Fashionable Nonsense Book Summary By Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont

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In Fashionable Nonsense (1998), acclaimed authors Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont provide a scathing critique of postmodernism and its harmful effects on society.

Through this book, readers can deepen their understanding of how complex language and fashionable intellectual trends often mask profound yet inaccessible ideas in higher academia.

Uncover the truth about postmodernism, learn how to be critical of abstract theories that lack empirical evidence, and find out what drove Sokal and Bricmont to challenge the popular wisdom.

With insights from both academics and public intellectuals, Fashionable Nonsense is essential reading for anyone interested in critically examining claims of grandiosity in higher education.

Fashionable Nonsense

Book Name: Fashionable Nonsense (Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science)

Author(s): Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont

Rating: 4.1/5

Reading Time: 13 Minutes

Categories: Education

Author Bio

Alan Sokal is a renowned professor of physics at New York University and the author of the acclaimed book Beyond the Hoax.

He specializes in quantum field theory and critical analysis, with a particular focus on sociocultural aspects related to science.

With his witty humor and sharp insights, he offers an incisive critique of the “fashionable nonsense” that has come to dominate some parts of academia.

His acerbic style will have you both laughing and learning from his academic analyses as he challenges long-held beliefs and explores controversial topics.

How Postmodernism Leaves Science Vulnerable: Native Creation Myths, Mumbo-Jumbo And False Credibility


Postmodernism has had a major impact on science, particularly in the field of social sciences.

By treating Native American creation myths as possible realities, postmodernism is undermining standards for scientific progress and creating an environment where it is difficult to determine objective truth.

This ultimately threatens the very basis of science: experimentation, rationality and evidence-based conclusions.

Alan Sokal showed us how dangerous this trend can be when he successfully hoaxed a postmodernist-influenced journal by submitting a paper filled with complete nonsense that somehow got published.

It highlighted just how far postmodernism had spread – in some cases, it has made mumbo-jumbo seem scientific and an -ism can ruin science if taken too far.

Postmodernists have even gone so far as to use mathematical language to try to give their theories false credibility and this can lead to serious problems for genuine scientific research.

Understanding Postmodernism: Is It Really A Threat To Objective Reality Or Can It Help Balance Out Extreme Modernism?

Postmodernism is a term that encompasses many different ideas, but the main concept behind it is the challenge to the idea of objective truth.

This means that postmodernists deny that any sort of “truth” can be found in the world that isn’t relative or based on individual interpretations.

For example, when trying to explain the origin of Native American tribes, postmodernists believe that traditional forms of knowledge contain limited and biased ideas.

For this reason, they believe that creation myths from these tribes are just as valid as scientific evidence which suggests the first humans entered Americas by crossing a Bering Strait thousands of years ago.

Postmodernists also suggest that no objective reality exists in terms of how things come to be seen and interpreted; everything we know is based entirely on our individual perspective.

Whilst this way of thinking has proven beneficial in terms of opening up room for diverse voices, when it comes to scientific discourse it can cause issues.

That said, its presence serves to balance out any extreme modernist philosophies which may be having a detrimental effect on our culture.

The Sokal hoax was a parody and critique of postmodernism.

Aimed at a fashionable journal known as Social Text, physicist Alan Sokal’s paper “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” used extreme relativism to argue that even physical reality is just a “social and linguistic construct.” To reinforce his point, Sokal peppered his text with cryptically vague language and obscure references such as “putative observer becomes fatally de-centered” or “the pi of Euclid and the G of Newton…

are now perceived in their ineluctable historicity.”

He capitalized on the reliance of postmodern academics on certain buzzwords like hermeneutics, privilege, transgressive and Lacanian—the so-called not-so-secret passwords for gaining acceptance in the field.

And he flattered editors by swaying them with popular names from the field and quotations from books and articles written by those same editors.

The joke was on them when Sokal revealed his paper to be total nonsense – he’d been able gamed the system!

His stunt sparked heated debate among academics and major thinkers such as Richard Dawkins, Barbara Epstein and Thomas Nagel, who viewed this gimmickry as evidence that postmodern theorists had become too reliant on style over substance.

How Postmodernism Misuses Science To Sound Profound


Postmodernists often misuse science, both intentionally and unintentionally.

Take the example of Jacques Lacan who tried to use mathematical theory in his psychoanalytic work and suggested that the penis is “equivalent to the square root of negative one of the signification” – a statement that makes no sense whatsoever.

Another case in point is Luce Irigaray, a linguist and feminist who believed that Einstein’s mass-energy equation was sexist because it “privileges the speed of light over other speeds.” These incorrect (yet fashionable) interpretations can be attributed to postmodernists’ superficial knowledge about mathematics and physics.

Finally, Jean Baudrillard is one of the best examples of how postmodernists misuse scientific terminology.

Baudrillard—a philosopher—used chaos theory as an explanation for history, making dense statements such as: “Perhaps history itself has to be regarded as a chaotic formation in which acceleration puts an end to linearity.” While this type of phraseology may sound impressive on its surface, it is actually complete gibberish when examined more closely.

The Convoluted Nonsense Of Postmodernism: Why The Incomprehensible Can Seem Profound

Postmodernist thinking has been popular for quite some time now, and its fashionable reputation often means that clear-headed assessments of it are overlooked.

This is due in part to the fact that when people look for “profound” ideas, postmodernism serves as a shortcut – meaning that people don’t have to understand it in order to appear smart.

The difficulty of these texts also plays into this, as qualified individuals can be easily deterred from looking too closely at them by the sheer complexity and convolution of the writing.

Furthermore, postmodernism’s rejection of all-encompassing ideas is often seen as progressive in contrast to those who criticize it.

But what really lures people into accepting postmodernist thought is its incomprehensibility which makes it seem sophisticated and deep – even though it could simply be scientific nonsense.

This creates a vicious cycle where more and more people join in on this writing style in an effort to be cool or profound, leading to an increasing number of individuals spewing convoluted balderdash with no real purpose or substance.

The Dangers Of Postmodernism And Its Impact On Reason, Science, And Progress

Science, And Progress

Postmodernist theories and doctrines are becoming more mainstream in the social sciences, due to their tolerance of radical ideologies.

This poses a problem for critical thought and progressivism, as postmodernism encourages a type of extreme relativism that devalues facts and evidence.

The criminal justice system is an important example of why facts and evidence must be taken seriously – without reliable forensic evidence and reasonable doubt, judicial cases remain unsolved.

Postmodernists argue that there is always room for doubt; while this may sometimes be true, refusing to search for any sort of truth can only lead to abandoning rational thought completely.

Moreover, scientific principles such as replicating experiments, using controlled environments, or confirming results through empirical research keep us safe from exaggerations or misinformation.

Without these precautionary measures in place within both medical research and public discourse, we run the risk of furthering irrational arguments by nationalists or religious extremists.

In conclusion, postmodernism should not be given free reign over the social sciences – its adoption into our daily lives could have detrimental consequences for maintaining clear dialogue, promoting truth-seeking behavior among all parties involved

Wrap Up

At the crux of Fashionable Nonsense is the idea that postmodernism is a movement in universities that argues knowledge and truth are subjective, not objective.

This has led to some well-known postmodernist philosophers using unscientific tactics, which can have far-reaching negative consequences on society.

The take away from this book is that despite its intellectual appeal and influence, we need to be mindful of how such trends affect us and question any claims made without scientific evidence.

Postmodernism may be fashionable – but we should never let it trump common sense when it comes to reliability and truthfulness.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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