Sokal Hoax Debunked

The Sokal folks happened in 1996. Named after the man who perpetrated it, Alan Sokal, the idea behind the hoax was to test the intellectual rigor of one of the leading journals of cultural money in North America. The concept was simple: instead of academically testing the documents that were submitted for publication, Sokal believes that the editors would publish almost anything if it sounded good and supported the preconceptions that they had.

Sokal published an article that was titled “Transgressing the Boundaries Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” and was published in the spring/summer issue of 1996. The proposals the paper was simple: that quantum gravity was at linguistic and social construct. At that time, there was no academic peer review of the information that was submitted. The day that it was published, Sokal revealed that the article was actually a hoax.

What Did the Sokal Hoax Help To Do?

This purposeful hoax started a much-needed commentary in society about the scholarly merit of commentary that was published in humanistic ways. Was it wrong to deceive the editors and readers of the journal? Is it a journals responsibility to exercise an appropriate level of peer review before publishing something? Was it ethical to put a hoax on the readers of the journal or was it ethical to publish it blindly?

In the mid-1990’s, there was an interesting trend in the liberal arts departments of many universities. It was actually a trend that was more anti-intellectual than anything because deconstructionism was thinking of forefront to logic and fact. Perceived prejudices were becoming fact. Academic journals publishing articles that had no actual knowledge of science.

The Hoax Exposed Editorial Laziness

In our modern society, information is the greatest current that there is. We have more access to information today than at any other time in the history of the world. The outcome of this extreme information on clock is that it can become very easy to become intellectually lazy. Instead of reading the information and attempting to understand what we have read, we skim over the information and only pay attention to it if we feel that it validates our opinion. Sokal’s hoax proved that academic literature wasn’t being read. It was simply being skimmed.

After the hoax was admitted, the publishers of the Journal accused Sokal of behaving unethically. They also decided that it was important to criticize his overall writing style. In response, Sokal noted that the publishers simply illustrate the problem he was highlighting in his paper in the first place. He didn’t want it published because it was a faithful and accurate example of quantum gravity. He wanted it published to prove that affirmation was at the core of what was being published at that time.

Studies done on this hoax article further help to prove what Sokal wanted to accomplish. Students were placed into randomly separated groups. They were presented with the article and one group was told that it was from another student. The other group was told that it was written by a famous academic. When the intelligence was considered high for an author, the students were more likely to say that the hoax article was valuable and interesting. This proves what this hoax was attempting to show: that academic status may account for a certain amount of appeal went academic texts make no sense.