[Previous] BoI Explainer Videos | Home | [Next] Popperian Alternative to Induction

Deutsch Misquoted Turing

David Deutsch (DD) wrote in Quantum theory, the Church-Turing principle and the universal quantum computer (1985), p. 3:

Church (1936) and Turing (1936) conjectured ... This is called the ‘Church-Turing hypothesis’; according to Turing,

Every ‘function which would naturally be regarded as computable’ can be computed by the universal Turing machine. (1.1)

And from Deutsch's references (p. 19):

Turing, A. M. 1936 Proc. Lond. math. Soc. Ser. 2, 442, 230.

Now we'll compare with Turing's paper: On Computable Numbers, With An Application To The Entscheidungsproblem (1936), p. 230:

the computable numbers include all numbers which could naturally be regarded as computable.

Turing wrote "numbers", but DD misquoted that as "function". Turing also wrote "could" which DD misquoted as "would".

I double checked using two other copies of Turing's paper. (One and two.)

There's also a problem because Deutsch uses what appears to be an italicized block quote. You'd expect the whole block quote to be a quote of Turing, but instead it's a paraphrase. Inside the paraphrase are quotation marks surrounding the misquote of Turing that I criticized.

DD's citation is also incorrect. DD cites Turing's paper to volume 442 of the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, but it was actually in volume 42 not 442.

To determine what's correct, we can check how Turing himself cites it. In a correction to his paper, Turing cited himself:

Proc. London Math. Soc. (2), 42 (1936-7), 230-265.

You can also get the correct cite, with volume 42, from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or from Wikipedia.

You can also see that the latest volume of the journal, published in 2021, is volume 122. Volume 442 is unlikely to exist for over 100 more years. And the journal's website has archives showing that the Turing article was in volume 42.

Tangentially, I hope this lowers your opinion of academic peer review. DD's paper was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, a prestigious and peer-reviewed journal that started in around 1830. It has published work from many famous scientists.

Thanks to Dec for finding this misquote.

Note that DD has published a lot of misquotes.

Update 2021-07-15: Dec pointed out that a similar Turing misquote is in DD's book The Fabric of Reality:

He [Turing] conjectured that this repertoire consisted precisely of ‘every function that would naturally be regarded as computable’.

No, Turing wrote "all numbers which could" not "every function that would".

It appears that DD got this misquote from his own paper, and also modified it. There's a recurring pattern where every time DD touches a quote, there's a significant chance that he changes something. Here, he took the word "every" which was outside of quote marks in his paper and moved it inside quote marks for his book.

Update 2021-09-14: I contacted the academic publisher (proceedings of the royal society). They looked into the matter and said:

Apologies for the delay in getting back to you on this. A board member has had a look at the paper and does not think the misquote affects the outcome of the research presented in the paper. Although the error in the refences is unfortunate, we do not believe it will prevent readers from finding the correct article. Given the age of the paper we therefore do not think any further action is necessary.

I have several criticisms of this response.

They agree with me that DD misquoted and miscited.

Why won't they put up errata on their website? Is that too hard for them (they are bad at websites?) or do they actually not want to?

Errata serves several purposes. Academics working in the field could find out about the issue. People debating the issue could also refer to it – it would e.g. let a student whose professor repeated the error borrow the journal's authority to correct the professor. It's risky to correct your professor in general, but much easier with an official errata to point him to.

Is correcting professors a real issue? I think so because professors have been teaching Deutsch's error (there are some examples posted in the comments below). And they've been doing it out of context. In other words, even if the error did not affect the conclusion of Deutsch's paper, it still can affect other conclusions about other issues. So spreading the error matters, and it has in fact been taught in schools. Also, any reader of the paper may remember the Turing quote and use it for something else, and it may negatively affect the conclusion of their usage, even if it didn't affect the conclusion of Deutsch's paper. (Admittedly, some of the professors don't cite a source and might have been getting the error from Deutsch's book The Fabric of Reality where he repeated a similar error. But the fact that Deutsch put roughly the same error in his book is, IMO, an additional reason to errata it and at least do a little bit to stop the spread of the error.)

If they published an errata or other note about the error, they could also state their reasons for why they believe the paper's conclusion is unaffected. Other people could consider that reasoning and potentially disagree. This could be an area for critical thinking and truth seeking rather than an unaccountable authority pronouncing judgment for secret reasons. Even if it's no big deal in this case, their general attitude is concerning. How many other judgments do they make with no transparency? What is the nature of those judgments? Are any of those judgments mistaken? Do they gloss over many errors in papers they published? Could they be doing that partly out of bias and not wanting to draw attention to their own involvement in errors?

People expect academic science journals with peer review to have high standards and to be really picky about errors. They are not living up to this reputation. So much for their unlimited interest in truth for the sake of truth or whatever they were supposed to be doing.

They are still sharing the paper electronically and could update it there. Deutsch is still alive and available and could actually write or approve a small update, or they could do an update which is labelled as written by a journal editor not Deutsch.

How did this error happen? How did every step of the publishing process miss it? Did anyone intentionally cause or allow the error? Were any biases involved? They did no post mortem, no root cause analysis, no investigation into their peer review and editorial process, etc.

There are major causes for concern here. This errors calls into question how effective their reviewers and editors are. It also calls into question Deutsch's integrity. Maybe it was an accident but they have given no account of how it could have happened accidentally nor asked him to give one.

Do peer reviewers or editors not check quotes or cites? Should they? How widespread a problem is misquoting? How many other misquote reports do they receive, validate as correct criticism, and then bury? Might they be hiding a pattern revealing that many papers contain misquotes? Instead of hiding misquotes should they be doing something different like e.g. paying people enough money for misquote reports to make finding the misquotes worth the time and effort? If they actually wanted to find out about misquotes, and find out how big a problem it is, wouldn't they do something more like that? They could have responded to me by offering me money to find more misquotes since I've proven I can do it. That seems reasonable if they were better and more interesting in correcting errors.

Deutsch had an argument with a referree which was related to the text Deutsch misquoted:


But I soon found out that not everyone saw it that way. I also had referee problems. The referee of the paper in which I presented that proof insisted that Turing’s phrase “would naturally be regarded as computable” referred to mathematical naturalness – mathematical intuition – not nature.

(BTW, as a first impression, without reading Turing's paper or investigating the issue, I agree with the referree. When talking about naturally regarding something, that sounds like it's talking about what is natural or intuitive to people and their opinions, not about nature, due to what the key word "regard" means.)

Could Deutsch have intentionally misquoted in order to help win a specific logical point he was arguing about with the reviewer? Could the horrible, misleading presentation of the quote (as a block quote with an internal quote – which btw has tricked some people into thinking the whole thing is a quote) have been some kinda compromise worked out between Deutsch and the peer reviewer? Was the misquote in earlier drafts of the paper? Do they have records of what changes were made to the paper during peer review? In any case, there is some possible motive here for Deutsch falsifying the quote on purpose or just being biased and more careless in his own favor. Deutsch has a history of repeated misquotes throughout his career and most of them favor him in some way and I don't recall any that were bad for him, so it seems like whatever's going on involves bias if not actual deliberate, fully-conscious misquoting.

Seriously, how do wording errors in quotes happen accidentally? I understand typoing a letter or two when typing a quote in from a paper book or journal. But how do you just change the word? That seems more like Deutsch quotes stuff from memory – and his memory is biased in his favor (or there's selection bias – if he likes the version he remembers then he uses it, but if it's not ideal then he looks up the exact wording). Quoting from memory in your books and papers (and scripted speeches) is a serious scholarship violation that should lead to repercussions and major reputational damage. That's totally unacceptable. Another possibility, which there have also been potential indicators for, is that Deutsch changes quotes during his editing process without double checking the original. I suspect Deutsch thinks certain minor changes to quotes are OK, and maybe this somehow escalates to more major wording changes after multiple editing passes. Deutsch's editing could be like the game "telephone" where you whisper something to the guy next to you, who whispers it to the next guy, and so on. The goal is to repeat exactly what you heard. After something has been whispered a dozen times, often all the words are different and the meaning is totally changed.

In my experience, people are often willing to view things as "an accident" or "a mistake" without thinking about how exactly it happened. Some mistakes are simple like a one letter typo happening because you pressed the wrong keyboard key by accident because your finger dexterity is good but imperfect so occasionally you hit the wrong key (and then you usually notice and fix the typo, but not always). But many errors don't have such simple explanations and merit actual analysis. Changing the word "numbers" to "function" is not a typo due to flawed finger dexterity. That's bias, misremembering (while incorrectly believing quoting from memory is OK), intentionally falsifying the quote, or perhaps a horribly unreasonable editing processes that edits words within quotes similarly to how it edits words that are not within quotes. Or there are other possibilities like maybe a peer reviewer or editor caused the error and Deutsch didn't have full control over the final wording of his paper.

And how did the journal miss the error? Was it anyone's job to catch the error? Would the journal like to catch such errors in the future? And how did the error remain unnoticed in the archives for decades? Do they have a tiny readership? Do their readers not care about errors? Do their readers fail to report errors? Do their readers report errors but nothing is done? Would it make sense to hire people to review the archives for errors or should they focus on catching more errors before publication or should they just continue to not even post errata about errors and pretend nothing happened?

For more info, see my reply email to the journal:


Elliot Temple on July 12, 2021

Messages (15)

The volume number being off by 400 violates expectations for people familiar with the context who know what sort of numbers to expect and who actually read that journal. DD wrote a number that won't exist for a long time if ever.

It's like if you cite page 4,050, that should stand out as a possible error to a reviewer familiar with books. How many books have 4000+ pages? It'd have to be like a 10 volume set that carried over page numbers between volumes, or maybe some recent ebook is that long. If the cite didn't mention e.g. volume 8, that'd be an additional clue.

You'd expect peer reviewers to be familiar with the context of what journal volume numbers are reasonable and to be able to catch an error like this. They should be used to e.g. many journals doing one volume per year or a similar amount, and no journals being 400+ years old. (The oldest journal appears to be 356 years old in 2021 and to have reached volume 376.) But apparently peer reviewers don't know stuff like that or don't pay attention or something?

I caught the cite error despite lacking familiarity with stuff like journal volume numbering conventions. A peer reviewer should have been in a better position than me to catch it.

Do peer reviewers not bother to fact check citations? Do they just skip reviewing some parts of what's being published? But they want us to trust stuff because it's peer reviewed?

curi at 1:20 PM on July 12, 2021 | #1 | reply | quote


> **Reviewing instructions**

> Attention should be paid to:

> References — these should be appropriate, relevant, and devoid of unnecessary self-citations.

That doesn't specifically say to check the references for accuracy. Maybe they take it for granted that the authors will quote and cite accurately? Or takes for granted that reviewers know to check for that? Or they don't care? They ought to instruct reviewers to check.

> If you have any suspicion of misconduct please alert the Editorial Office as soon as possible. This can include fabrication of results, plagiarism, duplicate publication, incorrect authorship or any other area of concern.

OK. I think publishing false quotes is a type of misconduct, so I emailed them as they requested.

curi at 1:42 PM on July 12, 2021 | #2 | reply | quote


> To be acceptable for publication a paper should represent a significant advance in its field, rather than something incremental.


> Manuscripts that lack novelty or only present an incremental advance over previous work are not acceptable.

That anti-incremental-progress attitude is bad.

curi at 1:44 PM on July 12, 2021 | #3 | reply | quote

> DD's paper was published in *Proceedings of the Royal Society of London*

The head editor of that journal, today, is DD's friend, Michael Lockwood (ML). I don't know when he became head editor. I searched briefly and didn't find a timeline for previous people in that job.

ML is a fellow of the royal society, like DD.

It strikes me as pretty incestuous.

ML's son is Nick Lockwood (NL).

NL used to post a bunch on TCS list.

NL hung out with both DD and SFC in person a lot. SFC talked about driving him around the UK countryside and showing him castles. Now his father, ML, is head editor of the prestigious journal that publishes DD's misquotes, and is in the same prestigious organization that DD got into.


> His findings are key for climate change studies.

I don't know if ML is really a climate change "scientist" (presumably a political propagandist) or the royal society just thought that was the best way to advertise his real, productive work.

ML was elected to the royal society in 2006. DD was elected in 2008.

It all looks like a bunch of social climbing with social networks, personal friends, personal favors, etc.

DD's royal society bio says:


> In 1985, he wrote a pioneering paper that proposed the idea of a universal quantum computer, and then made some of the most important advances in the field, including his discovery of the first quantum algorithms.

That "pioneering paper" they're bragging about, which they themselves published, is the shoddy paper where he misquotes Turing.

Anonymous at 6:17 PM on July 12, 2021 | #4 | reply | quote

#4 Based on a quick search, Nick Lockwood wrote around 300 TCS emails from his main email. He's now blocking me on Twitter. I don't know when or why.

We never talked a lot. His involvement in TCS was more before I joined.

Later, he publicly called the TCS community an "idealist, right wing echo chamber that is hostile to criticism". He did not attempt to offer any serious critical arguments that I recall. He did not identify any criticism he thought had received a hostile response. He did not try to objectively document his claims.

He said he left TCS, philosophy and reason because he "developed other interests". Contrary to that statement, he then claimed that actually he's involved with philosophy. But he neglected to mention anything substantive that he's doing philosophically, he doesn't appear to blog or otherwise about philosophy, and he didn't mention any superior, alternative discussion places that he'd found.

curi at 6:35 PM on July 12, 2021 | #5 | reply | quote


Here’s an instance of Deutsch’s paraphrase being confused with an actual Turing quote. This is from a Stanford University quantum computer science course:

> *Every “function which would **naturally** be regarded as computable” can be computed by the universal Turing machine. – Turing*

https://cs269q.stanford.edu/lectures/lecture1.pdf (p. 28)

They haven’t even cited Deutsch as the source. Here it looks like Turing is quoting someone and that he named the universal machine after himself. They’ve bolded “**naturally**” for some reason. All very misleading. Such bad scholarship in a prestigious comp sci course.

Dec at 6:44 PM on July 12, 2021 | #6 | reply | quote

#6 Awful. They clearly copied it from a secondary source (DD) without checking the primary source, and without attributing it to where they got it. And they present it like the whole thing is a Turing quote that contains internal quotation makes. Did they even notice the internal quotation marks? How can they see something odd like that and see no need to check the original to find out what's going on? Uncurious and incompetent both? Focused only on social climbing, not thinking?

Anonymous at 6:51 PM on July 12, 2021 | #7 | reply | quote


When I see misquotes like the one in Deutsch’s paper that haven’t been noticed for decades, I wonder what else doesn’t stand up. Like has anyone actually checked the maths really carefully?

Dec at 8:53 PM on July 12, 2021 | #8 | reply | quote

#8 Maybe one or two people tried to do that. Who knows if they were good at what they were doing. Even if good, they could have missed something.

I was just talking with a friend about it before seeing your comment. I don't know if the math or physics in DD's old work is good. I don't know for other physicists either. Some people clearly got some things right somewhere (hence radios, GPS, nuclear power plants, some other stuff that *works*).

It's hard to check partly because I don't know enough math and physics. And partly because the information is communicated poorly and in a way that's hostile to outsiders and self-educated people. Which is ironic given that DD told everyone to homeschool.

They use lots of jargon, symbols and conventions without citing any source that explains or documents them all. Some are hard to look up, e.g. because you don't know the name of a symbol or it's a standard symbol but you don't know the special name for using it in that kind of formula. Also conventions change over time and the lack of documentation of what some stuff means adds not only barrier to entry but also makes the papers less timeless. It can be a big problem for expert mathematicians and physicists reading it many years later. I think it can be an issue on a timescale of decades, and also the issue is worse between different countries, and it's even worse if you're thinking about e.g. a mathematical historian trying to read this stuff 5000 years from now.

It's hard to get people to answer a large number of questions they regard as basic, and to consistently get answers. There are forums (like on reddit or stackexchange) that probably get annoyed if you ask too much and only answer half your questions because no one takes responsibility for answering stuff. So you get some answers but it's incomplete. And getting personal attention from anyone who actually cares to keep answering until everything is clear is ... hard. Alan Forrester will answer some stuff. Without him it'd be a lot harder.

Anonymous at 8:59 PM on July 12, 2021 | #9 | reply | quote


> Michael [Lockwood] is also distinguished for his use of spacecraft to investigate the flow of particles from one part of the atmosphere into another — the ionosphere (the upper part that can be ionised by the Sun) into the magnetosphere (the Earth’s magnetic field). His work allows the prediction of atmospheric behaviour.

They make it sound like he used spacecraft because he’s smart.

That is not what’s going on. Many people would like to use spacecraft. He got funding and assistants.

Did he get those by being the smartest scientist who could make the best use of spacecraft, budget the money in the best way, organize a team in the best way, etc? (Note btw that there are non-scientific skills involved there which are outside the specialization of someone who actually focuses their attention on science.) How do the funders decide? Here are two hints from the same bio about what funders look for:

> He has openly criticised those in the scientific field who do not see the need for human action against climate change. He has published several hundred papers

Most people don’t write several hundred papers themselves. He’s probably getting a lot of credit for work he got graduate students and other types of assistants to do. That’s generally more about social climbing in a “publish or perish” funding landscape than about productive work.

And scientists who get involved in current political controversies, and who specifically pile on to criticize dissent/disobedience regarding proposed government actions, are mostly social climbers.

A lot of the funding comes from the government, and goes to whoever can pose as a scientist – who can put on a show and get a scientific reputation – while helping enable government power and control.

Anonymous at 11:29 AM on July 13, 2021 | #10 | reply | quote


There are two UK intellectuals, both connected with Oxford, named "Michael Lockwood". DD's friend, who is cited in both of DD's books, appears *not* to be the royal society guy, though I don't know how to look it up properly because they're both referred to by the identical name.


Anonymous at 2:44 PM on July 13, 2021 | #11 | reply | quote

Updated the post b/c DD put the same Turing misquote – but modified with an additional error – in FoR.

curi at 10:45 AM on July 15, 2021 | #12 | reply | quote

After getting a response for the publisher, I added a major update at the bottom of the post.

curi at 2:36 PM on September 14, 2021 | #13 | reply | quote

Also what is wrong with their organization that they are too disorganized to respond to issues like this in a timely way or on their own initiative? I had to ask twice about the outcome of their investigation, because they didn't tell me when they were done and they also didn't respond to my first email asking about the outcome. I think that shows some kinda inability to deal with details and stay organized and keep on top of things, which is actually highly relevant to their ability to accurate review and referee articles.

Their lack of following up without me contacting them to ask again reminds me of how UC Berkeley handled an inquiry regarding one of their professors publishing a book with tons of factual and scientific errors. Specifically:


> Me (a few weeks later):

> I'm curious about whether anything has happened in this case.

Because they didn't give an update on their own. There are other similarities too.

curi at 2:48 PM on September 14, 2021 | #14 | reply | quote

> Do peer reviewers or editors not check quotes or cites?

I've found a few mis-citations recently (doing research for work). Things like citing a paper for some specific term, but the term doesn't appear in that paper (some tangentially similar things do appear, but not the term specifically). That particular example included a version number with the source reference (AFAIK not common in academia) -- I checked multiple versions, but the link to the new version is dead, and older versions didn't have the term either.

What's worse, that citation has been verbatim copied to at least 2 other papers I found (different and multiple authors, too! so a paper with 5 authors can have literally none of them do due diligence)

I wonder how common that is: just copying citations from other papers. it reminds me of what I (and others) used to do in high school: we couldn't cite Wikipedia (secondary source) so we just went to the list of citations on wiki and pulled stuff that looked relevant -- I mean, they weren't going to get checked anyway. I guess now I know where we learned it from.

WRT recent stuff, I hadn't been looking for bad cites, either. I just wanted to find out the origins of some things, and the high standards of peer review lead me to a dead end.

Max at 3:46 PM on September 15, 2021 | #15 | reply | quote

Want to discuss this? Join my forum.

(Due to multi-year, sustained harassment from David Deutsch and his fans, commenting here requires an account. Accounts are not publicly available. Discussion info.)