My friend, Scott Aaronson

This is a photo of my book shelf at the office. Ever since joining Harvard, I have been ordering copies of Quantum Computing Since Democritus on a regular basis. I often hand them out to bright students, curious about science, whom I want to expose to the beautiful connections between computer science, math, physics, and even philosophy. Scott has been one of the great popularizers of our field even before he started blogging in 2005. His surveys and blog posts provide some of the best introductions to our field. For example, when investigating  P vs NP and physical reality, Scott actually went out and verified that nature indeed cannot solve an NP-complete problem via finding the globally minimal energy configuration of soap bubbles.  Through his blog, popular writing, and research, Scott has done more than anyone else to introduce new people of all backgrounds to theoretical computer science. 

One of Scott’s endearing qualities is his openness to all people. While many of us would ignore a random email or anonymous blog comment, Scott would patiently explain for the millionth time why quantum computers can’t solve NP-hard problems by “trying all solutions in parallel” or why Bell’s Inequality does indeed rule out hidden-variable theories of nature. Alas, the same openness also results in him sometimes giving too much attention and caring far too much about the opinions of Internet “trolls” that are not worthy of his time. 

While Scott has always attracted some vitriol, recently this has taken to a new level, with commenters attacking his integrity, his speech mannerisms, even his T-shirt choice/frequency, and worst of all, his family, with misogynistic attacks on his wife and xenophobic and ableist attacks on neurodivergent researchers.

None of these people have made a fraction of the contributions of Scott not just to science, but also to broadening the diversity of computer science, and other causes including assisting women dealing with Texas’ restrictive abortion laws. (As full disclosure, one of the causes Scott helped raise money for is AddisCoder and JamCoders of which I am a board member. I just came back from a week teaching in Jamaica, the students were amazing and are so thankful for the chance to participate in this program; they couldn’t care less how often Scott changes his shirt.)

I am grateful that Scott is a member of our scientific community and proud to call him my friend. Does this mean that I agree with all his positions? Absolutely not. I tend to be on his left on many issues  (though am probably more conservative when it comes to oracle-based complexity..). Are there people he’s friendly with whom I even more strongly disagree with, and whose views I might even find repugnant? Probably. But it doesn’t matter, all of us are connected via 6 degrees of separation. If we start to “recursively cancel” every one that is somehow connected to someone we find odious, then we would not be able to talk to anyone.

I hope that Scott is not disheartened by these attacks, and continues to contribute for many years to CS research and education, outreach, and humanity at large.

9 thoughts on “My friend, Scott Aaronson

  1. Sh*t! Not I’m your subscriber (follower) too. Obviously your English is better than mine, you explained perfectly 🙂
    High Love from Overseas

  2. Hi Prof.
    Thanks for the post regarding Prof. Aaronson. I’m a long-time reader of his blog (though I haven’t yet met him in person) and you wrote pretty much exactly how I would feel.

  3. I think Bell’s Inequality only rules out *local* hidden variable theories of nature. Pilot Wave theories are hidden variable theories and they are consistent with other quantum theories.

    If only there was an expert to ask…

  4. >> Are there people he’s friendly with whom I even more strongly disagree with, and whose views I might even find repugnant?

    Steven Pinker?

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