Reviews of a Skewering Kind

Robert Ebert: Win Ben Stein's Mind.
Peter R. Saulson: Review of "Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture" by Alan Sokal

Skewers of "Expelled" from the first:

This film is cheerfully ignorant, manipulative, slanted, cherry-picks quotations, draws unwarranted conclusions, makes outrageous juxtapositions (Soviet marching troops representing opponents of ID), pussy-foots around religion (not a single identified believer among the ID people), segues between quotes that are not about the same thing, tells bald-faced lies, and makes a completely baseless association between freedom of speech and freedom to teach religion in a university class that is not about religion.

Skewers of "Beyond" from the second:

Now, the superb parodist has become a parody of himself. His new book, Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture, is anything but new. It consists almost entirely of reprints of previously published articles, including two pieces co-authored with theoretical physicist Jean Bricmont. Perhaps more troubling is that the reprinted articles say the same thing over and over again. Sokal, a professor of physics at New York University, has in the past decade made a second career out of peddling just one idea.

Though I wonder in the last case: is the Physics Today review actually a parody of a review? I mean it has many of the prereqs (Ad hominem attacks? Check. Slammed for leaving out the reviewer's own work? Check.)

More like this


I saw Stein a few weeks when he came to do a lecture in this area. After the lecture, I was invited to a party where he was the guest of honor. Making my way forward, a friend introduced us and we chatted for awhile. I asked him about his writing, and he ran down the books he's written, neglecting his first book. I pulled the paperback version of his first book, Dreemz(1978), out of my coat pocket and asked him to sign it. He looked a bit embarrassed and uncomfortable, then he whipped out a pen and signed it, getting my name wrong. I don't think I'll be on his holiday card list anytime soon. His first book was so bad that I'm surprised that he ever got to write a second. Afterwards, I wished I hadn't done that.


Better to write a bad book than make a dishonest propaganda anti-science movie.

A skeptical (but peer-reviewed and award-winning engineer, with a patented product about to hit the market) emailed me some time ago, responding to my email about Ben Stein's bad film.

"The tax-supported Darwinist comes off with the the same dreary fervor as any other kind of religious devotee (here I'm thinking of the Big Bangers in particular). The theory of evolution has some start-up problems; apparently Dawkins found his answer. Stein could have asked 'but where did the aliens come from?'.

"Stein resorts to no such tricks. He gives certain interview subjects all the time and all the rope they need to hang themselves, unedited.

One highlight among many is Stein's one-on-one interview with Richard Dawkins, the dashing Brit who has made a small fortune as the world's most visible neo-Darwinist.

To his credit, and to the utter discomfort of the public education establishment, Dawkins does not shy from discussing the atheistic implications of Darwinism.

Indeed, Dawkin's anti-deity call to arms, The God Delusion, has sold more than a million copies worldwide. Where Dawkins wanders into a black hole of his own making is in his discussion of the origins of life on earth.

To Stein's astonishment, Dawkins concedes that life might indeed have a designer but that designer almost assuredly was a more highly evolved being from another planet, not "God."

Stein does not respond. He does not need to. For the past hour of the film, the audience has met one scientist after another whose academic careers have been derailed for daring to suggest the possibility of intelligent design.

If only they had thought to put the designer on another planet!"

I rather enjoyed Sokal's book. It didn't quite have the humour value of his and Bricmont's first one; when I read Fashionable Nonsense, I laughed out loud at the passages of postmodernist weirdness being quoted, and at the blatant abuses of scientific language therein. Sections of Beyond the Hoax go after similar targets, but in that case, the enjoyment is rather spoiled by the realization that the postmodernist jargon is being used to justify pseudoscientific claptrap in the nursing profession. It's hard to laugh when part of your brain is going, "Somebody could get killed because of this."

And I'd say it's really an exaggeration to claim that "the reprinted articles say the same thing over and over again". I mean, that's like accusing a mechanics textbook of applying F = ma in every chapter.