Wolfram’s “New Kind of Science” skewered

Hey, you want to read a fun book review? Read this review by Cosma Shalizi about Stephen Wolfram’s massive monument to himself, A New Kind of Science. The review is long, but it’s packed with lots of good information, and believe me, you’ve never read a review about a physics book that dishes quite like this one. From the subtitle (“A Rare Blend of Monster Raving Egomania and Utter Batshit Insanity”) to the summation (“There is much here that is new and true, but what is true is not new, and what is new is not true; and some of it is even old and false, or at least utterly unsupported”), it’s nonstop action.

When Wolfram’s book first came out, it had an Emperor’s New Clothes feel to it (the Emperor’s New Kind of Science, perhaps?). Wolfram’s reputation for brilliance and legal aggression had a numbing effect on his reviewers. Sure he’s arrogant, but might he be right? Nobody wanted to be branded as the idiot who gave it a bad review just before God Himself endorsed it as the Truth. I have been looking forward to the day when the gloves came off, and that day is upon us. Shalizi is a clever (young) prof at the University of Michigan, and his critique alternates between truncheons and erudition.

Bruce Sterling, commenting on Shalizi’s review, offers this bon mot:

Maybe reviewers shouldn’t pick on isolated, wealthy math geniuses who have intensely private, highly bonkers-sounding, self-published cosmological schemes. I mean — what if he comes out of his ivory basement and deliberately DISTURBS THE UNIVERSE? We could be looking at the pixelated rags and tatters of reality by Friday!