Thursday, September 24, 2009

A List Of Hoaxes For Your Reading Pleasure

So I'm talking with the doctor the other day at work and he turns me on to this event involving a lit crit magazine and a physicist from back in the day.  Wikipedia refers to it as the Sokal Affair.  It's a fantastic read, but I'll sum it up for those too lazy: 

A high literary criticism magazine called Social Text basically declares war on science in 1996.  This is the kind of magazine that talks about things like a "more feminist geometry" and deconstructionist realities to a point that the jargon basically collapses under its own weight and it becomes nonsense.  So as part of their Science Wars issue (I really wish I could make that up), the only article that they can manage to get from an actual scientist is submitted by Alan Sokal, and he writes up a test to find out if Social Text will "publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions."

Long story short:  they publish it, he outs them, and the look like a great lot of jackasses.

This leads me to the Related Articles on Wikipedia, and they're comedy gold.  Here are some of the highlights:

SCIGen:  The 2005 World Multiconference on Systematics, Cybernetics and Informatics invites the "authors" of a non-reviewed paper it accepted to be speakers.  The real author of this paper is a program called SCIGen.  It strings together a bunch of computer jargon so well that the conference reviewers can't tell the difference.

Atlanta Nights:  This one is awesome beyond words.  After PublishAmerica gloats about how it's a traditional publisher that only accepts high quality literature and also talks trash about sci-fi and fantasy writers, a group of (mainly sci-fi and fantasy) writers get together and co-write what may well be the worst piece of literature ever.  PublishAmerica accepts it.  The mechanics of the novel absolutely amaze me:

"The distinctive flaws of Atlanta Nights include nonidentical chapters written by two different authors from the same segment of outline (13 and 15), a missing chapter (21), two chapters that are word-for-word identical to each other (4 and 17), two different chapters with the same chapter number (12 and 12), and a chapter "written" by a computer program that generated random text based on patterns found in the previous chapters (34). Characters change gender and race; they die and reappear without explanation. Spelling and grammar are nonstandard and the formatting is inconsistent. The initials of characters who were named in the book spelled out the phrase 'PublishAmerica is a vanity press.'
The finale was also crafted to be deliberately bad; not only are all the previous events of the plot revealed to have been a dream (long condemned as a 'cheat' ending), but even after this revelation the book continues for several more chapters. This particular fillip was the work of Macdonald, who contrived the entire plot (or lack thereof)."

Ern Malley:  Two poets in Australia who have been rejected by the same publisher make up a poet and write up a postumous collection of absolute gibberish poetry that he supposedly wrote.  Said publisher loves it.  Hilarity ensues (for some).

Disumbrationism:  Same thing, but with modern art.  At least people have a sense of humor about this one...there's a yearly contest.

All of these hoaxes have one thing in common that I'm in love with.  The Piltdown Man isn't in here, for instance.  Nobody here was seeking fame, nobody trying to get money (the publishing attempts were pulled, etc.).  These were all hoaxes perpetrated on pretentious douchebags for the sole purpose of exposing them as pretentious douchebags.  The moral of the story:

Don't be a pretentious douchebag...there's always people who can't stand the pretentious and there's always someone more clever than you are.  Eventually, the two will either join forces against you or be one and the same.  Seriously, pretentious douchebags...cut it out.

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