a journal of a researcher

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fields 2006

For a while, people were discussing that the International Congress of Mathematicians will give the Field medals to the contributors of proving Poincare conjecture (c.f. my blog on August 1. On August 16, in Spain, the congress announced that the Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman who is believed to prove Poincare conjecture was awarded a Fields medal. Though the congress is careful not to mention the proof of Poincare conjecture directly, people believe it is this work that Perelman wins the medal.

For non-mathematician, yet researcher, the more interesting thing is not how this conjecture is proved, but how Perelman refused to accept this medal. The August 28 issue of New Yorker has a long article to tell the story. I know a little bit the story is because Yau, another Fields medal winner and a Chinese, really pushed to promote two Chinese mathematicians’ work. Yau is also famous to criticize Chinese academic environment and some fellow Chinese researchers. But in Perelman’s case, Yau probably did wrong thing. Perelman has stated that he is disappointed with mathematics' ethical standards, in particular of Yau's effort to downplay his role in the proof and up-play the work of Cao and Zhu. He has said that "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." (from the article in New Yorker) He has also said that "It is not people who break ethical standards who are regarded as aliens. It is people like me who are isolated.”

Perelman did what he thinks correct – quit his job as a professional mathematician from 2003. This year, he is 40, living with his mother in St. Petersburg.


  • Interesting how we talk about collaboration being *essential* (not just useful) for good research.

    This story suggests that maybe, what happens is that isolated people can still do good work, but they have a harder time getting recognition.

    By Blogger Daniel Lemire, at 7:12 AM  

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