WISE: There’s a quite interesting question of who were the culture warriors from the science side. It was a very small group of people who took it upon themselves to correct what they regarded as the radical relativism that was brewing in universities. They were a very definite sector, especially elementary particle physicists, and a few mathematicians. Elementary particle physicists typically are looking for universal laws, universal principles from which you can deduce what the world is like in detail.
You also had older physicists who had emigrated from Europe, who remembered the Nazis marching down the street taking over the university buildings and so on, and for them, there was this very strong association between relativism and Nazism, so moral relativism, but shading over into intellectual relativism. The sense really had grown up rather strongly in the U.S. in the postwar period that it was one of the reasons why Europeans had been so incapacitated to respond to the Nazis.
EPSTEIN: The hoax was not all particularly about science studies. It was about an academic culture. People in the humanities, especially people who were particularly ambitious, were aware that the fortunes of the sciences were rising in academia, and the fortunes of the humanities were declining. So to have a scientist sign on to poststructuralism was such a coup that they didn’t bother to read his article carefully.
Part of what poststructuralism was about was an effort of young academics to stake out a particular approach, and that approach pit culture against politics and economics. What they were saying was, unlike those old fuddy-duddy economic determinists, we understand that the main category is culture. But then we had the recession of 1998, and then in 2008 there was the economic meltdown. It became really difficult to argue that economics wasn’t important.