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Codex Arxivus

July 2, 2010

The idiom, "It's all Greek to me," has its origin in the play, "Julius Caesar," by William Shakespeare, in a dialogue between Cassius and Casca.
CASSIUS. Did Cicero say anything?
CASCA. Ay, he spoke Greek.
CASSIUS. To what effect?
CASCA. Nay, an I tell you that, I'll ne'er look you i' the face again;
but those that understood him smiled at one another
and shook their heads; but for mine own part, it was Greek to me.
Not only is the content of scientific papers unintelligible to the common man, but even their titles seem to be written in a foreign language. Even a scientist is baffled when presented with a paper outside his narrow specialty. For example, this title from a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is not understood by most physicists: Plasmid protein TubR uses a distinct mode of HTH-DNA binding and recruits the prokaryotic tubulin homolog TubZ to effect DNA partition [2].

Euclid's Elements (detail) Book I, Element 48

Euclid's Elements (detail) Book I, Element 48


The inability of a physicist to read molecular biology papers is understandable, but what about papers in his own field? Physics is so broad a discipline that it's quite common for a physicist to have no clue as to the content of a physics paper outside his specialty. To illustrate this, David Simmons-Duffin, a Harvard graduate student working in theoretical high energy physics, launched snarXiv.[3,4] SnarXiv is a web site with the look and feel of the popular physics preprint website, arXiv, on which I've published a paper.[5] The difference between arXiv and snarXiv is that snarXiv posts nonsense titles and abstracts in the field of theoretical high-energy physics that are generated by a computer program. They're nonsense in the sense that there is no real science behind them; but the titles, especially, look just like real titles to a non-specialist.

SnarXiv includes a quiz, called arXiv vs SnarXiv that presents pairs of titles, one from each venue, and asks the viewer to choose which one of the pair is the title of a valid paper. I've tried this quiz repeatedly, and I'm stuck at 60%, a score that classifies me as an "undergraduate." I can't blame myself, when the false titles are "Reformulating String Theory Surrounded by Holomorphic Instantons," and the real titles are "Transverse Fivebranes in Matrix Theory."

SnarXiv is a variation on the Postmodernism Generator, a computer program that generates nonsense papers that sound surprisingly similar to papers that have been published in established journals.[6] If you aren't familiar with the Sokal Affair, Refs. [6,7] will make interesting reading.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention SCIgen, the Automatic Computer Science Paper Generator, where you can find information on the two papers that my son and I have coauthored
M.L. Gualtieri and D.M. Gualtieri, Bursa: A Methodology for the Analysis of DNS
Abstract
IPv6 must work. Of course, this is not always the case. Given the current status of lossless technology, leading analysts daringly desire the evaluation of superblocks. In our research, we probe how context-free grammar can be applied to the construction of operating systems.

M.L. Gualtieri and D.M. Gualtieri, Decoupling 802.11B from Virtual Machines in E-Business
Abstract
Context-free grammar and operating systems, while key in theory, have not until recently been considered essential. in this paper, we validate the analysis of the location-identity split, which embodies the compelling principles of networking. Ism, our new system for secure information, is the solution to all of these challenges.

References:

  1. William Shakespeare, "Julius Caesar," full text available on Project Gutenberg.
  2. Lisheng Ni, Weijun Xu, Muthiah Kumaraswami,and Maria A. Schumacher, "Plasmid protein TubR uses a distinct mode of HTH-DNA binding and recruits the prokaryotic tubulin homolog TubZ to effect DNA partition," Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. vol. 107, no. 26 (June 29, 2010), pp. 11763-11768
  3. Ars Mathematica, "snarXiv," (June 18, 2010).
  4. Random Samples, Science vol. 328, no. 5985 (June 18, 2010), p. 1461.
  5. D.M. Gualtieri, "FauxCrypt - A Method of Text Obfuscation," arXiv:1004.4940v1 (28 Apr 2010).
  6. Alan D. Sokal, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," Social Text vol. 46/47 (spring/summer 1996), pp. 217-252.
  7. Alan Sokal's Personal Page.                                   

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Thanks to Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing for his favorable review of Secret Codes!

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