A New Kind of Disclaimer

Cosma Shalizi has posted a review of Stephen Wolfram’s “A New Kind of Science.” It’s not often that you find a review which begins

Attention conservation notice: Once, I was one of the authors of a paper on cellular automata. Lawyers for Wolfram Research Inc. threatened to sue me, my co-authors and our employer, because one of our citations referred to a certain mathematical proof, and they claimed the existence of this proof was a trade secret of Wolfram Research. I am sorry to say that our employer knuckled under, and so did we, and we replaced that version of the paper with another, without the offending citation. I think my judgments on Wolfram and his works are accurate, but they’re not disinterested.

or a review that ends (well almost) with

This brings me to the core of what I dislike about Wolfram’s book. It is going to set the field back by years. On the one hand, scientists in other fields are going to think we’re all crackpots like him. On the other hand, we’re going to be deluged, again, with people who fall for this kind of nonsense. I expect to have to waste a lot of time in the next few years de-programming students who’ll have read A New Kind of Science before knowing any better.

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