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Re: Mathematica and some General Comments

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  • Subject: [mg97448] Re: Mathematica and some General Comments
  • From: Szabolcs Horvát <szhorvat at>
  • Date: Fri, 13 Mar 2009 04:52:25 -0500 (EST)
  • References: <goqphr$lt2$> <gp5fou$9nr$> <gpad0r$n01$>

Mariano Su=E1rez-Alvarez wrote:
> Well, if you come up with a proof of a theorem
> which depends on non-trivial Mathematica code
> to do non-trivial computations, in what way can
> you possibly say that you know how the proof works,
> if *you* yourself, the author of the proof, do not
> know what Mathematica is really doing? Using
> closed-source code simply goes against the very
> spirit of open review which is essential to
> the scientific endeavor.
> There was a recent discussion in this subject
> on the AMS Notices, which you can get at
> <>.

This is a very misleading argument---a nasty sophism, I should say.  And
it's quoted way too much.  A piece of software is not any less buggy by
virtue of being open source.

People usually don't know how the software they use works *exactly*,
open source or not.  And they usually don't have the time or the
knowledge to check it either.

The sane approach is to accept that software are buggy, and check the
results with different methods rather than e.g. learning the theory of
indefinite integration, and start reading open source system X's source
code.  (Unless your field of research happens to be indefinite
integration, of course.)

Blindly trusting open source programs leads to just as bad mistakes as
blindly trusting commercial software (expect that with the current state
of scientific software, it is likely to take longer and be more painful
to obtain those bad results with open source programs than with the
popular commercial choices).

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