Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gabriel Oyibo and Philip Emeagwali: A Clarification

By Farooq A. Kperogi

My article titled “Intellectual 419: Philip Emeagwali and Gabriel Oyibo Compared” which compares and contrasts the tendency for Dr. Oyibo and Mr. Emeagwali to romanticize and hyperbolize their contributions to knowledge—to put it mildly—attracted quite a buzz on the Internet. I have been told that the hate-filled, barely literate commenters that swarm Sahara Reporters like fetid maggots hurled vile and vicious personal insults at me for exposing the intellectual fraud of these swellheaded, egotistical imposters.

 I have stopped reading comments on my articles on such Nigerian Internet sites as Sahara Reporters and the Nigerian Village Square; they are too sadly familiar and too predictably malicious and ignorant to deserve being read by any serious person. So I didn’t get to read the insults thrown at me.

But two article-length responses were written to my write-up by two respected Nigerians. The first was by Mr. Sonala Olumhense, the cerebral Guardian columnist whose exceedingly well-written essay I had the pleasure to read in my secondary school Practical English class several years ago. (I had no idea that he was still alive until I rediscovered him in the Guardian in the 1990s). That he wrote such a kind and flattering defense of me is at once humbling and inebriating.

The second article-length response to my article was written by a certain Dr. Dare Afolabi, a mechanical engineer who teaches at the Indiana University- Purdue University Indianapolis, which I thought was a fair and thoughtful, if misguided, rejoinder. The substance of the rejoinder was that although Oyibo may be “crazy,” he did make substantial contributions to knowledge in his field, and that it is not impossible that the Guardian was right in speculating that he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physics.

He then brought the example of a certain Arthur Clarke whom the New York Times reported to have been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1994. “The whole world knew, in 1994, not fifty years later, the same way Arthur Clarke knew that he was a nominee for the Peace Prize in 1994: someone leaked it. Leak? In journalism? How in the world is that possible?” he wrote.

Well, these are valid points. Recall, though, that I admitted that Oyibo did, in fact, make original contributions to scholarship through his many peer-reviewed, scholarly publications. Not being a scientist, I am, of course, in no position to sit in judgment over the quality of these contributions, but I am persuaded by the fact that he did lots of work that went through the crucible of peer review.

My point—which Dr. Afolabi seemed to agree with when he said "More recently, however, I must confess that Gabriel has lost me when he started speculating on Atum, Atom, God, and so on”—is that Oyibo's GAGUT theory, which is at best an unpersuasive conflation of science and metaphysics, on which he stakes his claim to genius and Nobel Prize nomination, has never been peer-reviewed, hasn’t been published by an academic press, is pooh-poohed by his peers, and therefore can’t be anything but the vapors of a once brilliant but disturbed mind.

So, that leaves us with the question: on the strength of what contribution to knowledge was Oyibo nominated for the Nobel Prize? His routine academic articles as a university professor which, by the way, his colleagues didn't find worthy enough to grant him tenure at two separate U.S. universities? If that were the case, every intellectually productive scholar should be a Nobel Prize nominee. And as I said earlier, he couldn’t have been nominated on the strength of GAGUT when, in fact, the "theory" has never gone through the rigors of peer review, which is crucial for the circulation and acceptance of ideas in the scientific community.

Afolabi’s point that Oyibo may indeed have been nominated for the Nobel is well taken. But the fact is: thousands of people get recommended--or, if you like, nominated-- for Nobel Prizes by several different organizations and people, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Since I haven't read of any groundbreaking, earth-shattering work that Oyibo has done in his field to deserve a serious consideration for the Nobel, I am inclined to think that his nomination, if there ever was one, falls in the region of the ridiculous.

 But the impression often created when Oyibo’s putative Nobel Prize nomination is mentioned in the Nigerian press and in the black diaspora is that he was on the shortlist of people being seriously considered for the Prize, and not that he was merely recommended by some person or organization.

For me, there is perhaps no greater proof that his nomination—again, if there ever was one—was of the flippant kind than the fact that Oyibo has been fired by the two low-end universities he worked for, is presently unemployed, and wrote a Wikipedia profile on himself that betrays flashes of incipient insanity—to put it nicely. Anybody who can describe himself as “closer to GOD (intellectually and in other ways), than any other human being because of the GAGUT discovery,” “the Greatest Genius and the Most Intelligent Human Being ever created by GOD,” and “the Greatest Mathematical Genius of all time” can’t be anything but demented.

Lastly, the Nobel Peace Prize, with which Afolabi contrasted the politics of Oyibo’s nomination, is intensely political, isn't anchored on knowledge production, and is therefore amenable to wild newspaper speculations. The Physics Prize, on the other hand, isn't. It's a specialist prize. I don't recall reading newspaper speculations about Nobel prizes in physics, medicine, and economics before and after the prize winners are announced. Only the Nobel Peace Prize is subject to newspaper speculations. So the contrast is flawed.

 I call Oyibo a 419er because he owes his popularity to the falsehood he promoted in the Nigerian media that he was seriously considered for the Nobel Prize in Physics three or four times in a row supposedly on the basis of his farcically harebrained GAGUT.

Well, if he had merely been popular as a result of these speculative indulgences and ridiculously wild exaggerations I wouldn't have had a problem with him. But he was put on the national postage stamp, was celebrated by the Nigerian state, and gets invited to speak to different groups and organizations in gullible sections of the black diaspora on the strength of claims that are at best speculative and at worst intentionally fraudulent. That puts him in the same intellectual 419 boat as Philip Emeagwali.

Related Articles:

Intellectual 419: Philip Emeagwali and Gabriel Oyibo Compared

Our Image as a Nation of Scammers