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Beware the Breakthrough

Scott Aaronson's often-hilarious quantum-computing blog "Shtetl-Optimized" [1] hit another home run recently with "Ten Signs a Claimed Mathematical Breakthrough is Wrong". (Yeah, I love lists!) The short form of his rules:

  1. The authors don't use TeX.
  2. The authors don't understand the question.
  3. The approach seems to yield something much stronger and maybe even false (but the authors never discuss that).
  4. The approach conflicts with a known impossibility result (which the authors never mention).
  5. The authors themselves switch to weasel words by the end.
  6. The paper jumps into technicalities without presenting a new idea.
  7. The paper doesn't build on (or in some cases even refer to) any previous work.
  8. The paper wastes lots of space on standard material.
  9. The paper waxes poetic about "practical consequences," "deep philosophical implications," etc.
  10. The techniques just seem too wimpy for the problem at hand.

Aaronson concludes with a deep truth about how work is really done in academia:

... if it passes all ten that still doesn't mean it's right. At some point, there might be nothing left to do except to roll up your sleeves, brew some coffee, and tell your graduate student to read the paper and report back to you.

(cf. my guidelines in Science and Pseudoscience, (6 Oct 2001), ...)

^z - 20080107

(correlates: Salience Bias, Angus Phillips, FoodFashionFitnessFinance, ...)