Good Math, Bad Math

I thought that for a followup to yesterday’s repost of my takedown of Berlinksi, that today I’d show you a digested version of the debate that ensued when Berlinksi showed up to defend himself. You can see the original post and the subsequent discussion here.

It’s interesting, because it demonstrates the kinds of debating tactics that people like Berlinski use to avoid actually confronting the genuine issue of their dishonesty. The key thing to me about this is that Berlinski is a reasonably competent mathematician – but watch how he sidesteps to avoid discussing any of the actual mathematical issues.

Berlinksi first emailed his response to me rather than posting it in a comment. So I posted it, along with my response. As I said above, this is a digest of the discussion; if you want to see the original debate in all its gory detail, you can follow the link above.

——-

The way the whole thing started was when Berlinski emailed me after my original post criticizing his sloppy math. He claimed that it was “impossible for him to post comments to my site”; although he never had a problem after I posted this. His email contained several points, written in Berlinski’s usual arrogant and incredibly verbose manner:

1. He didn’t make up the numbers; he’s quoting established literature: “As I have indicated on any number of occasions, the improbabilities that I cited are simply those that are cited in the literature”
2. His probability calculations were fine: “The combinatorial calculations I
made were both elementary and correct.”
3. Independence is a valid assumption in his calculations: “Given the chemical
structure of RNA, in which nucleotides are bound to a sugar phosphate backbone
but not to one another, independence with respect to template formation is not
only reasonable as an assumption, but inevitable.”
4. He never actually said there could be only one replicator: “There may be many sequences in the pre-biotic environment capable of carrying out various chemical activities.”

Of course, he was considerably more verbose than that.

This initial response is somewhat better at addressing arguments than the later ones. What makes that a really sad statement is that even this initial response doesn’t *really* address anything:

* He didn’t address the specific criticisms of his probability calculations, other than merely asserting that they were correct.

* He doesn’t address questions about the required sizes of replicating molecules, other than asserting that his minimum length is correct, and attributing the number to someone else. (While neglecting to mention that there are *numerous* predictions of minimum length, and the one he cited is the longest.)

* He doesn’t explain why, even though he doesn’t deny that there may have been many potential replicators, his probability calculation is based on the assumption that there is *exactly one*. As I said in my original response to him: In your space of 1060 alleged possibilities, there may be 1 replicator; there may be 1040. By not addressing that, you make your probability calculation utterly worthless.

* He doesn’t address his nonsensical requirement for a “template” for a replicator. The idea of the “template” is basically that for a replicator to copy itself, it needs to have a unique molecule called a “template” that it can copy itself onto. It can’t replicate onto anything *but* a template, and it can’t create the template itself. The “template” is a totally independent chemical, but there is only one possible template that a replicator can copy itself onto. He doesn’t address that point *at all* in his response.

* He doesn’t address the validity of his assumption that all nucleotide chains of the same length are equally likely.

Berlinksi responded, in absolutely classic style. On of the really noteworthy things about Berlinksi’s writing style is its incredible pomposity. This was no disappointment on that count; however, it was quite sad with respect to content. I have to quote the first several lines verbatim, to give you a sense of what I’m talking about when I say he’s pompous:

>Paris
>6 April, 2006
>
>I have corrected a few trivial spelling errors in your original posting, and I
>have taken the liberty of numbering comments:
>
>I discuss these points seriatim:

You see, we *really* needed to know that he was in Paris. Crucially important to his arguments to make sure that we realize that! And I’m a bad speller, which is a very important issue in the discussed. And look, he can use latin words for absolutely no good reason!

He spends fifty lines of prose on the issue of whether or no 100 bases is the correct minimum possible length for a replicator. Those 50 lines come down to “I have one source that says that length, so nyah!” No acknowledgment that there are other sources; no reason for *why* this particular source must be correct. Just lots and lots of wordy prose.

He response to the question about the number of replicators by sidestepping. No math, no science; just evading the question:

>2a) On the contrary. Following Arrhenius, I entertain the possibility that
>sequence specificity may not, after all, be a necessary condition for
>demonstrable ligase activity — or any other biological function, for that
>matter. I observed — correctly, of course — that all out evidence is against
>it. All evidence – meaning laboratory evidence; all evidence – meaning our
>common experience with sequence specificity in linguistics or in any other
>field in which an alphabet of words gives rise to a very large sample space in
>which meaningful sequences are strongly non-generic – the space of all
>proteins, for example.

The template stuff? More sidestepping. He rambles a bit, cites several different sources, and asserts that he’s correct. The basic idea of his response is: the RNA-world hypothesis assumes Watson-Crick base pairing replication, which needs a template. And the reason that it needs to be Watson-Crick is because anything else is too slow and too error prone. But why does speed matter, if there’s no competition? And *of course* the very first replicator would be error prone! Error correction is not something that we would suppose would happen spontaneously and immediately as the first molecule started self-replicating. Error correction is something that would be *selected for* by evolution *after* replication and competition had been established.

Then he sidesteps some more, by playing linguistic games. I referred to the chemicals from which an initial self-replicator developed as “the precursors of a replicator”; he criticizes that phrasing. That’s his entire response.

And finally, we get to independence. It’s worth quoting him again, to show his tactics:

>There remains the issue of independence. Independence is, of course, the de
>facto hypothesis in probability calculations; and in the case of pre-biotic
>chemistry, strongly supported by the chemical facts. You are not apt to
>dismiss, I suppose, the hypothesis that if two coins are flipped the odds in
>favor if seeing two heads is one in four on the grounds that, who knows?, the
>coins might be biased. Who knows? They might be. But the burden of
>demonstrating this falls on you.

One other quote, to give you more of the flavor of a debate with Berlinski:

>5a) There are two issues here: The first is the provenance of my argument; the
>second, my endorsement of its validity. You have carelessly assumed that
>arguments I drew from the literature were my own invention. This is untrue. I
>expect you to correct this misunderstanding as a matter of scholarly probity.
>
>As for the second point, it goes without saying that I endorsed the arguments
>that I cited. Why on earth would I have cited them otherwise?

I really love that quote. Such delightful fake indignance; how *dare* I accuse him of fabricating arguments! Even though he *did* fabricate them. The fake anger allows him to avoid actually *discussing* his arguments.

After that, it descends into seeming endless repetition. It’s just more of the “nyah nyah I’m right” stuff, without actually addressing the criticism. There’s always a way to sidestep the real issue by either using excess wordiness to distract people, or fake indignance that anyone would dare to question anything so obvious!

My response to that is short enough that I’ll just quote it, rather than redigesting it:

>As I’ve said before, I think that there are a few kinds of fundamental errors
>that you make repeatedly; and I don’t think your comments really address them
>in a meaningful way. I’m going to keep this as short as I can; I don’t like
>wasting time rehashing the same points over and over again.
>
>With regard to the basic numbers that you use in your probability calculations:
>no probability calculation is any better than the quality of the numbers that
>get put into it. As you admit, no one knows the correct length of a minimum
>replicator. And you admit that no one has any idea how many replicators of
>minimum or close to minimum length there are – you make a non-mathematical
>argument that there can’t be many. But there’s no particular reason to believe
>that the actual number is anywhere close to one. A small number of the possible
>patterns of minimum length? No problem. *One*? No way, sorry. You need to make
>a better argument to support eliminating 10^60 – 1 values. (Pulling out my old
>favorite, recursive function theory: the set of valid turing machine programs
>is a space very similar to the set of valid RNA sequences; there are numerous
>equally valid and correct universal turing machine programs at or close to the
>minimum length. The majority of randomly generated programs – the *vast*
>majority of randomly generated programs – are invalid. But the number of valid
>ones is still quite large.)
>
>Your template argument is, to be blunt, silly. No, independence is not the de
>facto hypothesis, at least not in the sense that you’re claiming. You do not
>get to go into a probability calculation, say “I don’t know the details of how
>this works, and therefore I can assume these events are independent.” You need
>to eliminate dependence. In the case of some kind of “pool” of pre-biotic
>polymers and fragments (which is what I meant by precursors), the chemical
>reactions occuring are not occuring in isolation. There are numerous kinds of
>interactions going on in a chemically active environment. You don’t get to just
>assume that those chemical interactions have no effect. It’s entirely
>reasonable to believe that there is a relationship between the chains that form
>in such an environment; if there’s a chance of dependence, you cannot just
>assume independence. But again – you just cook the numbers and use the
>assumptions that suit the argument you want to make.

———-

The rest of the debate was more repetition. Some selected bits:

>No matter how many times I offer a clear and well-supported answers to certain
>criticisms of my essays, those very same criticisms tend to reappear in this
>discussion, strong and vigorous as an octopus.
>
>1 No one knows the minimum ribozyme length for demonstrable replicator
>activity. The figure of the 100 base pairs required for what Arrhenius calls
>”demonstrable ligase activity,” is known. No conceivable purpose is gained from
>blurring this distinction.
>
>Does it follow, given a sample space containing 1060 polynucleotides of 100
>NT’s in length, that the odds in favor of finding any specific polynucleotide
>is one in 1060?
>Of course it does. It follows as simple mathematical fact, just as it follows
>as simple mathematical fact that the odds in favor of pulling any particular
>card from a deck of cards is one in fifty two.
>Is it possible that within a random ensemble of pre-biotic polynucleotides
>there may be more than one replicator?
>Of course it is possible. Whoever suggested the contrary?

This is a great example of Berlinksi’s argument style. Very arrogant argument by assertion, trying to throw as much text as possible at things in order to confuse them.

The issues we were allegedly “discussing” here was whether or not the space of nucleotide chains of a given length could be assumed to be perfectly uniform; and whether or not it made sense to assert that there was only *one* replicator in that space of 1060 possible chains.

As you can see, his response to the issue of distribution is basically shouting: “**Of course** it’s uniform, any moron can see that!”.

Except that it *isn’t* uniform. In fact, quite a number of chains of length 100 *are impossible*. It’s a matter of geometry: the different chains take different shapes depending on their constituents. Many of the possible chains are geometrically impossible in three dimensions. How many? No one is sure: protein folding is still a big problem: given our current level of knowledge, figuring out the shape of a protein that we *know* exists is still very difficult for us.

And his response to his claim that there is exactly one replicator in that space? To sidestep it by claiming that he never said that. Of course, he calculated his probability using that as an assumption, but he never explicitly *said* it.

His next response opened with a really wonderful example of his style: pure pedantry that avoids actually *discussing* the criticisms of his points.

>>The point is that we’re talking about some kind of pool of active chemicals
>>reacting with one another and forming chains ….
>
>What you are talking about is difficult to say. What molecular biologists are
>talking about is a) a random pool of beta D-nucleotides; and b) a random
>ensemble of polynucleotides. The polynucleotides form a random ensemble because
>chain polymerization is not sequence-specific.
>
>>The set of very long chains that form is probably not uniform ….
>
>Sets are neither uniform nor non-uniform. It is probability distributions that
>are uniform. Given a) and b) above, one has a classical sampling with
>replacement model in the theory of probability, and thus a uniform and discrete
>probability measure.

Ok. Anyone out there who could read this argument, and *not* know what I was talking about when I said “some kind of pool of active chemicals reacting with one another and forming chains”?

How about anyone who thinks that my use of the word “set” in the quote above is the least bit unclear? Anyone who thinks that “the set of very long chains that form is probably not uniform” is the *least* bit ambiguous?

No, I thought not. The point, as usual, is to avoid actually *addressing* difficult arguments. So when confronted with something hard to answer, you look for a good distraction, like picking on grammar or word choice, so that you can pretend that the reason you can’t answer an argument is because the argument didn’t make sense. So he focuses on the fact that I didn’t use the word “set” in its strict mathematical sense, and then re-asserts his argument.

Another example. At one point in the argument, disputing his assertion of independent probabilities for his “template” and his “replicator”, I said the following:

>I’m *not* saying that in general, you can’t make assumptions of independence.
>What I’m saying is what *any* decent mathematician would say: to paraphrase my
>first semester probability book: “independence between two events is a valid
>assumption *if and only if* there is no known interaction between the events.”
>That is the *definition* of independence…

Berlinksi’s response? Again, pure distractive pedantry:

>If you are disposed to offer advice about mathematics, use the language, and
>employ the discipline, common to mathematics itself. What you have offered is
>an informal remark, and not a definition. The correct definition is as follows:
>Two events A and B are independent if P(AB) = P(A)P(B). As a methodological
>stricture, the remark you have offered is, moreover, absurd inasmuch as some
>interaction between events can never be ruled out a priori, at least in the
>physical sciences.

Does this address my criticism? No.

The Bayesian rules for combining probabilities say “If A and B are independent, then the probability of AB is the probability of A times the probability of B”. You *can* invert that definition, and use it to show that two events are independent, by showing that the probability of their occurring together is
the product of their individual probabilities. What he’s doing up there is a pedantic repetition of a textbook definition in the midst of some arrogant posturing. But since he’s claiming to be talking mathematically, let’s look at what he says *mathematically*. I’m asserting that you need to show that events are independent if you want to treat them as independent in a probability calculation. He responds by saying I’m not being mathematical; and spits out the textbook definition. So let’s put the two together, to see what Berlinksi is arguing mathematically:

>We can assume that the probability of two events, A and B are independent and
>can be computed using P(AB) = P(A)×P(B) if and only if the probability
>P(AB) = P(A)×P(B).

Not a very useful definition, eh?

And his response to my criticism of that?

>Paris
>David Berlinski
>
>I am quite sure that I have outstayed my welcome. I’m more than happy to let
>you have the last words. Thank you for allowing me to post my own comments.
>
>DB

And that was the end of the debate.

Sad, isn’t it?

Comments

  1. #1 SLC
    August 30, 2006

    Are you sure that Berlinskis’ PhD degree is in mathematics? I have seen indications that it is actually in philosophy.

  2. #2 Bronze Dog
    August 30, 2006

    I wouldn’t be sure. If a person like that has a degree in philosophy, it must be pseudophilosophy.

    You know, I once saw a guy who got a philosophy degree from a diploma mill.

    My brother already suffers enough from the perception that philosophy degrees are useless.

  3. #3 Thony C.
    August 30, 2006

    I only discovered David Berlinski fairly recently and the Good Math, Bad Math web site even more recently. I was pleased to discover that other people’s views on Mr B. are as negative as my own. I first came across a reference to his Short History of Maths and being a working historian of mathematics was curious and wandered over to my local friendly neighbourhood Internet bookstore. There I discovered that Mr B had written several books on the history of maths and decided to try his Advent of the Algorithm for starters. When it arrived I was slightly dismayed to discover that it was not about the algorithm but a book about the history of symbolic logic. However having, in the past, been a historian of formal logic for ten years (these days I have moved on, or should that be back, to the mathematical sciences during the Renaissance) I looked forward to reading this book. My expectations were however dashed. If you remove the strange and confusing similes and metaphors and ignore the ego inflating passages of purple prose the remaining forty percent of the book consists of a very sloppily written history of symbolic logic, meta-logic and meta-mathematics from Leibniz to Gödel, Turing and Church. On a historical level the text is full of both small and large errors as well as statements that can only be described as piles of festering dodo dung. This book is, to put it mildly, on a technical level as history of science a disaster. I have decided not to put any more of my money into the hands of Mr B. or his publishers and I would strongly recommend any others who might be tempted to try one or other of his books to follow my example

  4. #4 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    August 30, 2006

    SLC:

    I’m pretty sure he’s a PhD in math. But the reason for your confusion is simple. Berlinski is one of the most self-important, arrogant, *pompous* people you’ll ever encounter. For Berlinski, merely say he’s got a doctorate in math is just not sufficient; he’s got to fill it out, make it more pedantically impressive. Since a doctorate in math is a PhD, and PhD is “Doctor of Philosophy”, he’ll naturally describe himself something like “having attained the degree of doctor of philosophy in mathematics”.

  5. #5 Thony C.
    August 30, 2006

    In The Advent of the Algorithm Mr B says that he was a student of Church’s at Princeton which could mean that he wrote a doctoral thesis in mathematical or symbolic logic. Such works are often written in departments of philosophy rather than departments of mathematics thus leading to the possible confusion!? Just a thought!

  6. #6 shiva
    August 30, 2006

    Mark,

    You have done a fine job of shattering Berlinski’s facade of respectability. It’s wrong to dub this man a clown. Clowns make an honest buck in a very difficult creative profession. Berlinski deliberately writes gibberish and tries to bamboozle. This man’s pomposity and dishonesty is bad by the already smarmy standards of his friends at disco. The man is so utterly shameless that he thinks nothing of putting up a letter that was not published by Science.
    http://tinyurl.com/grp6y

  7. #7 Anton Mates
    August 31, 2006

    Berlinski is indeed an amazing man. For humor value alone it’s worth checking out his Tour of The Calculus, wherein he recounts how he brilliantly explained limits to a roomful of professional mathematicians. (More on this at Halfway There: http://tinyurl.com/o3k8k ) He later said that this wasn’t actually as incredibly conceited as it sounded, because it was meant to be “dream-like.” Ah.

    And who could forget his DI-posted interview with himself ( http://tinyurl.com/pao79 ), wherein his interviewer alter-ego pretends not to know the meaning of “chutzpah” purely so that he can show off his mad etymological skillz? To himself?

    I can’t resist recapping a sub-argument I had with him in the above debate.

    Berlinski: It’s known that you need at least 100 base bairs for ligase activity in RNA.

    Me: No, Joyce & Paul found a ligase ribozyme of only 61 single bases, and published on that years ago.

    Berlinski: That doesn’t count, because it was enzyme-driven activity.

    Me: But the only enzyme involved was the ribozyme itself! Your whole claim was that short RNAs couldn’t function as a particular kind of enzyme!

    Berlinski: Exactly. It was an enzyme. ENZYME. I win!

    Me: But…ligases are enzymes…why are you talking about ligase activity if enzymes don’t count…brain…ow.

    Finally, something which may not be funny to anyone but me: In his first response to Mark in the comments, Berlinski attempted to forestall the objection I made above by mentioning the exact paper in which that ligase was presented:

    In this regard, I encourage you to consider Natasha Paul & Gerald Joyce’s ‘A self-replicating ligase ribozyme (Paul, N., Joyce, G., PNAS, Volume 99, No. 20, 2002).

    Now that’s odd–why would he bring up the precise paper that disproved his claim? And why only now–why didn’t he either refute the paper in his essay or not make that claim in the first place?

    Well, because he didn’t know about the paper then. See, a few days earlier, we were discussing Mark’s takedown of Berlinski on a Panda’s Thumb thread ( http://tinyurl.com/p8mh3 ) and I listed that paper as disproof of his claim. And Berlinski was reading that thread–and in fact posted to it both before and after me. Lo and behold, when it comes time to pen another masterful rejoinder to Mark, Berlinski casually tosses in that same paper as additional evidence of his erudition on that subject! Unfortunately this backfired, since the paper obviously refuted his claim. But, hey, good try.

    The really funny thing is that an IDer on the PT thread later claimed that Berlinski was familiar with the paper all along, and I just hadn’t noticed…and pointed to the GMBM discussion as proof!

  8. #8 Thony C.
    August 31, 2006

    Berlinski’s doctoral thesis is titled “The well-tempered Wittgenstein” Princeton 1967. I would say definitely philosophy!

  9. #9 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 31, 2006

    Berlinski is famous for his style, and has been discussed several times on the web. A good post describing his mathematics and simple mistakes is http://zenoferox.blogspot.com/2006/03/david-berlinski-vs-goliath.html.

    “Berlinski is an intellectual bully, a trained mathematician who enjoys using his special status to confuse and abuse others. His biographical sketch on the website of the Discovery Institute notes that Berlinski earned a Ph.D. in mathematics philosophy from Princeton, no shabby accomplishment. …

    The hardcover edition’s book jacket includes a paragraph about the author on its back flap; it contains this sentence: “Having a tendency to lose academic positions with what he himself describes as an embarrassing urgency, Berlinski now devotes himself entirely to writing.” As is usually the case with someone who has failed to find himself an academic niche, Berlinski’s fame rests on matters other than his research papers. These days he is more recognized as an anti-Darwin skeptic than as a mathematician.”

    Another example of his style:

    “Berlinski finishes off this section with an old description of a “well-posed problem” in analysis as physically useful. The fact that the description is really about partial differential equations goes Berlinski by. Not only are ill-posed problems solvable, by regularization for example, but one of his referents, Thom, uses much more common ill-posed ordinary differential equations in his catastrophe theory. Heck, I’ve used them myself, favourable!” ( Larsson, http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/04/goodmath_bad_ma.html#comment-93562 )

    “The concept of a well-posed problem in analysis is due to Jacques Hadamard. There are, of course, ill-posed problems both in analysis and in physics, as a study of Tikhonov & Arsenin’s Solutions of Ill-Posed Problems would reveal. It is a point I mentioned in my essay on the origins of the mind. The idea that Rene Thom – of all people – was indifferent to considerations of stability is absurd. I have written at length about catastrophe theory and its applications, and I spent a year at the Institut des Hautes Etudes talking about catastrophe theory with Thom. Thom considered structural stability a normative principle in the sciences; he regarded both his own classification theorem and the (Malgrange & Mather) preparation theorems as a justification of this point of view. Details may be found in my own Black Mischief: Language, Life, Logic & Luck, or in my monograph, The Rise of Differential Topology, Laboratoire Informatique et Programmation, No. 88-33, Université de Paris, VII, Paris, France, 1980, or in my review of Catastrophe Theory and its Applications, in Behavioral Science, 1978.” ( Berlinski, http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/04/goodmath_bad_ma.html#comment-93992 )

    “”The idea that Rene Thom – of all people – was indifferent to considerations of stability is absurd.”

    Of course, and I didn’t say so.” ( Larsson, http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/04/goodmath_bad_ma.html#comment-94060 )

    Note that Berlinski nowhere takes notice of the fact that Hadamard (and he really, p 28 in “Origins of the mind”, http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?id=388#search=%22berlinski%20origins%20of%20the%20mind%22 ) really said was that physical systems follows (solves) well-posed problems. Which doesn’t inform neuroscientists that much…

  10. #11 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 31, 2006

    “For example, David Berlinski, usually referred to as a mathematician, has authored popular books on mathematics, and papers against evolution, but has no known record of his own contribution to the development of mathematics or of any other science.” Scientists Respond to the Orchestrated Assault of IDists on Professor Gross, Mark Perakh. Science Insights, a publication of the National Association of Scholars, September 2003″ ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Berlinski )

  11. #12 Tony Jackson
    September 1, 2006

    “David Berlinski received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University and was later a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics and molecular biology at Columbia University.”

    What? A postdoc in molecular biology? The Disco Institiute has got to be kidding!

  12. #13 Robert O'Brien
    September 1, 2006

    [Berlinski] has authored popular books on mathematics…but has no known record of his own contribution [sic] to the development of mathematics…

    Perakh has even less.

  13. #14 Dave S.
    September 1, 2006

    Robert O’Brien…thank you playing the Non-sequitur Game. Your prize today is a brand new George Foreman Grill. Knock out the fat!

  14. #15 Torbjörn Larsson
    September 2, 2006

    Robert:

    It is not only a non sequitur, it is wrong. Perakh was discussing Berlinski’s activities as a peer scientist.

    Is Mark Perakh a scientist?

    “CURRICULUM VITAE

    Dr. Mark Perakh

    General Specialization: Physics and Electrochemistry

    Specific Fields of Expertise:

    Magnetic and Semiconductor films; Stress in Films; Photodeposition; Electrochemical processes; Electrosorption.

    Selected Awards:

    1972: Prize of the Siberian Branch of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, for achievements in the Materials Science.

    1976: Award of DAAD (W. Germany Council for Research and Development) for achievements in Applied Science.

    1978: Award of the Royal Society of England, for achievements in Semiconductor Technology.

    Experience:

    Professor of Physics (1966); Professor of Materials Science(1973); Associate Prof. of Physics (1962); Associate Professor of Material Science(1953); Assistant Professor (1950).

    July 1, 1994 – currently: Retired from Cal. State University with the Emeritus status

    1949: Diploma of Candidate of Sciences in Technical Physics (an exact equivalent of a Ph.D. degree in the USA) from Odessa Polytechnic Institute, Ukraine.
    ,,,
    Languages: Russian, Ukrainian, German, Hebrew, and English.

    Publications and patents:

    Nearly 300 items, including several books (a partial list of publications and patents, dated 1984, can be seen at [snipped to pass spam filter].” ( http://members.cox.net/mkarep/biography/mperres.html )

    “This list encompasses only the material resulting from Perakh’s professional activities as a physicist, and only those items published up to 1984. Since then, many more professional papers by Perakh were published. Moreover this list does not include many Perakh’s published papers that resulted from his avocation activities (published in magazines like Partisan Review, Midstream, Present Tense, Samtiden, Possev, Kontinent, Ukrainian Quarterly, Suchasnist, and others. This list also does not include the works of fiction by Perakh.” [snipped to pass spam filter].

    Mark Perakh is a PhD in, and Emeritus Professor of, Physics with a distinguished scholar record.

  15. #16 Torbjörn Larsson
    September 2, 2006

    Robert:

    Oh, and enough already with creationist quote mining. Your quote should be:

    “David Berlinski … has authored popular books on mathematics, and papers against evolution, but has no known record of his own contribution to the development of mathematics or of any other science.”

    *Selecting* the mathematics has no bearing on what Perakh as a peer scientist said on Berlinki’s *entire* production as a “scientist”.

    You know what they say, once an IDiot, always an idiot. Berlinski is no exception.

  16. #17 Robert O'Brien
    September 2, 2006

    Torbjörn:

    Whenever I see one of your posts I can’t help but think of this character.

    Anyway, Perakh is an electrochemist, not a mathematician. Moreover, I was not “quote-mining.” I simply quoted the portion that was relevant.

    Robert

    PS I suggest you and the other poster look up non sequitur in an authoritative dictionary.

  17. #18 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    September 2, 2006

    Robert:

    Insulting other posters is not something I intend to tolerate in the comments here. Saying that another posters comments remind you of the swedish chef is definitely insulting.

    (And yes, your response *was* quote mining; you selected parts of a quote that changed the meaning of what you were quoting: that’s the definition of quote mining.

    And yes, it was a non-sequitur. A non-sequitur is a response in a debate that doesn’t follow from the argument. The quote was discussing the fact that Berlinski hasn’t made any contributions in math or science since getting his PhD. Your response was “yeah well, neither did Perakh”. How does that follow from the argument? How does that *respond to* the substance of the argument? Even if Perakh had never contributed anything significant to the fields of math or science, that would be irrelevant to whether or not he was correct in saying that Berklinski hasn’t. And the fact is, Perakh is a widely published scientist who has made significant contributions.

  18. #19 Robert O'Brien
    September 2, 2006

    Mark:

    How did my use of ellipses “change the meaning?” Perakh criticizes Berlinski’s lack of mathematical research in my redaction of the quotation just as he does in the original quotation.

    As for my comment being a “non sequitur,” was it an inference that [did] not follow from the premises? No. Was it a statement (as a response) that [did] not follow logically from or is not clearly related to anything previously said? No.

    Essentially, the gist of my remark was that Perakh is not in a position to criticize Berlinski’s apparent lack of formal mathematical output because he has none of his own. Some might consider my comment an ad hominem and/or a red herring, but it was not a non sequitur

  19. #20 Torbjörn Larsson
    September 3, 2006

    Robert:
    No, Perakh is a physicist. He has specialised on Magnetic and Semiconductor films; Stress in Films; Photodeposition; Electrochemical processes; Electrosorption. You see, to be a good developer “in the fields of solar cells, new materials for thermoelectric and superconductive devices, thermoelectrochemical cells, etc” you need material and electrophysics too. (And I know this since I researched similar films once for electronics and optics. (But mainly with vacuum processing.))

    “How did my use of ellipses “change the meaning?” Perakh criticizes Berlinski’s lack of mathematical research in my redaction of the quotation just as he does in the original quotation.”

    You remind me of Fafarman. Neither of you can see what is obvious to everyone else, probably because you rather live with the cognitive dissonance. So why are you arguing again?

    Mark:
    “Insulting other posters is not something I intend to tolerate in the comments here.”

    To be fair, I potentially managed to insult Robert indirectly, if he was an IDier. And the swedish chef is old and not applicable. Swedes does (or at least used to do) a bit better than americans on average on IQ tests. (Anyway I can do considerably better than the majority, even if it doesn’t seem so. :-) And after two years visiting Dallas I don’t sound like him either. Robert only manage to project a picture of intolerance and noncreativity. But I appreciate your concern.

    - So how is making love on a raft like american beer? – It is fucking close to water!

    (If this is too offensive for sensitive minds, please substitute coffee for beer.)

  20. #21 Robert O'Brien
    September 3, 2006

    You remind me of Fafarman. Neither of you can see what is obvious to everyone else, probably because you rather live with the cognitive dissonance. So why are you arguing again?

    Sorry, but you are in error, and Mark joining in your error does not make it any less of an error. Quote-mining occurs when someone is quoted in such a way as to give a false impression of his statement (often by failing to include a caveat that was part of the original text/speech/etc.) My quotation of Perakh preserves his criticism of Berlinski’s mathematical output. Game over. You lose.

  21. #22 Robert O'Brien
    September 3, 2006

    *Selecting* the mathematics has no bearing on what Perakh as a peer scientist said on Berlinki’s *entire* production as a “scientist”.

    Uh, were you just bragging about your IQ? I was only interested in addressing Perakh’s criticism of Berlinski as a mathematician, hence my use of ellipses.

    Furthermore, your assertion that Perakh critiqued him as a “peer scientist” is nonsense; Perakh cannot criticize Berlinski as a “peer scientist” because he is not a mathematician or a philosopher. You might want to look up the word peer as well as non sequitur.

    You know what they say, once an IDiot, always an idiot.

    My advice to you: Tyhmäkin käy viisaasta, jos suunsa kiinni pitää.

  22. #23 Torbjörn Larsson
    September 3, 2006

    Robert:
    You are trolling, so you lose by walkover. :-) Feel free to continue with what you obviously think is a game, where common sense rules aren’t applicable, instead of a sensible discussion; I wont continue under such circumstances.

    (And no, I don’t speak Finnish. Finno-Ugric languages doesn’t belong to Indo-European languages. But English works fine there. And we can assume you are trying to weasel out of the making-no-insults rule too.)

  23. #24 Thony C.
    September 3, 2006

    Furthermore, your assertion that Perakh critiqued him as a “peer scientist” is nonsense; Perakh cannot criticize Berlinski as a “peer scientist” because he is not a mathematician or a philosopher. You might want to look up the word peer as well as non sequitur.

    Robert your statement is wrong for at least two reasons. Firstly although he may be a philosopher there is no evidence that Berlinski is a mathematician. He understands and can do maths but there is no evidence that he can create original mathematics which would be the requirement for calling him a mathematician. Secondly any modern physicist is by definition a fully trained mathematician as is certainly Perakh.

  24. #25 Thony C.
    September 4, 2006

    This is a foot note to my previous posting. Despite exhaustive research in the inter library loan system , the internet and several large book sellers I have not been able to find a single publication by Berlinski that would justify calling him a philosopher and that despite the fact that he holds a doctorate in philosophy from Princeton. He is at best the prolific producer of popular literature, purple prose, pot boilers and polemic.

  25. #26 Stephen
    September 6, 2006

    It might be interesting to estimate how much unlikelyhood could be tolerated and still result in abiogenesis. Then work backword and determine how big a strand of RNA that turns out to be. Not being in the field, and not ever having had a unique idea of my own that someone else hasn’t thought of first, one supposes this question is addressed in the literature. I won’t look, since i’m lazy. But, it would go something like this:

    Life seems to have started nearly as soon as it could. Assign that 500,000,000 years (10^16 seconds). Estimate how many simultaneous experiments that the Earth might have had ongoing at any given time. Maybe it’s 10^20. Estimate how long any one experiment might have taken. Maybe it’s 10^-6 seconds (these things are small and fast). That’s about 10^42 experiments. (Note, this computation has some wild guesses – and should be treated similar to the SETI Drake equation).

    So how long of a chain must it be, if the experiments are random? Is it 4^n = 10^42? If i’ve done this right, n = 70. Now, we have experimental evidence that it happened. So, now the search is on for a self replicating RNA chain of length 70 or less. This could likely be done in a computer. To speed the search, i’d likely use genetic algorithms.

    From what i know of self replicable computer programs, 70 is quite high. There is likely a much smaller size.

    My conclusion: abiogenesis is feasible.

    The next thing to do is put together a tie-in with Douglas Adam’s work (whose initials were DNA). Note references to 42 and Earth sized computers, answering the “whole question of life, …”.