What Does it Mean that PRIMES is in P: Popularization and Distortion Revisited

Social Studies of Science 39 (2):257-288 (2009)
Abstract
In August 2002, three Indian computer scientists published a paper, ‘PRIMES is in P’, online. It presents a ‘deterministic algorithm’ which determines in ‘polynomial time’ if a given number is a prime number. The story was quickly picked up by the general press, and by this means spread through the scientific community of complexity theorists, where it was hailed as a major theoretical breakthrough. This is although scientists regarded the media reports as vulgar popularizations. When the paper was published in a peer-reviewed journal only two years later, the three scientists had already received wide recognition for their accomplishment. Current sociological theory challenges the ability to clearly distinguish on independent epistemic grounds between distorted and non-distorted scientific knowledge. It views the demarcation lines between such forms of presentation as contextual and unstable. In my paper, I challenge this view. By systematically surveying the popular press coverage of the ‘PRIMES is in P’ affair, I argue--against the prevailing new orthodoxy--that distorted simplifications of scientific knowledge are distinguishable from non-distorted simplifications on independent epistemic grounds. I argue that in the ‘PRIMES is in P’ affair, the three scientists could ride on the wave of the general press-distorted coverage of their algorithm, while counting on their colleagues’ ability to distinguish genuine accounts from distorted ones. Thus, their scientific reputation was unharmed. This suggests that the possibility of the existence of independent epistemic standards must be incorporated into the new SSK model of popularization.
Keywords popularization  distortion  science and media  social epistemology  computer science  mathematical proof  sociology of scientific knowledge
Categories (categorize this paper)
Options
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
Edit this record
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Mark as duplicate
Request removal from index
Translate to english
Revision history
Download options
Our Archive


Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 31,786
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Scientific Realism: An Elaboration and a Defence.Howard Sankey - 2001 - Theoria A Journal of Social and Political Theory 98 (98):35-54.
The Possibility of a Mathematical Sociology of Scientific Communication.Loet Leydesdorff - 1996 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 27 (2):243-265.
Who has Scientific Knowledge?K. Brad Wray - 2007 - Social Epistemology 21 (3):337 – 347.
Toward a Sociology of Epistemic Things.David Bloor - 2005 - Perspectives on Science 13 (3):285-312.
The Knowledge Content of Science and the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge.Loet Leydesdorff - 1992 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 23 (2):241-263.
Three Paradigms of Computer Science.Amnon H. Eden - 2007 - Minds and Machines 17 (2):135-167.
Added to PP index
2009-08-13

Total downloads
30 ( #194,419 of 2,231,518 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
3 ( #190,228 of 2,231,518 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Monthly downloads
My notes
Sign in to use this feature