A new kind of science online

Wednesday 11 February 2004

Stephen Wolfram's magnum opus is now available in its entirety on the web: A New Kind of Science Online. If nothing else, it is a gorgeous book, masterfully produced, and the web site keeps up that feel. The beautiful images are all there, but with the text of the book available as text as well. There's a bit too much focus on the actual pages of the book, rather than re-imagining the content for the web, but they've done a lot of work to respect the pages while making them useful online.

I've written before about Wolfram's unfortunate ego. The new content on the web site is also true to the book in this aspect. For example, in the reference section, you'll find Books in Stephen Wolfram's Library Relevant to NKS. Reading this page, it seems the more interesting thing about any particular book is that Wolfram owns it, rather than its relevance to the text.

Comments

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Peter William Lount 4:30 PM on 12 Feb 2004

I see Wolfram's library web pages from a neutral point of view, that it is simply is what is says it is, "Books in Stephen Wolfram's Library Relevant to NKS".

You are adding from your own "perception" that "it seems the more interesting thing about any particular book is that Wolfram owns it, rather an its relevance to the text."

As far as I can see there is no basis for adding such a perception to what is presented by Wolfram.

In fact the opposite view is presented on the web page itself when it says "Based on availability of resources, we may in future annotate the list to indicate the section or sections of NKS to which each book is relevant."

So the "sparceness" of the list entries making no explicit refernce to the parts of NKS that they are relevant to may be enhanced at some point in the future. This means that your "argument" or "perception" falls flat on it's face as Wolfram is acknowledging that the list of reference books is incomplete with respect to relevancy annotations. He is in effect saying that it's not complete yet you take that acknowledgement and use it against him as a failing rather than as what it is: his acknowledgement.

The critism that Wolfram has received, I feel, is unjustified, especially the critism that attacks his motives and personal character. I support critism of his theories and suppositions as this is fair game and how progress in science, more often than not, moves forward.

Your comments (and a look at the web pages in question) reveal that the "basis" for your perception is not contained in those web pages but within some other source, possibly an inner context within your own mind. I'm curious what your inner context is?

Without knowing you the obvious intrepretation would be that you are "biased" against Wolfram for some reason. However, since I don't know this to be the case I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and keep open the possible intrepretations. Other possibilities include that you have had personal communications with Wolfram and thus have insights that the rest of us don't, or you have other materials that we don't have.

Please elucidate the source and support the basis of your "perception" for us.

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Ned Batchelder 9:11 PM on 12 Feb 2004

My perception is based on nothing more than reading the book and the web site.

For example, the web site says: "In the course of creating A New Kind of Science, Dr. Wolfram consulted a great many books and papers. This site lists books that Dr. Wolfram added to his permanent collection." I find this very odd. Any author, in the course of writing a 1000-page nonfiction book, consults a great many books and papers.

Dr. Wolfram's permanent collection? Why should I care? Why doesn't this page simply say, "Books relevant to NKS: These are books and papers relevant to New Kind of Science".

And why are we only listing the ones that are now owned by Dr. Wolfram? Are there any I might find of interest that he happens not to own? Why are they not considered interesting?

This small page is symtpomatic of the entire endeavor. Dr. Wolfram is personally pushed to the forefront at every opportunity. I don't understand why. It gets in the way of me being able to appreciate his science. He is doing himself a disservice.

I have never personally corresponded with him, and I don't believe myself to be biased against him. He has by his own words created an impression with me. That is all.

You do not like that people criticize his personality. I'm afraid that it is he who has personalized his endeavor. I have been asked to consider him as a man ("Books in Stephan Wolfram's library relevant to NKS" vs. "Books relevant to NKS"), and I do not like what I find.

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Ray Girvan 6:23 PM on 18 Feb 2004

I agree with Ned as to how it comes across. Future enhancement isn't the point. Other scientists would have led from the start with a standard research bibliography - i.e. listing all reference sources used.

For the record, I also agree with Ned about Wolfram in general. Criticism of the personality is inseparable from criticism of the ideas, since any attempt to assess the science runs rapidly into his egregious failure to follow citation conventions or provide an accurate picture of earlier work in his field.

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