Math denialism: crypto backdoors and DRM are the alternative medicine of computer science

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Just one problem with that analogy: unlike backdoors, alternative medicine isn’t actively harmful.

Not necessarily


Next thing we know, they’ll try to legislate the value of Pi

Oh, wait…

(Yes, I know that the nominal purpose of the bill was to recognize a method for squaring the circle, but implicit in that (flawed) method was the value of Pi being set at 3.2)


It IS if the patient decides to forego conventional medicine.

/or if the grapefruit juice changes your pills’ effects.


Right, nobody delays treatment that could could have saved their life because of taking alternative medicine


I did not know that. Of course, that’s also wrong/impossible — at least with ruler and compass constructions — and was known to be impossible at the time.

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So we risk wasting precious time on magic or outright fraudulent security instead of scientifically sound solutions?

I don’t know if you can say “been already doing it for decades” is exactly a risk as much as a done deal.

“The thing all these issues share is that the relevant scientific communities view them as settled questions: vaccines don’t cause autism, humans are warming the world, you can’t make a copy-proof bit, and you can’t make a backdoor that only good guys can fit through.”

You forgot one: you can’t triple stamp a double stamp.


Chris Hedges summed this all up in 2010. Although this book is perhaps not as lucid as it could be, his conclusion that (climate|vaccine|math) deniers are really just “reality deniers” is still apt.

"In The Republic, Plato imagines human beings chained for the duration of their lives in an underground cave, knowing nothing but darkness. Their gaze is confined to the cave wall, upon which shadows of the world are thrown. They believe these flickering shadows are reality. If, Plato writes, one of these prisoners is freed and brought into the sunlight, he sill suffer great pain. Blinded by the glare, he is unable to seeing anything and longs for the familiar darkness. But eventually his eyes adjust to the light. The illusion of the tiny shadows is obliterated. He confronts the immensity, chaos, and confusion of reality. The world is no longer drawn in simple silhouettes. But he is despised when he returns to the cave. He is unable to see in the dark as he used to. Those who never left the cave ridicule him and swear never to go into the light lest they be blinded as well.”
― Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle


…you can’t make a backdoor that only good guys can fit through.

Sure you can. Just ask all users to verify their goodness by asking a series of tough moral and ethical questions. Good people will have no difficulty - their gut reactions will always be right. Bad people will wrestle with the issues long enough to allow the guards to capture and imprison them.



That is not fair Cory. I expect a more open mind from you. Alternative medicine is what I use. When I have a problem I ask myself these two questions: “do you want heavy drugs with lots of side effects that also cost a lot? Do you want to have something cut off or removed?” Then answer for me is always no so I stick with alternative medicine. Western medicine is run by pharmaceutical companies and other greedy types. I stay away.

That’s not the only problem with that analogy. The human organism still has a few mysteries inside it, and alternative medicine represents an experiment in throwing different probes at the puzzle. Quacks can take advantage of the places where trusted medicine sticks to its scientific roots and tells the patient, “we know that we cannot help you”.

In contrast, the tissues and organs and interactions of the internet are entirely human designed, so we can say with much more certainty that the woo-woo will not work.

I understand and agree with Corey’s message here, but his metaphor is a very poor one.

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Oh I go with “cut it off” all. the. time. AND I drink licorice-infused-pine-root and clay-vaginaball tea: it’s the best!!!


While what you say is uh. Somewhat true it’s definitely not entirely true. There’s a lot of “alternative” medicine that has been proven bunk but people still go to it because placebo. Placebos make these things seem like they might be working a lot of the time. Sure, SOME alternative medicine appears to have been proven at least slightly medically valid (acupuncture for example seems to have some studies done that suggest it can help with pain more than a placebo) But things like homeopathy…? … … yeah no.

EDIT: Realized I should link back to the original story in that this is a perfect example of why they ARE kinda connected. People are convinced they work even when there’s little to no evidence (or evidence against!) alternative medicine works. Same thing going on with crypto back doors. People are convinced they can work and be safe… when really… they can’t. At all.



Interestingly, some DRM on PC games is beginning to become very difficult to crack:

So while the DRM on Just Cause 3 isn’t uncrackable, it looks like it’s sufficiently difficult to be effective - for now.

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St John’s Wort? That awful autism “treatment” that involves drinking bleach?


There’s also the possibility that DRM authors reached out to the hacker group. And informed them that there’s far more money to be made publicly declaring a DRM system to be uncrackable, than in cracking a few games.

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