Bitcoin founder’s writing matches nothing in Dorian Nakamoto’s background

We’ve already mentioned Felix Salmon’s thoughtful critique of the Newsweek cover story by Leah McGrath Goodman, but there’s one point we want to elaborate on.

Felix writes:

[Goodman] characterizes Satoshi’s original bitcoin proposal as being “somewhat stiffly written”. She also says, reading the original bitcoin paper, that “the punctuation in the proposal is also consistent with how Dorian S. Nakamoto writes, with double spaces after periods and other format quirks.” But in fact the proposal is written in deeply fluent English. … The discrepancy is hard to square.

Felix is teasing out how confirmation bias can blind a motivated journalist in pursuit of a story. Yet the core point has more punch than he lets on.

The original bitcoin proposal reads almost perfectly like an academic working paper, written by someone who had not only a firm command of English, but of the phrases and styles popular with mathematicians in the early 21st century.

We can see how the most commonly quoted portion of the paper trips up some readers:

Merchants must be wary of their customers, hassling them for more information than they would otherwise need. A certain percentage of fraud is accepted as unavoidable. These costs and payment uncertainties can be avoided in person by using physical currency, but no mechanism exists to make payments over a communications channel without a trusted party. What is needed is an electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust.

The wording is terse and the sentences blunt. This could look like stilted English to the lay reader, but in context it’s more likely the compressed English used by modern academics to meet page and word limitations.

The first sentence above, for example, is stiff. But the probable reason for its stiffness is that the author doesn’t want to waste precious space with”motivation”. He wants to move on to the meat of the paper.

The bitcoin paper’s style is prototypical North American academic, and this makes it seem highly implausible that Dorian Nakamoto is the author.

Consider also Section 2, which immediately follows the introduction:

Let’s walk through the marks briefly, in order:

1. “We define” are the very first words. Not only is this the proper way to introduce a concept, but doing so without any throat clearing is a mark of a well-crafted and confident paper.

2. Similarly, the diagram gets no introduction. Nothing along the lines of “as I have diagrammed below” that one might expect from non-academy writers.

3. “Of course” — because we would not want to insult our smartest readers.

4. “[What] We need [is] a way” is academic for “here comes the crux”.

5. “For our purposes” is a typical way to introduce simplifying assumptions.

6. “Mint based model” refers to the common solution above, and the author assumes the reader will have no trouble putting that together.

7. The footnote is dropped precisely — just after a central, possibly controversial, assertion.

And that’s only the first few paragraphs on the very first page. As the paper gets more technical, the style becomes even more pronounced. At one point, between two large mathematical expressions, the author writes:

Rearranging to avoid summing the infinite tail of the distribution.

Which reads like nothing more than a professor quickly walking a class or seminar through a series of difficult calculations, and not wanting anyone to get lost. Dorian Nakamoto’s written English is less erudite:

good secruity system against usage of rail as a get away means from the low income generated theives/criminals from area of east LA et. al must be also put in place regardless of the rail passage chosen

Even more to the point, it would be surprising for anyone with an undergraduate degree in physics, earned forty years ago, to write in such a clear and recognizable modern-academic tone.

Had we been given nothing other than this paper, our guess would be that we were looking at the writing of a recent mathematics or computer science Phd, and from a nationally ranked program.

We certainly wouldn’t imagine this unfortunate fellow, who seems to have been callously dragged into the limelight.

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