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The science wars: postmodernism as a threat against truth and reason

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For now, this intro has been adapted from Wikipedia.

More references, updates, and original work will be added over the next year.

The science wars is a series of intellectual exchanges, between scientific realists and postmodernist critics, about the nature of scientific theory and intellectual inquiry. They took place principally in the United States in the 1990s in the academic and mainstream press. Scientific realists (such as Norman LevittPaul R. GrossJean Bricmont and Alan Sokal) argued that scientific knowledge is real, and accused the postmodernists of having effectively rejected scientific objectivity, the scientific methodEmpiricism, and scientific knowledge.

Postmodernists interpreted Thomas Kuhn‘s ideas about scientific paradigms to mean that scientific theories are social constructs, and philosophers like Paul Feyerabend argued that other, non-realist forms of knowledge production were better suited to serve people’s personal and spiritual needs.

Though much of the theory associated with ‘postmodernism’ (see poststructuralism) did not make any interventions into the natural sciences, the scientific realists took aim at its general influence. The scientific realists argued that large swaths of scholarship, amounting to a rejection of objectivity and realism, had been influenced by major 20th Century poststructuralist philosophers (such as Jacques DerridaGilles DeleuzeJean-François Lyotard and others), whose work they declare to be incomprehensible or meaningless. They implicate a broad range of fields in this trend, including cultural studiescultural anthropologyfeminist studiescomparative literaturemedia studies, and science and technology studies. They accuse those postmodernist critics who did actually discuss science of having a limited understanding of it.

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Suggested reading

Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science, Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt, 1994

Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science, Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, 1999

In 1996, Alan Sokal published an essay in the hip intellectual magazine Social Text parodying the scientific but impenetrable lingo of contemporary theorists. Here, Sokal teams up with Jean Bricmont to expose the abuse of scientific concepts in the writings of today’s most fashionable postmodern thinkers. From Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva to Luce Irigaray and Jean Baudrillard, the authors document the errors made by some postmodernists using science to bolster their arguments and theories. Witty and closely reasoned, Fashionable Nonsense dispels the notion that scientific theories are mere “narratives” or social constructions, and explored the abilities and the limits of science to describe the conditions of existence.

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Book reviews

Richard Dawkins’ review of Intellectual Impostures by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont.

 

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