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I have always thought that our undergraduates had difficulty in expressing themselves clearly, in simple words. But they are models of clear thought compared with Christine Barry’s recent paper (Social Science and Medicine, 62, 2464-2657, 2006).

Barry’s work rivals Alan Sokal’s famous spoof paper, “Transgressing the boundaries: the Hermeneutics of quantum gravity”. Sokal’s paper opens as follows.

“There are many natural scientists, and especially physicists, who continue to reject the notion that the disciplines concerned with social and cultural criticism can have anything to contribute, except perhaps peripherally, to their research. Still less are they receptive to the idea that the very foundations of their worldview must be revised or rebuilt in the light of such criticism. Rather, they cling to the dogma imposed by the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook, which can be summarized briefly as follows:
that there exists an external world, whose properties are independent of any individual human being and indeed of humanity as a whole; that these properties are encoded in “eternal” physical laws; and that human beings can obtain reliable, albeit imperfect and tentative, knowledge of these laws by hewing to the “objective” procedures and epistemological strictures prescribed by the (so-called) scientific method.”

Title of Sokal's book

Compare this with the opening of Barry’s paper.

“Calls for ‘gold standard’  randomised controlled trial evidence, by both biomedical and political establishments, to legitimise the integration of alternative medicine into healthcare systems, can be interpreted as deeply political. In this paper, the supposed objectivity of scientific, biomedical forms of evidence is questioned through an illumination of the multiple rhetorics embedded in the evidence-based medicine phenomenon, both within biomedicine itself and in calls for its use to evaluate alternative therapeutic systems.”

and, later,

“I wish to problematise the call from within biomedicine for more evidence of alternative medicine’s effectiveness via the medium of the randomised clinical trial (RCT).”

“Ethnographic research in alternative medicine is coming to be used politically as a challenge to the hegemony of a scientific biomedical construction of evidence.”

“The science of biomedicine was perceived as old fashioned and rejected in favour of the quantum and chaos theories of modern physics.”

“In this paper, I have deconstructed the powerful notion of evidence within biomedicine, . . .”

Just one difference, though, Sokal’s paper was a spoof, which brilliantly exploded the pretentious nonsense of post-modernism. Barry’s paper, is, I very much fear, intended to be serious.

To make matters worse, this work was funded by the Department of Health.

Sokal’s story is told in his devastating book, “Intellectual Impostures”. Strongly recommended, if you want to retain your sanity. [Link to Amazon]. Here is a quotation from the book, concerning Jacques-Marie-Emile Lacan (1901 – 1981), a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist.

[Jouissance = enjoyment; the word appears in French in the translations.]

In it the square root of -1 is related to erectile function in a piece of gobbledygook which shows an understanding of mathematics about as profound as Barry’s understanding of “the quantum and chaos theories of modern physics”.

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