Dr. Egnor, reverse engineering, and Wikipedia reform
(additions as noted were made to this post on 04-23-07)
In an article in Evolution News & Views, Dr. Michael Egnor wrote,
On April 4th, the Wikipedia reference to biological reverse engineering was airbrushed out. It was changed to:Reverse engineering … is the process of discovering the technological principles of a device or object or system through analysis of its structure, function and operation. It often involves taking something (e.g. a mechanical device, an electronic component, a software program) apart and analyzing its workings in detail, usually to try to make a new device or program that does the same thing without copying anything from the original. The verb form is to reverse engineer.
This was airbrushed:Reverse engineering is essentially science, using the scientific method. Sciences such as biology and physics can be seen as reverse engineering of biological 'machines' and the physical world respectively.
The biological reverse engineering analogy was part of the original definition, and had been present until the day that I linked to it in my post. Someone (perhaps a Darwinist?) went to work with an eraser.
The history of the redactions shows that "DrLeeBot" deleted the phrase applying reverse engineering to the scientific method. He wrote, "Removed reference to scientific method; the analog [sic] is too abstract to be worth mentioning."
I feel that the airbrushed statement above is only partly right. Reverse engineering can of course use engineering methods as well as scientific methods, so it is wrong to say, "Reverse engineering is essentially science, using the scientific method." And in a broader sense, reverse engineering sometimes uses neither scientific methods nor engineering methods but just produces a copy of the original. Also, I feel that the purpose of reverse engineering is to recreate or reproduce some object or function, and this is not the purpose of a lot of biology and physics, so I think it is wrong to make the broad statement, "sciences such as biology and physics can be seen as reverse engineering of biological 'machines' and the physical world respectively." However, Egnor apparently did not compose the airbrushed Wikipedia statement, and a clarification of his views are here, where he cited this airbrushed statement in an article that he posted on April 3. For example, he said that "much" -- not all -- of modern biological research is reverse engineering: "Much of modern biological research, and most research in molecular biology, is reverse engineering." As Egnor said, the airbrushed Wikipedia statement was airbrushed on April 4, only one day after he cited it! Those usurpers who tyrannize Wikipedia did not waste much time!
Though the term "reverse engineering" usually refers to reverse engineering of man-made things, the process is essentially the same for "reverse engineering" of things in nature. If two processes are essentially the same, why not use the same term for both of them? If "reverse engineering" of things in nature is not going to be called "reverse engineering," then what should it be called? Words are not always used literally or in their original senses -- for example, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory once had a "Station for Experimental Evolution" (it merged with the Eugenics Record Office to form the Carnegie Institution's Dept. of Genetics ). The term "experimental evolution" appears to be oxymoronic -- maybe a more appropriate term would be "experimental breeding." Well, maybe "experimental evolution" could mean a simulation of evolution in a hypothetical situation. Anyway, here the term "evolution" is used in a broad, figurative, high-falutin, or even jocular sense, just like using the term "engineering" in "reverse engineering" of things in nature.
One of the best examples of reverse engineering is the airplane. IMO without the example of the birds, we might never have realized that sustained heavier-than-air human flight is possible. Insects and bats fly but do so only by rapid flapping of wings, a poor model for aircraft -- the root of the word "aviation" means "bird," not "insect." In fact, it is commonly believed that theoretically a bumblebee cannot fly. There are also "flying" (actually gliding) mammals and fish, but these are also natural examples of "flying." Birds directly inspired the "flying wing" designs of Jack Northrop, who thought that flying wings were closer copies of birds -- particularly soaring birds -- than were conventional aircraft; however, all modern airliners basically have the same layout as the DC-3 of the 1930's. Most examples today of flying wings are stealth aircraft (the flying wing design helps make the aircraft stealthy), but stealth is a disadvantage in commercial and private aircraft (just ask any air traffic controller). Of course, finagling Darwinists could argue that the airplane is not really an example of "reverse engineering" because birds know nothing about aeronautical engineering.
"Reverse engineering" is also extensively used in "bio-engineering" and "biomedical engineering." Cybernetics is also reverse engineering -- the Wikipedia article on cybernetics says, "cybernetics is the study of feedback and derived concepts such as communication and control in living organisms, machines and organisations."
And what about "genetic engineering"? This involves reverse engineering and it is even called engineering. The term reverse engineering should be applied to any analysis of an existing thing for the purpose of modifying it. (this paragraph added on 04-23-07)
Sometimes "reverse engineering" is not really engineering at all, but just production of a knock-off of the original design. For example, Wikipedia itself says,
As computer-aided design has become more popular, reverse engineering has become a viable method to create a 3D virtual model of an existing physical part for use in 3D CAD, CAM, CAE and other software. The reverse engineering process involves measuring an object and then reconstructing it as a 3D model.
If it is OK to apply the term "reverse engineering" to copying something without analyzing it at all, then why is it not OK to apply the term to an engineering or scientific analysis of something in nature as opposed to something that is man-made? (this sentence added 04-23-07)
Also, as quoted above, Wikipedia also says of reverse engineering,
It often involves taking something (e.g. a mechanical device, an electronic component, a software program) apart and analyzing its workings in detail, usually to try to make a new device or program that does the same thing without copying anything from the original. (emphasis added)
IMO, the above bolded statement is an overly restrictive generalization. As the quotation preceding the above quotation says, reverse engineering often involves nothing but copying. IMO, reverse engineering should be a broad term and any attempt to restrict the term's meaning is arbitrary.
Of course, knock-offs were produced long before we had computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM -- also called "computer-aided machining").
Many references on the web define reverse engineering as just involving computer hardware and software, but this definition is of course much too narrow. BTW, in reverse engineering of software, the terms "black box," "white box," and "gray box" are used:
White-box analysisWhite-box analysis consists of analyzing and understanding the program code, without running the program. Static analyzers are used by taking the program file(s) as input and outputting not only the potential program but also statistical data on some of the characteristics of code.
Black-box analysis consists of probing the external behavior of a program with inputs. Black-box analysis helps in identifying areas of white-box analysis exploration. Black-box analysis is usually done first.
Gray-box analysisGray-box analysis consists of using black-box analysis in conjunction with white-box analysis. For instance, nested code segments can be treated in a black-box fashion and then upon diving further into the code segment white-box analysis can be conducted.
IMO these terms "white box," "black box," and "gray box" could be applied to reverse engineering generally. "White box" reverse engineering could be considered to consist of examination of the original in detail and "black box" reverse engineering could mean just reproducing the function of the original. A good example of "black box" reverse engineering was the Soviet spacecraft "Buran", a reproduction of the USA's Space Shuttle. The Buran orbiter vehicle looks like a dead ringer for the Space Shuttle but the Soviets did not have access to the Space Shuttle itself or Space Shuttle drawings and specifications. Again, I think that the term "reverse engineering" should be used very broadly.
Anyway, the usurpers who tyrannize Wikipedia insist on allowing only entries that they approve and barring entries that they disapprove, often using Orwellian reasoning. For example, they refused to add the book "Of Pandas and People" to the Wikipedia list of banned books, essentially claiming that Judge Jones did not really ban the book but merely "removed" it from the curriculum.
Wikipedia could often handle disputes simply by adding the disputed entry along with a note that the entry is disputed and links to external websites where the dispute is discussed or debated. This method of handling disputes is nowhere suggested in the Wikipedia rules. I suggested this method for handling the dispute over the Pandas book, but to no avail. To the Wikipedia usurpers, "it's my way or the highway."
I could make another "edit war" on Wikipedia like the one I made over "Of People and Pandas," but these edit wars are futile because the Wikipedia usurpers are arbitrary and unyielding. The only solution for Wikipedia is to throw the bums out.
Wikipedia is squandering the good reputation it once had, e.g., Wikipedia was rated as comparable to the vaunted online Encyclopedia Britannica in accuracy on scientific subjects. However, recently the history department at Middlebury College ruled that students could not use Wikipedia as an authoritative reference.