Friday, November 11, 2005


Jeff Shallit and Bill Dembski

I have wanted to comment on the feud between Jeff Shallit and Bill Dembski for a while now, and Ed Brayton's recent braying on the topic finally motivated me to do so.

Shallit's criticisms* of Bill remind me of a nasty dispute that occurred while I was an undergraduate. One professor tried to get another professor fired because the latter made a mistake in a posted solution set. A third professor whom I used to go fishing with told me about this and suggested the reason behind it was because the first professor did not get the recognition he thought he deserved, whereas the second professor received recognition for his work in mathematics education (for the record, I believe math ed is worthless, but I am not inviting that particular parallel here).

I believe the same kind of envy motivates Jeff Shallit. Shallit cites his publications** in computational number theory (or whatever it is called; it is just as vapid by any other name) as opposed to Bill's lack of publications in probability (a far superior branch of mathematics), but Bill is better known and more successful with his books.

Indeed, I suspect if Shallit is known for anything it is for his defense of bare-breasted women in public or his disputes with alleged Holocaust revisionists.

As Dante wrote in Purgatorio:

Non è il mondan romore altro ch’un fiato

di vento, ch’or vien quinci e or vien quindi,

e muta nome perché muta lato.

Fame is fleeting, and grasping after it is pointless (especially if it involves a fixation with a former student who possesses greater notoriety).

*Actually, some of his criticisms are tag-teams with Elsberry. I can only assume that Elsberry was tapped in a fit of hubris by Shallit to serve as a handicap (e.g., "I can beat you with one hand tied behind my back!") because Elsberry has absolutely nothing of substance to say about any aspect of probability (although, Shallit is no authority on probability, either).

I should note, however, that at the very least Shallit does not question Bill's mathematical ability. By way of contrast, Mark Perakh, the Rasputin of anti-ID has suggested Bill is inept as a mathematician by misrepresenting the statements of others.

**Ed previously wrote, "It's particularly amusing when [Bill Dembski] aims that criticism [i.e., parasitism of his work] at Jeff Shallit, who has a far more significant track record of scholarship in his field than Dembski does." Yes, as a social studies drop out (excuse me, that is an honors social studies drop out; I have to give the man his props) turned washed up comic turned usurer, Ed is eminently qualified to comment on the significance of publications in any branch of mathematics.


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