Alan Sokal

S1E76

  
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Alan Sokal, Professor of Mathematics at University College London and Professor Emeritus of Physics at New York University, discusses his (in)famous "Sokal hoax" (1996), how the hoax was almost revealed, and the contemporary issues that have followed from his Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture (Oxford UP, 2008). Covering the historical backdrop of the current debates over identity politics, Sokal discusses the 1950’s “Two Cultures Controversy” ignited by CP Snow, the culture wars of late 1980s and early 1990s and the ensuing “science wars” of the 1990s. Sokal examines the ways in which politics of the left and the right affected academic debates on science and the humanities, and how identity politics has become a dog whistle where orthodoxy to anti-science hokum indicts the subject as being necessarily affiliated with the far-right. Analysing the current debate on gender identity and the attack on women’s rights, Sokal discusses the effects of critical theory on this debate noting the anti-intellectualism within academic debates today whereby the analysis of “oppression” has been elevated to the status of an “unquestionable truth” as he notes the turn from a radical relativism to a dogmatic absolutism. Sokal critiques reified postmodernism where political principles have firmly fixed themselves to fundamental truths that cannot possibly be questioned.