The Gangolf Jobb Affair: When The Only Tool You Have Is A Hammer…You Can End Up Looking Pretty Silly

"HA! Just what I need to stop illegal immigration!"

“HA! Just what I need to stop illegal immigration!”

Meet Gangolf Jobb, a German scientist, and the inventor of Treefinder.  Treefinder is often used in  scientific papers to build “phylogenetic trees,” which are  diagrams that showing the most likely evolutionary relationship of various species, from sequence data. He is angry at nations that, in his view, are endangering capitalism and the world by allowing too many migrants and immigrants to cross their boarders. So to punish such countries, including the U.S., he is  revoking the license to Treefinder of scientists in Germany, Austria, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Denmark, and the United States.

There are many things wrong with this solution. Most of all, it is unjust. I think I might be able to come up with something less related to immigration and refugee policy than phylogenetic trees, but it would be a challenge. What is the point, not to mention the logic—and this guy is a scientist!—of punishing an elite group of scientists for what their native politicians are doing? The victims of Jobb’s indignation have no special power in this matter, don’t involve themselves in it, and don’t advance it by misuse of his software. This is warped accountability and responsibility; it is like kicking your dog because you are mad at the neighbors.

It also irresponsible, cruel and disrespectful. These are his patrons. He’s angry at something else entirely, so he hurts chooses to target them, because he can.

As it happens, he can’t hurt them much. The program is far from irreplaceable, several scientists told  Science Insider.  Jobb hadn’t updated Treefinder  for several years and it was mostly used by researchers who had grown used to it, they say. There are many alternatives. Thus, on top of being irresponsible,  unfair, gratuitously mean and unjust, Jobb’s conduct is also really stupid. The one most harmed is Jobb—this is the definition of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Pulling this license is his only power, though. He is frustrated by feeling powerless, but he has one weapon and is using it, no matter how futile and irrelevant it is. This takes “Maslow’s Hammer,” the Chinese maxim recycled by sociologist Abraham Maslow in 1966, (“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail”) to new and crazy extremes. This is using that hammer to brush your teeth.

Thinking about Jobb, whom I assume has slipped a cog, made me realize that this is exactly how many mass murders come about. Someone is angry or frightened, becomes desperate, realizes that he has no way to address the problem he or she perceives, a brain cell implodes somewhere, and they resolve to fix the problem with the most power they can muster, even if the “solution” is completely misdirected. Luckily, Gangolf Jobb chose a particularly impotent weapon that had only the virtue that it was uniquely his.

I would advise against selling him a gun, though.

[CORRECTION: The original post assumed that Jobb derived income from the licenses, and looks like he did not.]


Pointer: Fred, and where he finds these things, I’ll never know….

13 thoughts on “The Gangolf Jobb Affair: When The Only Tool You Have Is A Hammer…You Can End Up Looking Pretty Silly

  1. This guy appears to be a true crank. Wikipedia says that he revoked the license for scientists in the US to use Treefinder as a protest against American Imperialism. How in the world is letting too many immigrants in the USA Imperialistic? Please explain this one to me.

  2. Actually, I can buy this hammer idea to explain all these stupid shooters. They aren’t usually really targeting the people they’re mad at. And just saying they snapped for the excuse du jour or gun availability isn’t quite right either. If they didn’t use guns they’d use something else to prove they have agency.

      • You’re thinking it through, but you haven’t taken it all the way.

        The dog = the scientists.

        The neighbours = “Germany, Austria, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Denmark, and the United States”.

        “You” = Jobb (not Germany).

        Jobb doesn’t even have a dog, as it were, though maybe he counts as (part of) one in this analogy. And the neighbours don’t care much about their dog, which is what makes the exercise futile, though if Jobb thinks they care a bit and he doesn’t care about the dog himself (even though it includes himself) that would make his thinking rational – cutting off your nose to spite your face makes perfect sense if you are so warped that you dislike both (I’m not disputing that it is warped, only that it is irrational).

        • You’re thinking it all wrong.

          The dog = Gangolf’s pet project in science – the Treefinder tool, a tool of which there are many others like it, you know:

          The neighbor’s dogs, which scientists can all derive usefulness from once Gangolf shut off access to his, that is to say:

          “kicked his dog” as the only real harm coming from this is to his own “dog” and himself, as the “neighbors” will all go play with other more friendly dog owners’ dogs.

          Jack’s analogy works.

  3. A mild correction, Jobb hates immigration because he thinks it “unnecessarily defers the collapse of capitalism”, not because he wants capitalism to survive. It’s a view closer to a lot of the rank-and-file who vote for groups like France’s National Front.

  4. And then, of course, there are the folks who have used this software for 10 years, are comfortable with it (as Jack mentioned) and don’t know or care what the license agreement says. As far as they are concerned, they bought the software, it belongs to them, and they will continue to use it.

  5. Just to note that my understanding is that this software was free for most users, so I’m not sure he’s really made money out of it. Still stupid and misguided, but at least he’s not stealing from his customers (I know, a darned low bar).

  6. Jobb is not angry at coountries that are “endangering capitalism” through immigration, as this post suggests. Ratehr, he is against capitalism and hopes for its demise. He writes on his website: “Immigration unnecessarily defers the collapse of capitalism, its final crisis. The earlier the system crashes, the more damage can be avoided.” It is hard to characterize his views except to say that he has indeed “slipped a cog.”

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