I’ve often wondered what Nobel laureates “do for an encore.” Are they content to do mundane work? Or do they step up their work as public intellectuals? Maybe just enjoy their reign as deans of their fields?
Thus I read with interest yesterday’s Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Government Can Do More to Support Science and Innovation” by Paul Romer, who earlier this year shared the Nobel Prize in Economics, for work done related to the title of his piece. I was shocked, indeed appalled, at this passage:
Take Python, the open-source programming language that has become the language of choice for software developers in the fields of artificial intelligence and data science. Programmers have used Python to power innovation in everything from the detection of gravity waves…to reducing the cost of developing new drugs.
First, many of us in AI/data science greatly prefer the R language to Python; ironically I just wrote on this yesterday in my statistics/R blog. But the much more salient point is that choice of programming language is a matter of taste. For Romer to claim — and I fear, believe — that without Python we’d still be searching for gravity waves and drugs would take longer to develop is absolutely absurd.
Romer is also confusing programming languages with software written in those languages. Any major language is free, but commercial software is written in all of them, including Python. And contrary to another implication of Romer’s piece, federal grants are used to develop open-source software all the time.
Actually, I myself am very big on open-source software. In fact, all the software I use is open-source. But Romer’s ignorance here is alarming.