July 2, 2002

· Books

Finally, finally, finally, a good article on a mainstream Internet site that explains why Stephen Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science is a crock. I read the New York Times’s appallingly ill-informed review of it the other week. Jordan Ellenberg gives a good account of what the book is and isn’t. But more importantly, he discusses why it and its author are getting so much media attention. Journalists love the idea of the lone genius too much to let those boring mainstream scientists with their boring research articles and dull literature reviews get in the way. I mean, if brilliant scientific advances are often thought ridiculous when first proposed, then it follows that any outlandish claim must ipso facto be a briliiant scientific advance, right?

Ellenberg is great, but my favorite summary of Wolfram’s book is still by Cosma Shalizi, who describes it as “a rare blend of monster raving egomania and utter batshit insanity”. Now that’s a clear critical verdict.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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