Sense about Science at UCL
28 February 2008
Professor Alan Sokal, Professor of Physics in UCL Mathematics and Professor of Physics at New York University, delivered the annual Sense about Science lecture at UCL last night.
The lecture was chaired by bestselling science writer Dr Matt Ridley, and attended by people from across the scientific community, including scientists, journalists and politicians.
In 'What is science and why should we care?', Professor Sokal talked about the importance of the scientific worldview and the need for the rigorous accumulation of evidence.
The scientific method, he argued, did not just apply to the life sciences, but should also be used by "historians, detectives and plumbers" - in short, by anyone concerned with investigating the external world of facts.
Professor Sokal talked about some of the anti-scientific influences at work in the world today, including postmodernist relativism, pseudoscience, religion and politics. He described politicians and propagandists who "manipulate the public into a pre-determined conclusion" as the most pernicious anti-scientific force at work in society.
The lecture was followed by a lively question-and-answer session, then drinks in the North Cloisters.
About Professor Sokal
Outside of the scientific community, Professor Sokal is well known for the Sokal Affair of 1996.
Wanting to see whether the then-non-peer-reviewed postmodern cultural studies journal 'Social Text' (published by Duke University Press) would publish a submission which "flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions", Sokal submitted a grand-sounding but nonsensical paper called 'Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity'.
The journal did publish it, and Professor Sokal then revealed the hoax, arguing that the left and social science would be better served by intellectual underpinnings based on reason.
To find out more about Sense about Science, an organisation founded to promote regard for scientific reasoning and evidence, or Professor Sokal, use the links at the top of the article.