Sunday, May 26, 2002
The Continuing Saga of Wolfram's book, Part IV. Previously, I griped about how Stephen Wolfram's new book, A New Kind of Science, wasn't getting much media attention. Sure, there was attention to its release and some speculation as to its contents, but there weren't lots of cases of mass-market media outlets putting out written or verbal reviews of it. (Aside: Wolfram on Booknotes? That would be nice. I'd love to see Brian Lamb work through this one.)
I have a better idea of why there are no reviews yet. The book is tough. There are lots of up front claims as to some kind of larger scale ability to apply Wolfram's ideas about cellular automata to all sorts of issues in a wide range of scientific areas. Support for those claims is deferred, however, until after a rather long presentation of results of cellular automata and related simple computational systems. In fact, I haven't gotten to the support for those claims yet.
I'm still at the end of Chapter 3. The back of the book, a good chunk in itself, is a set of notes over the main text. I believe the way to read the book is to read a chapter, then go to the back and read the associated notes. It's looking like it will be a good thing to go back and read the notes again after having read the entire text and notes, because the notes are full of crossreferences to other parts of the text or notes.
Comments by others that Wolfram is full of himself are accurate. But, all in all, it's a refreshing way to read scientific writing. Some of us who've tried writing in the currently accepted style for peer-review publication know just how frustrating that approach can be to getting out just what it is that you're trying to talk about. So Wolfram's first-person science is appreciated in the same way that first-person science by Stephen Hawking, Brian Green, James Gliek, et al. is.
Anyway, the bottom line is that for reviews to appear in mass-market publications and outlets at the time of publication, Wolfram would've had to have distributed his book to outlets for review a long time before the publication date such that most science writers would have time to make it through the book and get a review written in a timely fashion. My guess -- i.e., I'm making this up -- is that Wolfram -- who I guess would 'fess up to being a control freak -- decided not to do that.