Alan Sokal has written a new book, and Oxford University Press promises to get it to us in March 2008. Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture expands upon his earlier work with Jean Bricmont, including that superb dark comedy Intellectual Impostures, also known as Fashionable Nonsense (1998). After treating his readers to an annotated version of his infamous “Transgressing the Boundaries” essay, Sokal moves on to examine the relationship between science and political liberalism, and he devotes a chapter to asking what his infamous experiment “does and does not prove.”
The middle portion of the book delves into the philosophy of science. In this area, Sokal — a practicing physicist with a tolerance for philosophy books — is sure to have interesting things to say. Finally, he moves into the territory which I expect to be the most controversial (at least outside the Literature Department), with the book’s final third headed off by a study of pseudoscience and postmodernism. Sokal asks if these enterprises are “antagonists or fellow-travelers.”
If you wonder why such a scholarly inquiry might provoke hot air and flying feathers, just read the appendix of Sokal’s earlier essay on the subject. (To my knowledge, this is the closest anybody has done to an academic study of quantum woo and the related pseudoscientific memes employed by medicine denialists. “As a physicist,” he says, “I am not impressed.”) Then ask yourself, “Which bloggers will get upset about this?”
Beyond the Hoax is expected to be published roughly three months after John Allen Paulos’ new book, Irreligion.