10/17/2006

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 ?