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My full name is David Owen Williams. (Yes, my ancestry is Welsh.) Since David Williams is an extremely common name, I use other versions of my name for Internet postings and the like. Occasionally, I use the Welsh version, Dafydd Owain ap Gwilym. (A single "f", in Welsh, is pronounced like a "v" in English. The "dd" is pronounced like a voiced "th" in English, as in "brother".) "Ap", in Welsh, means "son of". In my case, this is literally true. My father's first name was Gwilym (the Welsh form of William). In the 14th Century, there was a Dafydd ap Gwilym who is regarded as one of the greatest poets of the Welsh language.

I was born and raised in the UK, but have lived for most of my life in Toronto, Canada.

I am a graduate of Oxford University, England, and also of the University of Toronto, Canada.

I have worked in various fields. I have been a high-school teacher of mathematics and science, a TV repairman, a magazine editor, an author of many published articles, an inventor (I made money on a few inventions), and various other things not worth mention. Now, I'm a "senior citizen", which means I'm busier than ever.

Anyone who wishes to contact me by e-mail is welcome to do so. My anti-spambot scrambled address is:

williamsdavid65 at jeemale dot kom

I'm sure you can figure it out.

DOwenWilliams (talk) 18:13, 22 August 2010 (UTC) David Williams

Citation Stories[edit]


Something is said to have happened to the astronomer Galileo - though it isn't on his page in Wikipedia. He discovered the four large satellites of Jupiter, using his newly-invented telescope. Plainly, they revolved around Jupiter, which violated the accepted knowledge of the day, which said that all heavenly bodies revolve around the earth. This accepted "truth" was based on citations of biblical text and other scriptures. Galileo was already in trouble with the church over his teaching that the planets revolve around the sun. The Jovian satellites made matters worse. He was ordered to recant. He offered to let the churchmen look through his telescope so they could see the satellites with their own eyes, but they refused to do so, saying that their citations proved that the satellites could not exist. Galileo was imprisoned.

As they say in French, "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose." ("The more it changes, the more it is the same thing", i.e. history repeats itself.)

DOwenWilliams (talk) 03:08, 27 August 2010 (UTC) David Williams


Let me tell you another relevant story. I can personally vouch for the truth of this one, since I was involved...

Several decades ago, I was a Ph.D. student of chemistry. Of course, I had free access to a university science library. An acquaintance of mine, to whom I will refer by his initials, J.E., was accused of a fairly serious crime. If found guilty, he faced several years in jail. Pending his trial, he was free on bail. The case was unusual in that there was no doubt as to what he had done. The prosecution and defence were agreed on that. But there was room for doubt as to whether what he had done was illegal. The law under which he had been charged had never been tested in court, so there were no precedents. Curiously, the prosecution's case depended on a matter of scientific fact. If a certain chemical discovery had been made, then JE was guilty. If it hadn't, he was innocent. The prosecution was able to cite a whole lot of textbooks and the like that all said that the discovery was real. Things looked bad for JE. However, knowing that I was a chemist, he asked me to see if I could find any flaws in the prosecution's argument.

I looked up the textbooks to which the prosecution referred, and sure enough they all said that the discovery had occurred. However, I found that every one of them based its statements on just one publication, a paper that had been published in a highly respected, peer-reviewed journal, by a team of scientists led by a professor who was a world-renowned expert in the field. His initials were E.C.. I looked up this paper, and sure enough it described making the discovery that doomed JE. The prosecution's case looked watertight. I couldn't help JE.

However, I found the subject matter scientifically interesting, so I looked ahead to see if there had been any further discoveries, more recent than the one in the paper I had read. To my astonishment, in a later issue of the same journal as the original paper, I found a very short paper by the same group of scientists led by EC, in which they retracted the original finding! An experimental error had been made by accident. The scientific discovery that would have doomed JE had not been made!

A lot of the books that cited the original paper had been written after the retraction was published. Their authors just cited "accepted knowledge". Very few people knew it was wrong.

I called JE, who told his lawyer. However, the prosecution persevered, and went to court with all the fallacious citations. JE's lawyer just produced the one short retraction. The jury was confused, and ended up "hung". At the re-trial, JE's lawyer subpoenad EC, and forced him to describe in open court how he had made a mistake and how it had made its way into "accepted knowledge". The second jury was convinced. JE was acquitted.

And I learned to be profoundly suspicious of citations, no matter how reliable they appear to be. I still am. I far prefer to look through a telescope, run a computer program, or do whatever it takes to verify any statement, rather than relying on quoted references.

DOwenWilliams (talk) 22:21, 27 August 2010 (UTC) David Williams


Back in about 1990, I had acquired something of a reputation because of some work I had done on solar energy. I had written magazine articles about it. Because of this, I received an invitation from a well-known publisher of textbooks asking me to write a chapter for a book they were planning to publish about renewable technologies. This sounded like fun. It would enhance my reputation, and I would be paid for it. I replied, saying I was interested, and asking for further information. They then sent me a package, including copies of several books they had previously published about related topics. They asked me to read these books to get an idea about their style

When I did so, in one of the books I found a glaring factual error. In essence, it said that if you erect a vertical stick on level ground, and mark the positions of the shadow of the tip of the stick at various times through a day, these positions will lie on a straight line running from west to east. This, the book said, was a simple way to find the cardinal directions if you have time to spare and no other way to do it.

There's only one problem. This method will work on only two dates of the year - the equinoxes. On other dates, the path of the tip of the stick's shadow will not be a straight line; it will be a conic section. Usually, it will be a hyperbola, but in summertime at locations within one of the polar circles, the path can be an ellipse, as the sun goes round and round the sky without setting.

I immediately wrote to the publishers, pointing out the error, and suggesting how the text might be changed to fix it. I assumed they would take prompt action to correct their book, making the change when the next edition was published, if not sooner.

I was shocked to receive their reply, saying that they would do nothing about this. The error, they said, had become part of accepted knowledge of the subject. They preferred that their book should continue to be inaccurate rather than become inconsistent with other books, including their own. Furthermore, they suggested, if I wanted to put anything about this topic in the chapter I was going to write, I should make my text contain the same error, so as to be consistent with other texts.

It is common for the first draft of a textbook to contain mistakes. Usually, they are noticed and corrected before the book is printed. If an error makes its way into the final version, it is generally fixed as soon as possible. Some books contain added pages titled "errata" on which known errors are listed and corrections shown. Until the incident described above, I had never encountered an error that was deliberately left uncorrected. The incident greatly diminished my confidence in the integrity of the textbook-publishing industry. I changed my mind, and decided I did not want to be associated with it. I did not write the chapter.

Books published by that company would certainly be regarded as reliable sources by Wikipedia. I do not know if anyone has cited that particular erroneous statement to support something that has been written in Wikipedia, but it certainly could have happened. In Wikipedia, cited texts trump facts whenever there is a conflict.

DOwenWilliams (talk) 23:22, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

Cautionary tale[edit]