The Sokol Hoax: A 25-Year Retrospective

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It is appropriate to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the publication of Alan Sokol's landmark discourse on the transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity, but not for the reasons you might expect. Twenty-five years ago, physicist Alan Sokol wrote the article "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," which was published in the journal Social Text. Although Sokol refers to the article as a parody, it was bogus, plain and simple. It subsequently became known as the Sokol hoax and has taken a place in history alongside eminently forgettable literary ruses such as Clifford Irving’s phony autobiography of Howard Hughes and a totally fabricated anti-Semitic rant called Protocols of the Elders of Zion that was published in the United States by Henry Ford in the 1920s. However, to equate the Sokol hoax with these others is a mistake of the first order. Sokol's was cerebral and enlightening for those who cared to invest the time to study and learn from it. While much has been made of the theatrics of the hoax, too little has been made of the majestic way it engendered its nonsense and contributed to the scholarship on intellectual entropy. In my view, this article remains a worthy assignment for college undergraduates of any major and at all levels; it is useful as a measure of student tolerance of nonsense, willingness to admit self-ignorance, understanding the pathology of deception, familiarity with basic logic, and most importantly the ability to appreciate irony. The bottom line is that Sokol's article can only be fully appreciated in the context of other social–psychological phenomena such as cognitive dissonance, right-wing authoritarianism, and partisan tribalism.


Computer Sciences | Physical Sciences and Mathematics



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