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In 1996, Alan Sokal published a paper in the scientific journal of Duke University. It was called Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.

It began with: “Revisionist studies in the history and philosophy of science have cast doubt on its credibility, and feminist and poststructuralist critiques have demystified the substantive content of mainstream Western scientific practice.”

The paper continued: “In order to be revolutionary, feminist theory cannot claim to describe what exists, or ‘natural facts’. Rather feminist theories should be natural tools, strategies for overcoming oppression in specific, concrete situations. The goal of feminist theory should be to develop strategic theories – not true theories, not false theories, but strategic theories”.

The day after publication, the author, Alan Sokhal, published an article in another journal, Lingua Franca, revealing that the paper was a hoax. It was total nonsense and merely written to prove the laziness of academics.

He said he wanted to prove that these people would “publish anything as long as it had the proper leftist thought and quoted well-known leftist thinkers”. He showed that all you needed was “ideological obsequiousness”, “fawning references to deconstructionist writers” and “sufficient quantities of the appropriate jargon”.

In 1998, he published a book detailing his disdain, it was called Fashionable Nonsense. He criticised the bias of people using science for their own ends: “The editors liked the paper because of its conclusion: the content and methodology of postmodern science provides powerful intellectual support for the progressive political project.”

Finally. he summarised his point “Sloppy sociology, like sloppy science, is useless or even counterproductive.” Today, we find ourselves in the grip of a lot of fashionable nonsense.

The current fashion seems to be ‘influencer marketing’. What used to be known as endorsements, or paying people to say they use your brand. It’s not new or clever, but it’s been repackaged to seem so. Despite the fact that most of the impressive followers are simply bought and paid-for.

Anyone can buy followers/ views/ likes on Twitter/ YouTube/ Linkedin. Facebook estimates 60 million of its accounts are fake, Twitter estimates 48 million. Captiv8 advises brands on influencers, they estimate a brand will pay $2,000 for an influencer with 100,000 followers, and $20,000 for an influencer with a million followers.

The New York Times says it paid $225 to buy 25,000 followers (around 1 cent each). That’s cheap, so it’s good business for an ‘influencer’. You buy some non-existent followers cheap, then sell them expensively to gullible brands.

Jeetendr Sehdev is a professor at USC. He bills himself as “the world’s foremost branding celebrity authority”. He has bought hundreds of thousands of followers. In his book Shameless Sells his main advice is “authenticity is key”.

You may find that ironic, but that seems to be the way with fashionable nonsense. Claim anything and ignore the facts. This year, Facebook claimed that 75 million people watched at least a minute of Facebook videos every day.

Although the 60 seconds in that one minute didn’t need to be watched consecutively. Think about that, every time you scroll past something, it’s counted as a second. Do it sixty times and you’re counted as having watched a minute of video on Facebook.

The question, both metaphorically and literally, is this: do you buy it? Just because it’s fashionable doesn’t stop it being nonsense.

Trott is not a follower of fashion

Dave Trott is a consultant, author and former ad agency creative director. This article was first published on his blog

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