Markets in everything

by Henry on April 20, 2004

Want to lower your Erdös Number in a hurry? Bill Tozier is flogging off the right to co-author a scientific paper with him on eBay. An undoubted bargain for social scientists, humanities types and others with high Erdös counts. Given Bill’s chops in complex systems and agent-based modelling, I’m half tempted to bid myself.

Still, prospective bidders should note his strict caveat emptor.

However, the seller retains the right to refuse (and publicly ridicule) proposals for research in non-scientific fields, such as “Intelligent Design”. Such kooks need not apply.



eszter 04.20.04 at 10:04 pm

That’s really funny, thanks for the pointer. This should be a huge hit in some circles.;-)


Matt Weiner 04.20.04 at 10:11 pm

Eszter, are you trying to say you didn’t click on that and think, “Ha! My Erdos number is lower than his already!”
I know I did.


eszter 04.20.04 at 10:19 pm

Yeah Matt, but it’s not nice to gloat.;) The bummer part is that his number is low enough that I can’t try to sell him my co-authorship for an improved number, because by co-authoring with me, he’d be where he is already.


Nat Whilk 04.20.04 at 10:30 pm

However, the seller retains the right to refuse (and publicly ridicule) proposals for research in non-scientific fields, such as “Intelligent Design”.

Number of articles by TOZIER WA indexed on ISI Web of Science for 1984-2004: 2.

Caveat Emptor, indeed.

(By way of comparison, my old grad school prof who’s on the editorial advisory board of William “Intelligent Design” Dembski’s journal Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design has 59 articles referenced on ISI.)


Bill Tozier 04.20.04 at 10:55 pm

Number of articles by TOZIER WA indexed on ISI Web of Science for 1984-2004: 2

More important: Neither was at all important. Follow the citation inks onwards, and I think you’ll find one published in response the second paper.

Ahh, but do I say at any point in the listing that I will reliably improve the winner’s scientific standing or reputation? Do I say that the research resulting from our collaboration will be important? I hope not, since I was quite careful not to do so.


Bill Tozier 04.21.04 at 2:48 am

Henry: How did you hear about the auction? Technorati reference, or referral some other way?


Tim Lambert 04.21.04 at 11:23 am

Ha! My 11 year old has an Erdos number lower than this Tozier fellow.


David 04.21.04 at 3:56 pm

Well, we’d do well to be careful about who we exclude.

If being devoutly religious and believing in divine creation will be an automatic disqualifier for collaborative work, then both Isaac Newton and Georg Cantor are off the list.

On Cantor:

On Newton:


Brian Weatherson 04.21.04 at 4:06 pm

But Bill didn’t say he wouldn’t work with people who had such beliefs in their spare time. He just wouldn’t do any work that purported to be scientific in a particular research program that hasn’t generated anything of scientific value whatsoever.

Of course, there’s a big gap between divine creation and what’s currently known as Intelligent Design. Most Christians I know believe the first but not the second, and I think that’s the official Catholic position.


David 04.21.04 at 4:25 pm

Granted, Brian. I’m not defending Intelligent Design.

I’m worried about the sort of hyper-aggressive anti-theist who thinks every scientist/mathematician/thinker must be just like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett. People can have “kooky” ideas about one thing and also brilliant ideas about another.

Cantor is a great example of someone that most secularists would think is a first class “kook”. And yet, without Cantor, think how impoverished certain branches of mathematics would be.


David 04.21.04 at 4:33 pm

Cantor is a good example here.

Check the references to “religious” in the pages from Dauben’s biography:

I imagine that some university faculties today would simply not give someone with his mentality the time of day, because of his overt religiousness.


Nat Whilk 04.21.04 at 4:33 pm

There’s an official Catholic position against Intelligent Design? References, please.


David 04.21.04 at 5:19 pm

Here’s another example of “kookiness” (very religious/defender of an ontological argument for God’s existence) and brilliancy side by side: Kurt Gödel


Bill Tozier 04.21.04 at 5:50 pm

Alas for diversity, sellers on eBay are allowed to set their terms of sale as they see fit. Many prohibit bids from users outside the US, or those from people with too little or too much negative feedback.

I’m not a hyper-aggressive anti-theist. I despise fools, and powerful fools most of all.


David 04.21.04 at 6:09 pm

Well and good, Bill.

I’m just suggesting that we be cautious about exactly who’s a fool and a kook, and thus, not worth collaborating with.


Bill Tozier 04.21.04 at 7:11 pm

I agree, David. Caution and skepticism about our own prejudices is a good thing.

For instance, somebody might have prejudiciously assumed Newton and Cantor were dead, as well. Poor fellows have very few people working with them these days as a result.

“[beep] (–king answering machine again) Helloo? … Isaac?…. Are you there? …. If you’re there, please pick up….. Ummm, I was wondering, if you have a chance, could I get your feedback, please, on that draft I sent you…..? Hello….? All right then…. Suppose you’re busy with the end of term and all……. Umm Call me! Looking forward to hearing from you! ….. (bloody great gi–[click]”

Now that would be silly, eh? No reason to be a pariah.


David 04.21.04 at 7:49 pm

LOL. Yeah, the dead never return my calls either.

A more recent philosophical example of fruitful collaboration between some extremely different mindsets–the correspondence between W.V.O. Quine and P.T. Geach, which Quine quite appreciated.

I couldn’t imagine a more unlikely pairing–Geach the conservative Roman Catholic and Quine the decidedly unreligious man.

See “Selected Correspondence with Geach; W.V.O. Quine” in the volume Peter Geach: Philosophical Encounters:


Brian Weatherson 04.22.04 at 1:11 am

Any evidence that G{o”}del believed in Intelligent Design? Indeed, any evidence that he believed in anything like Christian theory?

I don’t know why David keeps equating belief in some kind of God or other with Intelligent Design, which is a really kooky theory. Lots and lots of theists don’t believe it, without thereby holding any contradictory views. I didn’t see Bill’s statement as attacking religious belief at all – just attacking belief in an awful would-be scientific theory.

There’s a bunch of references to various statements by popes and other Catholic spokespeople here, though the guy writing this clearly doesn’t like the Catholic position.


David 04.22.04 at 1:32 pm

I’ve already conceded the point you repeat, Brian. Bill is entirely within his rights in refusing to work with someone on a Intelligent Design Project.

I think the part that worries me is the assumption that anyone who espouses a “kooky” theory is, thereby, a kook or a fool, and somehow damaged goods.

The late David Lewis held a “kooky” theory about possible worlds, prompting all those incredulous stares. Was he a kook? The academic community surely didn’t consider him such, despite this one odd view.


David 04.22.04 at 1:50 pm

According to one description of a biography of the man, Kurt Gödel believed in a few things far kookier than Intelligent Design:

“Godel believed in an afterlife, telepathy, ESP and the possibility of time travel.” (my emphasis)


Nat Whilk 04.22.04 at 3:58 pm

Brian Weatherson writes:

“There’s a bunch of references to various statements by popes and other Catholic spokespeople here”

But nothing that appears to come close to being an official Catholic position against Intelligent Design.


David 04.22.04 at 4:22 pm

Here are links to two sources where 20th century Popes comment on Evolution:

John Paul II’s 1996 Address:


Pius XII’s 1950 encyclical, Humani Generis:


Brian Weatherson 04.22.04 at 4:34 pm

If you think the possibility of time travel is kookier than Intelligent Design, we’ve got _very_ different views on the state of current science. G{o”}del’s work showing that there were solutions to GR with closed timelike curves was a great mathematical achievement, and it has spurred a lot of serious work on whether time travel is possible in anything like our world. The majority of physicists are against, but there’s plenty of well-respected physicists who are in favour, and plenty more who are agnostic. (Or who think that time travel is possible in principle but technologically infeasible, etc. There’s plenty of options on the table here.)

Intelligent Design doesn’t just mean God set the whole thing running and Darwinian forces did the rest. (Presumably in accord with God’s plan – just like everything else.) Lots of people believe that, and it’s hardly a kooky view. Indeed, that’s what I’ve always taken the Catholic position to be. Whatever Intelligent Design is, it’s incompatible with the evolution of new species, so when the Pope says that evolution is how God’s plan unfolds, he’s taking a position that’s inconsistent with Intelligent Design. That seems to me like taking a position against it.


David 04.22.04 at 5:59 pm

Well, I highlighted two (telepathy, ESP) of the four things to indicate that I thought they, in particular, were “kooky” views.

Doesn’t my point about not assuming that people who hold one or two “kooky” views are themselves kooks or fools still hold?

Why do you persist in thinking that I’m somehow defending Intelligent Design itself? I’m not. How many times do I have to say it?


Nat Whilk 04.22.04 at 6:12 pm

Brian Weatherson writes:

“Whatever Intelligent Design is, it’s incompatible with the evolution of new species,”

Says who? There are prominent ID’ers who are on record as believing in the evolution of new species.


David 04.22.04 at 7:57 pm

On the vexed question of the possibility of time travel and Gödel, there’s a interesting 1999 book on the matter by Palle Yourgrau:


David 04.22.04 at 8:30 pm

And a brief review of Yourgrau’s book by Steven Weinberg can be found here:


David 04.22.04 at 9:09 pm

I’ll venture to say this about Gödel and the possibility of time travel:

The view that Gödel’s work somehow straightforwardly proves that time travel is possible in this world, as opposed to some really odd possible world, is KOOKY.

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