A little good news for a change

by Michael Bérubé on December 16, 2010

The Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Penn State is pleased to announce its very-first-ever postdoctoral position:

Penn State Institute for the Arts and Humanities
Postdoctoral/ MFA Fellowships:  Being Humans
2011-12

For artists and humanists, these are extraordinary times: our sense of “the human” is undergoing remarkable transformations, with implications for the future of all life on the planet.  How should we understand our relation to animal cognition, to artificial intelligence, to the biosphere, to disability, to genetics?  Can we imagine a form of humanism in which the boundaries of the human are unstable?

Applicants should have received their terminal degrees (PhDs in the humanities, MFAs in the fine and performing arts, Masters or beyond in design fields such as architecture) within the past three years.  Applications should include a cv, two letters of recommendation, a project description of 1000 words, and (for applicants in the arts or design) a sample of work on a single DVD.  Fellowship stipends are $42,000 plus benefits and a $2,000 research fund; fellows will be required to teach one course each semester in their discipline.  Fellows will be given office space at the Institute.  It is expected that fellows will take part in the intellectual life of campus, working with faculty and students, attending symposia and events, and contributing to meetings and discussions presented by IAH.

All application materials must be received at this address by January 15, 2011:

The Institute for Arts and Humanities
Postdoctoral Fellowship Program
Penn State University
Ihlseng Cottage
University Park, PA 16802

For more information, call (814) 865-0495 or write to arts-humanities@psu.edu.

And yes, the position is open to scholars outside the US.

Also, in unrelated and not-nearly-as good news, I have an essay out in the new issue of Democracy.  I figure it has now been well over a year since I last wrote about Alan Sokal, so I decided the time was ripe for marking the milestone 14-and-a-half-year anniversary of the Original Sokal Hoax.

{ 61 comments }

1

Linnaeus 12.16.10 at 8:38 pm

I was glad to see the essay(s) about Sokal; it’s unfortunately rarer than it should be that someone writes about Sokal and the hoax sensibly.

2

christian_h 12.16.10 at 8:39 pm

And all without military funding! How DO you do it?

3

Steve LaBonne 12.16.10 at 8:53 pm

I was glad to see the essay(s) about Sokal; it’s unfortunately rarer than it should be that someone writes about Sokal and the hoax sensibly.

Very much seconded; I enjoyed reading that review and found it quite persuasive.

4

tomslee 12.16.10 at 10:03 pm

There seems to be no link to the Democracy article, so here it is: http://democracyjournal.org/article.php?ID=6789.

And very nice it is too. ‘[T]he world really is divvied up into “brute fact” and “social fact,”… but the distinction between brute fact and social fact is itself a social fact, not a brute fact’ is my favourite sentences of 2010 this week.

5

Michael Bérubé 12.16.10 at 10:15 pm

And all without military funding! How DO you do it?

Two words, Christian: Goldman. Sachs.

6

Michael Bérubé 12.16.10 at 10:18 pm

There seems to be no link to the Democracy article

Oops, fixed. I blame Bush.

7

Hidari 12.16.10 at 11:40 pm

Dear God. E. O. Wilson didn’t actually really say that: ‘ “multiculturalism equals relativism equals no supercollider equals communism.” ‘ did he? Jesus.

8

spyder 12.17.10 at 12:57 am

Goldman Sachs? Really?

I can only guess that the name of their organization is put forth in relation to some previous mission that was accomplished.

9

Kenny Easwaran 12.17.10 at 1:01 am

Nice article! I wonder though about this one comment – I can’t tell if you are just attributing it to Ellen Willis, or if you are agreeing with it as well: “the idea that “the left” should see politics in Sokal’s terms was thoroughly self-defeating, inasmuch as the belief that morality and justice are a matter of immutable natural law is far more congenial to conservatism than to a movement trying to imagine that another world is possible.” It doesn’t seem to me that the idea that morality and justice are “immutable natural law” is any more conducive to conservatism than to egalitarianism. When the left sees itself as a movement “to imagine that another world is possible”, they mean a world that is better than this one, but still has the same fundamental facts about morality and justice, right? I mean, the goal is a world where a poor family isn’t starving in the face of plenty, and women are able to make their own choices about their body and their life situation, right? The goal is not a world where starvation in the face of plenty is right, and that denial of autonomy is just. If morality and justice are mutable non-laws, then it might be easier to aim for the second world than the first – but the second world doesn’t even seem conceivable to me.

(I suppose some people might interpret “right” and “just” differently from me, and say that the second world is in fact the actual world, because people might describe these situations as just ones. Is this supposed to be the relativist critique?)

10

Bill Benzon 12.17.10 at 1:24 am

Nice article, Michael.

11

Landru 12.17.10 at 4:45 am

Michael — The recent essay is a nice piece, and regarding the deal on offer

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.

I’m very open, but a little worried looking at the fine print. The second half of my part is easy: many of us scientists actually feared the Republican zombipocalypse from the same time you did, as it was clear from the moment that God and Mammon got it on in Ronald Reagan’s bed that neither of that pair would have use for honest empiricism anywhere down the road. I’m not 100% sure what you mean by “right about the culture wars”, but I’ll give it to you just on congeniality points. On your side, though, I’m afraid you’re going to have to stop hedging with “potential” and go all the way to “actual”: is it so hard to admit that a lot of well-regarded stuff within Science Studies was, actually and not just potentially, wrong-headed, arrogant, misinformed and — this most important — useless? It wasn’t just the ignorant or the reactionary who went horribly wrong with this stuff.

Meanwhile, here’s what I really want to know: wasn’t the Empire of Theory (or, as I like to refer it, the Butlerian Jihad) actually supposed to help save us from the Republican assault on reason? After all, once bitten, twice shy, right? Wasn’t the whole idea of la Theorie supposed to be to illuminate the unconscious biases and hidden power relations that inescapably limit language itself? Shouldn’t all those decades of criticism have at least gifted us with some kind of useful tool, a Ginsu knife with which to fillet the Noise Machine and lay its corrupted innards bare? Perhaps this is exactly what you’ve tried to do, you silver-tongued devil, in your several books; but since they’re not available at my local Borders (I checked), the general public hasn’t really gotten the benefit.

So, granting everything you say in the essay the question stands out starkly: why hasn’t the truth-oriented Left done better in resisting the onslaught of unreason? In the end, what good did “the relentless critique of everything existing” actually do for humanity?

12

Dylan Thurston 12.17.10 at 5:46 am

One small comment:

Cannily, Sokal chose Lingua Franca, a then-influential (since folded) magazine that covered the academy and the humanities, as the venue in which to publish his “gotcha” essay&dots;

I believe that he didn’t choose Lingua Franca; rather, an editor from Lingua Franca figured out that the Sokal paper was a hoax (from an off-hand comment in a party that SocialText was about to get egg on its face), and got him to publish his essay there. (The original plan was to wait a while before revealing the hoax.)

13

Linnaeus 12.17.10 at 6:33 am

I’m afraid you’re going to have to stop hedging with “potential” and go all the way to “actual”: is it so hard to admit that a lot of well-regarded stuff within Science Studies was, actually and not just potentially, wrong-headed, arrogant, misinformed and—this most important—useless? It wasn’t just the ignorant or the reactionary who went horribly wrong with this stuff.

Perhaps I’m stating that which doesn’t need to be said, but it’s worth considering how broadly we want to define the term “science studies”. I say this because I began my training in history of science in the late 1990s, right in the wake of the Sokal hoax, and one thing I found was that historians of science were sometimes regarded as a bit quaint and “traditional” by others doing science studies work, often to the point that we were separated out from science studies and were considered to be a separate intellectual community.

14

bianca steele 12.17.10 at 3:12 pm

Linnaeus,
That’s interesting to me, and I’d like to know more about it, as I did some history of science coursework and related research in the early 1990s (and enrolled in one course, though with an early professor, towards the end of the decade), and much of the recent work I came across–in history of science, not sociology or philosophy or anything along those lines–seemed to me to have been wrongheaded in the specifically leftist way Prof. Berube is alluding to. (I.e. the author’s political commitments seemed apparent though I did not investigate his personal biography.) I don’t recall encountering the term “science studies”: “science, technology, and society,” yes.

15

Anonymoose 12.17.10 at 5:00 pm

“What was wrong with wanting medicine or engineering or environmental science to be publicly answerable and of some service to progressive interests?”

“Now, I think it may have helped set the terms for an eventual rapprochement, leading both humanists and scientists to realize that the shared enemies of their enterprises are the religious fundamentalists who reject all knowledge that challenges their faith”

This strikes me as extremely hypocritical. Broadly defined, your humanism is just as baseless as their religious zealotry. It’s all metaphysical moralizing. Why should the sciences be answerable to progressive interests and not be answerable to regressive interests? The argument boils down to “they’re stupid, so we must be right”.

I don’t think the “hard” sciences should be answerable to either group; not only because I don’t trust either of you (call me nutty and hysterical if you will, but I don’t see any pure-hearted philosopher-kings around to direct science to the “best” causes), but also because it’s just silly. Pure research has historically led to wonderful practical discoveries. What happens when you start conditioning research on its effects on *-gressive interests?

16

Linnaeus 12.17.10 at 5:25 pm

That’s interesting to me, and I’d like to know more about it, as I did some history of science coursework and related research in the early 1990s (and enrolled in one course, though with an early professor, towards the end of the decade), and much of the recent work I came across—in history of science, not sociology or philosophy or anything along those lines—seemed to me to have been wrongheaded in the specifically leftist way Prof. Berube is alluding to. (I.e. the author’s political commitments seemed apparent though I did not investigate his personal biography.) I don’t recall encountering the term “science studies”: “science, technology, and society,” yes.

Definitely, there are certain historians who aren’t innocent of some of the scholarly excesses in the science studies field, but it’s been my impression (for whatever it’s worth) that within the field, historians have (generally) been more resistant to these extremes. A lot of that has to do with conversations and disputes within the science studies/history of science & technology/science, technology & society field; it’s by no means monolithic.

I would put forth the hypothesis that you can reasonably guess where someone locates herself/himself within the science studies field by the general labels they use to describe what they do: science, technology & society (STS) is a bit of an older label that I’d say is preferred by historians, philosophers, and some sociologists. Science studies tends to be used by other sociologists, anthropologists, and cultural studies folk. I could be wrong here, as I haven’t done any kind of broad survey, but that would be my guess.

I don’t think these particular labels are just a matter of semantics. I think they’re indicative of the kind of scholarship these people see themselves as doing.

17

Miracle Max 12.17.10 at 6:45 pm

This posting is offensive and unfair to zombie-Americans.

18

christian_h 12.17.10 at 8:39 pm

Anonymoose (15.), the problem is that science exists within a social context just like any other human endeavour, it is (if I may use the term most certain to piss off many of my colleagues) socially constructed. To believe that it can be somehow more pure than other human pursuits, and ultimately disinterested, is imho incredibly naive.

Take my facetious “[a]nd all without military funding” in comment 2. I posted this because much (not necessarily most but much) of the funding for sciences and mathematics (my field) is military. It is obvious that this impact how science is done, who does it, and what is done. the question in the end is not “does science serve interests” but rather “whose interests does science serve”.

19

Anonymoose 12.17.10 at 8:58 pm

…and whose interests are served by research into say…string theory? Or to be more timely, searching for the Higgs boson? There are no applications for these things even imagined. It might lead to horrific weaponry, it might lead to amazing medical breakthroughs, it might lead to nothing. I guess the scientists serve the interests of their institutions, which in turn serve the interests of those who fund them (typically national governments). But what (foreseeable) practical effect does this have? None. The only “interest” pure research serves is that of curiosity.

From a progressive point of view, it can easily be argued that funding this sort of “useless” research instead of pouring the money into stuff like humanitarian aid is “wrong”. From a regressive point of view, it’s probably just easier to say that god gives particles mass. The scientists sitting at the LHC probably don’t give a flying fuck about either of those views.

Even if I conceded your point, why is it bad that science serve regressive interests, and good that it serve progressive interests? The answer to that boils down to “I don’t like regressives” from one side, and “I don’t like progressives” from the other.

20

Chris 12.17.10 at 9:10 pm

Landru – you wrote my comment for me. Thank you.

21

bianca steele 12.17.10 at 9:15 pm

@18
The problem for many scientists and people who have studied science as a significant part of their past education is not simply the idea that science is “socially constructed.” For example, Stanley Fish goes on and on at length, over and over again, pointing out what is really already obvious to people like this: that if all it means is that science as it’s done now has a history and could have been otherwise, it is obvious. But Bruno Latour, for example, has said that we cannot say a mercury thermometer is “objective,” because it is entirely possible it might work otherwise, say, on Mars, or in central Africa, and in that case, we wouldn’t know ahead of time whether we would change the theory, say the thermometer didn’t work, or say the thermometer did work and the contradictory evidence is what is wrong. And this also seems pretty obvious. But Latour needs this–and insists on it–to mean that this example is logical proof that the whole temperature/mercury/enclosed space/graduated markings complex is not objective. And the only evident reason for him to say so is to demote science to the level of a kind of sect. He doesn’t seem to see that for the people he is trying to convince, he is arguing something that is already obvious, and it just looks silly. Moreover, he doesn’t say why he feels it’s important to demote science, though it seems to have something to do with science’s being less “moral” or with scientists’ being less psychologically astute than humanists are. (There are other things in Latour that are more persuasive, however.)

Of course, YMMV.

22

Landru 12.17.10 at 10:51 pm

@18: the problem is that science exists within a social context just like any other human endeavour, it is … socially constructed.

Well, that comity was certainly short-lived. Here we are, back to the trenches of 1915 all over again. Perhaps I can make my exasperation with this kind of remark clearer with a little bit of vulgar quantification.

As always, the hinge here is, what exactly does “socially constructed” mean? Specifically, since it is presented without qualifier or modifier, can we take the phrase to mean a complete delineation, ie “science is 100% socially constructed”? or does it just mean “science is more than 0% socially constructed”? Either case strikes me as rather trivial, I guess in a similar, though less educated, vein as Bianca Steele @20.

As Bianca said, the claim that “science is more than 0% socially constructed” is quite obvious to anyone who practices it — just ask the 85% of NSF applicants whose perfectly valid proposals have been rejected! More deeply, we know first hand how our knowledge is mediated through equipment whose operation depends on human theories; and we know first hand how unconscious choices of language can limit and shape further thought. So, yeah, I go with “more than 0% socially constructed” without any argument; it seems almost a trivial statement.

The other extreme, the claim that science is 100% socially constructed, is simply absurd; to call it childish would, really, be an insult to children, who are often naturals at investigating the natural world. I hope I don’t have to go into any more detail with this same dreary point, which has been made so many times: science has human practices in it, but it is tethered to an objective reality and cannot drift arbitrarily far from that mooring. Or, to put it brutally, if science were 100% socially constructed then there would be no computers and no Internet and you wouldn’t be reading this.

If you want to present more information by being more specific, arguing that science is not 47% socially constructed, but rather 53%, well then knock yourself out. In the meantime, I find these sweeping statements about social construction to be basically either trivially true or trivially false, and so without much value either way.

Next year, the Somme!

23

christian_h 12.18.10 at 1:41 am

Well I’m going to send some hundred thousand boys to their death to stay with Landru’s somewhat bloody analogy. It’s science that is socially constructed. Not Mars. I really don’t get why people confuse the two. Nobody here – least of all me – has claimed that if the social construction of science had been or was different, Mars would suddenly cease to exist (although it might not be called Mars, obviously).

And I could care less whether some people try to use what Bianca correctly describes as a trivial insight (albeit she is not correct that this insight is shared by all or even most scientists, at least not in my experience) to denigrate science. So what? There’s any number of scientists who conversely denigrate subjects that are not science. Take Anonymoose who apparently believes that political or ethical questions are a matter of taste. Or talk to your/our science colleagues on promotion committees – you might be stunned how little they think of the humanities.

As for string theory, it’s a bad example. The kind of pure math I do has no applications either, but the truth is that these research subjects make up a tiny fraction of science. And even that tiny fraction of course still serves – unavoidably – in the way it is done, in the educational work connected to it, etc., dominant interests in society.

24

christian_h 12.18.10 at 1:46 am

N.B.: The search for the Higgs boson is, in fact, a good example insofar as the description of the science being done as “the search for the Higgs boson” elides 99% of the scientific and technological work done in the process. Those 99% are not incidental. Does this mean I think we shouldn’t engage in the project or have some panel of lit professors tell us what to do? Of course not. But we should be aware of what is going on.

25

spyder 12.18.10 at 2:26 am

I would like to make one small point with regard to what christian-h is saying. The bureaucracy surrounding the sciences has made a considerable fortune in choosing and selecting the research, and thus the scientists to conduct the research. Very, very, few actual research scientists work freely to investigate realms on their own (and even then they are dependent on economic gifts). It is really a matter of expenses (and research in the social sciences? well, someone must pay the bills). Thus, and sadly, the work of science in the world today is performed for those that pay; even those like christian-h whose professorships are determined by administrators’ needs.

26

Michael Bérubé 12.18.10 at 2:49 am

OK, done doing end-of-semester errands for the day. Time to get back to thread-tending!

Kenny Easwaran @ 9:

It doesn’t seem to me that the idea that morality and justice are “immutable natural law” is any more conducive to conservatism than to egalitarianism. When the left sees itself as a movement “to imagine that another world is possible”, they mean a world that is better than this one, but still has the same fundamental facts about morality and justice, right?

No, not right — not because you’re wrong, exactly, but because this is precisely what all the fuss is about. Some people on the left insist that there are indeed immutable principles of morality and justice, and the more egalitarian and fair a society becomes, the more it approaches the realization of those principles. Whereas people like Rorty and me think we’re basically making it up as we go along, and that it does not help, as we go along, to think of ourselves as discovering and realizing fundamental facts about morality and justice. That was the debate I wanted to have with Sokal, not only because it’s an important debate in itself but also because there really was no way, by January 1997 (when he came to the University of Illinois), to debate his proposition that some humanists had been publishing some very silly, uninformed stuff about the sciences.

Landru @ 11:

is it so hard to admit that a lot of well-regarded stuff within Science Studies was, actually and not just potentially, wrong-headed, arrogant, misinformed and—this most important—useless?

Well, yes. Because I don’t know which well-regarded stuff you mean. I don’t see any reason to back off from Barnes and Bloor’s “symmetry principle,” for example, and Latour’s work on social/scientific networks isn’t hokum. Where Sokal’s complaints had most traction, imho — and this becomes most clear in Fashionable Nonsense — was with the Lacanian French left, none of whom could really be said to be doing “science studies” in any plausible way.

In the end, what good did “the relentless critique of everything existing” actually do for humanity?

It won some significant victories, over the past 200 years, for the working classes, for racial minorities, for women, for gays and lesbians, and for people with disabilities — basically, everyone excluded from the Old Dispensation. I’ll take those victories, thanks, along with the license to critique the history of the relentless critique of everything existing.

And Anonymoose: don’t switch the dice, mfren. I mentioned “medicine or engineering or environmental science,” and you came back with string theory and the Higgs boson. It matters which science we’re talking about. As I wrote in Rhetorical Occasions (inexplicably, some people here seem not to have purchased that book, despite its universally acclaimed cover design),

the reason that so few cultural leftists in the humanities care about new developments in theories of matter or of the evolution of the universe is precisely that such theories have no social utility whatsoever. The discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation and the rough determination of the age and “size” (and therefore, possibly, the fate) of the universe are triumphs of human intelligence; they are among the achievements of our species of which I am most proud. But they will not increase the peace and they will not fight the power; nor, for the cultural right, will they enhance trust in established authority or shore up traditional forms of identity and sexuality. Nor, for that matter, will they contribute a spare dime or a plugged Euro to the gross domestic product of any gross domesticity. For the conduct of human affairs, the statement, “the identity between the string energies in a universe with a circular dimension whose radius is either R or 1/R arises from the fact that the energies are of the form v/R + wR, where v is the vibration number and w is the winding number” (Greene 403, n. 3) has neither implications nor consequences.

Some sciences can reasonably be asked to serve some useful social purpose. Some cannot. Also, what Christian said about Mars.

27

christian_h 12.18.10 at 2:54 am

Oh but I do insist the Higgs boson search is in fact an example if you just subtract the 1% of it that actually has to do with the Higgs boson. The remaining 99% may well have social and technological (not meaning to claim the latter is separate from the former) utility. As spyder remarks, there’s no wriggling out of it (although obviously there are degrees).

28

Landru 12.18.10 at 4:29 am

christian_h: It’s science that is socially constructed. Not Mars. I really don’t get why people confuse the two. Nobody here – least of all me – has claimed that if the social construction of science had been or was different, Mars would suddenly cease to exist

I don’t know the fancy Latin term for this kind of fallacy, but I think you’re accusing me of accusing you of something that you — and I — never did. It’s a classic rhetorical tactic to respond to an attack that was not actually made, but as this is just you and me it’s completely wasted. What’s this about Mars? though for some reason Michael’s favorite seems to be Neptune. I didn’t say you said anything about Mars, I’m talking specifically about what you said about science as a human practice.

So, to be perfectly clear, here is exactly what I’m accusing you of: writing “science is socially constructed,” without qualifier or modifier such as “somewhat” or “partially” or “47%”, and thus implying “wholly” or “entirely” or “100%”. Are we clear on that? Nothing about Mars, just that one simple, unqualified sentence.

Now, over the top boys!

The statement that “science is wholly/entirely/100% socially constructed” is just ridiculous, and the reason why this is obvious has nothing to do with Mars but everything to do with the successful technology that you have in your hands right now. To me, “science is wholly/entirely/100% socially constructed” can only mean that “the products of science are purely an agreement between humans” and thus “science is not tethered to objective physical reality,” or that objective physical reality does not exist. There, have I made it clear? that’s what I’m accusing you of having said, and it’s patently absurd. If the output of science were merely an agreement between humans without grounding in physical reality, then it never would have been possible to build the Internet, or a computer, or a transistor, or even an electrical circuit. I should hope this point is beyond dispute: the fact that humans can make successful advanced technology proves that human science has a grounding in reality. Nothing to do with Mars, this is a statement specifically about the human practice of science.

Now, if I’ve accused you falsely, then you can correct me and perhaps an armistice will be in sight. Perhaps. To remain as clear as possible, without secret treaties, let me then ask:

1. When you say “science is socially constructed” without any modifiers, do you mean the same statement as “science is wholly/entirely/100% socially constructed”?

2. Assuming the answer to 1 is yes, then what is the meaning can “wholly/entirely/100% socially constructed” have which does not directly imply “not grounded in (or even tethered to) physical reality”?

There, that should do for a start. Meanwhile, for better or for worse I am merely a national lab rat and so don’t sit on or chat with promotion committees. But in response to “you might be stunned how little they think of the humanities”, can I suggest that the humanitarians might get a better reception if they didn’t truck in phrases that are, on their face, patently absurd as well as insulting?

29

Linnaeus 12.18.10 at 4:30 am

A couple of quick comments re: the obviousness of social construction in science.

1. My experiences are similar to those of christian_h in that the proposition that there is an element of social construction in the broader intellectual endeavor we call science is not necessarily trivially obvious to those who practice science (though it’s possible that it is obvious to most people who do science).

2. Even if social construction in science is trivially obvious to those who do science, it is not necessarily so to other audiences that are interested in the topic and for whom historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science write.

3. Even if the proposition of social construction in science is trivially obvious to any educated person in any field, particular narratives and analysis of particular cases may still be both interesting and useful for our understanding of science in its context.

30

Anonymoose 12.18.10 at 4:41 am

@christian_h

If ethical questions were not a matter of taste, that is if ethical sentences were true propositions, wouldn’t you expect a little more…consensus? Ignoring the meta-ethical arguments…if the sentence “the earth is roughly spherical” and the sentence “science should be answerable to humanism” were of the same type, shouldn’t we expect the same type of consensus for both of them? I know I would. But that clearly is not the case, is it? As M.B. put it more diplomatically above:

“Whereas people like Rorty and me think we’re basically making it up as we go along, and that it does not help, as we go along, to think of ourselves as discovering and realizing fundamental facts about morality and justice”

@Michael Bérubé

I realize that you were talking about more practical aspects of science, but when you make some parts of science “answerable and of some service to progressive interests”, what’s stopping you from going further? Where’s the cutoff point, and who decides? “The identity between [blah blah blah]” does have consequences: resources available for research are finite. A salary on a theoretical physicist is (potentially) a salary less on a medical researcher. From a certain POV, it makes total sense to completely cut research that is unrelated to the “conduct of human affairs”.

Personally my curiosity greatly exceeds my empathy, so I certainly hope no such scenario materializes while I’m still around…

31

geo 12.18.10 at 5:00 am

Landru @28: To me, “science is wholly/entirely/100% socially constructed” can only mean that “the products of science are purely an agreement between humans” and thus “science is not tethered to objective physical reality,” or that objective physical reality does not exist

Michael, as moderator, would you kindly define “objective physical reality,” for the sake of all concerned? Or at least cite a page reference to somewhere in your oeuvre?

32

Landru 12.18.10 at 5:16 am

Michael, re @26 —

Well, yes. Because I don’t know which well-regarded stuff you mean.

Well, I’m just cribbing it straight from you! In your review of _Beyond the Hoax_ linked here you describe Sokal and Bricmont as “noting”, and hence you implicitly agree that

major figures in science studies are given to making such assertions as “the validity of theoretical propositions in the sciences is in no way affected by factual evidence” (Kenneth J. Gergen) and “there is no sense attached to the idea that some standards or beliefs are really rational as distinct from merely locally accepted as such” (Barry Barnes and David Bloor, founders of the “strong programme” or “Edinburgh school” in science studies).

These quotations are patent absurdities; and if “major figures in science studies” were “given” to saying something, doesn’t that mean it was “well-regarded” in that same field? (or do you really want to nitpick further on what the threshold for “well-regarded” should be versus “fairly well-regarded”?) Your own writing in the book review reveals clearly that patent nonsense was, at some level, considered acceptable in the field of science studies. Walk it back if you want to, but my authority here so far is basically you.

Now, regarding who actually achieved “some significant victories, over the past 200 years, for the working classes, for racial minorities, for women, for gays and lesbians, and for people with disabilities—basically, everyone excluded from the Old Dispensation”, the more complete quote from your essay was

On my side, perhaps humanists are beginning to realize that there is a project even more vital than that of the relentless critique of everything existing,

I assumed here that by “humanists on your side” as the authors of “relentless critique”, you were specifically talking about academic literary and cultural critics — not a category into which I would put Martin Luther King or Walter Reuther or Elizabeth Cady Stanton (would you?). I can believe that the academic lit-crit crowd may have had more actual influence for gay rights in the US, and as I’ve said elsewhere I remain in awe of your own work on disabilities studies. But you’ve really dodged the main question I asked, which is “why hasn’t three decades of pomo litcrit, and its academic litter-mates, given us more to work with in holding back the zombies who plague us now?”

33

Landru 12.18.10 at 5:20 am

would you kindly define “objective physical reality,”

There’s a nice quotation attributed to Philip K. Dick: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” I’d settle for that, though your standards may vary.

34

John Quiggin 12.18.10 at 8:17 am

It would be good to see a study of the role of alternative medicine in all this. It seems to have been a big reason for Feyerabend’s extreme stance, and one of the few concrete examples of anti-science theories to which science studies practitioners had a serious commitment.

35

andthenyoufall 12.18.10 at 11:05 am

@ Anonymoose — Do we generally expect consensus over true propositions? Take Euclid I.47. If we polled the population, I expect we would find a huge amount of controversy over whether “the square on the side opposite the right angle of a triangle equals the sum of the squares on the sides containing the right angle”. If we polled people who had studied geometry, on the other hand, we would find a nice consensus, and probably some convergent explanations of why it’s true. But what about theorems about Galois representations? Well, presumably we would have to go to an even smaller group to find consensus, but the point is still the same — on questions where there are right and wrong answers, we expect consensus from people who have systematically studied a set of related problems, not from the man on the street consulting his gut. (On questions of taste, on the other hand, I actually would expect consensus from the man on the street consulting his gut! They call it common sense for a reason, you know.)

Why is there consensus about the sphericality of the earth? Well, 3,000 years of science education, I would suppose. And as time goes on and Enlightenment does its thang, maybe more and more scientific, mathematical, sociological, and moral truths will move from “controversial among experts” to “accepted by experts” to “accepted by everyone”. We’ve got to end our self-imposed immaturity sometime, y’know.

@ Landru — The conventions of the zombie epic dictate that before the protagonists start mowing down the ranks of the walking dead, they need to avoid joining those ranks themselves. Critical theory seems like more of a prerequisite than a coup de grace.

36

spyder 12.18.10 at 2:04 pm

Totally pointed OT comment: Go Bears! Cal that is.
And now back to our regular programming: Zombie theater in the sciences.

37

AcademicLurker 12.18.10 at 2:21 pm

It won some significant victories, over the past 200 years, for the working classes, for racial minorities, for women, for gays and lesbians, and for people with disabilities—basically, everyone excluded from the Old Dispensation. I’ll take those victories, thanks,

I’m not sure this really clarifies anything. Wasn’t Sokal pretty convinced that it was his “side” that won significant victories for the working class, racial minorities & etc? Everyone claims to be on the side of the angels after the fact.

I’ll happily spot Cultural Studies (for lack of a better term for the vague constellation of critics we’re talking about) some credit for contributing to the advancement of rights and recognition for gays lesbians and people with disabilities, but “the past 200 years” covers a lot of ground, and we weren’t there for most of it.

Also, it would take some doing to demonstrate that the suffragettes, the civil rights marchers & etc. were all just good Rortians at heart. They certainly talked like they believed their claims were based on something other than the fact that they were making claims (Christianity, Enlightenment values, natural law, whatever). This doesn’t prove that equality & social justice are based on transcendental principles, but it does suggest that the belief that they are has done a lot of good work.

38

christian_h 12.18.10 at 3:59 pm

But of course science – as opposed to the objective reality it studies – is 100% socially constructed. To believe anything else would be idealism of the most reactionary kind. How this should imply that it is “untethered” to the objective world it is studying is beyond me, however.

As for mathematics, “truth” is obviously a matter of convention. Pythagoras theorem mentioned above, for example, is false in physical reality. Or rather, it is strictly speaking meaningless outside the abstract (social!) construct we now call Euclidean geometry. Of course the way mathematics has been constructed was and is inspired by physical reality in the same way a piece of art – even the most abstract one – is ultimately inspired by physical reality (after all we are part of physical reality).

As for, say, ethical questions being mere matters of taste: this can only be claimed under the assumption that social realities are somehow less real than and separate from physical realities, which I believe to be spectacularly wrong and, for that matter, anti-science.

39

christian_h 12.18.10 at 4:01 pm

(All this is not to embrace Michael’s completely wrong-headed views on how to achieve political progress, in case that is in doubt ;))

40

andthenyoufall 12.18.10 at 5:18 pm

christian_h: I agree that theorems and theories are constructed (which may not have been clear, since that wasn’t really the point I was making), but to be persnickety, I would want to distinguish between falsity and error; I.47 is true, simply, in virtue of it being a true inference from its premises, while certain beliefs that people might have about the world based on a mistaken application of the theorem are false.

(I.e., inferences are true (valid) or false (invalid), claims about objects are correct (match reality) or erroneous (fail to match reality). Assigning true/false to one and correct/erroneous to the other is somewhat arbitrary, but the point is to distinguish between truth-claims that are about validity and truth-claims that are about reality-matching, which are quite different. So it’s misleading to make the point about the social construction of various theories by saying that “it’s false in physical reality” – that misconstrues the nature of the social construction of theories by conflating two different kinds of truth/correctness.)

41

christian_h 12.18.10 at 5:33 pm

andthenyoufall: agreed.

42

Michael Bérubé 12.18.10 at 6:15 pm

Anonymoose @30:

I realize that you were talking about more practical aspects of science, but when you make some parts of science “answerable and of some service to progressive interests”, what’s stopping you from going further? Where’s the cutoff point, and who decides?

The question here should be: of which sciences can one plausibly make this request, and to which sciences is it totally irrelevant? No question, Ross should have been more specific about this. And I think John Quiggin says a very true thing @ 34: often enough, when you hold these critiques of “science” up to the light, it turns out that they are briefs for alternative medicine — as I suggested w/r/t Ross’s line about “metaphysical life theories taken seriously by millions.”

geo @ 31:

Michael, as moderator, would you kindly define “objective physical reality,” for the sake of all concerned? Or at least cite a page reference to somewhere in your oeuvre?

Yes, let me settle this one once and for all. OK, here I go! Objective physical reality is … uh … pretty much what Landru says @ 33. Thank Moloch for Philip K. Dick.

Which brings me to Landru @ 32:

Well, I’m just cribbing it straight from you! … Your own writing in the book review reveals clearly that patent nonsense was, at some level, considered acceptable in the field of science studies. Walk it back if you want to, but my authority here so far is basically you.

Are you saying that you know nothing about science studies except what you’ve read in my reviews? Look. The fact that Barnes and Bloor wrote an opaque sentence about “there is no sense attached to the idea that” doesn’t make the entire Symmetry Principle worthless. Nor does Kenneth Gergen’s dismissal of “factual evidence” somehow invalidate the work of Emily Martin or Rayna Rapp or Susan Squier.

I assumed here that by “humanists on your side” as the authors of “relentless critique”, you were specifically talking about academic literary and cultural critics—not a category into which I would put Martin Luther King or Walter Reuther or Elizabeth Cady Stanton (would you?).

No, I wouldn’t, but your initial assumption is mistaken. The project of relentless critique of everything existing predates the arrival of the current academic litcrit crowd by more than a hundred years. The phrase itself, I believe, dates from 1844. Likewise, to AcademicLurker @ 37, I wasn’t talking about Cultural Studies or Rortians. I was simply answering the last of Landru’s many questions @ 11, which it now appears that I’ve misread. I should have read it as a subset of this question:

But you’ve really dodged the main question I asked, which is “why hasn’t three decades of pomo litcrit, and its academic litter-mates, given us more to work with in holding back the zombies who plague us now?”

Let me take two of your earlier formulations of this, which, I think, deserve separate (speculative) answers (leaving aside the obvious fact that my own attempts to have some influence on public discourse and public policy have been abject failures):

wasn’t the Empire of Theory (or, as I like to refer it, the Butlerian Jihad) actually supposed to help save us from the Republican assault on reason? After all, once bitten, twice shy, right? Wasn’t the whole idea of la Theorie supposed to be to illuminate the unconscious biases and hidden power relations that inescapably limit language itself? Shouldn’t all those decades of criticism have at least gifted us with some kind of useful tool, a Ginsu knife with which to fillet the Noise Machine and lay its corrupted innards bare?

I do like that phrasing. Here’s why it didn’t happen, I think. As Nancy Fraser put it in Justice Interruptus, “The scenario that best finesses the redistribution-recognition dilemma is socialism in the economy plus deconstruction in the culture. But for this scenario to be psychologically and politically feasible requires that all people be weaned from their attachment to current cultural constructions of their interests and identities” (31). Whew! Is that all it requires? Let the weaning begin! Though of course people like me and Fraser won’t have to be weaned from anything. The masses are always other people, as somebody once said.

Now for the other question:

why hasn’t the truth-oriented Left done better in resisting the onslaught of unreason?

As Quiggin here will tell you, it’s all about the zombies. Climate change denial, tall tales about tobacco and DDT … check back over the discussions of “agnotology” on this very blog. Unreason has a lot more devices at its disposal than we thought.

43

geo 12.18.10 at 10:10 pm

Landru & PK Dick at 33:

How would Dick’s dictum apply to these two cases:

1) An event only you perceived at the time and which has, for practical purposes, left no evidence behind. Is the event part of objective physical reality (opr)? If you cease to remember it, or believe in your memory of it, does it remain part of opr? In what sense?

2) Are false opinions part of opr while someone believes in them? After everyone has ceased to believe in them? After everyone has even ceased to remember them?

44

Michael Bérubé 12.18.10 at 10:27 pm

geo– for thing (1), I think it depends on whether you want to try to speak from a nonhuman frame of reference. If event A (say, tree falling in forest) happens and is witnessed by only one person who later forgets or doubts that it happened, then yes, from the perspective of the All-Seeing Cosmos, it happened, it was part of opr. But no human being knows anything about it, so there is no human perspective from which to utter the previous sentence.

Back in the day, Sokal thought I was talking pure gibberish when I said that from a human perspective, the discovery of Neptune might as well be called the invention of Neptune, so long as we understand that we “invented” something in the mid-19th c. that predates us and won’t go away when we become extinct. But this is basically a “shorter” of sections 43-44 of Being and Time, about which I wrote a bunch of pages in Rhetorical Occasions. The point I was trying to make is that there’s a difference between aspects of the real world (like planets) that are clearly none of our doing, such that it sounds odd to speak of “inventing” them, and aspects of the real world that are largely our doing (like money and transistors), such that it would sound odd to speak of our “discovering” them. And that, for me, maps pretty closely onto the distinction between brute fact and social fact.

Which leads me to (2), and why I have a great deal of trouble imagining any kind of opinions — false, true, whimsical, bloggy — as part of opr.

45

geo 12.18.10 at 10:40 pm

I think it depends on whether you want to try to speak from a nonhuman frame of reference

I’d like to very much. How does one go about it?

46

Michael Bérubé 12.19.10 at 12:25 am

I can’t tell you here, obviously.

47

Dave Maier 12.19.10 at 1:17 am

OMG a Sokal post! Hope you cleared it with Mistress Quicklime. I like your article, and I think there might be a way for us to achieve some sort of Horizontverschmelzung (god I love that word) if not agreement. Let me think about it some more and read this promising comment thread carefully, and I will try to respond via my new 3 Quarks Daily column next Monday (12/27).

48

sbk 12.19.10 at 6:17 pm

Per Hidari @ 7, I am also dying to know if there’s documentation that E.O. Wilson really said that. It was in a public lecture? Did someone in the audience just take notes? Was the text ever circulated? I just want to know what the next sentence was.

And: are multiculturalism, relativism, and “no supercollider” also independently equal to communism? Are all four automatically present when one is?

49

JP Stormcrow 12.19.10 at 7:56 pm

The cite for the Wilson remark seems to be:

Personal reflections on a life in science. Public lecture presented at the History of Science Society Annual Meeting, Forum for the History of Science in America, Distinguished Scientist Series, New Orleans, Lousiana, 14 October, 1994.

Beyond that I have no idea what documentation there is.

50

bianca steele 12.19.10 at 11:04 pm

This has become off-topic now, and I think I’ve posted before on Ian Hacking’s analysis of what “social construction” means (and I doubt I’m more educated than others who’ve commented), but it might help a little. Hacking says “X is socially constructed” means that X could have been otherwise at a minimum–in other words, X is historically conditioned. And (Hacking goes on) many people who talk about social construction go on to say X is bad and further that X can be eliminated. One of his examples is anorexia, and there are a lot of reasons to think of anorexia as socially constructed, none of which denies the physical (or mental and emotional) reality of girls who are anorexic. Another example is missile accuracy: although the answer to “was the target hit?” is not socially constructed, the way manufacturers label their products is.

But to many people, to say that X is “socially constructed” is to say it is constructed according to extra-scientific criteria. It seems to imply that scientists are hypocrites, or else that they aren’t the ones who ultimately control which theory wins out in their field. And politically, it seems to imply that since we non-scientists are the ones who ultimately determine what scientific theory should be accepted as true, in a democracy we should be able to replace a theory we don’t like with something better.

And then it can seem like the existence of anorexic girls somehow directly serves the interests of the powerful in society (rather than that, for example, adjustment problems are symptomatic in historically conditioned ways), and that science is harming them by defining anorexia the way it does or by trying medical approaches instead of changing society.

51

Landru 12.20.10 at 4:53 am

bianca steele @50 —

It seems quite significant to me, that (nearly) all the concrete examples of social construction of science being mentioned here involve medicine (I don’t know what you mean about labeling missiles, but that sounds more like marketing than science), or perhaps more generally making statements about people. Of course, when people are involved it is not surprising that politics would play a larger role in descriptions that purport to be scientific; whether pregnancy should be seen as a medical condition, or homosexuality as a mental disorder, seem like the purest examples of “social facts” masquerading as objective reality. (One might ask psychiatric patients of the old Soviet Union whether their diagnosed illnesses were social or brute facts.) It should be mentioned, that a great deal of the practice of medicine is plainly not an act of science — doctors are not doing controlled experiments with well-defined outcomes — and the latter should not be splashed by the shortcomings of the former.

Since I’ve never seen a technical, yet accessible (ie readable), yet non-trivial definition for what “the social construction of science” means, I’m forced to fall back on the ordinary meanings of the words. And, the first thing the phrase conjures for me is the image of the state legislature voting to set pi equal to 3, reasoning that will make a range of calculations easier and less costly (not that this is something I’d put past the 112th Congress, mind you). To me, “social” means “between humans” and so “socially constructed” means “arrived at purely by agreement between humans” ie without reference to the RWOT; which is a longer and more polite way of saying “made up”. And so, christian_h’s formulation that “science is 100% socially constructed” has for me the meaning that “science is 100% determined by agreement between humans” with no reference to the RWOT, and or to put it more bluntly “science is 100% made up.” This is obviously ludicrous — and that’s before considering whatever motivations might drive a person to state such a claim.

It may certainly be the case that there is some definition of “social construction” that, when applied to science results in a statement that is neither trivial (“science is done by humans and uses human languages”) nor ludicrous (“the outcomes of science are not influenced by data”). But I’ve never seen one, and with my limited education (much more so than yours, I’m sure) it may be out of my reach forever.

52

andthenyoufall 12.20.10 at 9:50 am

@Landru,

On the questions that seem to trouble you, the two most useful books are, imho, Luckman and Berger’s “The Social Construction of Reality” and Ian Hacking’s “The Social Construction of What.” They would both meet your standards for technical and accessible.

It’s important to note that science is, indeed, made up. Very few people deny that most science is useful. But if we were to go by the data, you would have to admit the chance of a given scientific theory being superseded is close to 100%. For example: is ether “made up”? Well, the concept of ether was certainly made up: all concepts are. If you think that concepts correspond to objects, however, you will correctly note that the concept was supposed to correspond to actual ether (not socially constructed ether). As it happens, ether doesn’t exist, which makes it particularly easy to see that (the concept of) ether must have been socially constructed; it’s certainly not a natural kind. However, there are other scientific concepts that have been constructed, just as the concept of ether was constructed (quarks, neutron stars… the Higgs Boson), but for now people who like correspondence theories of truth think that these concepts correspond to actual entities beyond the concepts and the phenomena which the concepts predict.

Anyway, this example is a roundabout way to make the point that “Is X socially constructed?” and “Is the social construction of X important?” are two different questions, and they may have different answers. In general, I think debates over whether, say, quarks and neutron stars are socially constructed have value mainly insofar as they flesh out and systematize what we mean when we say (in general) “X is socially constructed”; if you get to the point where you believe that X is socially constructed and also bad, which it seems, Landru, is a place you’re willing to go with some biomedical science and psychology, that systematicity comes in handy.

53

bianca steele 12.20.10 at 1:51 pm

Well, one of Latour’s big studies involved vaccination (for smallpox), which is medical, but I think is closer to physical reality than to social reality. And as far as psychology and so forth goes, we are still at a point where we could reject science altogether and return to “traditional” ways of dealing with things, so a focus on the social construction of physics within the widely hated neoliberal order can have the effect of reinforcing this potential rejection.

54

bianca steele 12.20.10 at 3:09 pm

Anyway, I would say that ether was “made up” in a different way than the way witches making your cows die was “made up.”

55

Landru 12.21.10 at 3:32 am

andthenyoufall @52 —

Thanks for the reading recommendations. I will try to become more educated on other people’s technical usages, though I won’t have much spare time while I’m trying to get caught up with all of Michael’s books; and, Zombie Economics is on my Christmas list as well.

I’ve monopolized this aging thread too much, so I’ll try to make this my last and short entry. It seems from what you’ve said in #52 that “socially constructed” is operationally synonymous with “invented,” which can also be called “made up.” But I think you make a rather grievous error in equating “science” as a whole with the act of inventing physical theories/models. Science is really — and I mean, really, really, really — the union of (at least) two activities: (I) inventing theories/pictures/models of what’s going on in the natural world, and (II) testing those theories against reality. Arguably Phase I could be termed “invention” and so “made up” or “socially constructed”; but certainly Phase II is not subject purely to human invention or opinion, if one’s experiments are well enough designed: nature gives you the answer as to whether the theory’s predictions are confirmed, and you don’t get a choice about the outcome. Yes, humans are fallible and can be biased or self-blinded, especially in the short run; but after enough systematic investigation the true answer — is the theory confirmed or not? — will emerge from experiment _without_ human opinion mattering.

So, while particular scientific theories could perhaps be termed “made up” and hence social constructs, the full package of science with both theory and experiment is most emphatically not 100% made up, and so should not be termed 100% socially constructed. It’s the experiment part, really, that’s the most important, which gives me a chance to round out the zombie theme appropriately with a pointer to this favorite XKCD comic:

http://xkcd.com/397/

Enjoy; happy holidays.

56

Substance McGravitas 12.21.10 at 8:56 pm

Science is really—and I mean, really, really, really—the union of (at least) two activities: (I) inventing theories/pictures/models of what’s going on in the natural world, and (II) testing those theories against reality.

I’m in sympathy with what you want to say, and I think a lot of the “social construction” assertions are way too strong, but your reliable second half may not work out if you really really want to see the reality you like. This is an interesting read in the context of the thread.

57

andthenyoufall 12.21.10 at 9:58 pm

Landru – agreed. I would only add that at any given time there are going to be multiple theories consistent with a given set of data, and which theories prevail is not purely a function of which one explains the data the best; indeed, the criterion for “what explains the data the best” is itself going to be under dispute. In fact, it’s frequently the last guardians of an obsolete scientific theory who do most of the data-gathering (e.g. Brahe), but new data doesn’t lead to new theories in a linear way. (Who was it who said “the historical institutionalist school has amassed warehouses of data waiting for a theory… or a fire”?)

Hacking discusses this under the heading of “contingency”. The more you can accept a counterfactual picture of the world in which scientists have gathered different data, or interpreted the given data set as evidence for a different theory, the more mileage you’ll get out of claims that X is socially constructed. (So it seems that even with little exposure to this literature you can countenance that results in the biomedical sciences “could have been different”; certainly the divergent paths taken by physics in the USA and in the USSR while the two communities were in isolation suggests that physics could have easily arrived at a different place in the 20th c.)

(It seems to me, by the way, that zombie Feynman is friendly to many social constructionist arguments about science. His normative claim is “scientists ought to hold their beliefs up to experiment”, but that seems paired to the descriptive claim “many institutionalized scientific disciplines (e.g., string theorists) don’t hold their beliefs up to experiment.” You can accept both the former and the latter.)

58

Marisol Perry 12.22.10 at 1:01 am

bianca steele @50 — It seems quite significant to me, that (nearly) all the concrete examples of social construction of science being mentioned here involve medicine (I don’t know what you mean about labeling missiles, but that sounds more like marketing than science), or perhaps more generally making statements about people. Of course, when people are involved it is not surprising that politics would play a larger role in descriptions that purport to be scientific; whether pregnancy should be seen as a medical condition, or homosexuality as a mental disorder, seem like the purest examples of “social facts” masquerading as objective reality. (One might ask psychiatric patients of the old Soviet Union whether their diagnosed illnesses were social or brute facts.) It should be mentioned, that a great deal of the practice of medicine is plainly not an act of science — doctors are not doing controlled experiments with well-defined outcomes — and the latter should not be splashed by the shortcomings of the former. Since I’ve never seen a technical, yet accessible (ie readable), yet non-trivial definition for what “the social construction of science” means, I’m forced to fall back on the ordinary meanings of the words. And, the first thing the phrase conjures for me is the image of the state legislature voting to set pi equal to 3, reasoning that will make a range of calculations easier and less costly (not that this is something I’d put past the 112th Congress, mind you). To me, “social” means “between humans” and so “socially constructed” means “arrived at purely by agreement between humans” ie without reference to the RWOT; which is a longer and more polite way of saying “made up”. And so, christian_h’s formulation that “science is 100% socially constructed” has for me the meaning that “science is 100% determined by agreement between humans” with no reference to the RWOT, and or to put it more bluntly “science is 100% made up.” This is obviously ludicrous — and that’s before considering whatever motivations might drive a person to state such a claim. It may certainly be the case that there is some definition of “social construction” that, when applied to science results in a statement that is neither trivial (“science is done by humans and uses human languages”) nor ludicrous (“the outcomes of science are not influenced by data”). But I’ve never seen one, and with my limited education (much more so than yours, I’m sure) it may be out of my reach forever.

59

bjkeefe 12.22.10 at 6:55 am

Michael:

On page 3 of your Democracy, you refer to “physicist David Albert.” I think it’s more accurate to say David is a philosopher, even though he does focus quite intently on physics and has earned degrees in that field. Last I heard, he called himself a philosopher (of science).

I note also that you called him “[p]hilosopher David Albert” when attributing the same words to him at an earlier time, in your Minnesota Review article “This I Believed.” If he has between the time of your earlier writing and the more recent one asked for a change of terms in how one describes him, I apologize for calling the latter instance an error.

The rest of your Democracy article was a very interesting read, as is pretty much everything you write. I confess to a fondness for Sokal’s stunt that will never be completely dislodged, even as I admit I never looked into it much past the headlines when it happened. However, since then, the things you’ve had to say about it persuaded me that whatever that stunt might have said about anything larger, the matters are not so cut and dried. For that, and for the other efforts you’ve made that have helped me to grow out of my old math/science-undergraduate-mindset and appreciate the worth of the liberal arts, I thank you.

60

bjkeefe 12.22.10 at 6:59 am

“… of your Democracy article,” that should have read.

Muphry’s Law strikes again!

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bianca steele 12.22.10 at 9:00 pm

I’m afraid the reason I don’t have time at the moment to read up on Prof. Berube’s work is that I am much too busy boggling at this.

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