The wrongness singularity

By Sean Carroll | May 5, 2006 7:29 am

The blogosphere has been having its fun with this little bit of instant punditry from Glenn Reynolds:

Of course, if we seized the Saudi and Iranian oil fields and ran the pumps full speed, oil prices would plummet, dictators would be broke, and poor nations would benefit from cheap energy. But we’d be called imperialist oppressors, then.

Far be it from me to add anything to the trenchant political analysis already available. But as a Physics Blog, we feel it’s our duty here to point out the exciting scientific consequences that our more humanistical friends have thus far missed: the possibility that Prof. Reynolds has discovered a new state of wrongness.

You see, wrongness is a fermionic property. That is to say, a statement is either wrong or it is not wrong; you can’t pile on the wrongness to make a condensate of wrong. By the conventional rules, n declarative statements can be wrong at most n times. By the Pauli exclusion principle, you just can’t be more wrong than that!

I count four declarative statements in Instapundit’s two sentences. (“… prices would plummet,” “dictators would be broke,” “poor nations would benefit,” “we’d be called imperialist oppressors.”) Now let’s count how many time he is wrong.

  • prices would plummet — No, they wouldn’t. As it turns out, the Saudi and Iranian oil fields are running at very close to full capacity; any increase would be at most a perturbation.
  • dictators would be broke — Not sure which dictators we’re talking about here — the ones we just deposed? In fact, dictators have shown a remarkable ability to not be broke even in countries without vast stores of oil wealth.
  • poor nations would benefit — Because it’s really the poor countries that guzzle oil? This one baffles me.
  • we’d be called imperialist oppressors — Now, in a strict sense this is not wrong. We would be called that. Because invading sovereign countries in order to take over their natural resources is more or less the definition of imperialist oppression. However, Reynolds’ implication is clearly that we should not be called imperialist oppressors, that it would somehow be unfair. Which is crazy. So can we count that as wrong? Yes!

So indeed we count four instances of wrongness in only four declarative statements — Fermi degeneracy! No more wrongness should be possible.

But as Tim Lambert points out, Instapundit managed to be wrong yet another time, by begging a question and then getting the wrong answer!

  • The subjunctive clause opening the first sentence cleverly slides from invading Saudi Arabia and Iran to running pumps at full speed. Actually not something that would happen in the reality-based world! As Tim says, “Yeah, because that’s pretty much the way it worked out in Iraq.”

So in fact, Reynolds has managed to fit five units of wrongness into only four declarative statements! This is the hackular equivalent of crossing the Chandrasekhar Limit, at which point your blog cannot help but collapse in on itself. It is unknown at this point whether the resulting end state will be an intermediate neutron-blog phase, or whether the collapse will proceed all the way to a singularity surrounded by a black hole event horizon. We may have to wait for the neutrino signal to be sure.

  • Jim

    Sean get three points for a great post!

  • Robert the Red

    Perhaps there is an intermediate ‘strange matter’ collapsed state.

    On second thought, he’s already there.

  • anon

    Wrongness is fermionic? Wouldn’t that mean two wrongs make a right?

  • Ralph Hartley

    I’m fairly sure that wrongness is not fermionic.

    Many years ago, I saw some of my own work described in a semi-popular publication (which I will not name).

    One sentance in particular was striking in that it was wrong in at least ten ways, and was only ten words long.

    My co-author (their source) sometimes used language in a rather confusing way, so it may not have been completly their fault, but I don’t think I could have written a sentance like that without a lot of work.

    I don’t know what the true limit on wrongness density is, but using combinatorics it may be astronomical.

  • Cynthia

    Speaking with extreme sarcasm, perhaps we can actually make Black Hole Complimentarity work on this warped argument.

  • George Musser

    When millions of people make the same mistake, the only word that suffices to explain them is boson.

  • jfaberuiuc

    Wait, can’t you have multiple wrong states overlapping so long as you spin them differently? Can Tony Snow or someone of his ilk be called in for an expert opinion on that?

  • Belizean

    Reynold’s statement is, of course, in stark contrast to the meticulously researched, well-reasoned, sober commentary — utterly lacking in hyperbole — that is to be found at The Daily Kos.

  • Bruce

    Thanks for crafting a particularly enjoyable blog post sure to be the highlight of my day :-).

  • Cygnus

    Sean, unlike Fermi-Dirac or Bose-Einstein, you could hog the entire limelight for describing the statistics of the wrongons, and have something called the Sean distribution, for the statistics of wrongness of statements.

    Hurry up, I can smell a Theoretical Physics igNoble somehwere there!

    May I propose something like:

    f = frac{1}{ e^{ frac{epsilon – mu}{kT} } + i }

    Where |f|^2 is the degree of wrongness, and kT is the ambient stupidity, epsilon is the smartness of the person making the statement, and mu is a stupidity potential owing o the nature of the topic under discussion.

  • Eugene

    Damn. I always thought wrongess is a classical property.

  • efp

    I think this is indicative of superwrongitivity, where two wrongs effectively bind into a boson state, allowing an arbitrary number to occupy the same sentence. (An interesting side effect is that lines of logic are excluded from its interior, so absurd conclusions may be levitated on it.) I think we should call it “Reynolds-pairing.”

  • Torbjörn Larsson

    Not to spoil a fantastic post but I think that if the cost of a commodity lowers all benefits. The wrongness could be that it isn’t only poor nations that benefit.

    The proposed analogy explains a lot. I note that before the collapse a blog may be observed to generate a degeneracy pressure that swamps the normal. The web neutrino signal would be light-weight and interact weakly with normal blogs.

  • Tom Renbarger

    I got a kick out of the implication that Reynolds’s blog is presently supported by wrongness degeneracy. :-)

  • Uncle Al

    1) Thermonuke Arabian military and population centers.
    2) Take the oil.

    Politics is economics’ crinoline. War is too important to reside in the hands of inept civilians – especially those with a room temperature IQ who currently answer to the phrase “Mr. President.” If Patton had marched on the USSR, if MacArthur had marched on Korea and China, the world would be a much better place and have achieved it much sooner at much lower costs, both economic and human.

    It is never a wrong act to ablate your enemy, 11 September 2001 as example. What overall sum has Muslim terrorism invested? What counter sum has the US egregiously inefficiently, ineptly, and corruptly wasted driving bungs into the broad ends of funnels?

    A freebie for terrorists: Have volunteers simultaneously get caught at O’Hare, Dulles, LAX, Kennedy… with a pound of semtex snugged in their rectums and a detonating lanyard hanging out their browneyes. That will paralyze all US air travel short of SFO departure. (In the more likely event that even mooning Homeland Severity does not pique their Official interest, fly the friendly skies and pull the lanyards. Win win.)

  • Arun

    Sean, you forgot your atheism. There are wrongness condensates that meet in church every Sunday.

    In any case, the Saudis have many hundreds of billions of dollars invested in the US; seizing their oil fields will not cause them to go broke.

  • spyder

    Thanks Sean. This is quite well done, and funny as well. You will discover, when you finally move to SoCal, that states of wrongness are always challenged on the roads and highways by more wrongness. You cannot, for example, solve a wrong turn off the 210 or 118 simply by making a correct one. You need to make other ones that create ample opportunities to further the wrongness. Not so unlike this thread, that leads Uncle Al to further the wrongs by suggesting certain outcomes for which there are clearly no correct rationales. Much like driving in SoCal.

  • Brad

    Of course, in this case, the collapse to a black hole will not need to radiate any information.

  • Elliot

    Here is something else wrong which unfortunately may cause a wrongness recalculation.

    “If we seized the oil fields”….

    My guess is that the Iranians at a minimum would light the fields on fire before letting us take them over. So this statement also contains some hidden wrongness as well”

    But relax everyone… over time Hawking radiation will return the wrongness from the singularity leaking back into an accessible state.


  • Johan Richter

    Falling oil prices would presumably help poor countries. Even if they do not use much oil now they could expand their consumption with lower prices.

  • Miguelito

    Running the pumps at full speed in Saudi Arabia would be disastrous.

    Right now, in the Ghawar field of Saudi Arabia (the world’s largest oil field) amongst others, it requires 7 barrels of water pumped back into the reservoir (to keep reservoir pressures high) to recover 5 barrels of oil. Furthermore, water recoveries from the Ghawar field are above 50%. This is typical of very mature fields.

    These fields need to be heavily managed to remain productive. If you start pumping wildly from them, they will water out before their time and no more oil can be recovered.

    Thus, when he says “if we seized the Saudi and Iranian oil fields and ran the pumps full speed, oil prices would plummet…”, he may be right in the very short term, however, he is completely wrong in the long term because it will lead to a premature decrease in world oil supply.

  • hack

    Give that man a Nobel Prize in Physics!

    And you thought Republicans were against science!

  • Jake

    Yet another example of “real” scientists claiming to have discovered something that symantecists have known for decades or longer.

    The fifth state of wrongness you list there is of the class “presupposition failure.” Your earlier statements about wrongness are just, well, wrong.

  • compass

    Very funny. However:

    Chandrasekhar’s Limit suggests that a neutron star or black hole forms when a solar mass of 1.44 times or greater that of our own sun collapses from lack of fuel.

    So, assuming Sol to be normative, (1.0 solar masses) what is the linguisitic equivalent? 1.0 actual errors per possible errors would seem to be a reasonable norm. If Reynolds is making errors at a 5/4 ratio, that equates to a decimal of 1.25, which does not exceed Chandrasekhar’s limit.

    So, in the end, we don’t have a neutron star or black hole. . .only a nova followed by a brown dwarf.

  • clvrmnky

    Yet another example of “real” scientists claiming to have discovered something that symantecists have known for decades or longer.

    I challenge you to find one of these elusive “symantecists”. Even if they are as clever and gentle as you say, we have no physical evidence of their existence.

  • Eugene

    Sorry, but I have to correct this inaccuracy.

    You need a stellar collapse of a star that is much more than 1.4 solar mass to form blackholes; something like 20 solar mass stars will form blackholes at the end of its life. The Chandrasekhar mass is the maximum mass of a degenerate star, but to form this degenerate star you need much more massive progenitors, since stars tend to cast away much of its mass when it dies (through supernovae, shedding of outer layers or otherwise).

    Bah. I am a killjoy.

  • B

    you can’t pile on the wrongness to make a condensate of wrong

    why not, let’s call it w-essence, and use it to explain the inflation of the US-ego.

  • Clifford

    I’m surprised that nobody has yet proposed the obvious name for this new measure of wrongness. Why not “Reynolds number” ? 😉

    A useful dimensionless quantity: the ratio of number of units of wrongness to the number of declarative statements.


  • BC

    poor nations would benefit — Because it’s really the poor countries that guzzle oil? This one baffles me.

    Actually, there’s a couple problems with your statement. 1. It’s actually true that if oil prices were lower, poor nations would benefit. Whether or not rich nations guzzle oil is not really relevant to whether poor nations would benefit. 2. Poor nations tend to use oil less efficiently than rich ones, and oil costs makeup a larger percentage of their total production costs (because labor, etc, are cheap). So, high oil prices actually do hurt poor nations more than rich ones. In absolute dollar amounts, rich nations lose the most from high oil prices, but poor nations get hurt the most percentage-wise.

    Of course, all of this assumes a lowering of oil prices, and an invasion of oil-producing nations isn’t likely to cause that.

  • BC

    Some numbers to backup my argument:
    When you look at a nations GDP / oil consumption, you find that developed nations have better GDP/oil consumption numbers than poorer nations. By “better” ratios, I mean that they produce larger values of GDP on fewer barrels of oil. Worse ratios means that oil is being consumed, but with less production.

    Top five economies: (GDP per year / barrels of oil consumed per day)
    United states: $11,667,515,000,000 / 20,030,000 = 582,501
    Japan: $4,623,398,000,000 / 5,578,000 = 828,863
    Germany: $2,714,418,000,000 / 2,677,000 = 1,013,977
    United Kingdom: $2,140,898,000,000 / 1,722,000 = 1,243,262
    France: $2,002,582,000,000 / 2,060,000 = 972,127

    Some randomly chosen third-world nations:

    Guatemala: $27,451,000,000 / 66,000 = 415,924
    Costa Rica: $18,395,000,000 / 40,000 = 459,875
    Honduras: $7,371,000,000 / 37,000 = 199,216
    Ethiopia: $8,077,000,000 / 27,000 = 299,148
    Botswana: $8,659,000,000 / 12,000 = 721,583
    Haiti: $3,535,000,000 / 11,800 = 299,576
    Mongolia: $1,525,000,000 / 11,000 = 138,636

    With the exception of Botswana, all the third-world nations have ratios below 500,000 and first world nations have ratios above 500,000. I picked those third-world nations at random (I didn’t find some good-ratio nations that I left out). A lot of this probably has to do with the type of economy (agriculture consumes more oil than, say, computer programming). Regardless of the reason, it still stands that third-world nations are more heavily dependent on oil prices than developed nations.


  • CanuckRob

    I posted this over at PZ’s but in light of Clifford suggestion for the name of this new nmeasure of wrongness. Thereference is to William Dembski, one of the bright lights (yeah I’m kidding) in the intelligent design creationist camp.

    “I am not a physicist and cannot propose a new Pauli principle but I think we can come up with a new terminology. The unit of wrongness should be the dembski. One dembski reflects the situation where the number of wrongs equals the number of declarative statements. To calculate the dembski number you divide the number of wrongs by the number of declarative statment and square the answer. So Seans example of five wrongs in four statements would be the square of 5/4 or 1.5625 dembski. Something like Ken Hovinds presentations would have dembski numbers in the 9 to 25 range. I am currently trying to get time on a supercomputer to calulate the dembski number of the bible.”

  • Jack

    Eugene wrote:
    “Sorry, but I have to correct this inaccuracy.

    You need a stellar collapse of a star that is much more than 1.4 solar mass to form blackholes; something like 20 solar mass stars will form blackholes at the end of its life…..”

    Sorry, just to render your terminology consistent:

    Youneed a stellarcollapse of astar thatis muchmore than 1.4 solarmass toform blackholes; somethinglike 20 solarmass stars willform blackholes atthe endof itslife. The Chandrasekharmass isthe maximummass ofa degeneratestar, but toform this degeneratestar youneed muchmore massiveprogenitors, sincestars tendto castaway muchof itsmass whenit dies (throughsupernovae, shedding of outerlayers orotherwise).

    Bah. Iam akilljoy.

    By theway, how doyou pronounce “blackhole”? Somethinglike

  • Jack

    By theway, Ihope I havenot giventhe impressionthat Eugeneis theonly onewho talksabout “blackholes”. Jacquesdistler doesthe samething.

  • Steve

    By the Pauli exclusion principle, you just can’t be more wrong than that!

    Heh, I suppose it’s no accident you mention Pauli in an articla about a new state of wrongness.

  • Rick

    I can’t wait until string theory is proven correct when the LHC turns on! How cool will that be?

  • schnitzi

    I’m sorry, but if you look at the statement mathematically, you will see that it is an implication, of the form

    (A and B) -> (C & D & E & F)

    A = we seize the oil fields
    B = we run the pumps at full speed
    C = oil prices plummet
    D = dictators would be broke
    E = poor nations would benefit from cheap energy
    F = we’d be called imperialist oppressors

    As you’ve pointed out, C, D, E, and F are all wrong, but that doesn’t make the statement false. Propositional calculus teaches us that T -> F is the only way an implication can be false. So, for the statement to be wrong, we would have to seize the oil fields AND run the pumps at full speed.

    So, Glenn Reynolds is not wrong. Yet.

  • Michael Martin

    Uh, in this discussion of stellar gravitational collapse as metaphor for the immense wrongness of the Reynolds thesis, I think you are overlooking that this wrongness may represent a truly quantum leap in stupidity and thus the phenomenon should best be described as Loopy Quantum Stupidity.

  • Elliot


    If we take the Reynolds number X hbar do we get a fundamental measure of wrong action?


  • jay

    two wrongnesses in different orders differ by negative sign? too subtle to be quickly convinced! great post, anyway!

  • Joe

    Am I to take it from the black hole analogy that you would like to see that blog become causally disconnected from the rest of the universe?

  • Michael Bérubé

    Just as long as that Instaperson’s blog is on one side of the Reynolds Radius and I’m on the other. Although it’s nice to think that there may be wormholes in the Internets and parallel blogospheres that contain inconceivably intense concentrations of rightness.

    Hey! Why is everyone moving away from me at a constant speed?

  • edwin

    There’s a story that a friend showed Wolfgang Pauli the paper of a young physicist which he suspected was not of great value but on which he wanted Pauli’s views. Pauli remarked sadly ‘It is not even wrong.‘ – a phrase which I’ve found of great use since I heard it.

  • Jay Carlson

    Hey! Why is everyone moving away from me at a constant speed?

    Because, sir, space has a well-known Red bias.

    Whether this will continue is an open question, perhaps the open question of our times. Surveys have returned confusing and contradictory results. A number of theories to explain this dark matter have been put forward over the years: neutrinos, WIMPs, family values. Crackpot conspiracy theories, the lot of them.

  • Jay Carlson

    Oh, and previously discarded theories created by a German around 1915 are being given a fresh look.

    [help help I’m trapped in the joke machinie]

  • Elliot

    Can we use this to calculate the “wrongness” of the sum total of the Bush regime’s policies in Iraq as well? My fear is that the computation would be intractable.


  • serial catowner

    Yes, I have read that the Turks allowed themselves to be ruled by neutrinos in their fading past…

  • serial catowner

    It was a quark of their religion.

  • Dave Bowman

    My god, it’s full of wrong …

  • Eli Rabett

    George Musser missed the obvious, when millions of people make the same mistake, the only word that suffices to explain them is bozon.

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  • Andrew

    Hang on, what about spin? I mean, even if statements have wrongness 1/2, you can fit 2n lots of wrongness into n statements, and we haven’t even considered the possibility of larger half-integers.

  • Cedwyn

    if only this event horizon meant that instapundit would disappear already!

  • pookapooka

    Would it be safe to say that the mere density of wrongness indicated, as it is concentrated in the echo chamber of like-“minded” readers/truebelievers of the reynoldspap, would of necessity reach the Chancresore Limit, thereby spewing irradiation into webspace, i.e., “bloviation”?

  • Barry

    Answering to comment #36 – true, in propositional logic. In the real world of policies, the proposal is to attempt A and B, which attempt would then lead to the rest. The point being made by others is that we currently don’t have the power to successfully attempt A and B.

  • Sperm Donor

    Here’s are some statements about Reynolds. You folks tell me if they are “wrong” or not:

    He is chronically intellectually dishonest.

    Assuming he believes his own bullshit, that would make him delusional.

    Assuming he doesn’t, it merely makes him a liar.

  • DarkSyde

    I actually feel for the purfessor. He has a scientific/analytical inclination, but he’s blogged himself into a corner. His market is shrinking, his competitors have invoked the “Now with 40% more shrillness and wingnuttery’ strategy. If he becomes more crass he loses the few moderates he has left, but if he shows any sign of koolaid immunity, he loses the extremist kooks. Either way, it’s money right out of his pocket. And money is after all, the conservative God, meanwhile his market share is steadily waning. So he did the brave thing: Sent out his wife to take the risk. Classy Glenn, classy indeed.

  • jexter

    Although not a physicist, I do have a Master’s Dregree (in Science!), and believe I may be able to shed some light on this notion that Glen has discovered a new state of wrongness.

    Glen Reynolds doesn’t have many sharp tools in his toolkit, and unfortunately the one he chooses to use most often when analyzing a situation also happens to be one of the dullest: Occam’s Butterknife. This states that when concidering all possible boneheaded theories for explaining what is happening around you, the one that falls most completely outside the reality-based universe is the one you should promote on your blog. Outside the reality-based universe, there is no wrong, and also no Left. There is only Right.

    Hope this helps!

  • omnivore

    But how does this account for the current administration being unaffected by the gravity of the situation? Is it because of its density?

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  • eigenman

    Remember Glenn Reynolds is a lawyer. That should explain everything.

  • Don S

    I’m really only familiar with Euclidean Wrongness, but I have an observation:

    According to Heisenberg if we attempt to directly measure the wrongness of the hypotheses we would obliterate the state. By invading Iran we could measure the effect on the pumping of the oilfields but then could never measure the same effect for NOT invading Iran.

    And this brings me to Schroedinger’s Wildcat…

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  • Brandon

    Yeah. Glenn is really good at being wrong.

    World oil production is already near full capacity, so we could not feasibly increase production rates with all the world’s oil fields, let alone those of one country. Even Saudi Arabia is near full capacity.

    What state of wrongness is that?

  • Michael Bérubé

    And this brings me to Schroedinger’s Wildcat

    Whoa! Schroedinger does live/dead catblogging? Cool.

  • melior (in Austin)

    The need for an alternate perspective on the problem is indicated by the repeated failure to successfully parse and decode this sequence of utterings from Glenn Reynolds as a serious, “reality-based” propoisition. (Predictions that correspond to only physically realizable levels of stupidity are of course preferred.)

    One alternative meta-hypothesis is that the blog-borne emission under scrutiny here is not, after all, a logical proposition, but instead a stream of symbols representing a sort of “preening” behavior selected for by the conditions of the right-wing blogosphere.

    While “Reynolds number” is admittedly quite clever, “Reynolds’ rap” may be a more appropriate phrase.

  • Moshe

    Ah, the Schrodinger wildcat, that less frequently discussed (yet more realistic) variant in which the experimenter, after trying to trap a cat in a box, ends up in a superposition of being dead/alive…

  • Sarcastro

    I’m going with the black whole hypothesis.

    It’s Insty… anything with “hole” in it is probably right.

  • Sarcastro

    “black hole” I mean. Jeez.

  • John M. Burt

    I’m reminded of the linguist’s observation that the sentence “Them’s them!” (affirming the identity of a plural subject) contains three grammatical errors in only two words.

  • mitch

    You left out another one. He said that all the leaders of the 14 top oil exporting countries are dictators. In this he included Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela. However, Chavez won the presidency in an election, recently reaffirmed by the failure (certified by the OAS and Jimmy Carter’s group) of a recall vote.

    In the world of the instapundit, whenever a country elects someone the US government doesn’t like it becomes a dictatorship.

  • W. Kiernan

    Shit man, are you telling me that neutrinos escaape a black hole?! I didn’t know that, and I don’t want to believe it either, because it would be wrong.

  • W. Kiernan

    Torbjööörn Larsson: (I done that’ cause I love oooomlauts) …I think that if the cost of a commodity lowers all benefits.

    Wha? I’m missing something here; how does a drop in the price of a commodity, e.g. cotton, benefit all, e.g. everybody, including the cotton farmers?

  • W. Kiernan

    It seems to me that Wrongness may not be fermionic, because one might be able to combine any two or more declarations to compose a syllogism, which itself can also be wrong in its own special way. So n declarations should generate at least n! possible errors.

  • orpon

    Moron geeks discussing economics… funny.

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  • mn

    mitch is correct. Instadude says: Of the top 14 oil exporters, only one is a well-established liberal democracy — Norway.

    Unless PM Harper has made some major power grabs over the weekend, I don’t think that Canada, a major oil exporter, is a dictatorship.

    If you extend your range outside of that one paragraph, you’ll notice that the wrongness increases drastically.

  • Ralph Patterson

    On the femionic nature of wrongness: One feature not mentioned by any of the commentors is that fermions can exist in a combination of states, i.e., can simultaneosly be both wrong and right. Paradoxes display such features.

  • LionelEHutz

    Now that you’ve got front page billing on daily kos, expect to see the posts from right-wing knuckle draggers who will inevitably label your hilarious and oh-so-correct post as unfunny. They’ll give you the Colbert treatment.

  • Mysticdog

    another quanta of wrongness would be “If we seized the oil fields…” I’m am 100% certain Glen Reynolds wouldn’t be anywhere near that, based on his bed-wetting level involvement in the “War on Terror”.

  • clone12

    Glenn Reynolds has 11 dimensions of wrongness…

  • Elliot

    But is wrongness theory renormalizable or are there infinities that will continue to arise giving meaningless answers?

    Perhaps we need QWD Quantum-Wrongo-Dynamics.

  • astigmatist

    Almost 30 years ago, I heard sports commentator Brent Musburger exhibit four dimensions of wrongness in one seven-word sentence. This is highly compact wrongness, neutron star territory here.

    The sentence (a question actually) was repeatedly incessantly in commercials advertising the upcoming NBA championship between the Lakers and the Celtics:

    “Can The Bird stop Tthe Magic Man?”

    Larry Bird wasn’t called “The Bird”; Magic Johnson wasn’t called “The Magic Man”; it wasn’t Bird’s job to stop Magic; and if it had been, everyone knew the answer would have been No.

  • newtonusr

    We found the Brown Dwarf!

  • Andy Cobb

    Funniest physics/politcs hybrid column EVER.

    In all fairness, it’s a short list.


  • bfy

    brilliant post. The more tightly Insty clutches the Conservative welfare straw, the more he slips, in fits and starts, but inexorably, into Wingnuttia Swamp.

  • Slangwhanger-in-Chief

    The best we can say of Herr Reynolds’ comic intellectual pratfalls is: His paradigm is full of shift.

  • Janus Daniels

    Compared to the lie ratios of Republicans in office, Reynolds bombs… heh (pardon the expression).
    Has everyone forgotten this The Daily Show classic?
    Republican Representative Joe Barton of Texas:
    “This bill is based on the premise that we believe in private, free-market capitalism to develop the resources of this land in a cost-efficient manner.”
    Jon Stewart:
    “Oh my God we have a winner! Congratulations, Rep. Joe Barton, you have achieved a lie-to-word ratio of one-to-one!”
    Joe Barton – dKosopedia:
    How soon we forget…

  • lambert strether

    The discipline of which this thread is implicitly a part, quantum bogodynamics, originates in software engineering.

    As is well known, “[B]ogons [the elementary particles of bogosity] also have tremendous inertia, and therefore a bogon beam is deflected only with great difficulty.” And, unfortunately, we in the reality based community are serving as a bogon sink, and the VRWC is still in a position to serve as a bogon source.

    Can the forces of science be brought to bear to reverse our situation, and somehow deflect the bogon beams back onto their creators?

    The future lies ahead. However, the notion of calculating degrees of wrongness is a brilliant contribution to the field of quantum bogodynamics, similar to the discovery/invention of “charm,” “spin”, and “strangeness” in the field of quantum dynamics proper.

  • Parker

    God that is good. Too bad the InstaTesticle’s readership are too busy parroting him to see stuff like this.

  • Will

    Groan. Brings new meaning to the word “pun-ditry” I guess.

  • tofubo

    anon on May 5th, 2006 at 8:16 am
    Wrongness is fermionic? Wouldn’t that mean two wrongs make a right?

    no, but three rights make a left

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  • Phoenix Woman

    I see that the five/four ratio is only 1.25 instead of the 1.44 needed to form a black hole. But could we not invoke the presence of the Instacracker version of “dark matter” — simply put, the idea that he is wrong simply on general principles, thus making a sixth wrong?

    I estimate that since Reynolds not only is wrong gazillions of times a day, but is either a) uncaring as to his wrongness or rightness, or b) actively promoting wrongness as rightness, that would suffice to declare him wrong on general principles, in addition to whatever specific wrongness he may be emitting at a given point in time.

  • Danalyst

    Is it possible that Cohen has put us inside the blackhole of non-reason?

    Could we be in a world different from the one we grew up in and not notice?

    Could the possible ways of being wrong be different now then they were before? Everything changes when you get nearer the singularity…

    Are we trapped in a world where wrongness cannot be factored out, corrected, or escaped?

    Oh God! Oh God! We’re all going to die in here!!!

    Seriously though, the rule is that you can’t be wrong and right at the same time in the same way.

    The rule is not that you can’t be wrong in many ways all at once.

    In this particular case, we counted wrong. There is an implied positive assertion that invading = oil flowing.

    And this assertion is wrong in many ways. It relies on oil extractablity. It relies on our successful invasion. It relies on our sucessful occupation. It relies on the house of Saud not destroying it’s oil fields when we invade. It relies on a competent execution of a well thought out strategy. It relies to some extent on luck.

    So let us revise our assertion to match the facts: Cohen can be wrong in more ways about a single assertion than anyone else in the world. He’s like a constant to which everything else is relative.

    Think speed of light – but, you know, less bright…

  • progdem

    A reply to #36 I believe. There are material conditionals (the truth conditions of which you stated) and there are counterfactuals. Counterfactuals are what we mostly use in English, and they are what are used in predictions. The standard semantics for them says that they are false iff at the nearest possible world where the antecedent is true the consequent false. You don’t actually have to believe in different actual universes for this to work, but it can help in ways. It is odd to use simple propositional logic to come up with weird claims about the state of a prediction, since predictions, and all other counterfactuals were taken for awhile to be proof that the material conditional of propositional logic did not describe the ‘if…then’ of natural English, and so did not apply to much of any discourse. See David Lewis and Robert Stalnaker for books and articles which are way above my head but set out the semantics for these conditionals.

    Read correctly, as a counterfactual and not a material conditional, what Reynolds says is false, because the world would have to be very different than it is for his prediction to be borne out. The less like our world some possible world is, the farther away it is, so at the nearest possible world where the antecedent is true, the consequent is almost certainly false.

  • Mike

    This reminds me, years ago I thought of a formula for the speed of thought, basically, that the speed of thought was equal to the speed of light divided by the density of the brain in question. As we can see from the Perfesser’s density, he is rapidly approaching the big ZERO.

  • Torbjörn Larsson


    Very funny! One must remember to let go of the tail of the tiger at times.


    This is double wrongness. The ö sound (which english speakers don’t have) is also a tentative marker, akin to u in “Uuuuhhhh… Duuuhhh…” ie we say “Ööööhhh… Döööhhh…”, so this spelling is both insulting and wrongly spelled. It is an example of a bozon.

    “”I think that if the cost of a commodity lowers all benefits.”

    Wha? I’m missing something here; how does a drop in the price of a commodity, e.g. cotton, benefit all, e.g. everybody, including the cotton farmers?”

    I don’t cotton much to economics, but I believe this would be the effect if the cost of the raw resource dropped. (Ie not the farmers gain.)

  • Torbjörn Larsson

    Öööhhh… I meant “tentiveness marker”. Döh!

  • Hawkeye

    Of course, the fact that you don’t know what it means to beg the question, nor does Tim Lambert, suggests a wrongness singularity all your own.

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  • JGG

    Mr. Reynolds is clearly an ignoramus. As far as I can tell. being a Canadian, Canada is both a liberal democracy and a net exporter of oil, mostly to the United States. Now, his believability quotient has just plummeted to below zero, putting him in a black hole. Unless of course, his definition of liberal democracy is Adolf’s Germany which I’m sure as a citizen of the USA he doesn’t have. Another liberal democracy that exports oil, and is second to Canada as a supplier to the USA is Venezuela, which is both liberal and democratic, Bush, Robertson et alia to the contrary. A third liberal democracy that exports oil is Peru. Gee, I don’t know if there’s a black holebig enough for this guy.

  • Qubit

    Who’s We? Here in the UK we can’t even use a hose pipe, never mind finding enough water to run an oil field!
    When you can’t even get water into somebodys back garden, then you have no chance! No chance! Of getting water, to run all the oil fields, in a country where there is non.
    To run all the oil pumps, at full speed, in a country, you just invaded. Which has very little water, but needs loads of it. Would mean you just passed the Event Horizon!

  • Pingback: Greatist post ever - just how wong can a pundnt be? « High Quality Noise()

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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