Reverse Sokal Hoax

There is an e-mail going around detailing a so-called 'reverse Sokal hoax.' I'm not sure if the circumstances it describes are real or not. But here's the text of the e-mail verbatim:

Sometime ago Alan Sokol et al wrote a completely meaningless article on quantum gravity which was accepted by a leading, refereed "deconstructionist journal". Physicists laughed because the hoax was at the deconstructionists' expense. But now there is is an inverse Sokol hoax in which, apparently, two reporters interviewed a lot of string theorists, wrote meaningless but "right sounding" papers and even got a Ph.D. Details below. What is particularly sad is that a key paper appeared in CQG: Class. Quantum Grav. 18 (7 November 2001) 4341-4372 Topological field theory of the initial singularity of spacetime* Grichka Bogdanov and Igor Bogdanov, Mathematical Physics Laboratory, CNRS UPRES A 5029, Bourgogne University, France

The trouble is that the abstract seems indistinguishable from standard stringy papers. I understand that the CQG Editorial Board already discussed this hoax but found that the paper had been refereed by two reputable string theorists.

More details: From Max Niedemayer to Ted Newman #1. I always thought Sokal's hoax would also work in theoretical high energy physics. Now there is experimental proof. Two brothers, Igor and Grichka Bogdanoff, journalists and science fiction writers, both in their late 40's, decided it is high time to earn a PhD, and that this should be just as easy in `stringy' high energy physics as it alledgedly is in sociology. First they interviewed a number of prominent French string theorists in order to accquire the lingo, then (apparently without help from a trained physicist) spoofed two theses. To prepare the ground for their defense they spread rumors of them being geniuses and their theses being a milestone in theoretical physics. Although the official PhD awarding institution is only the (so far not too renowned) Universite de Bourgogne the members of the thesis committee certainly make up for it: R. Jackiw (MIT), J. Morava (John Hopkins), S. Majid (Cambridge), C. Kounnas (ENS), I. Antoniadis (CERN and Ecole Polytechnique), and others. For the actual defense they rented a hall in the prestigeous Ecole Polytechnique, arranged a big dinner with the president, invited the TV, ... and passed gloriously. The thesis can be found on the offical CNRS server ( Already the abstract is a delightfully meaningless combination of buzzwords, that almost beats Sokal's, but which apparently has been taken seriously by the committee! The bad side of the joke is, that it might hurt theoretical physics in general. The CNRS apparently even contemplates to split the present theoretical physics division into a pure mathematics and an experimental physics branch. Theoretical physics, being now more fiction than science, is meant to be entertained by professionals in that area. Hopefully the Bogdanoff "singularity invariant'' for the "topological expansion phase'' of the universe will provide a way out ... I'll keep you informed. Best regards, -- Max

#2. Dear Ted, sure you can show the letter to others. Let me stress however (and maybe you should too) that this is not first hand information. A person who has first hand information is J. Magnen, from the Ecole Polytechnique. He works on constructive QFT and was not personally involved. The issue was apparently discussed in the French National Research Council, where Peter Forgacs is a member, and he is my source. A small correction. In the last minute it seems the theses were not accepted at the Ecole Polytechnique, but only later by the University of Bourgogne. The TV was also not permitted to the actual defense, but several people here saw reports on the Bogdanoff brothers decribing them as outstanding geniuses. The theses and the committee members can be looked up on the web at All the best, -- Max

HOAX THESIS: Abstract in english: We propose in this research a new solution regarding the existence and the content of the initial spacetime singularity. In the context of topological field theory we consider that the initial singularity of space-time corresponds to a zero size singular gravitational instanton characterized by a Riemannian metric configuration (++++) in dimension D = 4. Connected with some unexpected topological data corresponding to the zero scale of space-time, the initial singularity is thus not considered in terms of divergences of physical fields but can be resolved in the frame of topological field theory. We get this result from the physical observation that the pre-spacetime is in a thermal equilibrium at the Planck scale. Therefore it should be subject to the KMS condition. We consequently consider that this KMS state might correspond to a unification between "physical state" (Planck scale) and "topological state" (zero scale). Then it is suggested that the "zero scale singularity" can be understood in terms of topological invariants, in particular the first Donaldson invariant. Therefore, we here introduce a new topological index, connected with 0>> scale, of the form Z = Tr (-1)s, which we call "singularity invariant". Interestingly, this invariant corresponds also to the invariant topological current yield by the hyperfinite II* von Neumann algebra describing the zero scale of space-time. In such a context we conjecture that the problem of inertial interaction might be explained in terms of topological amplitude connected with the singular zero size gravitational instanton corresponding to the initial singularity of spacetime.
Keywords : KMS State, topological field theory, singularity invariant, initial singularity, zero size instanton PACS : 0420D, 04.65.+e, 02.40.Xx, 04.60.-m, 05.45.-a

Update (11/05/02): The Chronicle of Higher Education has a good piece on the 'Reverse-Sokal Hoax' that's been rocking the world of theoretical physics. Unfortunately, you need to be a subscriber to gain access to the article. But the jist of it is that the Bogdanov brothers did not appear to have intentionally been hoaxing the physics community. Instead, they were honestly trying to get PhDs, but did very sloppy work that should never have been accepted.


Posted on Sun Oct 27, 2002


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