He is best known to the general public for the Sokal Affair of 1996. Curious to see whether the postmodern cultural studies journal Social Text would publish any submission which "flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions", Sokal submitted for publication a nonsensical paper entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity".
The journal did publish it, and Sokal then revealed the hoax in the journal Lingua Franca, citing, among others, Noam Chomsky to argue that the left and social science would be better served by intellectual underpinnings based on reason. He replied to leftist and postmodernist criticism of the deception by saying that his motivation had been to "defend the Left from a trendy segment of itself".
Sokal followed up by co-authoring the book Fashionable Nonsense with Jean Bricmont in 1998 (originally published in French, a year before, as Impostures Intellectuelles). The book accuses other academics of using scientific and mathematical terms incorrectly and proponents of the strong program for denying the value of truth. The book had mixed reviews, with some lauding the effort, some more reserved, and others pointing out inconsistencies and criticizing the authors for ignorance of the fields under attack and taking passages out of context.
- Alan Sokal's professional page
- Alan Sokal on the Social Text Affair (with very extensive links)de:Alan Sokal