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New Yorker on Perelman and Poincaré Controversy 182

Posted by Zonk
from the math-fight dept.
b4stard writes "The New Yorker has an interesting article on the recent proof of the Poincaré conjecture and the controversy surrounding it. This is a very nice read, which, among other things, sheds some light on what may have motivated Perelman in refusing to accept the Fields medal." From the article: "The Fields Medal, like the Nobel Prize, grew, in part, out of a desire to elevate science above national animosities. German mathematicians were excluded from the first I.M.U. congress, in 1924, and, though the ban was lifted before the next one, the trauma it caused led, in 1936, to the establishment of the Fields, a prize intended to be 'as purely international and impersonal as possible.'"
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New Yorker on Perelman and Poincaré Controversy

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  • by QuantumFTL (197300) * <justin.wickNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday August 25, 2006 @08:02PM (#15982847)
    Is it so hard to understand that some people do things just because they love to, and don't like the burdens that come with fame?
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by squidfood (149212)
      ...the burdens that come with fame?

      Fame? Would he have gotten an article in the New Yorker by quietly accepting? Not that he's purposefully trying to build a mystique of genius, but if he were, this is the way he'd do it.

      • by kfg (145172) * on Friday August 25, 2006 @08:41PM (#15983022)
        Would he have gotten an article in the New Yorker by quietly accepting?

        Probably not, but he would have gotten one in the New York Times. It isn't so easy to "quietly" accept.

        And what is the answer for someone who does not wish fame, but does wish to contribute, and so begins to gather fame for eschewing fame? I've you've got the answer, please let me know, I haven't found it in decades of trying. Neither has Salinger. The best you can do is moderate your notoriety; and hide.

        If he didn't want the medal he could have just shut the hell up, but then we wouldn't have the solution.

        "There are better men than Diogones, but nobody has ever heard of them."

        KFG
        • by squidfood (149212) on Friday August 25, 2006 @09:16PM (#15983135)
          And what is the answer for someone who does not wish fame, but does wish to contribute, and so begins to gather fame for eschewing fame?

          I'm not saying he did the wrong thing, or did it cynically, or didn't do it out of love for the work. I'm just saying each year's award winners tend to be a nine-days wonder or less, while this story makes the wonder last longer... probably worth 500 slashdot comments instead of merely 50 :).

          If you ask me, Salinger is more famous for being a recluse... hiding in plain sight probably works better.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by raftpeople (844215)
          ...I haven't found it in decades of trying...

          I know what you mean, I can never get away from the paparazzi! But at least here on slahdot I can lurk as "RaftPeople" without anyone realizing my incredible talent and world-wide fame.
      • by L7_ (645377) on Friday August 25, 2006 @08:59PM (#15983083)
        The article in the New Yorker is more about the dispicable effort that Yau made to get his name on the Hamilton-Perelman proof than actually discussing Perelman's effort to remain fame-free. "The chinese made a 30% contribution and Perelman only a 25% one."

        If the way that he is rejecting the Field's Medal is what he concluded it would take to expose the efforts of Yau and Co. to get recognition for work that they did not do, then he is going about it in a good way. The article itself is more an expose into the workings of credit in the world of mathematics than the rejection itself.
        • by TubeSteak (669689) on Friday August 25, 2006 @10:05PM (#15983297) Journal
          Yau said:
          50% Hamilton
          25% Perelman
          30% Yau & Co.
          =
          105%

          Yes, Yau actually said that.

          'As for Yau, Perelman said, "I can't say I'm outraged. Other people do worse. Of course, there are many mathematicians who are more or less honest. But almost all of them are conformists. They are more or less honest, but they tolerate those who are not honest."'

          Perelman doesn't really want anything to do with the mathematical community as a result of Yau's politiking.

          TFA does not paint a very pretty picture of Yau.
          • Not by Yau (Score:3, Informative)

            by wwind123 (838753)
            50% Hamilton
            25% Perelman
            30% Yau & Co.

            Yau himself never said this. It's another renown Chinese mathematician (named Yang, Le) that was quoted by a Chinese jornalist. I guess journalists all over the world are just the same: they keep misquoting people. Hard to imagine a real mathematician would make this kind of stupid mistake. This quote has actually become a well-known joke on the journalists on Chinese web-forums and blogs.

        • Am I the only one that doesn't see TFA as the beginnings of an excellent new movie about nationalism and pursuit of success? I think it is a fascinating story, and to contrast Yau and Perelman like that...I'd pay money to see a movie like that, provided Perelman didn't roll up with ice in his grill, shoot some hookers and blow up some cars. (not meant to be funny)
      • by Sage Gaspar (688563) on Friday August 25, 2006 @09:48PM (#15983244)
        Fame? Would he have gotten an article in the New Yorker by quietly accepting? Not that he's purposefully trying to build a mystique of genius, but if he were, this is the way he'd do it.

        Maybe fame of a different sort. He's saying that by accepting the prize and staying in the community, he'd either have to stick up for what he views as his integrity and contribution by calling Yau out on his later proof, or he'd essentially be confirming it through inaction. He did not want to be embroiled in this kind of political mockery of mathematics, so he decided to remove himself from it. In doing so I guess he has called attention to his reasons, but he's removed from the conflict.

        Honestly, this guy is not a glory hog, from all accounts I've heard. If you read the article, the New Yorker spent a week leaving him messages only to find out in the end he hadn't left to check his mail in that week. He's not holding press conferences, there aren't any photo ops, he's not going out of his way to get coverage. If he wanted the press he'd have gone to all the publications calling Yau out as a fraud and stirring up a big ruckus. That's the more interesting story.
      • by brandonY (575282) on Friday August 25, 2006 @11:07PM (#15983513)
        Not that he's purposefully trying to build a mystique of genius, but if he were, this is the way he'd do it.

        I agree. A good way to build a mystique of genius WOULD be to solve a very old, nigh-unsolvable, famous math problem. Why didn't I think of that?!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by treeves (963993)
      So tell us you really think he's LESS famous as a result of this than he would have been had he just accepted the award.
      • by perlchild (582235)
        Look at it this way:
        he doesn't want to deal with journalists, trying to deny them a story.
        Nobody told him that was impossible.
        They bug him anyways.

        Just because he is more famous for refusing the award doesn't make it his fault. It could be the journalists not wanting to let go of the story.
    • Is it so hard to understand that some people do things just because they love to, and don't like the burdens that come with fame?

      Like Pearleman said, everyone knows the fields medal isn't the important thing, it's the Poincare conjecture. It's afaik the first millenium problem to be solved, it's over 100 years old, and it's a very useful problem to solve in mathematics. Just the pride of solving an open problem like that is enough.
      • by Sage Gaspar (688563) on Friday August 25, 2006 @09:11PM (#15983125)
        No kidding. The real losers here are the students who are going to get shafted when all the topology texts release new editions for a footnote :P
        • High level math books rarely get updated. My topology book was 16 years old, the differential geometry book 20. There isn't enough volume to justify a new press run, plus they would have to reconsider how much information to include and fix the mistakes. The proffessor I had just had us write in the corrections. Its also why the 20 year old book still costed $125.
          • I did just crack open Munkres to check, second edition in 2000, and my Intro to Diff Manifolds book had a new edition in 2005. The old standby Do Carmo is still hovering back in the 80s, though, and if Munkres mentions Poincaré it's only in passing (plus, what, two editions in 25 years?). You're right, of course, just a bit bitter about dropping $385 on texts today, hehe, two of which just reprinted so I have mismatched editions.
      • by pallmall1 (882819) on Friday August 25, 2006 @10:02PM (#15983287)
        Just the pride of solving an open problem like that is enough.

        I agree. Perelman knows he's the one who solved it. The world knows Perelman solved it. And all the mathematicians know in their hearts that he solved it, even Yau. Yau may try to deny Perelman's accomplishment, and may even gain some material rewards he does not truly deserve. But those hollow victories and the methods he used to obtain them will be what Yau is remembered for, while Perelman will be known as the man who proved the Poincare conjecture.

        How's that for topology.
      • Someone proposed a plausible-looking proof for the Riemann hypothesis a while back. I remember the story making Slashdot. What happened to that? I'm guessing that the proof was flawed?

        Also, shouldn't we be calling it "the Poincare theorem" now that it's proven?

    • My favorite quote from the article:

      "There are a lot of students of high ability who speak before thinking," Burago said. "Grisha was different. He thought deeply. His answers were always correct. He always checked very, very carefully." Burago added, "He was not fast. Speed means nothing. Math doesn't depend on speed. It is about deep."

      The Academy (not to mention Slashdot!) could use a few more people like this.
      • by Phat_Tony (661117)
        That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard! You idiot!

        Oh, wait a minute, now that I read it again, it makes a lot of sense. Never-mind.
    • by rm999 (775449)
      Refusing the prize made him so much more famous than accepting it would have. Anyone with a bit of common sense would know this. Either he has some sort of social problem (very likely) or he *wanted* attention (not likely)
    • by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Friday August 25, 2006 @11:07PM (#15983514) Homepage Journal
      The situation here, though, is more complex I believe. Shing-Tung Yau seems to have deliberately turned mathematics from a relatively peaceful subject into a pieceful one, and Perelman seems utterly uninterested in having his emotions mauled for the sole purpose of gratifying a glory-seeker.

      I would consider Yau's attitude, if the New Yorker piece is accurate, to be academic fraud, plagarism and the wilfull falsifying of results - any of which are severe enough in academia to warrant the nullification of previous awards, even if these took place afterwards. There have, in fact, been cases where doctorates have been revoked by the awarding University in England as a result of later scholarly abuses. They are certainly sufficiently serious that any professional mathematical society to which Yau belongs should investigate matters for possible disciplinary action should they be true.

      (Sure, you can't do much. The military can court-martial, the Government can haul you off to Gitmo, but the mathematician's union is a little more limited. They could probably ban him from conferences they specifically held, and they could probably lean on journals to be more careful in refereeing his work, but that's about it. Well, actually, given his ego, they could probably take out an ad in a major Chinese newspaper, satirizing him. That could probably do him more damage than any official action.)

      Personally, I think the Fields medal should have been awarded to Perelman specifically BECAUSE he refused it. They can't make him accept it - but that's what Swiss bank safety deposit boxes are for. On the other hand, they need to make it clear - to him and to everyone else - that mathematics is about truth, and truth has nothing to do with who accepts what. If a proof is correct, then it is correct and that is the end of the matter. Neither politics nor personalities have any say in it.

      Furthermore, yes, it does turn him somewhat into a figurehead. And which would YOU prefer to be the role-model for all future mathematicians - the egomaniac or the gentleman? I'd argue that the sciences (and I include maths as a science) need to emphasise honesty, integrity and quality. Most here are computer programmers, or at least familiar with programming, so it would perhaps make sense to liken this to code. Would you rather a program work right (even if it's hard to understand), or be broken and/or stolen (even if it's made easy)? (I'll let you pick which OS' I am referring to, and which one I believe to be inherently superior.)

      Perelman's proofs might be "high magic" in the coder's sense of being so hard very few (to none) can understand it, but I fail to see why that should be a problem. If anything, it is proof of the quality of his intellect and instinct. Those who reject that which they cannot understand are superstitious peasents. (Ok, that's a bit of a troll, but it's also true. You cannot learn that which you already understand, so it is only by not understanding that you are capable of learning. Thus, only the intelligent admit ignorance and only the ignorant claim certainty.)

      Yau has claimed that he does not understand the proof. So where does the problem lie - with pto proof or Yau? Well, obviously Yau. If the problem was the proof, then Yau could establish where the error was that resulted in the proof being nonsense. The inability to establish such a proof does not mean that Perelman's work is perfect, only that it is beyond Yau to make any claims about it whatsoever. Were I to write a flawless program in raw assembly, would flaws magically apear if someone who could not read assembly state that it was incomprehensible to them? That would be stupid.

      This entire dispute cuts to the heart of ALL theoretical and practical sciences and SHOULD be examined in depth by all official bodies with any degree of say in the matter. Perelman should NOT be permitted to walk away and play victim. If he is a victim of academic fraud, then academia has a responsib

      • by otisaardvark (587437) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @01:27AM (#15983942)

        I would consider Yau's attitude, if the New Yorker piece is accurate, to be academic fraud, plagarism and the wilfull falsifying of results

        Your post is full of hyperbole and flamebait. There is no falsifying of results or fraud here. There is no plagiarism - sources are completely referenced and acknowledged. No-one doubts the immense value of Cao-Zhu's (or Morgan/Tian's) work as a exposition, especially given the sketchy nature of the arXiv preprints - the dispute centres around whether their own (and implicitly, Yau's) valuation of their contribution is justified.


        Yau has claimed that he does not understand the proof. So where does the problem lie - with pto proof or Yau? Well, obviously Yau. If the problem was the proof, then Yau could establish where the error was that resulted in the proof being nonsense. The inability to establish such a proof does not mean that Perelman's work is perfect, only that it is beyond Yau to make any claims about it whatsoever.


        The notion of "correctness" of a proof is not always as clear-cut as you might think, because different things are obvious and taken as granted at different levels. Being able to prove is different to communicating a proof. Yau obviously takes the idea of accessibility of a proof seriously - which is no bad thing.

        Yau is without question amongst the greatest geometers alive. He proved Calabi's conjecture about Ricci-flat metrics on kahler manifolds with zero first Chern class. He proved the positive energy theorem in general relativity. He proved Severi's conjecture (the complex projective version of the Poincare conjecture). He pioneered the use of methods from the analysis of elliptic differential equations in differential geometry. To use a programming analogy, what Yau claims happened would be like Andrew Morton submitting a kernel patch which Alan Cox was not able to understand. In these circumstances there is clearly a problem.

        This is not to say that Yau has not blown the problem up out of all proportion. This does not negate his flaws of ego and wanting "too much credit". This does not excuse his ridiculous political games. This doesn't have anything to do with the fact that Yau probably isn't a very nice person. But you should realise that now the dust is settling nobody disputes the validity of the actual mathematics.

        You can clearly see Yau's dismissive attitude in the slides of his own talk [mcm.ac.cn]. But the dispute here is human, not scientific. Suggesting that the IMU should revoke Yau's Field's medal makes you sound like an idiot.
        • Nobody but an idiot would contend that Sir Isaac Newton was not an intellectual giant, a true genius, with astonishing brilliance in physics, mathematics, chemistry and music - a range few modern "geniuses" can even hope to compare with, even as they fail to compare even in a single one of them.

          Nobody but a wilfull participant in intellectual fraud would - today - contend that he discovered the laws of motion (he plagarised them off Descartes) or calculus (Gottfried Leibniz produced the modern version and p

      • Ahhh Slashdot - home of bad analogies.

        Most here are computer programmers, or at least familiar with programming, so it would perhaps make sense to liken this to code. Would you rather a program work right (even if it's hard to understand), or be broken and/or stolen (even if it's made easy)? (I'll let you pick which OS' I am referring to, and which one I believe to be inherently superior.)

        Both a program and a mathematical proof are a series of logical statements. However, only the CPU need understand the pr

  • Dear editor (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    You have got the wikipedia link wrong. You meant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grigori_Perelman [wikipedia.org]
  • by Anonymous Coward

    satisfaction in knowing he was right ?

    narcissm and wealth isnt important to everyone (i know this is probably hard for indoctrinated Americans to understand)
    good for him i say

    • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Friday August 25, 2006 @09:05PM (#15983099)
      i know this is probably hard for indoctrinated Americans to understand.

      It's probably even harder for indoctrinated non-Americans to understand that the vast majority of Americans aren't particularly narcissistic, or remotely wealthy. At this point, in fact, the bulk of us are starting to get pretty damn sick and tired of both those SUV-driving narcissistic fuckwits that we have to contend with on the way to work every day, and judgmental foreigners that insist upon treating America (of all countries) as a monolithic culture.

      But so far as refusing the prize is concerned, you're right, I'm sure he has that satisfaction. But, contrary to popular belief, the academic/scientific world is just as rife with dissent, personalities and politics as any other human endeavor. Consequently it's quite likely he refused the prize because he was pissed off about something or someone.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DrMindWarp (663427)
        But, contrary to popular belief, the academic/scientific world is just as rife with dissent, personalities and politics as any other human endeavor.

        It is reassuring to see someone state this every now and again. I must get a T-shirt printed.

        • Well, the stereotypical white-lab-coated emotionless scientist is just as ridiculous a cultural icon now as it was in all those 50's B-grades.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Fnkmaster (89084)
        Heh, major moderation abuse - this post is not flamebait at all, but is a very reasonable response to an absurdist generalization about Americans.

        Thank you, ScrewMaster, your point is extremely valid.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mrbooze (49713)
      What exactly is narcissistic or greedy about a person humbly accepting an honor accorded them by their peers? You don't even have to show up to politely say "Thank you, but I prefer not to be in the spotlight, please donate the award money to $CHARITY or $SCHOLARSHIP or $WHATEVER."

      I wasn't indoctrinated by my American parents to be particularly narcissistic or greedy, but I was indoctrinated to be gracious when someone in good faith offers you a gift or award.

      Not that I care about whether this particular g
  • I salute Grigory (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PresidentEnder (849024) <wyvernender@gmail.cCOWom minus herbivore> on Friday August 25, 2006 @08:19PM (#15982921) Journal
    not necessarily for his typical genius mathematician nutty professor image (from which this behavior seems to stem; see Einstein's quick switch from young stud to crazy haired geek, on purpose), but because of the interest it seems to be reawakening in Mathematics.
  • by L7_ (645377) on Friday August 25, 2006 @08:19PM (#15982924)
    I have discovered a truely marvelous demonstration of the Poincaré conjecture that this blog is too narrow to contain.
    • I have discovered a truely marvelous demonstration of the Poincaré conjecture that this blog is too narrow to contain.

      Replace "blog" with "pre-print" and you've just about hit the nail on the head. Perelman's "proof" was an outline, and one so terse it took four years to fill in all the details. Quite frankly I don't think he should have been offerred a medal at all, but such is the state of modern mathematics.
      • by rbarreira (836272)
        What's four years in mathematics? It took several centuries to prove many things in mathematics (and sometimes, even to independently discover things which were already known by other people). Are you challenging that Perelman was the one who made the critical breakthrough?
      • If making a half-baked sketch and passing it off to the best mathematicians in world to fill in the details were all it took to solve major problems and take credit for it, no problem would remain unsolved for a decade, let alone a century.

        Many people have laid out sketches where the gaps and hand-waving concealed glossed over such hard problems that no proof resulted. That it took only a few years to fill in the details, and the first mathematicians to do so gave full credit to Perelman, proves that Perel
  • by User 956 (568564) on Friday August 25, 2006 @08:22PM (#15982940) Homepage
    The Fields Medal, like the Nobel Prize, grew, in part, out of a desire to elevate science above national animosities.

    And dynamite. Pretty much the coolest invention ever. I don't know why anyone wouldn't list that first.
  • by The MAZZTer (911996) <megazzt@g m a il.com> on Friday August 25, 2006 @08:24PM (#15982947) Homepage
    I thought he was a church pastor living in Ravenholm... huh... learn something new everyday.
  • If you RTFA, it turns out that Perelman wants a couple friends, and they don't have to be mathematicians, either.

    I guess solving one of the most puzzling mathematical conjectures in history kinda makes everything else seem dim by comparison...now he just wants someone to have a beer with.

    Maybe he refused it 'cuz he didn't want to look like an untouchable.

    • Honorable Guy. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by nonsequitor (893813) on Friday August 25, 2006 @09:50PM (#15983249)
      The article concluded that he refused the Field's Medal because of a lack of ethics surrounding who is credited with the work.
      "As long as I was not conspicuous, I had a choice," Perelman explained. "Either to make some ugly thing"--a fuss about the math community's lack of integrity--"or, if I didn't do this kind of thing, to be treated as a pet. Now, when I become a very conspicuous person, I cannot stay a pet and say nothing. That is why I had to quit."
      The article, while quite lengthy, describes how some of the Chinese, Yau and those who work for him, have been "fixing" people's proofs and claiming them as original work. Yau tried to do it again with Perelman's proof and got shot down, again. Considering that Yau is still a respected member of the Math community, Perelman does not want to belong to that community. It is nice to see some people in this world still have some integrity. Perelman refuses to make a fuss out of this, he's not in it for his own gain.
      • Perelman would not say whether his objection to awards extended to the Clay Institute's million-dollar prize. "I'm not going to decide whether to accept the prize until it is offered," he said.

        They offer the prize 2 years from publication, so unless the matter isn't settled until then, there will be some people scratching their heads. The article says that Perelman earned "more than enough" in America in his early career to last the rest of his life, but he's living with his mother on a diet consisting of

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Valdrax (32670)
          The article says that Perelman earned "more than enough" in America in his early career to last the rest of his life, but he's living with his mother on a diet consisting of "bread, cheese and milk." I doubt a extra cash is ever overlooked by someone that is frugal.

          I disagree. If he is convinced that he has "enough," then he really means it. Even while living in America, he had to live an ascetic life to earn enough money to save up to pay for the rest of his life in Russia. To a person who had access to
    • by Muhammar (659468)
      "...now he just wants someone to have a beer with" ...or a jug of buttermilk and some mushroom goulash
  • A Chinese mathematician with a history of "borrowing" or "aggregating" other people's research is trying to take credit for something a Russian mathematician has done. When the Poincare chip is produced, they'll mask over P for Perelman and insert a Y for Yau...until enough people scream....and then the Chinese government will indignantly run Yau out of town...

    The more things change....

  • by amightywind (691887) on Friday August 25, 2006 @09:02PM (#15983091) Journal

    I find the parallels between Perelman's proof of Thurston's Conjecture and Wiles proof of Fermat to be compelling:

    • Both men benefited from ingenious strategic breakthough made by other men: The Frey Curve proposed by Gerhard Frey linked Fermat with Tanyama-Shimura, and the Ricci Flow idea Hamilton provided the basis for Perelman's deep refinements. Both ideas can be readily understood by laymen.
    • Both men dragged the enabling idea over the line virtually alone fighting though unimaginable difficulty. (These are not easily understood by laymen!)

    Obviously the standing of Wiles and Perelman in the mathematical community couldn't be more different. Lets hope Perelman accepts an academic position somewhere so he can carry on his work with the honor he deserves.

    The attempts by the Chinese to claim proof of Poincare is disgusting.

    • by Coryoth (254751)
      I have to ask how you consider the Frey Curve and Ricci Flow to be "easily understood by laymen". Certainly the content is easier than the messy technical detail involved in hammering out the fine points of Perelman's and Wiles' proofs, but "easily understood by laymen" seems to be taking it rather too far.
      • y^2 = x (x - a^p) (x + b^p) where p represents a solution of Fermat is fairly easy to grasp. df/df = grad f where f is a measure of surface curvature. Again not that hard to grasp compared to the horrors that follow.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 25, 2006 @09:48PM (#15983243)
    The following was a response to the article disseminated through one of Stony Brook's email lists:

    The New Yorker article badly distorted my comments and the quote given is very inaccurate and misleading. I've already discussed it with Yau and expressed to him my apologies and disgust at using my name in this respect. I tried to have the quote removed, but was unsuccessful, partly because I was travelling in Europe while all this happened very quickly and I had no time respond.

    I spent a good deal of time talking with Sylvia Nasar trying to convince her to avoid discussion of the Tian-Yau fight since it is irrelevant to Perelman, Poincare, etc. But obviously I was not successful. In this particular respect, I feel the New Yorker has done a disservice to mathematicians.

    Sincerely, Michael Anderson
    • by pedantic bore (740196) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @05:29AM (#15984268)
      Translation: Anderson is afraid of Yau.

    • Yes, I have to agree with pedantic bore's translation:

      "Anderson is (now) afraid of Yau".

      Michael T. Anderson (SUNY at Stony Brook) probably thought that he would not be quoted, that his ideas were going to be presented without a direct link to his name. As I'll explain he seems to have had enough motives to use this opportunity to execute his own vendetta against Shing-Tung Yau (Harvard) by instigating reporters to deviate from main topic of the Poincaré Conjecture and Thurston's Geometrizat

  • by wwind123 (838753) on Friday August 25, 2006 @09:49PM (#15983248)
    Some mathematitians that were quoted in this New Yorker artcile have expressed anger that the authors distorted their words. Here's a collection of those mathmettians clarification, both English and the Chinese translation:

    http://mitbbs.com/mitbbs_article_t.php?board=Mathe matics&gid=10840706&ftype=0 [mitbbs.com]

    I'll paste just the English version here so everybody can have a look:

    ====

    From Dan Stroock at MIT:

    Clarification

    I, like several others whom Sylvia Nasar interviewed, am shocked and angered by the article which she and Gruber wrote for the New Yorker. Havingseen Yau in action during his June conference on string theory, Nasar ledme to believe that she was fascinated by S-T Yau and asked me my opinionabout his activities. I told her that I greatly admire Yau's efforts tosupport young Chinese mathematicians and to break down the ossifiedpower structure in the Chinese academic establishment. I then told her that I sometimes have doubts about his methodology. In particular, I toldher that, at least to my ears, Yau weakens his case and lays himself opento his enemies by sounding too self-promoting. As it appears in her article, she has purposefully distorted my statementand made it unforgivably misleading. Like the rest of us, Yau has hisfaults, but, unlike most of us, his virtues outweigh his faults.Unfortunately, Nasar used my statement to bolster her casethat the opposite is true, and for this I cannot forgive her.

    ====

    From Michael Anderson at Stony Brook:

    Dear Yau,

    I am furious, and completely shocked, at what Sylvia Nasar wrote. Her quote of me is completely wrong and baseless. There are other factual mistakes in the article, in addition to those you pointed out. I have left her phone and email messages this evening and hope to speakto her tomorrow at the latest to clear this up. I want her to remove this statement completely from the article. It serves no purpose and contains no factual information; I view it as stupid gossip unworthy of a paper like the New Yorker. At the moment, the print version has not appeared and so it might be possible to fix this still. I spent several hours with S. Nasar on the phone talking about Perelman, Poincare , etc but it seems I was too naive and I'm now disgusted in believing this journalist would report factually. I regret very much this quote falsely attributed to me and will do whatever I can to have it removed. I will keep you informed as I know more.

    Yours, Michael

    ====

    More clarification from Anderson:

    Many of you have probably seen the New Yorker article by Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber on Perelman and the Poincare conjecture. In many respects, its very interesting and a pleasure to read. However,it contains a number of inaccuracies and downright errors. I spent several hours talking with Sylvia Nasar trying to dissuade her from incorporating the Tian-Yau fights into the article, since it was completely irrelevant and I didn't see the point of dragging readers through the mud . Obviously I was not successful. The quote attributed to me on Yau is completely inaccurate and distortedfrom some remarks I made to her in a quite different context; I made itexplicit to her that the remarks I was making in that context were purely speculative and had no basis in fact. I did not give her my permission to quote me on this, even with the qualification of speculation. There are other inaccuracies about Stony Brook. One for instance is theimplication that Tian at MIT was the first to invite Perelman to the USto give talks . This is of course false - we at Stony Brook were the first to do so. I stressed in my talks with her the role Stony Brook played,yet she focusses on the single talk Grisha gave at Princeton, listing a collection of eminent mathematicians, none of whom is a geometer/topologist. I was not given an opportun

    • Some people might be skeptical about this, by the way, especially not being able to read the site, but I am able to confirm that at least one of those people was fuming about being misquoted in the article. Reading their quote from the article, it does seem like the kind of thing that can be taken out of context by an author trying to spin a story.
    • Yet (Score:3, Informative)

      by Stalyn (662)
      The article may be biased but you can always discern some truth.

      1. Perelman is unconcerned with fame and praise.
      2. Yau is concerned with fame and praise.
      3. Perelman did most the finishing work on the Poincaire conjecture.
      4. Yau and co. released a paper on Perelman's work with only passing mention of Perelman.
      5. Perelman feels scorned and isolated.

    • by Goldsmith (561202)
      To paraphrase Perelman, mathmaticians are not policians. I am sure that none of these guys had any idea what their words would look like on paper after going through a journalist's filter. Evidently, they have not learned their lesson.

      Look at the comment by Anderson that "I spent several hours talking with Sylvia Nasar trying to dissuade her from incorporating the Tian-Yau fights into the article." By attacking the inclusion of that in the article, he opens himself up as an example of the declining moral
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ruie (30480)
      Not that journalists haven't been known to manipulate a few words here and then, but these clarifications just do not sound as a solid rebuttal at all - more like politics. They dispute the attribution of the words, rather then their content and, at that, take care not to explicitly say "I really think the reverse of what was printed in the article".
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 26, 2006 @12:58AM (#15983863)
      To many of us involved in the field, this article is right on. Yau has done great work and remains a dynamic force in the field. But as he has advanced from his prime years he has focused more and more on administration rather than mathematics, in an attempt to stay relevant (not unheard of in the sciences and maths). The article accurately portrays him as a man who now finds reward in the political machinations of his field rather than the joy of discovery.

      He remains brilliant and is adept at his new focus, which makes him dangerous. The Fields Medal and Harvard platform give him a lot of power to retaliate against people he perceives as enemies to his legacy. And he has a chip on his shoulder...ok he's always had a chip on his shoulder but in the old days he'd satisfy it by the maths, not by this sort of dirty pool.

      I for one would never speak up against him with my name signed to it. I don't blame (or envy) Mike or Dan for the damage control they're faced with now that what they thought were private remarks have been made public. But it doesn't change the accuracy of the story. Off the record there are few in the field who would disagree with saying that Yau and his students are making an unwarranted grab for credit that is not theirs. But confronting Yau on the record is not smart unless you've got a Fields and Ivy professorship yourself (fat chance that for me).
  • by TheNoxx (412624) on Friday August 25, 2006 @10:22PM (#15983350) Homepage Journal
    Perelman did not leave his position at the Steklov Institute as the article suggests, but rather, he was not allowed to return to his position. I believe that he already had a fairly reclusive and modest personality, and as was pointed out by the Sydney Morning Herald [smh.com.au], the extremity of this nature was prompted when the faculty of the Steklov Institute declined to re-elect him as a member; his peers and close colleagues rejected him, the paper quotes a friend as saying that Perelman was made to feel as an "absolutely ungifted and untalented person". Wikipedia has more, saying that this stemmed "apparently in part out of continuing doubt over his claims regarding the geometrization conjecture" [wikipedia.org].

    There are few things more bitter than being betrayed by one, let alone a majority or all of your associates. I know all too well how that kind of utterly profound pain can easily turn one of your greatest passions in life (be it a pursuit or a person) into a source for nothing other than misery.
  • The examples are always about doughnuts and coffee cups.

    I could figure it out after a morning breakfast.
  • by Dixie_Flatline (5077) <vincent.jan.gohNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday August 25, 2006 @11:05PM (#15983503) Homepage
    Perelman will be the one that goes down in history as the one that solved the conjecture to a satisfactory degree, no matter who else releases papers that pretend that his work was incomprehensible. That sort of argument doesn't really stand up very well, anyway; if it were easy to understand, it's likely someone would have trivially solved it earlier. The Chinese may very well have an army of extremely competent mathematicians, and two or three of them may have cleaned up Perelman's work to be a little more friendly to the mathematics community at large, but I suspect that Perelman will be the name that everyone remembers.

    He's done his bit, people will remember him, and he'll get to work on more mathematics. He doesn't care, so I don't think we should care either. On to the next (apparently) intractable problem!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      if it were easy to understand, it's likely someone would have trivially solved it earlier.

      There's a similar story about Feynman when he got the Nobel Prize for his work in quantum electrodynamics. At a lunchen given in his honor, he was asked by his introducer to explain in simple terms what his work was about. He answered, "Madam, if I were able to explain it in simple terms, they wouldn't have given me the Nobel Prize for it."

    • by Fnkmaster (89084)
      Next week on Slashdot - Cowboy Neal proves P==NP!!
  • The article tells only part of the story. I cannot claim I know the whole story. One has to know what is going on in the Chinese academic community to understand why this happened. Hopefully some chinese academics on the board will help to shed more light on this situation. I happened to work with an alum of Peking University who gave me some insights into the world of Chinese politics. I will try to tell my understanding of the full story. Dr. Yau is a very talented and prolific mathematitian. He made m
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "He is probably a better mathematician than Grisha Perelman will ever be"

      When I read the aforementioned statement, you lost all credibility. You are discrediting your thesis with such a biased opinion. Yes, Yau is a great mathematician, but so is Perelman.

      Anyhow, most of your post is copy-paste of ramblings from some random BBS. It doesn't seem to have much substance.
  • Prizes pander to human ego and superficial pride. A couple of quotes from history.

    "Prizes are for children." Charles Ives, quoted upon being awarded, but refusing, the Pulitzer prize.

    Or maybe even more apropos is Albert Einstein's quote:

    "... But to me our equations are far more important, for politics are only a matter of present concern. A mathematical equation stands forever ..."
  • What do old Mathematicians do, they can't all become academics, administrators and/or actuaries...
    What do old computer scientist do, they can't all become academics, managers and/or administrators...

    Youth is wasted on the young.

    I thought an Engineering degree and computer science work would be applied enough and be structured enough to look like a reasonable career choice. It is not I am still looking for something that will suit me better, should I have shot for the moon, done pure maths and ended up a sch

  • This article is great, wether accurate or misleading, biased or not. Reveling (or inventing) the human stories behind great discoveries is really interesting...

Never test for an error condition you don't know how to handle. -- Steinbach

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