The W^5/2 Hits Double Figyiz!

OK, I gotta admit that my friend Orac moved me to render this Special 10th Edition of the W^5/2™ (after a brief hiatus) by mentioning it today in the context of an article that used, er, the topic of our venerable game to great advantage! Some of it is brilliant, unprecedented even:

Perhaps most tellingly, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service approved acupuncture as a deductible medical expense in 1973.

My hat is off to whoever came up with that one! Hey, y’gotyer basic logical fallacies, right? Y’gotyer appeal to tradition, yer appeal to popularity (or, as Orac put it, yer argumentum ad populum—sheece, is he a snob er what?), yer appeal to authority, which, I shpoze, an appeal to the IRS is a species of, as it were (hmmm: is that appeal heard in Tax Court?)…but there’s something just a little more special about this than just that. Therefore I propose, in the Tremendous (and Trendy!) Tradition of Trademarked Titles long associated with the Wonderful W^5/2™, a bran’, spankin’ new fallacy of its own, presented, of course, in a tasteful Madison Avenue format:

Are you unsure about your cure? Has that acupuncture juncture got you in a funk, sir? Don’t be waverin’ when you could be savorin’!

For Facts to the Max, consult the Sheriff of the Tariff!©

(Or, in the hifalutin’ language favored by the sniffing Orac, argumentum ad yer-workin’-for-nobody-but-meum).

Last Week’s Entry

Buttanuffa that. Let’s lookit the translations submitted for ‘last week’s’ entry, which, as y’ll recall, was itself submitted by loyal W^5/2™ gamer Wertys! Not that you need reminding, because it’s obviously fresh in your minds, but that entry is once again topical thanks to Harriet Hall’s most recent post, seein’ as how it was all about “palpatory literacy”—in the chiropractic sense, that is.

First off, I gotta gently chide a fewayuz who just seemed to wanna scold. I mean, lighten up a little, OK, Dr Benway, Perky Skeptic, MedsVsTherapy, and Jurjen S.?

Then there’s an intriguing comment by AppealToAuthority suggesting that just maybe the authors of the entry were attempting, in a chiropractic journal, to appeal to rationality, or, even better, to write a satire. Either one seems doubtful, but I gotta admit I hadn’t thoughta that, even if I totally agreed with Stu (m’man!).

As always, of course, the real kudos have gotta go to translators who really put their hearts’n’souls into it, ifya know wuddeye mean: Joe (even if he did nominate himself, f’cryin’ outloud), Mojo, Sastra, Blue Wode, mmarsh, and Stu (m’man!), using (what else?) the Power of Simple Substitution first unveiled right here on the Award-Winning, Wondrous and Wonderful W^5/2™!

Allatheez translators hit the proverbial nail on its proverbial head, but for my money the grand prizathaweek goes to…

Michelle B, for makin’ me laugh the most.

This Week’s Entry: Alan Sokal, Cultural Studies, and…Homeopathy

Most readers of this blog are probably aware of the “Sokal Hoax” of the mid-90s: Alan Sokal, a physicist at NYU, wrote a satirical article titled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermaneutics of Quantum Gravity.” As you may gather from that title or already know, Sokal wrote the article in the style recently favored by a strain of “post-modern” academics. He did it, in extreme summary, to protest the burgeoning nonsense portrayed, by that set, as scientific knowledge. Here is a juicy sample from Sokal’s piece:

But whose mathematics? The question is a fundamental one, for, as Aronowitz has observed, “neither logic nor mathematics escapes the ‘contamination’ of the social.” And as feminist thinkers have repeatedly pointed out, in the present culture this contamination is overwhelmingly capitalist, patriarchal and militaristic: “mathematics is portrayed as a woman whose nature desires to be the conquered Other.” Thus, a liberatory science cannot be complete without a profound revision of the canon of mathematics. As yet no such emancipatory mathematics exists, and we can only speculate upon its eventual content. We can see hints of it in the multidimensional and nonlinear logic of fuzzy systems theory; but this approach is still heavily marked by its origins in the crisis of late-capitalist production relations. Catastrophe theory, with its dialectical emphases on smoothness/discontinuity and metamorphosis/unfolding, will indubitably play a major role in the future mathematics; but much theoretical work remains to be done before this approach can become a concrete tool of progressive political praxis.

The hoax occurred when Sokal’s article was accepted and published, with an entirely straight face, by the trendy “cultural studies” journal Social Text. A few months later Sokal revealed the hoax in another journal, Lingua Franca. After that, as they say, all hell broke loose. You can read all about the affair here (it’s worth doing, for entertainment value as well as for a scary look at academic culture of only a few years ago).

In my opinion, the “Sokal Hoax” is one of the best things that has happened during my lifetime. The reason that it pertains to this week’s W^5/2™, however, stems from Sokal’s explanation, after the fact, of the style that he had had to learn in order to write the satire, and how difficult that had been for him to do:

Like the genre it is meant to satirize — myriad exemplars of which can be found in my reference list — my article is a mélange of truths, half-truths, quarter-truths, falsehoods, non sequiturs, and syntactically correct sentences that have no meaning whatsoever. (Sadly, there are only a handful of the latter: I tried hard to produce them, but I found that, save for rare bursts of inspiration, I just didn’t have the knack.) I also employed some other strategies that are well-established (albeit sometimes inadvertently) in the genre: appeals to authority in lieu of logic; speculative theories passed off as established science; strained and even absurd analogies; rhetoric that sounds good but whose meaning is ambiguous; and confusion between the technical and everyday senses of English words.

It seems to have been much easier for those that Sokal satirized to write such drivel, as he demonstrated in numerous quotations throughout his satire. Here is Sokal citing one such author:

Along parallel lines, Donna Haraway (1991, 191-192) has argued eloquently for a democratic science comprising “partial, locatable, critical knowledges sustaining the possibility of webs of connections called solidarity in politics and shared conversations in epistemology” and founded on “a doctrine and practice of objectivity that privileges contestation, deconstruction, passionate construction, webbed connections, and hope for transformation of systems of knowledge and ways of seeing.”

Here he quotes verbatim from English professor Robert Markley:

Quantum physics, hadron bootstrap theory, complex number theory, and chaos theory share the basic assumption that reality cannot be described in linear terms, that nonlinear — and unsolvable — equations are the only means possible to describe a complex, chaotic, and non-deterministic reality. These postmodern theories are — significantly — all metacritical in the sense that they foreground themselves as metaphors rather than as “accurate” descriptions of reality. In terms that are more familiar to literary theorists than to theoretical physicists, we might say that these attempts by scientists to develop new strategies of description represent notes towards a theory of theories, of how representation — mathematical, experimental, and verbal — is inherently complex and problematizing, not a solution but part of the semiotics of investigating the universe.

Yup, language matters. There is an intimate relation between style and honesty. In Lingua Franca, Sokal wrote:

In short, my concern over the spread of subjectivist thinking is both intellectual and political. Intellectually, the problem with such doctrines is that they are false (when not simply meaningless). There is a real world; its properties are not merely social constructions; facts and evidence do matter. What sane person would contend otherwise? And yet, much contemporary academic theorizing consists precisely of attempts to blur these obvious truths — the utter absurdity of it all being concealed through obscure and pretentious language.

Social Text’s acceptance of my article exemplifies the intellectual arrogance of Theory — meaning postmodernist literary theory — carried to its logical extreme. No wonder they didn’t bother to consult a physicist. If all is discourse and “text,” then knowledge of the real world is superfluous; even physics becomes just another branch of Cultural Studies. If, moreover, all is rhetoric and “language games,” then internal logical consistency is superfluous too: a patina of theoretical sophistication serves equally well. Incomprehensibility becomes a virtue; allusions, metaphors and puns substitute for evidence and logic. My own article is, if anything, an extremely modest example of this well-established genre.

On, then, to the fun! Several weeks ago, spurred by this and similar comments, I was temporarily inspired to write a satirical homeopathy treatise employing the sort of verbiage quoted above (I even suggested to SD that he might do it, for it seemed that he’d already demonstrated the knack, but he didn’t reply). Well, it proved to require more than a trivial effort and I kinda forgot about it for a time, and then one day it was just STARING ME IN THE FACE! Not, alas, as a satire, but, as had been Alan Sokal’s initial experience, as a completely serious composition, fully formed! Aha, the cognoscenti among you are thinking, I musta read something by Lionel Milgrom. Good try, but nope; this is even better:

Time-Logics of the Quantal Base State in Homeopathic Potentization

Potentizing homeopathic substances beyond the Avogadro limit is a critical-state coherent process, wherein an element of active information cannot be considered identical to itself. Temporal ordering is paramount in transferring such information to and from the quantal base state, and requires m-valued logics and skew-parallel geometries to represent the identity transparency produced by the active temporal operators. In order to model the turbulent dynamics of dilution-succussion, the Hilbert space of quantum theory must be modified under m-valued logics such that a multivalued reference space becomes the informational ground, or quantal base state, decomposed and recomposed by operator-time. Such temporal operations inherently involve complex angular momentum exhange via “imaginary time”. This temporal-spin is a generalization of Dirac’s “spin coordinate” and offers insight into how homeotherapeutic potency sustains itself indefinitely.

In homeopathic potentization the dilution-succussion process…becomes a water-borne stack of crisis states that cascade highly organized (i.e., coherent) time-pattern shapes through the nested collection of “acetate” clock-sheets constituting the transparent information ground.

—Pensinger W, Paine D, Jus J. Journal of the American Insititute of Homeopathy 90(2): 77-88 (1997)

Truth sure is stranger than fiction, i’nit? Happy Waluating!

The Misleading Language and Weekly Waluation of the Weasel Words of Woo series:

  1. Lies, Damned Lies, and ‘Integrative Medicine’
  2. Integrative Medicine: “Patient-Centered Care” is the new Medical Paternalism




Posted by Kimball Atwood