Yau-Perelman affair and Kaavya Vishwanathan

It all starts with the elusive proof of Poincare conjecture posted in a set of three papers by Perelman.

Then came the surprise that Perelman plans to reject the Fields Medal and everyone starts putting up their own conjectures as to why he declined. One such attempt to "explain" is a New Yorker article by Silvia Nasar. Click here to read an online version of the article or click here to download a scanned copy of the print version in pdf format. Do check out the cartoon on the second page of the print version. Among many things, the Nasar article points out that Yau is probably the main reason as to why Perelman rejected the Fields Medal and why he is unhappy with the mathematics community in general.

An obviously infuriated Yau starts his website campaign at www.doctoryau.com.
In a letter, Dr. Yau’s attorney has demanded that the New Yorker and Nasar make a prominent correction of the errors in the article, and apologize for an insulting illustration that accompanied it.

Yau claims that his reputation in China has been vastly tarnished because of Nasar's article. Surprisingly, New York Times now has an article titled
Scientist at Work: Shing-Tung Yau. The Emperor of Math, probably a step towards rebuilding Yau's reputation.

Another paper at the center of all this is one by Cao-Zhu, which Yau is being accused of promoting too much in Nasar's article and also of "pressurising" Asian Journal of Mathematics to publish it at a short notice. This is a 328 page paper, was submitted to AJM on December 12, 2005 and published on April 16, 2006, apparently after the editorial board received an email from Yau on April 13, 2006 stating that they had three days to comment on the paper. No wonder many feel it was not reviewed well to begin with.

Anyway, Nasar might feel a bit relaxed on learning that a flaw has been found in the Cao-Zhu paper. One of the arguments that the authors used to fill in Dr. Perelman’s proof is identical to one posted on the internet in June 2003 by Bruce Kleiner and John Lott. The thing I find totally shady is the erratum by Cao and Zhu which reads
In an erratum to run in The Asian Journal of Mathematics, Dr. Cao and Dr. Zhu acknowledge the mistake, saying they had forgotten that they studied and incorporated that material into their notes three years ago.
Does it ring a huge Kaavya Vishwanathan bell ?


Anonymous said...

From a neutral position, not favoring any parties, I think Silvia Nasar's article is not unfair but just presents facts that she collected and recorded. Every piece of information (interpreted based on raw facts) has its root. While if Cao-Zhu's work truly led to a completion of the Poincare's Conjecture, then it's valuable; yet compared with teh original ideas and and breakthroughs of Perelman and the foundation laid out by Hamilton, their work certainly loses luster. Plus the mistake discovered, the situation is easier to see. There is great difference between discoveries and improvement/simplification. Both are important yet the former weighs considerably more. The discovery of calculus stirred some controversies in those old days between Liebniz and Newton. Nowadays tons of textbooks provide more elaborate and complete treatment of the subject, ranging from popular ones as James Stewart's, Edwards and Penney's, etc to the classics such as Hardy's, Courant's, etc. However, none of them would claim anything other than a better, deeper, "adjective", presentation of the subject. I am not sure when the first several Calculus textbooks authors claim any groundbreaking contribution to calculus or not. But it's not too hard to see the situation.

Nevertheless, Dr. Yau is unarguably the very one of the most influential mathematicians in the world today. He's got everything including the Fields, extremely successful students, and most important of all, his ability to do mathematics. Abel and Wolf prizes to him are perhaps just a matter of time. What's more amazing is that he's still so productive in the field of mathematics--there aren't many mathematicians of his time who are more productive than him.

So the final conclusion is that the so called Yau-Perelman affair is not necessary.

Anonymous said...

"Surprisingly, New York Times now has an article titled Scientist at Work: Shing-Tung Yau. The Emperor of Math, probably a step towards rebuilding Yau's reputation."

Surprisingly? Why did it surprise you that someone else might have thought that Yau had been unfairly portrayed?

As a mathematician trying to grow your reputation, you should be careful in your own biases and prejudices. Even if this is a non-mathematical blog, you should be careful to present a neutral, balanced, fair, and well-informed point of view. For an example of such a blog, see Peter Woit's "Not Even Wrong."

Anonymous said...

Oops, I thought you were a mathematician.