The Sokal Affair

The Spring/Summer 1996 issue of Social Text was devoted to the “Science Wars.” Since its founding in 1979, the journal has been a platform for postmodern, Marxist, critical theory and feminist academics. The last article in this issue was written by a physicist and mathematician from NYU, Alan Sokal, titled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” The piece must have seemed like an important catch for the journal: here was an active scientist doubting the “façade of objectivity” of “mainstream Western scientific practice.” After Social Text published this issue, Alan Sokal revealed in the journal Lingua Franca, that his article was “liberally salted with nonsense” and was in fact a parody of a typical postmodern academic article. If Social Text practiced peer review, the article, in Sokal’s eyes, would never have been published.This incident, dubbed the “Sokal Affair,” was the climax of the Science Wars and quickly became news outside academic circles, appearing on the front pages of The New York Times, The Observer, Le Monde and other newspapers. Sokal’s hoax differed from other events of the debates in its appeal to an audience beyond the academy.