem with Dolezal, to my mind, is not that she was passing as black–for all anyone would know, she might have had black ancestors or relatives, and it’s not anyone else’s business. The problem was that she was claiming to represent the black community when she didn’t actually establish ties to that community.

            Edit–in response to Origami Isotope’s comment, which posted while I was writing–obviously that sort of TERFing is unacceptable and disgusting.

            • Origami Isopod

              Origami Isotope

              Chuckling at this.

              • Karen24

                Great band name!

              • Nepos

                Oops, sorry! I even double-checked your ‘nym, but I was rushing to beat the edit window, and my subconscious decided a word substitution was in order.
                No idea where “isotope” came from. At least it happened to the second word, I shudder to think what my brain might have come up with to replace “origami”.

                • Origami Isopod

                  Oh, gosh, don’t worry, I was amused.

            • Snuff curry

              And, in fact, people DO change their race, both permanently (“passing”) and temporarily (a mixed-race individual switching “race” when interacting with different sides of the family.)

              That is not a novel observation — indeed, it is a cornerstone of racial studies scholarship — and not remotely what Tuvel is describing.

              In fact, I think you would find that race varies to an even greater extent than gender among cultures; consider how different the definition of “black” is in different places and times.

              Thank you for explaining something elementary not being disputed or even under discussion?

            • Snuff curry

              The problem with Dolezal, to my mind, is not that she was passing as black–for all anyone would know, she might have had black ancestors or relatives, and it’s not anyone else’s business. The problem was that she was claiming to represent the black community when she didn’t actually establish ties to that community.

              Also, that is exactly the opposite of what happened. She encouraged people to assume she was black and indeed, represented herself as black* (otherwise what was celebrating her “natural hair” about?) and established a small-potatoes political foothold on the strength of that deception (taught courses in black and Africana studies, acted as advisor to a black student union, did consultation work in academic settings as a trainer in ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion,’ tapped by local press to talk about instances of anti-black discrimination on college and university campuses including a campaign against her that was orchestrated by her, was a NAACP chapter president, and apparently did and continues to do a lot of hair as an “ethnic hair stylist” according to LinkedIn).

              *she recognizes a distinction between black and African-American (though how she defines that distinction is ahistorical and defies the academic tradition she supposedly was trained in) and explicitly identifies herself as black

              • Snuff curry

                I mean, that black people in particular saw through the blackface does not minimize her attempts at casual interloping and professional parroting of scholarship she has only a shallow understanding of. It is, of course, more than possible for white people to be successfully schooled in and contribute to black American studies, for example. What Dolezal did was not that. She tried to insinuate herself into a marginalized identity she romanticized–up to a point and so long as it served her emotional needs. Her present hostility towards actual black women is palpable.

                • shah8

                  That extra comment was very much needed. I was confused.

    • MacK

      Take a chance to listen to Sharon Murphy:

      Irish Reels and Jigs
      I’m walking down city streets
      In a beautiful morning breeze
      People moving all around
      Going where they need to be
      The sun is out,
      People sitting soaking up the heat
      Drinking coffee or tea
      A young man comes up to me
      He said ‘This is not where you’re from
      I suggest go back where you belong’

      I said ‘Young man, just so you know,
      Let’s be clear, before you go
      Before you were born,
      I was Irish, living here’,
      I said ‘Young man, just so you know,
      Let’s be clear, before you go
      Before you ever lived
      I was play Irish reels and jigs

      No matter what you do
      No matter what you say
      We are all earth people
      And like you, we belong here too
      You have travelled the globe
      And everywhere you go
      You claim it as your own
      Everywhere you go you make it your home
      This is where I come from
      I am where I belong

      I said young man, just so you know
      Let’s be clear, before you go
      Before you were born
      I was Irish living here
      I said young man, just so you know,
      Just so your clear, before you go
      Before you ever lived
      I was playing Irish reels and jigs

    • DrDick

      Trans-racial is a term used and needed by international adaptees.

      Also by trans-racial American adoptees from American families. I know a couple of African American adoptees raised by white parents here.

    • Just a Rube

      Seriously? You can argue that the paper is or isn’t “good” (something I’m not remotely qualified to judge, and I don’t think any of the front-pagers are either), but I don’t think even any of the main critics are calling it an intentional troll piece. It was published in a very highly-respected peer-reviewed journal in the field (unlike the troll being discussed in the original post, or even the Sokal Hoax, which wasn’t externally peer-reviewed).

      A paper can be published with conclusions you believe to be wrong without being intentional malfeasance on the part of the author.

      Again, none of this is any judgement of the paper itself (which I don’t feel competent to assess one way or the other).

  • Judas Peckerwood

    Like all the digital, open-access journals run by Cogent (a house most people have never heard of before now) it charges authors fees to publish. No reputable journal in the humanities does this. Worse yet, it allows authors to “pay what they can”.

    Why shouldn’t the truth operate on a sliding scale YOU ELITISTS?!!!!1!1!1

  • wjts

    The book Sokal wrote with Jean Bricmont (Fashionable Nonsense/Intellectual Impostures) does a pretty good job of explaining exactly why specific misappropriations of mathematical and scientific terms are so misguided.

    Also, I can offer a sentence I once read from a gender studies paper on the study of female genital anatomy as conclusive proof that the whole enterprise is a farrago of muddled pointlessness, provided you ignore the rest of the paper.

  • Manju

    I think Putin is Sokal II…I’m going to pick the most preposterous looking clown and have him spew easily debunked racist conspiracy theories…have him lust after me and his own daughter…and lets see if enough Republicans and other white Americans are stupid enough to choose him as their leader.

  • Nick never Nick

    I was at Duke when the Sokal hoax blew up — my roommate and I went down to an academic throw-down, where he flew in from Stony Brook and gave a talk about what he did. If I remember correctly, the faculty who had been tricked by him boycotted it, but a lot of their grad students showed up to fight for Lacan and Derrida (as well as my room-mate, a humanities theorist, I was in biological anthropology). His talk wasn’t as good as it could have been — his jokes weren’t that hilarious and in person this kind of thing comes of as shtick, it would have been better if he’d left his fake article to stand for itself. My opinion of his stunt is that he showed how using scientific language/concepts as metaphors is weak, and that perhaps the people using them such didn’t recognize that they were, in fact, metaphors. This is kind of a limited point, though, and doesn’t automatically discredit the underlying work (which I do think is largely tendentious crap).

    My roommate and I got in a huge fight afterwards about Sokal’s talk, we couldn’t even agree on what he’d said or who had the best of it.

    • MacK

      I was a physics/chemistry/math undergrad … social scientists and philosophy types were eternally trying to get you to talk about quantum mechanical theories of society, Heisenberg, Schrödinger’s cat, etc. It was utterly infuriating – they’d pontificate about wave-functions without the slightest idea of what they were…..so when Sokol’s joke came out, the hard scientists were prepped and ready for a good gloat and mock-in.

      • Derelict

        I edit dissertations and some peer-review articles in fields ranging from biology and engineering to psychology and sociology. The number of papers I get in the “soft” sciences that try to use terms from the physical sciences is vanishingly small these days. So I think Sokal had a salutary effect in getting people to think twice before trying to force-fit some physics concept onto an already questionable social observation.

        The two things I come across these days are “studies” with ridiculously small sample sizes (I edited one dissertation where n=3), and writers who try to jam as many multi-syllable words as possible into every sentence and wind up with pure gibberish.

        • Bill Murray

          Economics still does this, but they have been misusing natural science terms for many, many years

          • econoclast

            Such as?

        • LFC

          @Derelict
          Nothing necessarily wrong w/ a dissertation where n=3 (or even n=1); all depends on what kind of diss. and what field.

          One of the (deservedly) best-known works of historically-oriented social science in the last 50 years had n=3 (plus a few briefly treated contrast cases): Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions. The examples cd be multiplied pretty much indefinitely.

      • I had been working on a paper on history of science, and the number of books I was suggested, by historians or in bibliographies, that had English professors arguing “scientists are crude bros because they don’t understand quantum mechanics undermines all trust in their results as the solid things they believe they are (and btw that’s why they’re racist and us English professors, by implication, totally can’t be)” was more than one too many. So however deceptive Sokal was, I can’t be bothered much to care.

        • libarbarian

          arguing “scientists are crude bros because they don’t understand quantum mechanics undermines all trust in their results as the solid things they believe they are (and btw that’s why they’re racist and us English professors, by implication, totally can’t be)”

          Go read the thread on the March For Science a while back.

          Writing off scientists as Philistine dudebros the moment they don’t buy in to your agenda is still very much “a thing”

          • Nick never Nick

            Yep — not to get into that entire unfortunate debate, but I was really struck by the number of people who were not content to let scientists protest on their own terms.

        • Linnaeus

          To be fair, this:

          “scientists are crude bros because they don’t understand quantum mechanics undermines all trust in their results as the solid things they believe they are (and btw that’s why they’re racist and us English professors, by implication, totally can’t be)”

          is not at all a consensus view in the HST/science studies community.

      • The Lorax

        Many of us in philosophy also thought there was a lot of BS elsewhere in the humanities.

    • Karen24

      My non-academic observation is that Sokol had the pernicious effect of reinforcing Math People’s prejudice that all us humanities types are very stupid and girly. Instead of the valid but narrow point that some people were publishing papers in the humanities that stated nonsense, specifically by misusing technical terms, Sokol had demonstrated that the humanities were entirely useless. My personal opinion is that Sokol’s point had been made every single day a high school English teacher graded down an essay on “To Kill A Mockingbird” and told the student to quit using pretentious polysyllables, but then I don’t do math so what do I know?

      • DrDick

        The critiques of science material are generally egregious nonsense, though even there you find some legitimate critiques such as Anne-Fausto-Sterling’s critiques of cultural bias in scientific research (she is a microbiologist). The applications in the humanities, as well as some in social sciences, are often illuminating. Eduard Said, for instance, was brilliant.

        • Justaguy

          Are you including all Science and Technology Studies in that? There is a lot of solid, empirically grounded work being done in the history and anthropology of science. Bruno Latour, John Law, etc.

          • DrDick

            What part of “even there you find some legitimate critiques” did you not understand? Also, as a cultural anthropologist, I do not consider myself in the humanities.

      • I think that’s a little unfair. Sokal was annoyed by scholars who were claiming to be doing leftism by pushing intellectual agendas he believed (and I’m inclined to agree) were reactionary. He was fine with traditional ways of doing humanities, which he thought could more readily be put to good political use.

        And theory itself has been a way of making humanities feel more masculine and even bro-ish, so to say the least, that’s not a hill I personally would die on.

        • Bloix

          “pushing intellectual agendas he believed (and I’m inclined to agree) were reactionary.”

          Boy, is this an important and well-stated point.

      • Linnaeus

        There is something to this. I began my graduate studies (in history of science, of all subjects) in the wake of the Sokal affair. While I don’t find the hoax itself to be objectionable, it was taken up as a cudgel by some who wanted to make a much broader disciplinary attack that went farther than Sokal himself intended.

    • DrDick

      As a Marxist cultural anthropologist, while I think there is value to some of the work of the postmodernists, I have to agree much of it is egregious nonsense. This is event true in their critiques of social science, where they also reveal a profound ignorance of how it is done and what is being described.

      • MacK

        What is a “Marxist cultural anthropologist” and how does anthropology benefit from a Marxist analysis. Enquiring minds want to know….

        • Nick never Nick

          Dr. Dick will have a better answer than mine, but Marxist analysis is a useful tool in many disciplines. In anthropology, it looks at culture through a lens of class relations and economic production. An example of this is a reanalysis of the classic ethnography “Political Systems of Highland Burma”, which looked at Leach’s work through a Marxist lens.

          Marxism as a tool is quite common. Don’t make the mistake of confusing political utopianism with the analytical approach pioneered by Marx. As economists often observe, Marx was an excellent observer of capitalism; he wasn’t nearly as good on what replaced it, but that’s not what people apply his framework too.

  • FlipYrWhig

    Sounds like the authors thought they were going Full Sokal but really they were Half-mast James O’Keefe.

    • gmack

      First as tragedy….

      (I know, I know. It’s an inapt line here, because the Sokal hoax hardly rose to the level of “tragedy”).

    • No Longer Middle Aged Man

      This tells us very little about Gender Studies, but an awful lot about the perpetrators of this “hoax”

      I have a former colleague who is a much more distinguished researcher than I ever could have hoped to become. One of his criteria for evaluating other scholars was “you’re only as good as your worst paper.” It was a measure of whether the person had standards or not.

      The second part of the block quote above goes exactly to this point. When even the journal of last resort rejects your work, so you actually have to pay to get your supposed take down published, it’s pretty convincing evidence that your motivation is attention whoring, not academic critique. Ann Coulter in cap and gown, as it were. Not a good look for even a non-serious academic, much less one who purports to be a professor of philosophy.

  • gyrfalcon

    This is only slightly more coherent than an assertion to the effect of “the existence of Juicero proves that nutrition science is broken; please shut down the FDA.”

    • Derelict

      However, the existence of Juicero does stand as strong evidence that venture capitalists are not terribly bright; we have an affirmative moral duty to separate them from their money.

      • Breadbaker

        Kind of what Hillary did for Goldman Sachs.

      • NonyNony

        I thought that the Juicero was a device designed to separate not-bright venture capitalists from their money.

        • Hob

          It turned out to be redundant though, because you can get the same effect just by gently squeezing them with your hands.

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      “A couple of small city councils passed ceremonial resolutions banning ‘dihydrogen oxide,’ therefore please implode the EPA.”

  • ForkyMcSpoon

    If you would just embrace atheist-skeptic rationality and reject SJW irrationality, then you would see that a sample size of one vanity journal is highly scientific evidence.

  • Sly

    I’ve seen this story making the rounds. Promulgated, unsurprisingly, by people who I’ve long ago dismissed as uncommonly stupid.

  • MacK

    I get a surprisingly large number of SPAMs from quasi-respectable legal publishers suggesting I might like to write an article, which are usually accompanied by hints about buying 1/4, 1/2 of full page ads in their special editions. Then there is the ratings scam – certain legal-publishers send out, unsolicited books of practice ratings for lawyers, particularly specialist in international areas. Chambers Legal 500 is a good example – and sine it weigh over 1kg, it’s hand for holding doors open, etc. With these ratings there is always a hint-hint about a quid-pro-quo of some sort, buying advertising, or may 1,000 very-overpriced copies of the book or publication, etc. (especially as bales of it are handed out free.). You also get the fake best-firm awards, though a new one is best in-house legal department, where you get invited to ‘sponsor’ a table at the awards banquet, and the legal department gets to talk it up to their CEO and board.

    The legal 500 and other ratings are genuinely amusing reading, at least in you specialty – and they follow a pattern. Usually No. 1 and a few others, maybe 2-3 are genuinely people you’d rate highly – of the other seven, 3-4 will be who? and 3-4 will be WTF! I’d never use that guy! Ever! What is also remarkable is that it’s mostly the big firms that you find in the pay-to-play guides.

    Call me a cynic or a loser, but we never ever publish in pay-to-play guides or journals. They either pay us, or they are recognised – Sweet & Maxwell (EIPR), Oxford University Press, Thomson, Aspen, and we get off-prints, 20 or more free, while their customers buy them. We don’t take pay to play journals seriously. Also I detest those legal articles that big firms publish in their ‘newsletters,’ that are incomplete – they don’t quite say anything, but suggest calling the firm for more. As a GC I’d get them all the time and they left me steamed.

    So these guys wrote something for the social sciences equivalent of a pay-to-play self promotion scam … that’s very different from Sokol. The journal that published his joke was serious, and fell over themselves to get his article – which was why the academics in the journal’s field were so laughably offended and denouncing of Sokol rather than introspective.

    • Nick never Nick

      I get those too, and your use of the term ‘quasi-respectable’ gives them far too much credit. It’s a sign of how things are getting tougher in academia that we have, not diploma mills, but peer-reviewed-article mills.

      • MacK

        OK, some are transparently sleazoids, but some are sorta-serious imprints. It says a lot about getting direction of publishing that you get marketed by “respectable” publishers for this stuff

  • Snuff curry

    This is like annoying your parents into paying to have one of your dumb Poems in the Style of a Twelve Year-old Who Doesn’t Understand cummings But Knows What They Like ‘published’ in a vanity press anthology, and then insinuating that doing so says something terrible about the state of literary criticism or contemporary poetry.

    All these cuckoo bird goofs are doing is demonstrating their own fear-fuelled hostility towards something they don’t understand but perceive as threatening to their worldview. As a reactionary tantrum disguised as a “joke,” it’s on par with any number of Conservative Daily Show programs that draw no viewers and are quietly pulled from air before completing their first season: “lol snowflake obvious jargon any excuse to talk about my cock ad naus.”

  • DAS

    No reputable journal in the humanities does this.

    BTW, there are reputable journals in the sciences that do ask you to pay for publication.

    Worse yet, it allows authors to “pay what they can”. This appears to signal that this journal publishes work from authors who can’t get institutional support to publish in it.

    This isn’t so bad, actually. Those of us who work at second tier state schools are often still expected to publish research in peer reviewed journals, even though we lack grants or institutional support to pay for publishing costs.

    For a highly respected open access journal, publishing costs can be over $1000 ($1495 to publish in PLoS-ONE, even more for PLoS Biology). However, my institution’s open acess publishing initiative will only pay $800. So that journals are flexible when it comes to payment is a better thing, not a “worse” thing.

    • junker

      Thank you for this, I was just about to post something similar.

      • Just a Rube

        Ditto. And a lot of open access (or hybrid open access) journals also make special price allowances for researchers from the third world (for whom gold open access fees are likely to be even harder to scrape up).

    • Kal

      Came here to say this! Seems likely this particular journal is scammy, but using an author-pays model isn’t enough to prove that. It’s the most successful model for open-access publishing. (And open access is good!)

      Also, while author-pays isn’t common in the humanities now, there are perfectly respectable people who see that as part of the future, e.g., the University of California: http://www.ucpress.edu/blog/17878/collabra-changing-the-rules-of-open-access-journal-publishing/

  • Origami Isopod

    A Trivial Knot has a good takedown and links to other rebuttals as well.

    • Jordan

      Lol, the journal accepted within a month. Jesus.

      • Jordan

        Also when I saw “‘philosophy professor’ and ‘Boghossian'” I was like awww shit. But then I saw who it actually was and giggled at the fairly obviously self-maintained/fan-maintained wikipedia page.

    • Scott Lemieux

      That’s really good.

  • drwormphd

    With all due respect, Scott, I think you’re overstating the merits of the Sokal Hoax a bit. A few points:

    – Social Text, the journal in which Sokal’s paper was published, was only debatably an academic journal (IIRC it wasn’t externally peer reviewed); it was certainly fashionable and an attempt to take a different approach to publishing literary theory; I’d suggest its 2017 equivalent might be TED or Vox. Point is, it’s not like Sokal got his articles past the editors of PMLA or New Literary History or something.

    – The editors didn’t accept Sokal’s paper at first, but, enamored with Sokal being a scientist interested in literary theory, they pulled it from the pile to run with a few other articles dealing with science. They asked Sokal to pull a lot of the nonsense, but he refused and demanded the paper be published as is. The editors decided having the voice of an actual scientist was valuable for the issue, so they ran it. It was arguably a bad decision by the editors, but they also assumed Sokal was working in good faith, which he was not.

    – It’s not entirely clear what problem Sokal was hoping to resolve. That literary theorists often had a superficial grasp of science was no secret from anyone who read them, and, at least from the perspective of my field, English, it’s not as if publishers were offering journal after journal of pseudo-scientific readings of Robinson Crusoe or whatnot. That said, some saner theoretical approaches–including those of Andrew Ross, one of Social Text’s editors–were doing some interesting work challenging public perceptions of the objectivity of science. It might be fair to criticize Sokal’s paper as lit-crit nutpicking; indeed, while I always hate the excuse ‘that was taken out of context’, a number the examples in his article are excerpted and interpreted uncharitably.

    I’m not much of a literary theorist, and certainly that part of the field had/has its excesses, as every field of study does. But all Sokal did was contribute to the popular notion that the humanities are worthless bullshit (which, to be clear, was not his goal.)

    Also, I’ll echo the call for some discussion on the debate about the Tuval paper, which does raise some issues about contemporary theory and academic publishing.

    • Justaguy

      Exactly – Social Text wasn’t peer reviewed, and they editors asked him to edit out the egregious nonsense. The only thing Sokal proved is that people acting in bad faith can fool people acting in good faith.

      In terms of utter nonsense being accepted as meaningful the Bogdanov affair is infinitely more damning – a pair of French twins got PhDs based on work in theoretical physics that was completely incoherent. It was published in reputable journals, and signed off on by professors in reputable departments. But nobody would suggest it proves physics is invalid as a field of study.

      • Nick never Nick

        That’s a very interesting comparison, I hadn’t heard about that and read about it just now. Here are a few thoughts on comparing it to the Sokal affair:

        1) Firstly, all physicists recognize that there are areas of theoretical physics which ARE in fact, total nonsense — impossible to demonstrate theoretically, abstruse gibberish. The reviews of their papers clearly recognize this, the people are basically saying “Yeah, these are crap, but a bunch of our field is crap too.”

        2) These guys, the Bogdanovs, are clearly recognized as bottom-feeders. They barely passed their dissertation defenses, they got the lowest possible mark, they muddle around in popular science. They come very, very close to being part of the ‘theoretical physicist hobbyists’, the nutcases who live on the periphery of the field and work on time travel, quantum debunking, etc.

        3) Arguing that Social Text wasn’t ‘academic’ is disingenuous — it was published out of Duke, which in the 1990s was ‘hot’, a centre of workers in literary theory that was important. Nothing about the Bogdanovs suggests that their work approached this at all.

        I think that the only sense the Bogdanov affair is ‘damning’ is if you make the assumption that scientists think everything published is ‘true’ or ‘consequential’. If it was engineering, this might be; but theoretical physics doesn’t come close to this standard, I think theoretical physicists are extremely comfortable holding a large chunk of their field, and possibly its entirety, as silly.

        • Justaguy

          Where did I say Social Text isn’t academic? It isn’t peer reviewed. That matters because peer review endorses an article as meeting the standards of the field. Since it wasn’t peer reviewed, Social Text wasn’t endorsing Sokal’s article as good physics. So the fact that it was not good physics proves, what?

          And I don’t think the Bogdanov is damning at all. I just think that if you apply the same argument people do with Sokal to the Bogdanov affair you would have to reject all of physics as nonsense. Professors at MIT and Stony Brook signing off on nonsense as legitimate physics is a little more significant than a bunch of sociologists publishing a physicist writing nonsense.

          • msdc

            Since it wasn’t peer reviewed, Social Text wasn’t endorsing Sokal’s article as good physics.

            No, but they were endorsing it as a good social critique of physics (while also seeking to draft on Sokal’s credentials as a physicist). This is a dodge.

            • CD

              endorsing it as a good social critique of physics

              well, they were publishing it as an interesting thing for a scientist to write because they thought he was writing in good faith.

              Fact remains, going back to the initial comment, that Sokal mildly fooled two guys. The Bogdanovs got Ph.D.s (admittedly, European-style Ph.Ds….) and peer-reviewed articles with complete nonsense.

    • Nick never Nick

      I think of it like this — if a physics paper referred to Shakespeare’s As You Like It to refer to particles as being able to change identity, it would be recognized as a dumb space-filling metaphor, like Stephen Jay Gould delighted in filling his columns with. If the authors seemed to indicate that they felt the gender switching of Esmerelda was actually evidence for particles being able to change identity, people would think they were nuts.

      The theorists who were using scientific terms in their ‘theory’ were guilty of doing one of those two things. Either they were putting in stuff they didn’t understand as dumb metaphors that had too much prominence given their lack of necessity/centrality, or they actually thought that science provided support for their theory. The clever trick that Sokal pulled was trapping them into defending the latter (which I’m not convinced many of them actually intended), because the former made them look like pretentious dorks.

      In my opinion a lot of the fuss happened because scientists expect everything in a scientific paper to be there because it supports the overall conclusion; I’m not certain literary theorists have the same expectation, or at least to the same degree of strength.

      • wjts

        Broadening the discussion a little bit beyond Sokal’s Social Text article to the works he and Bricmont discuss in Fashionable Nonsense, there’s a third crime: many of the people doing that sort of work thought that they were saying something relevant about the physical sciences without understanding what they were critiquing. These cases were like a physicist slamming As You Like It for not being consistent with, I dunno, Ohm’s Law.

        • libarbarian

          These cases were like a physicist slamming As You Like It for not being consistent with, I dunno, Ohm’s Law.

          I kind of wish a physicist would write a paper extrapolating from the fact that electrical resistance increases with temperature to deduce that the resistance of the privileged to giving up their privilege also increases with temperature and the draw out some absurd conclusions based on that.

          I kind of wonder how that would go over.

          • N__B

            When I was in college a paper was circulating that discussed how people’s ability to drink and fuck with abandon tended to decrease with age. The only thing I remember about it was an equation that included d(bauch)/d(t)

      • In computer science, the usefulness of terms and concepts more generally as logic or linguistics sometimes results in their being adopted for the humanities in ways that are not that difficult to sympathize with, but just a little off, in annoying ways.

        And you sometimes run into, I guess mostly bros, who think Chomsky is saying something quasi-metaphysical that I’m pretty sure he’s not saying.

        • Jordan

          But Chomsky *does* write and talk about actual metaphysics. A fair bunch.

          Unless perhaps this is a case of someone in computer science using a term from the humanities in ways that make sense but are just a little bit off.

          • Cite? Or are you already so certain the scenario you’re making up in your head is the one that happened to me that we don’t have to see whether we’re even talking about the same thing?

    • msdc

      Whereas I have to say this comment is overstating the merits of Social Text. A couple of points:

      I’d suggest its 2017 equivalent might be TED or Vox.

      Social Text, like many a TED talk, was presenting poor-quality or sham scholarship that flattered the sensibilities of its contributors and primary audience while impeding their understanding of the fields they purported to be explaining. This makes them more worthy of criticism, not less.

      When Sokal revealed his hoax, the editors defended their actions by pointing out that Social Text wasn’t peer reviewed. This should have been an admission that scholars should never have taken their journal seriously as an academic forum, especially on a subject they clearly didn’t understand. That they saw this as some sort of winning rejoinder should underscore their inability to comment meaningfully on the sciences and their unwillingness to learn.

      That said, some saner theoretical approaches–including those of Andrew Ross, one of Social Text’s editors–were doing some interesting work challenging public perceptions of the objectivity of science.

      Here are a couple examples of some of Andrew Ross’s interesting work challenging public perceptions of the objectivity of science a few years before Sokal began drafting his hoax:

      “Global warming theory is nothing if not a high cultural expression of Western science, dominant in the field of interpretation of the climactic economy.”

      “These theories draw their power in the world from an elite culture peopled by those accustomed, by education and an inherited sense of entitlement, to see the globe as part of their dominion.” (Strange Weather 217, 219)

      The problem wasn’t just that Ross and other cultural studies scholars had a superficial grasp of science and wrote some bad metaphors because of it; it’s that their knee-jerk anti-elitism shaded all too easily into the resentment of expertise that drives climate change denial, creationism, and most other conservative attacks on science.

      For a good overview of the Sokal hoax and its place within a larger history of academic populism I highly recommend Catherine Liu’s American Idyll: Academic Antielitism as Cultural Critique. Liu doesn’t exempt Sokal from criticism either, and she’s very clear about identifying where he misunderstood his subjects and how his hoax only antagonized them further. But she doesn’t let Andrew Ross or Social Text off the hook for publishing bunk articles under the guise of social critique.

      • farin

        I sincerely hope “climactic economy” isn’t a typo.

        • msdc

          I’m afraid it is. Mea culpa.

          If it makes you feel any better, the passage it comes from contrasts the claims to universal scientific truth made by hegemonic Western science against the unfairly marginalized ethnometeorological belief systems of indigenous peoples such as the Seminole or the Wariri. Ross draws his examples of such ethnometeorological belief systems from novels by Zora Neale Hurston and Saul Bellow.

          As he would have to do in the case of the Wariri, since they do not, in fact, exist.

          Sokal was too kind.

          • Linnaeus

            There’s always Norm Levitt.

      • Scott Lemieux

        The problem wasn’t just that Ross and other cultural studies scholars had a superficial grasp of science and wrote some bad metaphors because of it; it’s that their knee-jerk anti-elitism shaded all too easily into the resentment of expertise that drives climate change denial, creationism, and most other conservative attacks on science.

        Exactly. And as someone said above I do think that the Sokal hoax had the salutary effect of making this kind of argument much less common.

      • CD

        That seems like fair criticism.

    • Linnaeus

      Friend of LGM Michael Bérubé’s article in Democracy is about as sensible a take on the Sokal affair as any I’ve read:

      So these days, when I talk to my scientist friends, I offer them a deal. I say: I’ll admit that you were right about the potential for science studies to go horribly wrong and give fuel to deeply ignorant and/or reactionary people. And in return, you’ll admit that I was right about the culture wars, and right that the natural sciences would not be held harmless from the right-wing noise machine. And if you’ll go further, and acknowledge that some circumspect, well-informed critiques of actually existing science have merit (such as the criticism that the postwar medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth had some ill effects), I’ll go further too, and acknowledge that many humanists’ critiques of science and reason are neither circumspect nor well-informed. Then perhaps we can get down to the business of how to develop safe, sustainable energy and other social practices that will keep the planet habitable.

      • Nick never Nick

        The thing is, though, I don’t think that any of the things Berube asks scientists to accept are controversial — science easily encompasses those complaints, and many scientists I know would agree with them and take them further. The medicalization of pregnancy isn’t a broad indictment of science, it’s an indictment of a specific application of science — and that, frankly, is what science is, designed to attack itself in specifics.

        The broader complaint, that cultural attitudes, such as patriarchy, a tendency to over complicate technical issues, a disinterest in the actual experience and knowledge of women, all contributed to an excessive medicalization of childbirth, is true as a generality, but I don’t think this is uncontroversial either. Science always reflects the general culture, just as social science, the humanities, engineering, etc. will as well.

        • Linnaeus

          I quoted that paragraph because I think it illustrates Bérubé’s larger point in the essay; to wit, that scientists, humanists, and social scientists can and should work together for a more just and humane world, and that in the wake of the “science wars” (which are largely over, thank goodness), all of the aforementioned classes of scholars can contribute to a better understanding of science, broadly speaking, that engenders such a world.

          While the analysis of of science in context may itself seem uncontroversial (due in large part to the efforts of various scholars to do just that), Bérubé relates some experiences in the essay that demonstrate some pushback against that notion. Historical, social, and cultural analyses of science need not be indictments of science generally (they’re almost always not), but one of the effects of the Sokal affair that Bérubé points out is that many people, on either side, were too willing to read into the hoax what they wanted to, and that the aftermath of the hoax went in a direction that Sokal himself didn’t anticipate (hmm…). What’s more, some scientists thought that the silliness in some corners of humanities and social science scholarship would effectively shield them from right-wing attacks. That turned out not to be the case, and this was never the case, but Bérubé doesn’t go into that history.

          • The problem with that summary is that what’s happened is parts of the left promoted theories about science having a faulty theory of knowledge and allowing itself to be politicized, and now that critique is generally flung from the right. Latour switched sides on this and I think his views on it are more accurate than Berube’s, which moreover date from before Latour weighed in.

            • Linnaeus

              The problem with that summary is that what’s happened is parts of the left promoted theories about science having a faulty theory of knowledge and allowing itself to be politicized, and now that critique is generally flung from the right.

              Bérubé argues this in the piece as well, although I think this argument is sometimes overstated.

              • I haven’t read Berube’s piece in a while. My feeling is that he writes as if humanities scholars* were just saying hey, there was racism in the past, and scientists ignored it. But he doesn’t note that the critique attacked science at the roots to a greater extent than that. And the “science wars” may be over, but there are plenty of calls for social control over science, for science in particular to recognize its limitations, which I think are fairly construed as calls for “experts” on science to be people trained in STS and related fields that require knowledge of the theorists Sokal objected to, rather than scientists.

                * by this I don’t mean only historians and philosophers of science, of course. And the shifting of theory to the right didn’t happen only in science studies.

                • Linnaeus

                  My feeling is that he writes as if humanities scholars* were just saying hey, there was racism in the past, and scientists ignored it. But he doesn’t note that the critique attacked science at the roots to a greater extent than that.

                  Bérubé does note this (I’ve linked to the piece in my original comment) and is critical of it. I think it’s a mistake (which I’m not saying that you’re doing) to deduce from those critiques that they go unchallenged within the larger field. That certainly wasn’t my experience during my own academic training.

                  And the “science wars” may be over, but there are plenty of calls for social control over science, for science in particular to recognize its limitations, which I think are fairly construed as calls for “experts” on science to be people trained in STS and related fields that require knowledge of the theorists Sokal objected to, rather than scientists.

                  There’s a lot to unpack here, most of which is probably beyond the scope of this discussion. That said, STS is a pretty big field (the disciplinary boundaries of STS themselves are often fuzzy) and there’s a commensurate variety of methodology in which people are trained, which allocate differing levels of significance to the kind of theorists that Sokal objected to.

                • Frankly that article was the point at which I decided I had no need to read anything else Bérubé (not a specialist in STS but a defender of “theory” generally as good for the political left) ever wrote, so I’m not going to parse the paragraph you quoted any further other than to say it makes little sense as what it purports to be.

                • Linnaeus

                  Frankly that article was the point at which I decided I had no need to read anything else Bérubé (not a specialist in STS but a defender of “theory” generally as good for the political left) ever wrote

                  While I liked the article better than you did, I will also say that I have objections to “theory” in the sense that you’re using the term, and I probably wouldn’t see eye-to-eye with Bérubé on that score.

                • CD

                  Frankly that article was the point at which I decided I had no need to read anything else Bérubé (not a specialist in STS but a defender of “theory” generally as good for the political left) ever wrote, so I’m not going to parse the paragraph you quoted any further other than to say it makes little sense as what it purports to be.

                  When you confront an argument you don’t like, you stop reading? For someone purportedly on the side of reason and evidence, you’re short on both here.

                • CD, WTF?

                  Site ate my longer response, but I did not say that at all, as “finally” might have clued you in to.

                  How much time, exactly, do you feel I’m obliged to put in, in order to say I have a right to disagree with someone?

                • libarbarian

                  plenty of calls for social control over science

                  Yup!

                  Just a little while ago, in an LGM thread on the kerfluffle surrounding the Tuval paper IIRC, a commentator claiming to be an epidemiologist said that scholars “have no right” to publish work which fails to advance the goal of human equality.

                  Tuval isn’t a scientist, but nothing in that statement carves out an exception for science. The attack on science has come from the right more than the left for the past 20 years or so, but there are plenty of people on the left who would jump at a chance to start putting the screws to scientists telling unpleasant truths the moment they think they had the power to do it and succeed.

                • Linnaeus

                  The attack on science has come from the right more than the left for the past 20 years or so,

                  It’s been longer than that, and right-wing attacks on science don’t have much to do with postmodern analyses of science.

                • msdc

                  But they are more than happy to mimic the language and adopt the anti-elitist posture when it suits them. The climate change denial movement is rife with it, to the point where Bruno Latour had to publicly recant his own unwitting complicity.

            • thalarctosMaritimus

              Hi, bianca–totally OT, but the comments thread at CT is closed, and neither a Google search nor a search at CT yielded any joy.

              You mentioned “Someone who hasn’t been present on this thread has, not long ago, discussed her own practice when writing about groups she doesn’t belong to (I believe public health, in an Australian context). I don’t know how many commenters on this thread were aware of that discussion.”

              I’m very interested in reading that discussion, and would love to follow up, if you could provide me the link. Thanks!

          • Rereading your comment I’m also reminded that Social Text (like Hypatia) was read by those who weren’t specialists in the field and taken to have relatively obvious political uses. Whether the scholars thought of themselves as writing for a smaller group who understood them differently might not matter much.

            • Linnaeus

              It might not matter much, although I think Social Text’s influence is debatable.

              • My impression had always been that Social Text existed as an emanation of Stanley Fish’s monstrous ego, and had no other useful function.

                • Linnaeus

                  To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of Social Text until I learned about the Sokal affair.

                • N__B

                  an emanation of Stanley Fish’s monstrous ego

                  That’s got to be the title of an early Pink Floyd album.

    • it’s not as if publishers were offering journal after journal of pseudo-scientific readings of Robinson Crusoe or whatnot

      Which is not to say a lot of that sort of thing wasn’t being published. I’d guess it made up a significant chunk of 90s research on Conrad, for example, or on Huysmans.

      When English professors ventured into history, biography, or intellectual history, it tended to show then, as well.

  • libarbarian

    The number of papers I get in the “soft” sciences that try to use terms from the physical sciences is vanishingly small these days.

    Yes. That did seem to experience quantum drop to a lower uncertainty level.

    • DAS

      +h*nu

  • ThresherK

    The own goal is, from what I can tell, Reading hosting Aston Villa in March 2013.

    I can’t be expected to not do uniform research on a pic like that, over an article about crap research.

  • NewishLawyer

    In my experience, engineers are the most prone to thinking arts and humanities degrees are easy to bullshit. Actual science majors, not as much. But the scientists I know are also usually into the arts. Engineers seemingly not as much.

    • Nick never Nick

      This is absolutely true . . . I think this is part of Heinlein’s problem (he was an engineer) . . .

      Well, part of one of his problems, at least.

      • twbb

        I think that like Trump, Heinlein’s problems really boiled down to narcissism. Everything else kind of flowed from that.

        • Nick never Nick

          That, or his profound urge to sleep with everything female that walked, particularly if the woman in question was uncomfortably young or a relative of his.

    • This argument seems out of place, a bit: to talk as if engineers are somehow warped by their training so they can only read things literally, while everyone else, or at least every other humanities BA in the world, understands postmodern theory papers in the “correct” spirit.

      • NonyNony

        IME teaching engineering students it’s the opposite – the field attracts people who only read things literally and their education does nothing to challenge them to do otherwise.

        The best engineering students are able to break beyond that themselves, of course (or came to the field with the skill to read beyond the literal already in place more likely), but the median student attracted to engineering does tend to be very literal-minded and the curriculum doesn’t challenge them to change.

        • A couple of decades in the new online world has convinced me that some literature grads are also surprisingly literal minded in certain ways.

        • N__B

          IME teaching engineering students it’s the opposite – the field attracts people who only read things literally

          I’m an engineer and almost none of my work takes place in fields. I’m in buildings.

          • petesh

            I believe this is the point where we declared the thread won.

    • DrDick

      As the son of a research engineer, I would agree. I think the difference is that engineers generally view theory as a fixed and largely immutable entity, while research scientists more clearly recognize the contingent nature of all theory. Even my father, who liked the humanities and social sciences, understood this. He once explained scientific theory to me in pretty much the way that Thomas Kuhn did, but this was in the mid-late 60s.

    • N__B

      Engineering has an education problem, which is not enough time. Look at other professions: lawyers have seven years (undergrad and law school), doctors have eight years plus, scientists have seven years if they can finish grad school in three (Mrs__B took four), architects have a five-year undergrad. Engineers…four years. Most engineering curricula cut humanities and social sciences time to the bone (I believe it’s one course per year in a lot of schools) because there is simply not enough time to teach the core material.

      There’s a movement to make it a five year undergrad, like a B. Arch, but I doubt that it’ll happen. If the more likely result happens – a requirement of an M.S. to get a professional license as an engineer – it will do nothing to address the problem.

      Obviously, this is only one aspect of the problem. There’s self-selection by 18-year-olds, and a generally poor attitude in the profession. But I remember as an undergrad having literally one free elective in my program while a good friend in biology had four. You can only learn what you can study.

      • Karen24

        This! One of my freshman suite mates was a sophomore ME from a family of historians and literature teachers. (Her great aunt was Liz Carpenter, FWIW.). She had one elective, two required English credits, one American history and one government class. She took a music history class on Bach as her elective, and because of her family understood the importance of the humanities.

        • Denverite

          Last year was the first year at my spouse’s school that engineering majors were *allowed* to take humanities elective classes. She would try to get her freshman advisees to take electives in her field (not necessarily with her), and until last year the engineering majors would flat out tell her that they’d get kicked out of the program if they “wasted” an elective on that as opposed to linear algebra or complex analysis or whatnot.

          • Bill Murray

            Unless the school is very new, or was not accredited this would not be true, as ABET, the engineering accreditation board used to require 16 semester hours of humanities and social science until around 2005. Although I guess you said elective not required

            Now we are required to produce students that have “the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context.”

            While the wording will soon be changed, no specific course or hour requirements are given, except in a few disciplines, so the how well the curriculum fits this requirement is up to the evaluator. At my school, all South Dakota college students are required to take a bunch of classes (32 of their first 64 semester hours of which 12 are humanities and social science) by the Board of Regents. Few engineering disciplines go beyond this as it is difficult to fit all the required science and engineering into the total number of hours we are allowed. Some schools basically have what used to be the first semester (Calc I, Chem 1, Physics I) as remedial coursework that the student should have before college

            Many professors would like to see more humanities and social science, as discussed in the Engineer of 2020 recommendations by the National Academy of Engineers, but finding the space when the Regents want us to have fewer hours needed for graduation and ABET keeps adding requirements is difficult

            • Denverite

              “Elective”

      • Jordan

        Honestly curious: why would moving to a MS requirement not do anything to address the problem? Couldn’t that let the undergrad programs push off a few eng classes to the masters and so open up a few spots?

        Or is it that moving to a MS would just demand further specialized classes?

        • N__B

          Speaking only for my subprofession (civil engineering), here’s the way the schedule works out:

          Year 1: high-school on steroids. Physics, chemistry, calculus. Some of the simpler specialized pre-engineering courses, like thermodynamics.

          Year 2: pre-engineering up the wazoo. Fluids, mechanics, mechanics, mechanics, plus finishing off the math and science background. (In 1984, this is when I took “Lumped Parameter Systems,” and [for my architecture minor] Fundamentals of Architectural Technology. My schedule on Tuesday and Thursday mornings was FAT LUMPS.)

          Year 3: finishing the pre-engineering, some actual basic engineering classes.

          Year 4: finish the basic analysis and design engineering, add a capstone project or similar thesis.

          Year 5: Adding an M.S. requirement would allow for ten 3-credit classes, with the thesis probably being counted as two classes. But you’re expected to be doing masters-level class work. So you’d get six or eight advanced design and analysis classes. Nothing could be moved here from years 1-3, and only maybe one or two classes from year 4. So unless the plan is to make an engineering M.S. a hotbed of humanities and social science classes, it doesn’t loosen up the undergrad schedule much.

          • N__B

            There’s a hidden assumption in my response: engineering classes have very tightly-linked prerequisites. For example, you can’t take a real design class until you’ve taken (I’m not making this up) Strength of Materials. You can’t take Strength until you’ve taken at least once class in statics (and arguably dynamics). You can’t take Statics until you’ve taken the intro Physics class with mechanics. That’s why there’s no real engineering until year 3.

            • For example, you can’t take a real design class until you’ve taken (I’m not making this up) Strength of Materials. You can’t take Strength until you’ve taken at least once class in statics (and arguably dynamics). You can’t take Statics until you’ve taken the intro Physics class with mechanics. That’s why there’s no real engineering until year 3.

              I, for one, as a person who lives in the Designed Environment, like things that way.

              I would also sign on to the pro-dynamics school of Strength of Materials; at least in my part of the Designed Environment there seem to be all sorts of Dynamic Loads out there challenging the Strength of nearby Materials whose integrity I like to be able to depend upon.

              • N__B

                Bouncy floor? Its hard to fix: stiffening the floor decreases the amplitude while increasing the frequency and so has almost no effect on human perception; adding mass works great but almost always requires a lot of strength upgrades to the structure.

          • Jordan

            interesting, thanks for the response!

    • Linnaeus

      But the scientists I know are also usually into the arts.

      This experience is in no way representative, but I once had a chemist ask me, “What do artists do?” Now, I suppose one could generously interpret this question as an entry into a discussion of aesthetics, cultural history and criticism, etc. Subsequent discussion, however, established that this was not the case.

      • N__B

        I once had a chemist ask me, “What do artists do?”

        The fact that you did not simply answer “Art.” is one more piece of evidence that you’re a better person than I am.

        • Linnaeus

          I actually did reply, “Make art”, but I didn’t want to bore the commentariat with the remainder of the conversation.

          • N__B

            Okay, you’re not a better person than I am.

            • Linnaeus

              Sorry to disappoint.

    • Sly

      Apropos of nothing, I remember Lawrence Krauss saying, half-jokingly, that he got into the fields of cosmology and theoretical physics because he found social science too difficult. IIRC, it was a conversation with Chomsky about linguistics.

      • Linnaeus

        I’ve heard similar sentiments before, and I can understand where they’re coming from.

        • I’ve tried reading Chomsky’s texts on linguistics and gave up rather quickly because I found them incomprehensible. There are far too many terms of art I don’t understand, and I could probably spend a few months gaining the requisite background to understand them, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin right now. His politics writings are perfectly comprehensible to me, but if I didn’t possess an academic background in political science, I probably wouldn’t understand his long-form works that well (he uses much simpler language in his interviews and shorter pieces, though).

          I suspect most people who think social sciences are easy haven’t actually spent much time studying them. They’re every bit as complicated as the “hard” sciences, and maybe more so in many ways.

          • Is Lingustics usually considered a social science? Isn’t it usually in the humanities?

            • Linnaeus

              No, it’s very much considered to be a social science. Its origins lie partially in philological studies of ancient texts, but modern linguistics has been self-consciously a social science for at least a century, if not longer.

              • Interesting. We don’t have a department and in my wife’s school, the linguists are in the English department. I guess I’ve never really been around a lot of linguists.

                • Linnaeus

                  Maybe your wife’s school is doing that for structural reasons (no pun intended), i.e., consolidating departments to save money, etc., or perhaps it’s an organizational vestige that simply hasn’t been changed.

                  My MA school, for example, no longer has a free-standing history department.

                  (To be sure, though, there’s a lot of overlap between humanistic and social science disciplines in terms of content, methodology, etc.)

    • altofront

      In my experience, engineers are the most prone to thinking arts and humanities degrees are easy to bullshit. Actual science majors, not as much. But the scientists I know are also usually into the arts. Engineers seemingly not as much.

      At my old job I used to teach a freshman “English for Engineers” course (the Engineering school had opted out of the standard full-year writing course on the grounds that they were already struggling to fit their degree into four years, so they contracted with the English department to do something shorter and more focused on skills directly relevant to their profession). In my experience, maybe 2/3rds of the students fit the stereotype: they didn’t care about anything we were studying, but were determined to do well in the course because that’s how they had approached every academic challenge since kindergarten. At least 1/3rd, though, were bonafide Renaissance men and women who loved art and literature and would have made wonderful English majors, had they quixotically decided to follow such a path.

  • libarbarian

    This , OTOH, was not a hoax

    The privileging of solid over fluid mechanics, and indeed the inability of science to deal with turbulent flow at all, she attributes to the association of fluidity with femininity. Whereas men have sex organs that protrude and become rigid, women have openings that leak menstrual blood and vaginal fluids. Although men, too, flow on occasion�when semen is emitted, for example�this aspect of their sexuality is not emphasized. It is the rigidity of the male organ that counts, not its complicity in fluid flow. These idealizations are reinscribed in mathematics, which conceives of fluids as laminated planes and other modified solid forms. In the same way that women are erased within masculinist theories and language, existing only as not-men, so fluids have been erased from science, existing only as not-solids. From this perspective it is no wonder that science has not been able to arrive at a successful model for turbulence. The problem of turbulent flow cannot be solved because the conceptions of fluids (and of women) have been formulated so as necessarily to leave unarticulated remainders.

    (Hayles, N. K. (1992) “Gender encoding in fluid mechanics: masculine channels and feminine flows,” Differences: A Journal Of Feminist Cultural Studies, 4(2):16—44.)

    • wjts

      It is (so far as I can tell, not being a physicist myself) a very silly critique of the study of fluid dynamics, but several of the points she makes in that quote can be usefully applied to areas of biology and medicine.

      • This, however,

        Although men, too, flow on occasion—when semen is emitted, for example—this aspect of their sexuality is not emphasized. It is the rigidity of the male organ that counts, not its complicity in fluid flow

        is the real money shot.

        • N__B
          • Hogan

            If ever a link screamed “don’t click me” . . .

            • N__B

              It’s cute.

              Really.

              Really really.

              • Hogan

                I’m glad I took the risk.

    • twbb

      Keep in mind the author is describing Irigaray’s work, not making those statements herself.

      From the same paper, Hayles herself states:

      “From talking with several applied mathematicians and fluid mechanicists about Irigaray’s claim, I can testify that they unanimously conclude she does not know the first thing about their disciplines. In their view, her argument is not to be taken seriously.

      There is evidence to support this view. In a footnote to the chapter’s first page, Irigaray airly advises the reader “to consult some tests on solid and fluid mechanics” without bothering to mention any. The lack of mathematical detail in her argument forces one to wonder whether she has followed this advice herself. Nowhere does she mention a name or date that would enable one to connect her argument with a specific theory of fluids, much less to trade debates between opposing theories.”

      In a way it kind of goes against the typical claim that gender studies academics won’t criticize each other.

      • rm

        So — the quoted paper is not a hoax, and also not a problem, unless taken unfairly out of context. “Out of context” is often a valid complaint.

        The creative license of some of the Grand Theory Stars of the late 20th century was a problem, which we see Hayles’s paper noticing critically.

        • Souris Grise

          A problem to whom? And was creative license the problem? Or was the problem some failures of creative license to [effect, achieve, realize, evoke …] X?

          Criticizing the accuracy of Irigaray’s understanding of solid and fluid mechanics is peculiar. Although a mathematician challenging a specific assertion, such as:

          “These idealizations are reinscribed in mathematics, which conceives of fluids as laminated planes and other modified solid forms.”

          could perhaps have produced an interesting (at least to me) exchange with Irigaray.

          But is there any discussion of whether creative license enabled or undermined her “success” at doing whatever we provisionally decide Irigaray was trying to do? (Weaseling out of intention versus effect here. Because.)

          • twbb

            “But is there any discussion of whether creative license enabled or undermined her “success” at doing whatever we provisionally decide Irigaray was trying to do?”

            I think the problem is Irigaray appears to not using it as a metaphor, but literally saying that physics has ignored much of fluid dynamics because physicists associate it with women.

            The fluid=women comparison is specifically used to make a false statement about the state and history of physics.

            • Souris Grise

              I can’t speak to Irigaray’s intentions, although that is likely a function of my not keeping current, rather than coordinated silence about it.

              And I have almost no knowledge of the current state or history of physics, beyond that of a curious non-scientist. Some WOW! here. Some WHOA! there. I can marvel and think until this head attached to this body in space becomes untethered. But that’s experience, rather than knowledge.

              But there’s this gut sense (no more reliable than any other sense) that scientists don’t seek out Irigaray for science and Irigrary does not seek to speak to science.

              And some of this relates to metaphor used beyond its comfortable capacities. And origins: the seeking for and suspicion of. Do I think physics has ignored much of fluid dynamics because physicists associate it with women? Nah. Although, as I noted, I’m not even qualified to make that judgement. That would require me to know both that physics has, indeed, ignored much of fluid dynamics, and that soome women=fluid perception drives it.

              But the word fluid, in relation to women, carriers its own connotations. There is an infinite loop here. Bluntly and stupidly, I could ask, “Why didn’t physicists choose an absolutely new word for fluid mechanics? To sidestep those connotations” Many answers. Many of them good.

              Outside of physics, however, there exists a sorta hierarchy of solid, fluid, gas. That actual physics does not incorporate this hierarchy as hierarchy does not diminish its power as some indicator amongst non-scientists that “I can do science, me.” And this kind of invisible hierarchy informs everything. Stuff is.

              For Irigaray to challenge science, to argue that even there, language shapes the field in inescapable, but not necessarily intentional ways, makes the invisible fleetingly visible. And what is briefly seen is not physics plotting to bad-mouth women. Perhaps I am just an apologist. Perhaps her strategy was promising, but the execution flawed.

              And here I am, prattling on about this specific instance, which is actually just something I have worked with and definitely not a hill for me to die on.

              In the end, I come away from the stated subject of the post wondering what motivates these continued ambushes of gender studies (or cultural, film, or other studies.) This desire for a gotcha moment that will expose some ideological emptiness conning us all. Especially when the reach of these targets is grossly exaggerated and their viability uncertain with year-on-year decreases to institutional support and funding.

              They remind me of Project Veritas videos that uncover and avenge the horror and corruption that exists only in their own minds. (Sorry. I realize I wandered so randomly and didn’t know how to efficiently make my way back. Please just disregard the cul-de-sacs, okay?)

              • twbb

                I think there can be good, important feminist criticism of scientific practices, but it needs an actual understand of the science. Irigaray not only doesn’t have it, but pretends she does (I think even Hayles as quoted above is irritated by the arrogant flippancy).

                If you have someone like Fausto Sterling (mentioned somewhere above) or Donna Haraway, who do understand the science, the critique is much more valid.

            • libarbarian

              I think the problem is Irigaray appears to not using it as a metaphor, but literally saying that physics has ignored much of fluid dynamics because physicists associate it with women.

              Yeah. Just like (mostly white) astrophysicists have ignored Black Holes because of their association …. oh wait… they actually study them a lot? … um…. ok…. got it …. just like they focus on black holes (more than white dwarfs) because of the implicit bias inherent in their association of “black” with “destructive” .

              Still got it!

              • Souris Grise

                Astrophysicists focus more on black holes than white dwarfs because of implicit bias? Wouldn’t implicit bias explain only their association of black with destructive. But not their choice of focus.

                Still got what?

                • libarbarian

                  I still got the ability to make any set of facts fit my narrative.

      • MacK

        Hayles seems to have engaged in the dangerous activity of discussing the fundamentally daft ideas of a third party – Luce Irigaray – which is tough to do without appearing to share their basic lunacy.

      • ForkyMcSpoon

        I remember reading some of Irigaray expounding on how women are always in auto-erotic contact with themselves because of the two lips of the vulva…

        I myself didn’t really get how it lead to the conclusions she drew. Probably the author I liked the least from that class.

        On the other hand, you have someone like bell hooks whose writing is, shall we say, far more plain and straightforward.

    • msdc

      Oh god, I just spent part of this morning looking up a different Hayles quote under the suspicion that it too was content-free BS:

      At the most basic level of the computer are electronic polarities, which are related to the bit stream through the analogue correspondence of morphological resemblance. Once the bit stream is formed, it operates as digital code. Analogue resemblance typically reappears at the top level of the screenic image, for example, in the desktop icon of a trash barrel. Thus digital computers have an Oreo cookie–like structure with an analogue bottom, a frothy digital middle, and an analogue top.

      That’s from “Print Is Flat, Code Is Deep: The Importance of Media-Specific Analysis,” Poetics Today 25.1 (2004) 67-90.

      Hayles is one of the leading scholars–founders, really–of the field of digital humanities. I would welcome feedback from any more computationally inclined commenters who can make sense of this.

      • rm

        I don’t know about this particular excerpt, which might be one of those embarrassing misapplications of scientific terms as metaphor,

        but

        notice that the journal is about poetics, not computer science. Before the internet got ruined by social media (onions on belts!) there was a lot of attention to how a reader experiences text differently on screen vs. on paper. Hypertext being deep like a palimpsest, text becoming mobile, malleable, more speech-like than fixed, stuff like that. This essay seems to be in that area, so if there is a silly how-computers-work-as-understood-by-poets metaphor, I don’t think that damns the whole essay. Now I may go read the essay to see, but I’m a-gonna read it in its disciplinary context.

        In between the poets rhapsodizing about hypertext, and the computer scientists making the machines work, there was a field of Human-Computer Interaction, which I think was more social sciency or psychology-like. I think it still exists.

        • rm

          And the passage makes enough sense for scholars of literacy or creative writing or rhetoric. There is a physical (“analogue”) medium at the foundation of a computer’s workings (capacitors or whatever they are called holding a charge or no charge, that stand for ones and zeros), which is arranged in digital code that results in the computer giving the reader a “text” on screen that mimics what she calls an “analogue” (i.e. physical-paper-mimicking) medium. An English studies or literacy scholar might want to talk about how the reader understands and interprets this, and how we should always take the medium into account when reading a text.

          And I haven’t even read the paper yet. Still don’t know if it will seem relevant after 13 years, but I do not expect it to be nonsense. I do expect it to be something other than computer science.

          • rm

            And another thing. The conviction that the medium is very important resulted in MLA style from the ’90s through 2016 insisting that citations always state the medium of the source. Print. Web. PDF file. YouTube video. Film. and so on.

            In 2016, the new rules got rid of that, reasoning that media are multiplying like weeds and combining chimerically and we can’t keep up, nor does it matter so much anymore whether you found that source on paper, in a PDF through a database, on a website, or in some eldritch horror of a new medium only kids understand.

            Teachers of freshman writing really, really hate these new loosey-goosey rules. They are imprecise, even down to the way they do not use specific punctuation for specific bits of the citation (most bits are now just joined by serial commas, like a goddam run-on sentence, when we used to deploy periods, commas, colons, and parentheses to make things PRECISE and CLEAR. And CONCISE, because you don’t need a “pp.” if you have the page numbers following a colon that indicates “these here are the beginning and ending page numbers.” Now we have to say out loud, “pp.” — these numbers mean pages.)

            These new rules are more student-friendly, but they bother us.

            • Now we have to say out loud, “pp. — these numbers mean pages.”

              How unlike the hometraveling life of our own dear QueenPresident*.

            • corporatecake

              On the contrary, I’m a graduate student in English and my department seems to universally prefer the new MLA standards. I spent my undergrad years tutoring students (many of them freshman comp students) in writing, and I wasted unbelievable amounts of time instructing them on the needlessly Byzantine rules of MLA when they could have been doing something more valuable with their time. Concise and flexible may be inelegant, but it does the job of directing the reader to the source, which is what such things are for, anyway. Well, that and passing through the academic hazing ritual.

          • It may make sense internally in the field. It is not superior knowledge of the the field of computer science, that would justify splaining in a general purpose forum. Someone has somehow failed to explain that to large numbers of BAs who subsequently used their “knowledge” on the Intertubes. Someone should have.

        • Linnaeus

          ere was a field of Human-Computer Interaction, which I think was more social sciency or psychology-like. I think it still exists.

          It does. My Ph.D. university has an entire department devoted to it and related fields.

      • NonyNony

        It says electrical impulses are analog signals. To use them in a digital computer, circuits are built in such a way that the analog signal is read as a digital one (i.e. high voltage for 1, low voltage for 0). But then the computer is pretty good at replicating analog signals for our brain to process (sound, images, etc. – I’d argue that they’re more “pseudo-analog” since they’re digital at a level so fin-grained that our brains ignore it, but whatever). So you get a pattern of analog to digital to analog. Which is something like an Oreo cookie I guess?

        I’m hitting my brain against a table because I always thought that metaphors and analogies were supposed to help you understand the topic under discussion. That particular paragraph obfuscates an idea that we teach in intro to programming classes to people with no background in computers at all in a manner that hurts my heart.

      • msdc

        Thanks for the responses, rm and NonyNony.

        To clarify my own confusion a bit: I get what Hayles means by morphological resemblance operating at the level of the screen/graphic interface, but I’m not at all clear on how that same principal is supposed to work at the level of the physical medium of the computer. And of course, the code that connects the two is rendered in this passage as nothing more than the frothy center of an Oreo cookie (which isn’t even that frothy, but this passage has so many other problems that must take precedence).

        What I’m trying to determine, I guess, is whether this passage simply represents the type of bad metaphor Nick never Nick mentions above (and for which Hayles is famous btw), or whether the faults of the metaphor are actually masking a more fundamental lack of knowledge about the subject Hayles pretends to understand.

        • rm

          What stepped pyramids said. Silly metaphor in the context of a discussion of how users/reader understand what they are looking at on a screen. Whether you see a surface, like paper, or the top layer of a complex, dynamic system.

      • I think that excerpt makes an interesting observation, but the metaphor is a bit silly. Put another way, computers are physical objects that create a virtual context in which to operate, and then humans frequently interact with that virtual context through physical metaphors. How valuable those physical metaphors are and what forms they should take is actually a fundamental question of user interface design. For instance, the Mac’s famous “trash bin” metaphor does help people understand that it’s a place to dispose of things you no longer need, but it also led to years and years of people thinking that emptying their computer’s trash bin regularly was necessary for proper operation.

      • MacK

        It’s an interesting issue (though the quote is deeply silly) that current computational methods are very precise, driven by binary y/n analysis – which in terms of analysing big data sets gathered to varying criteria is less than ideal. To put it in simple terms if Criteria A = 1 (yes) or 0 (no), what do you do when the criteria for a yes or a no are different? When a yes in variant b is mostly yes in variant a, but not always, etc.

      • msdc

        OK, thanks for the further responses. I admit, I’m still deeply suspicious of this passage. Phrases like “electronic polarities” sound more like a scholar who is trying to advertise a knowledge of computing as opposed to one who actually possesses such knowledge – the top Google results for the phrase all point back to, surprise, this article by Hayles – and while “morphological resemblance” has meaning I’m still not clear on how it’s supposed to apply to the physical operations of the computer as opposed to the user interface. Surely Hayles isn’t saying that the physical medium works on the basis of things looking like other things?

        But maybe this is just a case where the syntax got away from her as thoroughly as the metaphor did, and I’m looking for an association where there is none. Still, at best it’s a case of bad writing and poor conceptual framing meeting a fairly banal point about user interface. Not a good look, and sadly not atypical for this writer or this field.

  • tsam

    If Jesse Watters could read and write gooder, this looks like something he would do. But there would be racist jokes too.

    • N__B

      I misread your comment and was about to jump all over your assertion that Watters can’t read and write goober. He’s fluent in goober.

      • tsam

        Nice try libtard #owned

  • Joe_JP

    Controversy over that trans-racial article was discussed in a recent article in the NYT (which again, I didn’t buy! it was at the library!). Following the link to an old Scott post, we have this prime quote on the “equal sovereignty” argument:

    Is the idea that when Alabama is on the playground with the other states, they’re going to make fun of it because it had to ask its mama for permission before going out to play?

    “Play” here being “changing election regulations in such a way that these days repeatedly means discriminating against black people [tossing in some others for good measure].”

  • twbb

    Looking at Boghossian and Lindsay’s twitter conversations, they don’t seem to be exhibiting the critical thinking skills they profess for themselves.

    Also, I was curious as to what their research looked like. Boghossian does have an Ed.D., and a quick glance at his dissertation shows it to be seemingly legitimate, at least by the standards of education I would guess (I’m not in that field myself). But Lindsay claims to have a PhD in mathematics, but his online information doesn’t say where, and ProQuest doesn’t come up with any dissertations or theses written by a James A. Lindsey in math in the past several decades. I’m not saying he’s lying; I would actually be surprised if someone who has put himself in the online fightosphere for years got away with that kind of subterfuge, but you never know.

    • wjts

      Googling “James Lindsay dissertation” turns up this, which strikes me as a plausible candidate.

      • N__B

        James Lindsay

        Isn’t he the Cufflinks of the Gods guy?

        • Hogan

          No, he’s The Late Great Planet Earth (in his Hal identity). Von Däniken was the “people in the old days were simple savages, therefore the parsimonious explanation for any large construction projects in their neighborhood is space aliens” guy.

          • N__B

            Ah, yes. That was the mid-70s, I was a sci-fi-reading tween, and those guys annoyed the living shit out of me.

            • Denverite

              Tell me, since it no doubt was the style in your day, did you go with a red onion or a Spanish onion on your belt?

              • N__B

                They annoy me far less now that I’m an oldish man. Now I can laugh at them. When I was 11 that wasn’t so easy.

              • wjts

                One of those big yellow ones. You couldn’t get white onions, because of the war.

      • twbb

        That lists the author as a James R. Lindsay though, and seems to be out of the engineering department.

        • wjts

          CS/Engineering, but the subject seemed close enough to fit a slightly fudged definition of “a degree in mathematics”. But you’re right, the name’s different, so it’s not him.

      • MJSS

        The Mathematics Genealogy Project has that one and also two other “James Lindsay”s: one from 2010 and one from 1977.

        • wjts

          Still different middle initials, though.

          • twbb

            I am still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it is a little weird that someone self-publicizes his PhD like that keeps it so quiet where he got it from, or what his area of study is.

            • wjts

              Agreed.

            • At one of his blogs (where I searched, fruitlessly, for further information on his mathematical roots—or irrational surds, as the case may be) he writes of “one of the universities where I taught” without identifying it (except that it apparently underwent the not-uncommon transition from a place where the philosophers taught a logic course to one where no one did). But I can’t find any place that seems to have had his name in a catalog. He’s also not in the current Combined Membership List (of the American Mathematical Society, Mathematical Association of America, SIAM, etc., etc.); while the CML existed in print and was a perk of membership in the AMS, back issues were very handy for tracing a mathematician’s work history, but there seems to be no hope of doing anything like that today with the (public) AMS databases. Finally, he’s never published anything that’s been indexed (much less reviewed) in Mathematical Reviews; 50 years ago, when the median number of papers published by a mathematics Ph.D. over his (or rarely her) lifetime was 1 (in which case the sole paper was essentially a brief abstract of a rather dire thesis), this wouldn’t have been unusual, but nowadays it suggests a thesis that is very dire indeed (or someone who got out of the game immediately after getting the Ph.D., which I would have thought was his case were it not that he did teach for a while). Nor has he any preprints on the arXiv.

              I suppose it’s possible that he’s publishing under an assumed name (or got the Ph.D. under one).

              • wjts

                I suspect “teaching” here means TAing/adjuncting.

                • Well, presumably he only TAed at at most one university (so, having used the “one of the” construction, he would have been a Teaching Non-Assistant at at least one other); and even adjuncts sometimes (and TAs very occasionally, perhaps only at classy joints) get their surnames printed in class schedules (not often catalogues), which are (sometimes) on-line.

    • Snuff curry

      Looking at Boghossian and Lindsay’s twitter conversations, they don’t seem to be exhibiting the critical thinking skills they profess for themselves.

      They don’t do so much outside of Twitter, neither.

      Well, Boghossian, anyway.

  • Justaguy

    It’s not a dodge at all. Sokals article was about the philosophical and political implications of quantum physics. It was not a critical study of physics as I understand that term.

    Either way, the editors asked him to cut out the giberish, and he refused. They then published it because they wanted to include a natural scientist’s perspective in an issue about science. What, exactly, does that prove?

    • Nick never Nick

      That they have low standards and will publish anything?

      • Justaguy

        Or that in the interest of being interdisciplinary, they published a flawed piece in a journal for experimental writing. But let’s assume they made a bad editorial decision, so?

        Sokal thought he was proving something about critical studies of science, and people take​ his hoax as an indictment of post modernism, critical theory, the humanities and social sciences, etc. But that’s kinda a big jump.

  • apogean

    Bog Hoss teaches at my university. The man is utterly insufferable.

    • Wamba

      which Bog Hoss?

      • apogean

        Pete Boghossian.

  • Wamba

    One thing that gave the article more prima facie credibility then it turns out it deserved is the similarity between the lead author’s name, Peter Boghossian, and that of a different philosopher, Paul Boghossian.

    Peter has en Ed.D and is an assistant professor at Portland State. Paul is very highly respected philosopher with a Ph.D from Princeton and former chair of the NYU Philosophy Department who, it so happens, wrote some of the most prominent analysis of the Sokal Affair.

    I initially assumed the article had been written by Paul and thus gave it more initial credibility than I would have if I had realized it was written by Peter.

    • Snuff curry

      Peter is well-known, if not particularly well-liked, in the Anglo skeptic / atheist community, and made a attention-seeking ruckus a few years back about personal pronouns and how ‘confusing’ they were.

      • Origami Isopod

        I suspect he’s well liked enough in the section of the atheist/”skeptic” community that thinks SJWs are torching the world. They have a high tolerance for arrogant, sneering assholes.

  • gmoot

    Fake papers would never be published in reputable math or electrical engineering out...

    http://www.nature.com/news/publishers-withdraw-more-than-120-gibberish-papers-1.14763

    ...lets

  • njorl

    No reputable journal in the humanities does this. Worse yet, it allows authors to “pay what they can”. This appears to signal that this journal publishes work from authors who can’t get institutional support to publish in it.

    In the physical sciences, voluntary “page charges” are the norm. The journal makes public the cost of publishing each page, and authors who can afford to do so are asked to pay. Paying or not paying has no effect on whether the paper gets published.

    Physical Review Letters is probably the most prestigious physics journal, and they request $955 per page of authors who can pay it.

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