I have just been reading the recently published book "Seeing Further". Edited by Bill Bryson, it contains essays commissioned for the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society. Among the contributors are James Gleick, Neal Stephenson, and Richard Dawkins. The last essay is written by Martin Rees. A cosmologist and science writer, he was president of the Society from 2005 to 2010. On page 476 of the U.S. edition, he writes on how today scientific results are publicized in ways different than even in the recent past:
A few years ago, three young Indian mathematicians invented a faster scheme for factoring large numbers - something that would be crucial for code-breaking. They posted their results on the web. Such was the interest that within just a day, twenty thousand people had downloaded the work, which was the topic of hastily convened discussions in many centres of mathematical research around the world.As readers of this blog know, the result he refers to is the 2002 paper PRIMES is in P by Agrawal, Kayal, and Saxena. Now the point of the paragraph is how the web is changing the way scientific results get promulgated. Still, I thought it odd that he would mis-state the result. He does mention that faster factoring would have cryptographic import so he (or an editor?) has some knowledge beyond what was in the headlines.
My question is: Is it indeed odd that a scientist would not realize that this is a result about decision and not about search, that if a "faster scheme" had been found to solve the search problem then even a very quick literature search would have turned about up quite a bit more about the code-breaking implications?