My take on the Koblitz affair

Now that Luca, Michael Mitzenmacher, Jonathan Katz, and Oded Goldreich have all weighed in on Neal Koblitz’s critique of modern cryptography in the Notices of the AMS, I can no longer bear to be left out of the action.

My reaction is simple: we computer scientists should feel honored that the mathematicians have finally bestowed on us the level of contempt they once reserved for the physicists.

Update (9/6): If you want to understand what’s actually involved in this controversy, the best starting point I’ve found is this paper by Ivan Damgård.

13 Responses to “My take on the Koblitz affair”

  1. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    we computer scientists should feel honored that the mathematicians have finally bestowed on us the level of contempt they once reserved for the physicists.

    One mathematician. He’s also not being a mathematician in this case; he’s arguing against proofs.

  2. Kurt Says:

    I’ve always thought of TCS as being a branch of mathematics (although I know from past posts that you don’t exactly share that view), so wouldn’t this be a case of the pot calling itself black?

    And this may be a particularly bad spot to be bringing this up, but the 16th Carnival of Mathematics is going to be hosted over at my blog on 9/7. If any of your readers have any math or TCS-related posts that they’d like to contribute, we’d love to see them!

  3. Johan Richter Says:

    Well, I think TCS can be a branch of both mathematics and computer science, just as mathematical physics can be seen as a branch of both math and physics, but mean slightly different things when a mathematician and a physicist does it.

    To put it mathematically, TCS is the intersection of CS and math.

  4. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    I have a typo in an HTML close tag — ;<i> instead of </i> — which amazingly enough propagates to every subsequent comment.

    Koblitz’s philosophy may be interesting, but these HTML quirks are really exciting.

  5. Kurt Says:

    Hmmm, HTML tags don’t nest, do they? This should take care of the problem.

  6. Kurt Says:


  7. Scott Says:

    Sorry about that; fixed.

  8. Scott Says:

    And yes, Greg, I know not all mathematicians agree with him — I apologize for indulging in Koblitzian extrapolation from special cases. 🙂

  9. Chris Says:

    That’s OK Scott, everybody generalizes from just one example. At least, I do.

  10. John Sidles Says:

    Prof. Koblitz’ writings are characterized by a level of rigor and clarity that I for one consider quite commendable. His writings go far to disprove Russel’s maxim: “A book should have either intelligibility or correctness; to combine the two is impossible, but to lack both is to be unworthy.”

    If some of Koblitz’ writings are critical of established authority … well … what else should we expect of a mathematician, who learned his first serious mathematics from Serge Lang’s Algebra, while serving time for insubordination in an Army stockade?

    Seldom was jail time put to better use.

  11. Walt Says:

    To me (as a math person), the most surprising discovery is that the opinion of mathematicians actually matters to somebody.

  12. Amit Says:

    Hi Scott,

    I asked you a question in my post. Why did u just delete it without answering?

  13. Scott Says:

    Amit, I’ve had to delete a lot of abusive, presumptuous, and/or irrelevant comments lately; I don’t even remember all of them. If you think yours was deleted in error, you’re welcome to repost.