05 January 2008

The fissured ceramics come out...

Mark C. Chu-Carroll dissects a psuedomathematical proof of God's existence. Here come the fissured ceramics...

One of Chu-Carroll's big points here is that mathematical notation should be used as a tool for communication, not just a way to make the author look smarter.

Scott Aaronson had a recent post Ten Signs a Claimed Mathematical Breakthrough is Wrong which is also of interest. His first criterion for identifying a flawed "breakthrough" -- "The authors don’t use TeX." -- seems in itself quite strong. Of course, this is not because TeX forces the author to be a good mathematician (wouldn't it be nice if such a program existed?). Rather, the use of TeX is something of a shibboleth; people who haven't bothered to learn TeX are, at the present time, probably outside the mainstream of the mathematical community. I'm not saying that this automatically means the author is wrong -- there's no reason why advances can't come out of left field -- but that's a strike against such an author that they have to overcome. Using nonstandard nomenclature or notation -- which Aaronson doesn't mention -- is in the same general area.

3 comments:

michael said...

When I started working the NY Times was printed from hot type, switched to cold type. At Conde a friend and I bought it over to MACs and Quark.

All to say Knuth's book on TeX was/is interesting; all because he couldn't get his books published in a reasonable time at a reasonable price.

Aaron said...

Using nonstandard nomenclature or notation -- which Aaronson doesn't mention -- is in the same general area.

I can't agree with you on this one, because a fear of nonstandard nomenclature and notation seems to be one of the reasons that Hermann Grassmann's work took so long to be appreciated. If Grassmann's contemporaries had bothered to give his methods a chance, linear algebra might have developed much more quickly, and Grassmann might not have suffered the series of disappointments that eventually drove him out of mathematics altogether.

But of course, I'm a die-hard Grassmann fan, and therefore biased... :)

Wing said...

Once a colleague showed me a journal, at which point I yelled "this isn't a journal; it's bounded by staples!!!" And it turns out, well, that it's a really crappy journal.