Now and again people write me about why I have not responded at length to Jeffrey Shallit’s criticisms of my work. Here is an explanation that I sent off today to a colleague:
I’m afraid I don’t take Shallit very seriously as a critic. It is his habit to harrass anyone who endorses my work (including a mathematician at Oxford and an engineer on the faculty at Sydney, questioning not only their competence to assess my work but also their ethics in endorsing it).
His criticisms tend to focus on trivialities (he spent three years trying to show that a quote widely attributed to Schopenhauer that I cited in my work was not actually written by Schopenhauer — for the quote, go here). As for some number about which he keeps harping that I miscalculated in my book No Free Lunch, it turns out that when it is calculated correctly, it makes my case even more strongly. There are plenty worse to be found in the literature, as for instance the gaffe early on in Simon Conway Morris’s book Life’s Solution, in which exponent and base are reversed (p, 9). I doubt that Shallit has contacted Conway Morris about this.
Shallit, besides his obsessiveness in criticizing my work and harrassing those who endorse it, seems also to have no compunction in doing things that are frankly unethical. Thus, for instance, when I was co-editing a book for Cambridge University Press with Michael Ruse titled Debating Design, he wrote to Michael asking that an article of his be inserted in the book without my knowledge — in fact, he explicitly asked Michael not to reveal Shallit’s intentions to me. Michael, appropriately, forwarded Shallit’s letter to me, so I have the documentation.
Most significantly, Shallit’s critique of my work (along with that of his collaborator Wesley Elsberry) is now several years out of date. I just posted on my designinference.com website a paper on specification that moves the topic forward. Several months ago I posted a paper titled “Searching Large Spaces” that fills in the mathematical details of chapter 4 of No Free Lunch. When I informed Shallit of its existence on my website, he wrote back: “I do not intend to waste my time finding more errors in more work of yours.”
The irony is that Shallit and Elsberry are making a name for themselves by parasitizing my work. Shallit has published one lengthy peer-reviewed article criticizing my work and has another under submission (coauthored with Wesley Elsberry) titled “Information Theory, Evolutionary Computation, and Dembski’s ‘Complex Specified Information’.” That article first appeared on the web in November 2003 and is under submission with some journal (Shallit and Elsberry are not divulging which). That paper is now completely out of date.