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Jeffrey Shallit, Part II

In replying to my blog entry of June 23, 2005 (go here for my entry and here for Shallit’s response), Jeffrey Shallit has succumbed to the endearing weakness of revising history in his own favor. I’ll respond to him point for point:

1. With regard to people who endorsed my work and with whom he says he had “spirited and enjoyable e-mail conversations, the reaction I have from these people invariably is: Who is this crazy person? How should I deal with him? How do I get rid of him? Here’s an example:

Jeffrey Shallit wrote me some really angry posts . . . . He insulted me and then commanded me to read 50-odd pages of shight put out by him and his friends. Bill, I was right in the middle of an investigation into [snip]. So, like, I’m supposed to drop all that and run off to read 50 pages of irrelevant shight just because Shallit demands it? I blew him off and haven’t heard from him since.

Here’s another example:

His standard tactic is to demand detailed supportive evidence for whatever you say; then, no matter how much effort you go to in this regard, he says you have failed to prove your case and need “real” supportive evidence, and hence wastes your time and exhausts you and amasses a database of your best evidence to boot. It is a common tactic that I have encountered many times before in my debates . . . . It is so easy to say “prove it” and then after your victims have exhausted themselves doing so, follow that up with, “that proves nothing . . . provide real evidence . . .” As I am sure you already know, he is a fanatic. One of the worst I have ever met.

And here’s yet another example:

We have such fanatics here in [omitted foreign country], too (as you already know). Often persons who hardly know anything about biology and probablity are making a name for themselves by harrassing anyone who carefully analyses the weaknesses of Darwinism and supporting ID. They produce so much nonsense that one could employ at least 10 persons do nothing but to disprove the latest Darwinian rubbish often advertised as scientific facts.

It would be interesting to learn how many people Shallit has actually contacted to undermine my work and reputation. I’m told that when I was awarded the Trotter Prize with Stuart Kauffman at Texas A&M this spring (go here), Shallit contacted twenty people at Texas A&M to investigate my award and express his displeasure.

2. Shallit’s criticisms of my work, insofar as they have any legitimacy, have been responded to at length in The Design Revolution and in my recent papers “Searching Large Spaces” and “Specification: The Pattern That Signifies” (the latter two available at www.designinference.com). Moreover, he now indicates that he won’t be analyzing my future work because, and I quote from a recent email, “I do not intend to waste my time finding more errors in more work of yours.”

But of course, that’s too much to hope. Shallit spent the better part of a sabbatical reviewing my semi-popular book No Free Lunch. He can’t leave ID or me well enough alone (prove me wrong, Jeff). I expect Shallit will be back to his old ways soon enough, annoying those who endorse my work, critiquing the work itself, and, to boot, getting his critiques published in peer-reviewed journals. ID-bashing is after all a growth industry, and Jeff has the advantage of getting in on the ground floor.

(Note that I won’t say that Shallit was “harrassing” my endorsers anymore since he has a lawyer who apparently thinks that my charge of harrassment is actionable. Henceforth I’ll refer to him as annoying my endorsers, rendering their lives unpleasant, or just being a pain. Thankfully, the ID side is heavily endowed with lawyers as well.)

And then there’s Schopenhauer again. Three years it took Shallit to show that a quote widely ascribed to Schopenhauer (24,000 Google hits on the quote) is not really Schopenhauer’s. Shallit apparently thinks this is scholarship. There’s another word for it: pedantry.

3. This error did not affect my conclusion because the numbers were still in the range needed to draw my conclusion. Fine, I’ll concede error. Arithmetic errors are common in mathematical texts. That’s not to excuse them. Rather, it’s to point up Shallit’s obsessiveness in going after me.

4.&5. I have not learned much from Shallit’s criticisms and continue to maintain that they focus unduly on trivialities. Read his work and read mine. As for “Internet stalkers,” that would refer to Shallit’s partner Wesley Elsberry, who for a time maintained a website on me and kept a running tab on all of my professional activities, including posting emails of mine online without my permission. It got to the point that I was afraid to go to the bathroom lest Elsberry report on it. Thankfully, he hasn’t updated his site now for about three years — since right around the time that I first called him an Internet stalker. Coincidence?

6. Accepted his explanation? He offered an apology. I accepted that at the time because it was early in our relationship and I hoped for better from him. But I never accepted his story. He went behind my back and asked my co-editor to keep his correspondence about inserting an article of his secret from me. I continue to find such behavior unethical. Nor do I mean to suggest that his unethical behavior vitiates his critiques of my work (no ad hominem argument here). They fall on their own demerits.

7. I haven’t repudiated anything, if he would but read my newest article on specification. Regardless of whose court he thinks the ball is in, his criticisms are now out of date.

8. How many people know Shallit strictly for his work as a mathematician? How many of Shallit’s fans at the Panda’s Thumb even know what computational number theory is? How many know Shallit for his work bashing ID and me in particular? I suspect more of the latter.

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6 Responses to Jeffrey Shallit, Part II

  1. The irony of all these developments is highlighted by the acknowledgement section of you peer-reviewed book, The Design Inference:

    Bill Dembski writes:

    As for computational complexity theory, I was introduced to it during the academic year 1987-88, a year devoted to cryptography at the computer science department of the University of Chicago. Jeff Shallit, Adi Shamir, and Claus Schnorr were present that year and helped me gain my footing.

    I guess Jeff couldn’t bear the fact he was being credited for helping an IDist.

    Perhaps I shouldn’t say this but, but Shallit’s papers with Elbserry have had an effect promoting misunderstandings of you work. Someone like Emma Peel will see the pages of equations and well-formatted, scholarly looking papers and conclude that there is substance to Elbserry and Shallit’s critques, when in reality their papers attack an innacurate rendering of your work. In one of their works, they use 54 pages to make an impressive take down of what amounted to a strawman representation of your work. It was some of the most breathtaking mathematical theatrics I’d ever seen….

    Regrettably, I had once actually sympathized with Elberry and Shallit’s assessment of your work. Their papers have the power to confuse the undecided middle into thinking they have refuted your case. Their papers, until one scrutinizes them carefully, are sufficient to make one seriously doubt the strength of your claims. It was only through the process of carefully reviewing their 54 page paper that I realized, they weren’t even using your definitions, but rather replacing them with convienient re-definitions. But the thing was Bill, the packaging and the offerring of equation after equation gave the veneer of a substantive take down. I can only hope more of the undecided middle will see through the veneer as I did….

    Those familiar with algorithmic theories, math, can eventually see which side has the better case. I have worked on automatic target recognition systems for Army Night Vision, so I am familiar with the concepts in your work. It took time to weigh through the many pages in both your writings, and I’m pleased to say, it has become very clear you have a very good case.

    Keep up the good fight Bill, and thank you for your hard work.


  2. Someone like Emma Peel will see the pages of equations and well-formatted, scholarly looking papers and conclude that there is substance to Elbserry and Shallit’s critques, when in reality their papers attack an innacurate rendering of your work.

    For the record, I’m no mathematician. All of you guys think up numbers so big only dogs can hear. I was trying to figure out why Bill would say that Shallit’s critiques were focused on trivialities, and in the same thread explain that the best response to critiques like that is to go & develop new lines of argument and write some new papers. To this non-mathematician that still does not compute. But hey.

  3. Has EmmaPeel ‘s previous post been inadvertantly deleted? Seems to be a constant problem here. (Screenshot taken)

  4. Has EmmaPeel ’s previous post been inadvertantly deleted? Seems to be a constant problem here.

    No, it’s still here.

  5. Emma,

    I appreciate that it appears Elbserry and Shallit make the appearance of a good case, however they are badly mistaken. I wrote an informal refutation of their work here:


    A lot of the math and formalities were kept to a minimum.


  6. [...] PS: Dembski and Luskin have responded at one time or another to the S-E team, try here and here (part II here). [...]

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