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In the course of doing mathematics, I make extensive use of computer-based calculations. There's one CAS that I use mostly, even though I occasionally come across out-and-out wrong answers.

After googling around a bit, I am unable to find a list of such bugs. Having such a list would help us remain skeptical and help our students become skeptical. So here's the question:

What are some mathematical bugs in computer algebra systems?

Please include a specific version of the software that has the bug. Please note that I'm not asking for bad design decisions, and I'm not asking for a discussion of the relative merits of different CAS's.

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Judging by the answers below, maybe a better question would be not "What are some bugs?" but "Which websites have the most useful/comprehensive lists of bugs?". –  David Speyer Jan 12 '10 at 15:36
This is possibly some sort of record: Richard Parker told me that he once typed "isprime(2)" as his first ever query to a certain computer algebra system, and got the reply "2 is not prime". He also claimed, probably correctly, that he could find a bug in any computer algebra system within 5 minutes. –  Richard Borcherds Aug 9 '10 at 14:27
Richard's story is really surprising, because all systems I know will look up small primes in a table, so someone left off 2 from that table. It's possible, I guess, but really a silly goof. –  Thierry Zell Apr 27 '11 at 16:51

33 Answers 33

According to Wolfram Alpha

$$ (\log{(5+i)}+\log{(5-i)})^4= 10\,000$$

When one clicks on "10 000" WA spells it as integer.

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In the paper The Misfortunes of a Trio of Mathematicians Using Computer Algebra Systems. Can We Trust in Them?, the authors report a bug in Mathematica (which is still present in the version 10) that happens when computing determinants of matrices with large integers as entries.

The strangest thing of this bug is that for some matrices, the determinant function can give different values. The Mathematica notebook which reproduces the bug is available here.

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That's a great article! –  Kevin O'Bryant Oct 16 at 16:03

Not a bug but a difficulty for users:

I do often not really understand how assignements work for CAS:

Given a variable $a$ with value, say, $\pi$, set $b:=a$ and set now $a$ to, say, $e$. What is the value of $b$?

As I understand the answer depends sometimes on the context (working with symbolic variables, vectors, floating numbers etc.) and the exact behaviour is sometimes difficult to guess for me.

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Normally this should not be a matter of guessing. Somewhere the documentation should state whether the evaluation is call-by-value ($b=\pi$) or call-by-reference ($b=e$). –  darij grinberg Apr 27 '11 at 9:02
Maple and Mathematica are both call-by-value. What Roland is probably referring to is that Maple has some variables which have an entirely 'new' calling convention,last-name-evaluation: a cross between call-by-value and call-by-name. An LNE variable (like a table) will 'evaluate' all the way to a value and then BACKTRACK one level and return the last name encountered! The reason for this is purely for display purposes, as the name is preferred over a large value. This decision was made in 1982 (or so), when it made some sense, but now Maple is stuck with this. MMA has similar oddities too –  Jacques Carette Apr 27 '11 at 12:46
@Roland, the problem with leaving the choice to the user would be that the same program would give different results for different users. –  Joel Reyes Noche Apr 28 '11 at 1:04

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