Debunking the Conventional Wisdom about the Science Wars, Especially the Sokal Affair and its Aftermath

In essays posted at this site, I use close readings of the science wars literature to debunk the conventional wisdom about them, especially about the Sokal affair and its aftermath. In doing this, I try to adhere to standards of rigor comparable to those of my profession, mathematics. I look forward to all criticism that is made in the same spirit.

Although the essays first posted here (see below) were written to support allegations that I made in "Reading and relativism: an introduction to the science wars" PDF (in After the Science Wars, Ashman & Baringer, editors, Routledge 2001), they serve equally well to support ones that I made in a review symposium in Social Studies of Science (February 2004).

The symposium begins with my review, "Kinder, gentler science wars," of The One Culture? A Conversation about Science (Labinger & Collins, editors, U. of Chicago 2001).This is followed by five replies to the review by participants in the conversation and, finally, my replies to the replies.

The entire symposium is available in eleven files below, beginning with "Kinder, gentler science wars." However, because the last paragraph of my reply to Bricmont & Sokal is marred by a publishing error that renders it gibberish, I am also posting a prepublication version, subtitled, "Sometimes the obvious is the enemy of the true." Finally, I am posting, as a single PDF file, the published version of "Replies to the replies."

The last section below was added in 2013. It is devoted to debunkings of Paul Boghossian's readings of the minds of relativists and constructivists, a subject that loomed large in the science wars.

The documents written to support allegations made in "Reading and relativism" are:
A physicist experiments with scholarly discourse
An unphilosophical argument
The hoax according to Weinberg
Professor Nagel's Fashionable Nonsense
The invention of Jacques Derrida, physics faker
Selective quotation
 These are, in order, debunkings of
What the Social Text affair does and does not prove, by the physicist, Alan Sokal
What the Sokal hoax ought to teach us, by the philosopher, Paul Boghossian
Sokal's hoax, by the physicist, Steven Weinberg
The sleep of reason, by the philosopher, Thomas Nagel
Attempts to brand Jacques Derrida a physics faker
An attack on Social Text editor, Andrew Ross, by the biologist, Paul R. Gross
The following essays make up the review symposium noted above.
Kinder, gentler science wars: a review of The One Culture: PDF
Logic and the editor, Jay Labinger: PDF
Reply to Labinger: HTML
Scientism and philosophism, Michael Lynch: PDF
Reply to Lynch: HTML
Understanding 'social', Peter R. Saulson: PDF
Reply to Saulson: HTML
How do you know you've alternated? Harry Collins: PDF
Reply to Collins: HTML
Reply to Gabriel Stolzenberg, Jean Bricmont & Alan Sokal: PDF
Reply to Bricmont and Sokal: HTML
Reply to Bricmont and Sokal: Sometimes the obvious is the enemy of the true: PDF
Replies to the replies: PDF

Paul Boghossian's Very Bad Argument

"A very bad argument" PDF is my debunking review of Paul Boghossian's "Fear of Knowledge: against relativism and constructivism" (Oxford 2005). Here I present two new debunkings, each an elaboration of one presented in the review.

The title of Boghossian's book points us to a passage in the epilogue in which he says that relativists and constructivists fear some of the social and political consequences of admitting to themselves that his mind- independent worldview is true and their mind-dependent one is false. Why else do they refuse to accept what he sees as objectively valid arguments that are simple and crystal clear?

But relativists and constructivists know that Boghossian only pretends to read their minds because they know that, if he really could, he would very soon discover that his view of their view---in particular, his view of their view of his view---is wholly mistaken. The alleged refutations of relativism in his book are beautiful examples of his wholly mistaken view of their view.

The two new debunkings of Boghossian's book are presented here under the title, "Fear of knowledge of relativism and constructivism" PDF. It begins with an elaboration of my debunking of his "proof by intimidation" that we can grasp mind-independent justifications. The rest is an expansion of "Explanations of belief acquisition," my debunking of Boghossian's alleged example of a belief for which it is necessary to appeal to its truth to explain its acquisition.

In it, I go further and argue that, not only is Boghossian's example bogus, but we have no reason to think that there are any such beliefs, not for truth nor evidence nor rationality. The fact that Boghossian thinks otherwise suggests that he has failed to grasp how high a bar is posed by 'it is necessary.' Indeed, a close reading of his argument suggests that he treats 'it is necessary' as if it means 'it is sufficient,' for which the bar is much lower. But I leave this for the reader to check for herself.

These documents may be revised from time to time, if only to correct mistakes. I also am composing a list of errata and critical comments for the published (and, hence, unrevisable) essays, "Reading and relativism," "Kinder, gentler science wars" and "Replies to the replies." See "Errata and auto-critique": PDF

My email address is

I thank Ben Eshbach for creating and maintaining this site and for his greatly appreciated moral support.