For example, Albert Einstein complained that sociology departments across the quad were using his theory of relativity to advance the idea of "relativistic morality."

The meaning of relativity has been widely misunderstood. Philosophers play with the word, like a child with a doll. Relativity as I see it, merely denotes that certain physical and mechanical facts, which have been regarded as positive and permanent, are relative with regard to certain other facts in the sphere of physics and mechanics. It does not mean that everything in life is relative and that we have the right to turn the whole world mischievously topsy-turvy.

(Wikiquote, from 1929 Viereck interview)

Liberal theologians, for another example, have adopted the model of evolution to come up with Theistic Evolution in their systematic theologies.

The proponents of eugenics in the early 20th century co-opted Darwinian evolution as a pretext for manipulating human species. As well, did Thomas Huxley adapt Darwinian evolution to promote the superiority of certain races in the anthropology department!

Has anyone scrutinized this tendency of academia to "co-opt scientific vocabulary" to further their theories or ideologies? Have any other scientists, besides Einstein, objected to misuse of their scientific verbage?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Can you please provide a reference concerning what you wrote about Albert Einstein? $\endgroup$ May 10, 2023 at 7:19
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe relevant: Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals Abuse of Science is a summary of the Sokal Affair. $\endgroup$
    – nwr
    May 10, 2023 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ I believe such co-optation is ubiquitous depending, of course, on a definition of science. Your implied definition seems relevant to the hard sciences of physics and astronomy where empirical or physical constants exist, e.g., Barrow The Constants of Nature. Softer sciences such as biology and economics don't enjoy such ground truths. Regardless, attempts are made to bring those disciplines in line with such universals, e.g., Georgescu-Roegen's The Entropy Law and the Economic Process or West Scale: The Universal Laws of Life, Growth, and Death in Organisms, Cities, and Companies $\endgroup$
    – DJohnson
    Jun 25, 2023 at 13:28

2 Answers 2


Fashionable Nonsense Thanks to the observant eye of NWR we are directed to the summary of the enlightening book by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont: FASHIONABLE NONSENSE:

In 1996 physicist Alan Sokal published an essay in Social Text, an influential academic journal of cultural studies, touting the deep similarities between quantum gravitational theory and postmodern philosophy.

Soon thereafter, the essay was revealed as a brilliant parody, a catalog of nonsense written in the cutting-edge but impenetrable lingo of postmodern theorists. The event sparked a furious debate in academic circles and made headlines of newspapers in the U>S> and abroad.

In FASHIONSABLE NONSENSE: POSTMODERN INTELLECTUAL'S ABUSE OF SCIENCE, Sokal and his fellow physicist Jean Bricmont expand from where the hoax left off. In a delightfully witty and clear voice, the two thoughtfully and thoroughly dismantle the pseudo-scientific writings of some of the most fashionable French and American intellectuals. More generally, they challenge the widespread notion that scientific theories are mere "narrations" of social constructions. (See Amazon.com under book title)


There is an intriguing recent article by Koons in Synthese at https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-016-1295-6

Koons argues for the superiority of the (neo-)Aristotelian concept of hylomorphism as an alernative to materialism/atomism. I am not sure how convincing Koons' argument is, but assuming for the moment that the doctrine of hylomorphism is "scientific" or at least proto-scientific, one could perhaps detect an example of what you are looking for.

Note that throughout the Middle Ages, Aristotle was considered the supreme authority on matters that we would describe today as "scientific". The concept of hylomorphism was exploited by early catholic theologians to give what they felt was a satisfactory account of the eucharist. Some aspects of such an interpretation were fiercely opposed by other theologians, including eventually the protestant ones.

Thus one could perhaps argue that the vocabulary of hylomorphism was "co-opted," as you say, with the goal of furthering the respectability of certain religious "theories or ideologies."


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