Leaves in the web of knowledge

Sometimes people conclude that I am very humble or just not very smart when I state that most of my work is not very important. In truth, a couple of things I did as a researcher are worth considering, and I hope to produce a few more, but these are small gems in a vast underground of dirt.

It appears that I am not alone. Here is Zeilberger on why errors in 99.9% of mathematical papers are no big deal:

Most mathematical papers are leaves in the web of knowledge, that no one reads, or will ever use to prove something else. The results that are used again and again are mostly lemmas, that while a priori non-trivial, once known, their proof is transparent. (Zeilberger’s Opinion 91)

I agree that getting a formula wrong is no big deal. As long as we have a diverse set of researchers working on different problems, important errors are not going to survive long. Fortunately.

Cheating and biases is what we need to worry about.

Daniel Lemire, "Leaves in the web of knowledge," in Daniel Lemire's blog, November 11, 2008.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

2 thoughts on “Leaves in the web of knowledge”

  1. Interesting. I suspect your ideas about mistakes are true for just about anything.I have no intention of writing a thesis, but in my work it’s good to remind myself that making a mistake is not the end of the world, and it probably won’t have a lasting effect on my clients.It’s not being humble– just realistic.

  2. When I finished defending my thesis, one of the examiners said, “The best theses will sit and collect dust.” What he meant in the context of the conversation was that a good thesis is something no one will read, but should be something that spurs further research.

    It may be that working on a branch isn’t all that glamourous either. And if you happen to be working on a seed, you probably won’t be around to see the branches it produces.

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