Priceonomics

Many of our readers will know that Newsweek published an article last week that purported to uncover the “true” identity of Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto. While the article threw another candidate into the ring for the parlor game of “guess the identity of Nakamoto,” it didn’t present nearly enough evidence to draw a conclusion about the inventor of the cryptocurrency. 

Nevertheless, the Newsweek article stated they had found the true inventor of Bitcoin, and the Internet revolted against the author and the publication. Newsweek simply did not present enough evidence to corroborate the bold claim that they made.

As we read the article at Priceonomics, we cringed a bit. At Priceonomics, a lowly blog, we never would have published the Newsweek article in that form. If one of our writers wrote what Newsweek did, an editor would have hacked it to bits. 

So, we thought we’d mark up the Newsweek article as if a writer had submitted it to Priceonomics as a draft. What follows are excerpts from the Newsweek article and the feedback an editor at Priceonomics would have provided. Some of our readers might even find it interesting as a window into the editing process for our blog. Here goes:

[He] has the thousand-mile stare of someone who has gone weeks without sleep

Seems unlikely that we would know if he’s been sleeping or not. Cut, even if this is just a metaphor.

It seemed ludicrous that the man credited with inventing Bitcoin... would retreat to Los Angeles's San Gabriel foothills, hole up in the family home and leave his estimated $400 million of Bitcoin riches untouched. 

It seemed similarly implausible that Nakamoto's first response to my knocking at his door would be to call the cops.

False equivalence? It’s not similarly implausible. It's more likely that I'd call the cops if someone I didn’t know showed up at my remote home asking questions than me being the Bitcoin mastermind.

Tacitly acknowledging his role in the Bitcoin project, he looks down, staring at the pavement and categorically refuses to answer questions.

Cut this. This is a pretty big leap in the logic. How do you know he’s “tacitly” admitting something because he’s looking at the ground? 

"I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it," he says, dismissing all further queries with a swat of his left hand. "It's been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection."

So, is he admitting it here? What exactly was the preceding question? This could be just a random comment by a potentially confused person. Resting the whole thesis of the article based on his throwaway line is not something we can do.

He is someone with a penchant for collecting model trains and a career shrouded in secrecy, having done classified work for major corporations and the U.S. military.

Having done classified work could mean anything. He could have been a file clerk. Be more specific that his work was highly complex and a good background for creating bitcoin. If you can’t find that info, then cut this part.

Not even his family knew.

I’d feel more comfortable with this line if we had already established more evidence that he was the creator of Bitcoin. My family also doesn’t know that I’m the creator of Bitcoin because I’m not the creator of Bitcoin. This line is only interesting / valid if he’s actually the creator.

Of course, there is also the chance "Satoshi Nakamoto" is a pseudonym, but that raises the question why someone who wishes to remain anonymous would choose such a distinctive name.

This is a bit off. We have no idea if it’s a remote chance or very likely that Satoshi Nakamoto is a real name or pseudonym so let’s not speculate here. The second part of the sentence is particularly misleading - tons of pseudonyms are distinctive. That’s neither here nor there.

He has been buying train parts from Japan and England since he was a teenager, saying, "I do machining myself, manual lathe, mill, surface grinders."

The process also requires a good amount of math, something at which Nakamoto - and his entire family - excels.

Playing with model trains might or might not require some math. That’s not solid evidence. (I suspect it doesn’t require that much mathematical knowledge though)

"He's a brilliant man. I'm just a humble engineer. He's very focused and eclectic in his way of thinking. Smart, intelligent, mathematics, engineering, computers. You name it, he can do it."

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere! Let’s build up the case that he has the background to have created Bitcoin.

What you don't know about him is that he's worked on classified stuff. His life was a complete blank for a while. You're not going to be able to get to him. He'll deny everything. He'll never admit to starting Bitcoin.

Let’s get him! We have to figure out this blank period and crack the case. I’m getting pretty excited now.

His remarks suggested I was on the right track

Well, I wouldn’t go that far. His remark suggested what he said - Satoshi worked on classified stuff.

"I could see my dad doing something brilliant and not accepting the greater effect of it," says Ilene Mitchell, who works for Partnerships for Student Achievement in Beaverton, Ore. "But I honestly don't see him being straight about it. Any normal person would be all over it. But he's not totally a normal person."

This is interesting, but I think it’s only useful after we’ve definitively proven that this guy is the inventor of Bitcoin. Then it helps explain why he’s reticent to accept the accolades.

Satoshi Nakamoto's 2008 online proposal also hints at his age, with the odd reference to "disk space" - something that hasn't been an issue since the last millennium...

Are you sure about that? Could you get a quote from an expert saying this?

The Bitcoin code is based on a network protocol that's been established for decades. Its brilliance is not so much in the code itself, says Andresen, but in the design, which unites functions to reach multiple ends. 

Are you sure about this? My understanding is that this is only possible because of a technical breakthrough to solve the “Byzantine General’s Problem.”

In his correspondences and writings, it has widely been noted that Satoshi Nakamoto alternates between British and American spellings - and, depending on his audience, veers between highly abbreviated verbiage and a more formal, polished style. Grace Mitchell says her husband does the same.

Is this going down a bit of a rabbit hole for us? I’d probably cut this. I’d be hard pressed to see how we prove he’s the inventor of Bitcoin because he may alternate between British and American English without presenting a lot more evidence and bringing in some serious experts on this kind of analysis. 

"It has been hard, because he suffered a stroke several months ago and before that he was dealing with prostate cancer,

This seems like an important point about this person’s current state of mind that should be brought up earlier.

"He is very wary of government interference in general," she says. "When I was little, there was a game we used to play. He would say, 'Pretend the government agencies are coming after you.' And I would hide in the closet."

Okay, final comments on this piece:

This ended rather abruptly. I was expecting a bit more evidence beyond simply 1) The phrase “I’m no longer involved in that” that he said when you saw him 2) that he worked on “classified” material 3) that he might use a mix of British and American English.

We can’t publish the article in its current state. All hope is not lost though! The way I see it, there are two ways this article can be made to work. The first is you continue this article’s line of reasoning, but you really dig into this guy's academic and work background and how that shows that he has the talent and background to be the creator of Bitcoin. Surely, you can find some college paper, code sample from work, or former co-worker that attests to his mathematical brilliance? Currently, you have his family saying he is a smart guy, but that’s not strong proof. His family aren’t experts who can evaluate his abilities properly. 

The second way we could publish this is if it were more of a question. Potential title would be “Is Satoshi Nakamoto The Satoshi Nakamoto?” Basically you point out that everyone thinks that the name is a pseudonym, but that there’s actually a guy out there with that name that even matches up with the some of what we know about Satoshi Nakamoto. Then, pose it to the Internet to explore this new candidate. I guarantee someone will be able to figure it out definitively.

Anyhow, I’m inclined to go with number 2 (pose it as a question) because I’d like to publish it tomorrow to stay on schedule. Your thoughts?

This post was written by Rohin Dhar. Follow him on Twitter or Google Plus. To get occasional notifications when we write blog posts, sign up for our email list. 


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