An intellectual crisis in the age of TED talks and Freakonomics.
> Academic hoaxes have a way of crystallizing, and then shattering, the intellectual pretensions of an era. It was almost 20 years ago, for instance, that a physicist named Alan #Sokal laid siege to #postmodern #theory with a Trojan horse. You may remember the details: Sokal wrote a deliberately preposterous academic paper called “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” He filled it with the then trendy jargon of “critical theory,” and submitted it to a prominent journal of cultural studies called Social Text. Amid worshipful citations of postmodern theorists and half-baked references to complex scientific work, the paper advanced a succession of glib, sweeping assertions (“Physical ‘reality,’ no less than social ‘reality,’ is at bottom a social and linguistic construct”). Social Text published it without demanding any significant editorial changes.
> When Sokal revealed that his paper was a practical joke, the media went wild—or as wild, at least, as the media has ever gone over an academic prank. By successfully aping the methods and conventions of postmodern cultural analysis, and using them to serve intentionally ridiculous ends, Sokal had, for many in the public, exposed once and for all how unsound those methods and conventions were.
> Two decades later, abstruse postmodern theory is passé, thanks in no small part to the embarrassment that Sokal’s hoax inflicted on it. Today’s intellectual fashions tend instead toward the empirical, the data-driven, and the breezily counterintuitive. Psychology, probably more than any other field, has risen to prominence in this era—expanding its purview, within academia, into other disciplines like economics, philosophy, and law; influencing policymakers; and spawning countless bestsellers like Blink, Nudge, and The Power of Habit. Speaking with the imprimatur of objective science, experimental psychologists have even begun to assume, in the popular imagination, the sort of introspective tasks that are usually assigned to the humanities: The work of explaining what it means to be human.
> But experimental science, it turns out, is no less susceptible to a good, thorough hoaxing than postmodern blather was.
Getting the math of the Universe to cancel out - http://dia.so/uv
> The vacuum of space isn’t actually “empty”; it teems with particles that pop in and out of existence, giving the vacuum an energy of its own. But here’s an embarrassing fact about that energy: it predicts that the cosmological constant (which provides a measure of the rate of the expansion of the Universe) should be 10120 times larger than we think it actually is.
> Most scientists prefer things to be a bit more accurate than this. Still, the main question on cosmologists’ minds is not why the predicted and real values appear to be so different, but how it is that the vacuum energy does so little. An answer of sorts has recently appeared in Physical Review Letters. But before we get to the paper, let’s delve into the nature of the problem it’s trying to solve.