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January 11, 2010


Janet Byron Anderson

Very interesting! But can I be picky? Orthogonal means right-angled. And yes, it's
true that "no amount of going East will get you any further North". East and North would be like the two arms of an angle, but you can't get a 90-degree angle unless these arms meet at the vertex. There has to be a connection at some point. We're told of this humorously instructive aside that ultimately it "probably won't impact the outcome". Thank goodness, because it IMPLIED the exact opposite of what the Prof intended! (I tweeted this @janetbyronander.

David Schwartz

Actually, it is a subtler word than irrelevant. Two issues are orthogonal if they appear to be related to each other superficially, but movement along one issue does not change your position on the other. Kind of like how going North and going East are similar operations, but no amount of going East will get you any further North.

Programmers sometimes use it when two problems appear similar but are actually (for an unobvious reason) unrelated in the sense that fixing one will not help fix the other.

Examples found online:

"Web caching is an orthogonal issue to web design." That is, they're related. But good design won't make up for bad caching and bad caching won't make up for good design. You can do one right without getting the other right.

"Separation of church and state is an orthogonal issue to the fore mentioned non-profit status of most churches and/or religious groups/cults/organizations." That is, while these are related issues, your response is about church and state while my argument was about the consequences of their non-profit status. Your argument doesn't address my issue.


It is particularly funny because Professor Friedman is one of the least stereotypically professorial individuals at Michigan.

His personal demeanor is closer to that of a stereotypical prosecuting attorney than it is to the classic tweedy ivory tower type.

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