The University Record, November 12, 1996

Evenings at Rackham begins new season with controversial Sokal hoax

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services

New York University physicist Alan D. Sokal, author of a highly controversial "hoax" article published in the journal Social Text earlier this year, will launch the University of Michigan's 1996-97 "Evenings at the Rackham" lecture series at 7 p.m. Mon. Nov. 18 in the Rackham Building Auditorium.

In a talk titled "Sokal's `Hoax' and the Debate over Reason, Truth and Objectivity" Sokal will share his views about what the Social Text affair does and does not prove, and will discuss its wide-reaching implications for the spirit and nature of intellectual inquiry.

In the Social Text article Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," Sokal purported to link developments in quantum mechanics with the formulations of postmodern thought. He caused a considerable stir throughout the academic world when he revealed in an April issue of the journal Lingua Franca that his Social Text article was a parody of postmodern science critique.

Audience members will be able to make comments and ask questions of Sokal and a panel of respondents that includes U-M faculty members Julian Adams (biology), E. Valentine Daniel (anthropology), Donald Herzog (political science and law), Aamir Mufti (English and comparative literature), Sonya Rose (history, sociology and women's studies) and Larry Sklar (philosophy).

The "Evenings at the Rackham" lecture series, sponsored by the Rackham School of Graduate Studies, is "intended to offer a multitude of avenues for addressing matters of scholarly and popular interest in ways that articulate, reaffirm and, at times, debate the values of the University, with a commitment to fostering the diversity of people, ideas and perspectives," says Rackham Dean Nancy Cantor.

"By drawing upon all of the University's constituent schools and colleges for participation in this series, the Rackham Graduate School seeks to build and promote a sense of intellectual community where the interdisciplinary exchange of ideas is encouraged."

Sokal's lecture is organized by the University's Program for the Study of Complex Systems. For more information, contact Vi Benner, (313) 647-4566 or vibenner@umich.edu.