The Sokal affair prompted by Alan Sokal’s infamous article to Social Text in 1996, ‘Transgressing the boundaries’, has occasioned a torrent of articles and books. Sokal intended a denunciation of postmodern social theory as sloppy and prejudiced, and a reassertion of physical science’s claim to truth and objectivity. The controversy has since waned, with no proclaimed settlement. Even if inconclusive the episode offered the chance for an intense cross examination (and greater understanding) between postmodern interpreters of science and scientists committed to having their work functioning as a progressive force in social and political affairs.
There has been no equivalent scandal to initiate a dialogue between economists and their interpreters. This essay simulates such dialogue by rewriting (a few extracts from) Sokal’s original article replacing ‘quantum gravity’ for the latest ‘behavioral’ approaches to economics. Sokal deliberately loaded his hoax piece with exaggeration and imprecision about scientific claims. Yet his argument was made plausible by a thoughtful overlap between relativist readings of physical science and fringe trends in physics. My purpose is to force an imaginative reading of economics in relation to the great hopes that have rested on behavioral economics, and then ask if this reading can illuminate the attention given to behavioral economics in popular media. I conclude by arguing that lay readers of economics have become fascinated by the promise of a science of the self that is emotional and flawed and that blends the natural with the artifactual.
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