DailyDirt: Crackpots Versus Real Scientists

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

Over a hundred years ago, Albert Einstein published what would become his theory of special relativity, and since then, there have been quite a few experiments that support Einstein's ideas. That's the way science usually works. A theory hypothesis is proposed, and if it's deemed worthy enough, other people will actually try to test out the theory hypothesis and see if its predictions can be verified (and every worthy theory hypothesis needs to be able to predict something that isn't already known). As non-traditional scientific publishing becomes easier and more popular, though, the signal-to-noise for interesting ideas can get a bit difficult to discern. Luckily, there are still some folks willing to bear the burden of debunking extraordinary claims from an endless stream of nearly-good ideas. If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.
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Filed Under: abc conjecture, crowdsourcing, e8, grand unifying theory, gut, math, p=np, proof, science


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  1. identicon
    Pseudonym, 14 May 2013 @ 6:15pm

    Hold on there...

    At least two of these three people are not "crackpots" by the usual definition.

    Vinay Deolalikar is a real scientist. He has done a lot of work in number theory, coding theory, information theory, machine learning, data mining and so on. He is employed as a researcher at HP.

    Deolaikar did not prove that P != NP. However, he is precisely the sort of person who might make significant headway on the problem. He also did investigate a possible plan of attack which had genuinely never been tried before.

    Deolaikar's problem is that of the several P/NP papers a month posted to arXiV, his is the one that went viral. In one sense, that's inevitable, since his was the one not posted by a crackpot. But it's also unfortunate for him, because anything he does with that paper now will be scruitinised to hell and back.

    There may be something in his proof which constitutes an advance on the problem. It's difficult to tell at this stage, and certainly the onus is on him to show it if there is. Unfortunately, thanks to the viral shitstorm, anything he does with the preprint is tainted.

    A Garrett Lisi is also not a crackpot. He is a legitimate theoretical physicist, albeit a minor one. Unlike Deolaikar, He is the first to point out that the preprint for which he is most famous is preliminary and speculative, and has no pretension that it is even close to a major contribution to the field at this stage. He is exactly the sort of person who might produce some preliminary, speculative work which he or others may find useful to build upon into something more solid.

    Once again, it was the subject of a viral shitstorm. In his case, I think he's a victim of his own eccentricity. His slacker surfer lifestyle makes him look like an "outsider", and the mainstream media eats that shit up.

    You could argue that Deolaikar's infamy was at least somewhat deserved: he was a real researcher who claimed to have solved a significant outstanding problem. It's hard to make the same case with Lisi, who never claimed such a thing.

    Shinichi Mochizuki... nobody knows what's up with him. It's once again hard to call him a crackpot. He is a real mathematician, and a brilliant one at that. He is exactly the sort of person who might have cracked (or made significant headway on) the ABC conjecture. Once again, the onus is on him to show that he has, and he hasn't done it.

    Mochizuki's papers have not been "debunked". They haven't even been understood, despite a lot of effort. The only reason why people are going to the trouble is that there's probably something of significant value in his papers, even if it's not a proof of ABC.

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