Saturday, June 06, 2009

Getting Robert Rosen Back in Print

June 2, 2009

James Rutt, Trustee
Santa Fe Institute
1399 Hyde Park Road
Santa Fe, NM 87501

Dear Jim,

Last I saw, you are Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Santa Fe Institute, making you a leader in the field of complexity studies. With leadership comes its burdens :-), so I have a request.

Robert Rosen, the mathematical biologist from Columbia University, was (with his teacher) a founder of relational biology and pioneered the application of Category Theory to biology. He gave at least one presentation at SFI, and got along with your guys. But he died prematurely (diabetes), after being vilified by traditional mechanistic biologists, leaving his daughter Judith Rosen as his literary heir.

I tried (without success) to reach Judith about getting her late father's critical works back in print, especially his landmark Anticipatory Systems, but she apparently has become depressed about the whole thing, and openly wishes her father's work would generate revenue for her, which I doubt is in the cards.

Pioneering scientists often do not live to see their work widely accepted. Gregor Mendel wasn't famous until decades after his death, nor was Alfred Wegener who invented plate tectonics. It goes with the territory.

Rosen was a genius contributor to the mathematical theory of complexity, but many of his works are out of print (Anticipatory Systems is not available from any book dealer at any price), and others (such as Life Itself) are in print, but with ridiculous numbers of errors and no errata sheet. Judith says (plaintively) that Columbia University Press was informed and given a corrected copy, but when the paperback edition was published all the errors (and there are dozens) were still there.

To cross the great divide and arrive on the other side of scientific acceptance, it would be most helpful if younger scientists could have ready access to his works. This could cut X decades off his hibernation time until he is rediscovered and deified.

Amazon's non-entry for Anticipatory Systems has a button that says something like, "if you own the rights and want to see this back in print, click here." Likewise Google Books has become a huge force in publishing, scanning massive numbers of works. There are plenty of ways this problem could get solved.

I would like to own Rosen's key works, with errata sheets as needed, which is basically impossible at present, unless maybe you can use the imprimatur of the SFI to persuade Judith to authorize the their reissuance, as well as make available such errata sheets as she currently has. I'm sure either service will pay her a few bucks of royalties. (I would gladly pay her 100% cash for a PDF copy.)

Given that complexity has been a slow burn, it could be a more general (and low cost) SFI goal to make a list of other authors whose works should be "kept readily available" for rediscovery by so-called mainstream science. I nominate Rosen as the poster child. (Anticipatory Systems is like 450 pages long, and can be read at the Stanford University Library, but who wants to stand there and xerox it? Not to mention copyright issues.)

Dunno where this would fit on your radar screen. As someone once said, "you make your predecessors famous," which I hope to help do for Rosen, but I'm not there yet, and the nonavailability of key his works is not making it any easier.


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At 10/14/2009 10:26 PM, Blogger Frank Sudia said...

Followup: I visited the Stanford Math & CS Library to read Rosen's "Anticipatory Systems" and I can see why it's out of print. It's not that good, and doesn't seem to say anything that "Life Itself" (and many other books) don't say better. So never mind.

At 7/18/2010 10:58 AM, Blogger Frank Sudia said...

Followup 2: ABE Books recently notified me that a used copy was available for ~$240.


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