Related link: http://www.adti.net/samizdat/brown.reply.june.04.html
Brown’s stated goal is to make people (and the U.S. government) think twice about GPLd software, which he calls “hybrid source code”. He attempts to do this by casting doubt on the origins of GPLd code, such as the Linux kernel.
It’s unthinkable, argues Brown, that Linus Torvalds could have written a professional grade Unix workalike by himself, from scratch, with no source materials, at age 21, by himself, from scratch, with no source materials, unless he’s some kind of genius smarter than everyone else who’d ever done something similar.
This is the logical fallacy known as the strawman argument.
In Brown’s own words, with my emphasis:
Tanenbaum vehemently insists that Torvalds wrote Linux from scratch, which means from a blank computer screen to most people. No books, no resources, no notes — certainly not a line of source code to borrow from, or to be tempted to borrow from. But in a number of interviews AdTI completed with various individuals about operating system development, almost everyone reported that it is highly unlikely that even a pure genius could start from a blank computer screen and write the early Linux kernel.
Surely if Brown wanted his readers to know what Tanenbaum meant by the phrase “from scratch”, he’d have quoted Tanenbaum himself! Instead, note the subtle shift of equivocation (another logical fallacy). You could also make the case that Brown’s guilty of a narrow definition fallacy.
If it’s impossible for Linus to have written the early Linux kernel by himself without consulting any other material (the strictest premise which Brown’s language will allow), there are two possibilities. First, Linus and Linux supporters have lied about the origins of Linux. This is clearly what Brown would like you to believe.
The second possibility, which Brown does not acknowledge because it destroys his argument, is that Linus did not create Linux “from scratch” according to Brown’s narrow definition of the term. If Linus created Linux according to well-known specifications for Unix, is it possible that he could have created the early Linux kernel?
If so, Brown is wrong at best. At worst, his argument is a lie and a sham. I think that’s the best conclusion. Remember, Minix was also a Unix workalike written to conform to well-known Unix specifications created to teach computer science students the basics of operating system design.
You’d think the professors of that time wanted their students to be able to write their own operating systems.
It’s usually worth ignoring twits, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to point out a logical conundrum. Are there others lurking in Brown’s limpid apology?