Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Updates on EEE

The Manila Times seem to have given up on answering questions on why they did not verify the press release of EEEscultura. To redirect the attention of the public, they have given EEE space in their paper to spout on his theories. EEE has now penned a letter to the editor and reiterated most of the points in the letter in his column. They have some interesting discussions on this topic at the comments section of Alecks Pabico's blog at the PCIJ.

I think that we have reached the end of this story, the Manila Times is unwilling to admit to their journalistic mistake and EEE has been insisting on his refutation of Andrew Wiles proof of Fermat's last theorem since at least 1998.

I just hope people will be remember, not everything you read is true.

Update on an update

If you want a comprehensive coverage of this issue, you might want to go over to the dontletmestopyou,blog by abe, his latest writing on this issue is here

Monday, May 23, 2005

Virgin Coconut Oil and AIDS

I read this story yesterday from the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The story is posted on their website (now archived) here. The article tells the story of Tom (no last name given), who contracted AIDS when he was gang raped in the middle east while working as an overseas contract worker.

He returned to the Philippines in 2002 where he found out that conventional medicine "could not help alleviate at least his pains" so according to the story "Given up for dying, Tom knew he had to look elsewhere-beyond drugs-to win his battle."

He turned, to virgin coconut oil as prescribed by Dr. Conrado Dayrit, the father of the recently resigned Health Secretary of the Philippines. Through, the application of virgin coconut oil in his skin twice a day and ingestion of 6 tablespoonfuls daily, Tom, in nine months, was able to have "restored enough (life energy) to become an eloquent testimony to how something so natural as virgin coconut oil had halted his free fall (from AIDS). His sores are now just scars and,
"Each time Tom went to have his periodic hospital tests, his viral load decreased progressively. Tom said that when he told hospital doctors what he was taking, they could not believe that an inexpensive natural food oil was killing the viruses better than all the expensive drugs science could churn out."
The rest of the story tells of what Filipino and some foreign researchers are doing to research and promote the curative power of the coconut.

This story of Tom disturbs me because it is long on personal details, how Tom got AIDS from being gangraped, but short on medicinal details. Some questions that springs to mind are:

One, was Tom, using conventional AIDS medicine at the same time that he was using virgin coconut oil? If he was, maybe some of the credit should be given to them.

Two, if Tom was not using conventional AIDS medicine simultaneously with virgin coconut oil, is he then the only one who has gone through this regimen? As the article states, virgin coconut oil is relatively inexpensive, surely the researchers could afford to give virgin coconut oil to at least 9 other HIV/AIDS positive Filipinos to test their hypothesis. If there are others, what has happened to them?

Three, if Tom was the only one who has gone through this regimen, then what is the medicinal value of his testimony? Conventional medicines are approved only after clinical trials. They test the curative properties of the medicine on more than one person to be sure that it's curative powers was not due to chance.

Fourth, can there be other explanation to why his sores healed and his viral load decreased progressively? Like maybe a healthier lifestyle?

This story bothers me because the Philippines has been relatively unscathed from the AIDS epidemic. But we are in a precarious situation, according to this inquirer story , "majority of Filipinos are still at a loss on how the deadly disease (HIV/AIDS) is acquired". Furthermore "The Department of Health (DoH) has described the AIDS cases in the country as "hidden and growing" in terms of number."

Other relevant statistics from the story are "at least 23 percent of Filipinos aged between 15 and 24 believe they are "invincible" against the virus." and "About 60 percent more believe there's now a cure for HIV/AIDS so they have somehow become complacent in their sexual activities"

The story warns that "What we're seeing for AIDs is an ebb tide before the tsunami where the tide recedes and people are complacent, just looking at the coastline, playing, unmindful of the danger,"

A story about how wonderful are the healing powers of virgin coconut oil, while pleasing to Filipino pride and the manufacturers of virgin coconut oil is dangerous to Filipino's health, especally since the healing powers remains unproven.

I can readily envision Filipinos opting out of conventional treatment to try virgin coconut oil. I can also readily imagine that more people will become more complacent in their sexual acivities and practices because of this story.

The Philippines is teetering on the edge of a full blown HIV/AIDS epidemic, this story is just irresponsible.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Story from the PCIJ

A member of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Mr. Alecks Pabico, tried to do what the Manila Times should have done and researched the "UP Math prof proves Princeton man wrong" story.

First, He found out that the supposed e-mail from Andrew Wiles, was written on the guestbook of Mr. Escultura's website. I found it on page 5, of the guestbook. On page 4, another or the same person claiming to be Andrew Wiles wrote "You do, of course, realize I was joking, right? I mean about FLT. Apparently, you're the only one who took the whole thing seriously."

Second, He tracked down a contact address of Mr. Andrew Wiles, and and asked him to comment on the claims made by the Manila Times story. Mr. Wiles denies e-mailing or even of knowing the Mr. Escultura's website.

Third, He interviewed Mr. Escultura and got him to agree that some of the details from the story were wrong.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Letter from the UP Math Department

A friend sent this letter from faculty members of the University of the Philippines' Math Department. Mr. Escultura taught at the University of the Philippines.
Letter to the Editor of the Manila Times

We find the Manila Times’ front page story (“UP Math Prof proves Princeton Man Wrong”, 5 May) disturbing as it has given many readers false and unfounded information, and hence, a false sense of pride about our nation's scientists. To say that the celebrated proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem (FLT) by Princeton mathematician Andrew Wiles is wrong is a tall claim and would put into question one of the 20th century’s greatest intellectual achievements.

In 1637, Pierre de Fermat conjectured that the equation x ^n + y^n= z^n has no non-zero integer solutions whenever the exponent n is greater than 2. Several generations of mathematicians searched for a proof of FLT, which became the Holy Grail of mathematics. By discovering astonishing connections between different areas of mathematics, Wiles finally proved FLT in 1995. His proof was carefully studied by many mathematicians all over the world before it was published.

Edgar Escultura now says that Wiles was wrong. A refutation of this importance would have sent out ripples in the scientific community and landed in pages of newspapers around the world. Instead, it has fed discussions on the Internet on cranks and scientific discovery.

Your reader Roy Choco was correct: a newspaper of your stature should have done more sleuthing and checking of facts. Certainly, you need to do more than echo the assertions of Escultura.

The Chicago event after the announcement of Wiles' proof of FLT (Manila Times: "In Chicago, for instance, mathematicians marched on the streets in euphoric celebration.") never took place. This must have been based on a June 1993 Chicago Tribune article (see for example which parodied the excitement of math people whenever a difficult math problem is solved. A fruitless google search on Escultura’s collaborator “Bernard Ziegler of the University of Texas in Houston” leads us to suspect that a mathematician of that name does not exist.

Ed Escultura first raised the issue of foundational problems of mathematics at least 15 years ago, asserting as shaky the grounds which concepts/definitions—including all the mathematics we were taught in school-- stand on. Then in 1993, he trained his guns on Fermat's Last Theorem, followed by the gravitational n-body problem. This last problem eluded Einstein until his death.

In his papers, Escultura does not give a critique of Wiles' work per se; FLT is simply the straw man he takes jabs at to question the real number system and its foundations. The foundations are wrong, he says, and therefore statements built on them, like FLT, are 'wrongly-formulated.' By rebuilding the real number system on new ground, he proceeded to construct counter-examples to Fermat's statement.

Counter-examples to Fermat are not new. If one changes the setting of the equations, then solutions to the equation of Fermat can be found. For example, it has been known since the early 1900s that solutions to Fermat’s equation exist in the world of “p-adic numbers”. But this does not refute Fermat and Wiles’ theorem: that there are no solutions in the world of integers.

What is meant by “foundations” in mathematics are the axioms (or postulates, as many of us have learned in high school geometry), from which mathematical statements are proved through a chain of logical reasoning. Axioms are very much like the rules of a game of chess. A configuration of pieces on the board is possible if it can be arrived at after a sequence of legal moves. In the same way, a mathematical statement is valid (or “correct”) if it can be proved from the axioms in a finite number of steps.

Escultura says that some axioms of the real number system are false. But axioms, just like the rules of a game, are just axioms—neither false nor true. There can be different systems of mathematics, each with its own set of axioms and semantics.

Escultura saw "errors" in FLT because he 1) insists that axioms such as trichotomy and completeness are 'wrong' and 2) he judges FLT from the standpoint of another axiom set. Allowed these liberties, the logician Bertrand Russell proved that he was the Pope. If Escultura's axiom set is consistent, then the mathematics that follows from it is neither more valid nor less valid than the mathematics we learn in school. We can have as many axiomatic systems as we want, each as logically valid as the rest.

Many years ago, New York University physicist Alan Sokal conducted an unusual experiment. In order to parody postmodernism and question the standards academia uses to judge what is fit for publication, he submitted to the prestigious journal Social Text a paper containing absolute nonsense written in academic gobbledygook. His hypothesis was that a journal accepts a paper if it "sounds good," and if it "flatters the editors' ideological preconceptions." Well the journal accepted the paper and how embarrassing it was a year later when Sokal revealed the hoax.

We wish Escultura writes the Manila Times and the “peer-reviewed journals” to say he was just kidding.

It does not speak well for the Manila Times that, without checking facts or consulting the scientific community, it has given front page coverage to a tiring issue that has made the rounds of math and science Internet forums many years ago. The only thing new here is Escultura's exchange of letters with Andrew Wiles. Wiles' letter itself drips with sarcasm, and it is amazing that someone could take it seriously.

EE has taken the Times for a ride, along with the rest of us, if we fall for this feel-good story of a Pinoy professor outwitting intellectual giants of the West.

The Faculty of the Department of Mathematics
University of the Philippines
Diliman, Quezon City

I will be training the Caped Crusader next

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

How to Spot Crackpot Theories

During the last 2 weeks, I have been engrossed with the Manila Times endorsement of Mr. Edgar Escultura's claim that he has refuted Andrew Wiles' proof of Fermat's last theorem. Now, I am not a mathematician so I could not criticize Mr. Escultura's theories directly but I tend to recognize bullshit when I see it and the title of the article itself "UP Math prof proves Princeton man wrong" actually raised an alarm with my bullshit meter. Because if the title is correct, then, the internet would have been full of stories about it, I did a search with google, and no trace of this story has surfaced except in the Manila Times.

So I have spent the last 2 weeks trying to convince the Manila Times to "verify" the veracity of their story. I do not know if they will. I hope they do so, but I doubt it.

As an excercise I am linking to some sites that give us, laymen, some guide on how to spot crackpot theories. i leave the reader (if there are any) to decide whether Mr. Escultura's theory fits their description.

Top 10 Ways To Spot A Crackpot

Crank Physics Detection Guide

Russell Turpin's "Characterization of Quack Theories"

The Crackpot Index

Monday, May 16, 2005

Letter to the Manila Times

I wrote the Manila Times a 2nd letter. this will be, I hope, the last. If I cannot convince them, then they deserve the brickbats they are getting. This is the letter.
To: The Editor
The Manila Times

Dear Sir:

First, I would like to thank you for pointing out the many grammatical errors I made in my letter to you dated May 6, 2005. I will try and do better.

Second, I would like to commend you for having the courage to admit that you did not check the veracity and accurateness of the story "UP Math prof proves Princeton man wrong" before publishing it because, as you put it, you "did not have any reason to doubt (Mr. E.E. Escultura) him."

Third, I would like to encourage you to stop this practice of not verifying stories from people you do not have any reason to doubt as this can lead to false or inaccurate stories. The Philippine Press Institute's code of ethics for journalists states that journalists "shall scrupulously report and interpret the news, taking care not to suppress essential facts nor to distort the truth by omission or improper emphasis."

I would like to point out that not getting comments from Mr. Andrew Wiles regarding his alleged e-mail reply can "distort the truth by omission". If the alleged e-mail from Mr. Wiles did not really come from Mr. Wiles, then your story attributed to him a position he does not share.

I would also point out that the title of the story "UP Math prof proves Princeton man wrong" distorts the truth from improper emphasis. Mr. Escultura may believe that he is correct but the vast majority of Mathematicians, as can be seen from a google search, do not share his view.Last, I did a quick google search for the names of the mathematicians included in your list and came out with e-mail addresses for 3 of them. I wrote them a letter inquiring whether they agree with Mr. Escultura's claim that he has proven that Mr. Wiles' proof of Fermat's last theorem is false. Mr. George S. Osipenko, Editor-in-Chief of the "Electronic Journal Diffrential Equation and Control Processes" answered

" I am not sure that I is a person that you need. I know only that this theorem was proved few yeas ago by the Spanish mathematician. The proof is not so simple and is so big. My object is Dynamical systems and I have weak in the Ferma theorem."

This does not invalidate the list, but this at least questions the accuracy of the number of mathematicians who "acknowledged and/or congratulated" Mr. Escultura.

I hope this convinces you to revisit the story and verify the claims in them.

Thank you.

Roy C. Choco
Blk 1, Lot 3, Sapphire St., Hiys Subd.,
Valenzuela Metro Manila
In reviewing the letter, I saw that I again failed to add at least on "the" and spelled Mr. Escultura's name wrong. When will I ever learn to review my writing before sending it, not after.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Fermat's Last Theorem

I was so upset with the news story by the Manila Times last week that I wrote them a letter.
"I was reading your on-line edition on Thursday (May 5) when I came upon the story about Prof. Edgar Escultura proving the proof advanced by Mr. Andrew Wiles and Richard Taylor on Fermat’s last theorem was incorrect. The story is at the very least incomplete and most probably untrue.

First, according to the theory, the refutation of the proof was published in 1998 and was greeted with much discussion on the Internet. A casual Google search on the terms “proof Fermat’s last theorem” yielded websites that only discuss the proof as presented by Mr. Wiles and Mr. Taylor. No mention has been made regarding Mr. Escultura nor his supposed refutation. Did your reporter, Mr. Rony V. Diaz, even made this kind of cursory search?

Second, according to the story, Mr. Wiles conceded an error regarding his proof and will be reviewing all his proof. But the e-mail was addressed to Mr. Escultura. There is no independent verification of this “supposed” concession was made. Did The Manila Times even tried to contact Mr. Wiles regarding this assertion by Mr. Escultura? Nothing in the article leads me to believe that asking Mr. Wiles nor other mathematicians was even considered.

Third, who even said that Mr. Escultura actually refuted Mr. Wiles’s proof? Who or what body was the source of this story? Whom did this person/body/ experts/ decide that Mr. Escultura was correct? To whom should the readers actually try and validate veracity of the story?

So The Times ran a story from no-one that was verified by nobody. Is this the kind of journalism that The Manila Times practices? I expected more from your paper."
They published the letter together with an editors reply here

According to the reply,
"The source of our information, including the letter of Dr. Wiles, was Dr. Escultura. We did not have any reason to doubt him".
So, the Manila Times will actually print a news story, from anybody, as long as they do not have any reason to doubt him. They will not try to verify the story. They will not dig further for independent confirmation.

Who are then these paragons of truth from whom the Manila Times feel they need not double check? Is Mr. Escultura the only, are there more? What criteria does the Manila Times use to determine who are these founts of wisdom?

How can we then as readers trust the Manila Times? How can we be sure then that the news they print is truthful and factual and not the imaginary submissions of a person that they have no reason to doubt?

I will ask my question again. Is this the kind of journalism the Manila Times practices? It seems so.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

UP Math prof proves Princeton man wrong???

The Manila Times Internet Edition | TOP STORIES > UP Math prof proves Princeton man wrong

Nandito na naman tayo, last year, lumabas yung mga kagila-gilalas na adventures ni Faye, isang bata na against all odds ay nanalo saa isang paligsahan, laban sa mga katunggali niyang galing sa mayayamang bayan sa mundo, na wala man lamang tulong sa ating gobyerno.

Ngayon naman, isang balita galing sa Manila Times kung saan ipinagmamalaki nila na ni-refute ng isang teacher sa UP ang proof na ginawa nina Andrew Wiles at Richard Taylor sa Last Theorem ni Fermat.

Ayon sa article, ni publish ni Edgar Escultura, ang kanyang refutation sa proof nina Wiles at Taylor noong 1998 at dahil dito ay nagkaroon ng masigabong diskusyon sa internet tungkol dito.

Ayon pa sa article, nag-concede na ng error si Andrew Wiles kay Ed Escultura.

And yet, kung mag search ka sa internet, wala ka namang makitang diskusyon sa sinasabing refutation sa proof nina Wiles. In fact, kung mag search ka sa google ng "proof fermat's last theorem" katakut takot na pages tungkol sa proof nina Wiles ang ipapakita sa iyo ng google at wala tungkol sa supposedly refutation ni Edgar Escultura.

Kung ganito ang lagay, bakit na-publish ang istorya na ito? Alam ba ng Manila Times ang kanilang ginagawa? Humingi ba sila ng katunayan sa kanilang reporter na si Rony V. Diaz sa report na ito? Ni-email man lang ba nila si Andrew Wiles para makunan nila ito ng comment? Kumuha ba sila ng comment sa ilan pang Mathematicians? Nakalimutan ba ng Manila Times ang kanilang April Fools joke at bumabawi ngayon?

Ganito ba talaga ang standard ng journalism sa Pilipinas?