Vol. 1, Issue 13, August 12, 2003
Linguist Baffles Conference By Explaining Own Theory
Noted linguistics professor Jeffrey Goldberg, of Stanford University, brought a conference convened in his honor to a standstill last Saturday when he essayed to explain the foundations of his work in full for the first time.
Goldberg, 42, experienced a meteoric rise to academic fame in 1988 with the publication of an article in the Journal of Computational Linguistics that revolutionized the field. He proposed a linguistic theory, Goldberg's Interstitial Quadraphonic Transduction Bridge Constraint, that employed a record thirteen levels of linguistic representation and was an instant success, leading to rapid acquisition of tenure.
"Goldberg's the reason Chomsky is no longer taught," said Harvard linguistics professor Shania Rosser. "After those initial eight articles and his book, "The Adjustable -Neme: Transduction Without Interdiction,' the whole nature of the field changed."
He is routinely honored at symposia and academic events. So it was no surprise when the Stanford Heuristic Society convened a three-day international symposium in his honor. However, things hit a snag when a graduate student from Penn State arose to apologetically ask Goldberg during a panel discussion to explain his theory "for the denser among us." Goldberg then proceeded to do so.
"In point of fact, what he said rather shocked everyone," admitted Rosser.
It turns out that no one has ever actually understood Goldberg's theory and that hearing it set forth in relatively simple terms for the first time was an eye-opener for faculty members present.
"Either he's a genius so far beyond compare as to defy mortal comprehension, or it's utter nonsense," said Stanford Linguistics chairperson Eve Clark. "And I do mean nonsense, of the clinically insane variety."
When asked to comment, Goldberg was not in the least perturbed.
"I sent my work to a peer-reviewed journal, and they were the ones who accepted it, purportedly because their referees found it to be of merit," he said. "I just kept sending articles in, and they kept publishing them. I really think that if they cared about my work making sense someone ought to have said something before now. The burden is on the academic community to provide meaningful peer evaluation."
The symposium organizers apparently agreed, and the graduate student who posed the question was quietly expelled later that afternoon.