Stuff we've discussed on IRC.
Posted by ats at 2006-10-29 17:18
"But less than two weeks after she posted the paper, the author learned that she had made an error and withdrew her work. In another era?as recently as, say, 10 years ago?that would have been the end of the story."
A somewhat overblown story about Penny Smith's work on the Navier-Stokes problem, one of the Clay Millennium Prize problems.
Essentially, she came up with a proof of the existence of a solution, which she published on ArXiv (one of the biggest preprints archives -- places that you can put a copy of a paper before sending it to a publisher, making it searchable while avoiding the ludicrous reprint fees publishers charge).
It turns out that while the proof was fine in itself, it relied on a previous result that was incorrect -- so it's not actually a valid proof.
The previous result was in a paper that had been refereed and published; none of the referees, nor (apparently) any of the previous readers had spotted the error.
There have been complaints about how the Internet is changing how research is done, but I think this incident demonstrates the strengths of the preprints system -- an error that formal referees had missed was found very quickly, because all the materials that the proof relied upon were available for inspection.
(It's worth bearing in mind that the story's ending isn't entirely unhappy, too; a "nearly-correct" proof can sometimes point the way to a correct proof, as was the case with Andrew Wiles' proof of Fermat's Last Theorem in 1993 -- in Wiles' case, it was six months before anyone spotted the problem.)
There's a good description of Smith's work here.
Posted by David at 2006-10-29 12:38
... um ... err ... I know that some American's treat their flag as a holy object, but when did that type of thinking spread to the UK?
Careful here -- the proposal's actually a bit more sensible than the news agencies are making it sound...
They're not proposing making it illegal to burn the UK flag at all; they're trying to stop people burning flags at protests.
(That is, any flag, because it's generally something that annoys people.)
I don't think it really deserves a specific law -- it ought to be covered under some general "being a pain in the arse in public" law -- but it's not entirely unreasonable.
Ah, that makes more sense. (*&^%y mainstream media)