Monday, March 05, 2007

Stupidopedia on Jon von Neumann

While just about everyone on SciBlogs and elsewhere has been having fun at the expense of Conservapedia, the Wiki site set up by conservatives to further isolate their followers from reality, I thought I’d just do a quick search on what entries they had up on computer science. That’s where and when I found an article on John von Neumann.
Now, you might be thinking that any article on von Neumann should focus on his major contributions to quantum mechanics, pure mathematics, economics (game theory) and computer science (the now standard serial electronic computer model). But here is the only specific part in the article about von Neumann outside of the intro:

Not religious most of his life, von Neumann surprised friends by requesting to see a Catholic priest on his deathbed.
While other physicists such as Robert Oppenheimer were criticizing the atomic bomb they helped create, von Neumann was unapologetic. Oppenheimer remarked that physicists had “known sin” by developing the first atomic bombs. Von Neumann cleverly replied that “sometimes someone confesses a sin in order to take credit for it.”

So we have quote mining in the second paragraph (making it look as though von Neumann’s intent with the quip was theological, when in all likelihood is was no less metaphorical than Einstein’s “God does not play dice” motif) and a total irrelevancy in the first. In their mind it seems that a scientist’s most important work is done on his deathbed, when in failing health and heavily medicated (von Neumann was under military guard and surveillance at the time to make sure he never gave out military secrets while inebriated). This leads me to believe that Conservapedia articles on computer science (and everything else) will work hard to educate everyone on a shitload of nothing.


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