More Prizes

As far as I can tell, it’s still unclear if Perelman will accept the $1 million Millennium prize awarded to him last week. This week brings news of two more million dollar prizes:

  • John Tate is this year’s winner of the Abel Prize, worth 6 million Norwegian Kroner, which is a bit more than $1 million. Tate is now 85, recently retired from UT Austin (he spent much of his career at Harvard). He is a major figure in the development of algebraic geometry and number theory during the second half of the last century. His Princeton Ph. D. thesis, which pioneered the use of Fourier analysis on the adele group in the study of number theory, could easily be the most widely read and used doctoral thesis in mathematics.
  • The 2010 Templeton Prize, worth 1 million British pounds, or about $1.5 million, was awarded to biologist Francisco Ayala. Remarkably, the Templeton Foundation describes the prize-winner as someone who has “vigorously opposed the entanglement of science and religion”. I had thought that the main goal of the Templeton Foundation WAS “the entanglement of science and religion”, so this is a bit surprising. Ayala has done admirable work over the years refuting creationism and intelligent design.

    There was a bit of a kerfuffle over the fact that the announcement was made at the National Academy of Science (Ayala is a member), with Sean Carroll quoted as:

    Templeton has a fairly overt agenda that some scientists are comfortable with, but very many are not. In my opinion, for a prestigious scientific organization to work with them sends the wrong message.

    Science magazine has an article here about the award and about what some scientists think of Templeton’s activities, including the following:

    Even those who are put off by Templeton’s mission agree that the foundation does not attempt to influence the outcomes of the research and discussions it sponsors. “I am not enthusiastic about the message they seem to be selling to the public—that science and religion are not incompatible; I think there is real tension between the two,” says Steven Weinberg, a Nobel Prize–winning physicist at the University of Texas, Austin, who has been an outspoken critic of religion. “But for an organization with a message, they are pretty good at not being intrusive in the activities they fund. I don’t wish them well, but I don’t think they are particularly insidious or dangerous.”

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    10 Responses to More Prizes

    1. Sakura-chan says:

      They should have given Tate the money when he was younger so that he could enjoy it more.

    2. Anonymous says:

      @Sakura-chan:

      First, there *was* no Abel Prize when Tate was (much) younger, since it only exists since 2003.

      Second, the Abel Prize is not the only prize around. Overall, you might say that we now have the Fields medal for young mathematicians, the Abel prize for older ones, and the Wolf prize (which Tate got as well) for people somewhere in between. So what’s wrong with that?

      Third, I doubt money was in any way a motivation for Tate to do the work he got the prize for.

    3. yota says:

      >>>the Abel prize for older ones

      There will be competition between the Abel prize and the Chern medal : http://www.mathunion.org/general/prizes/chern/details0/

      Chern medal will be awarded during International Congress of Mathematicians like the Fields medal.

      What do you think about this new prize ?

    4. Vince says:

      I am pretty sure for $1.5 million atheistic scientists will find good reasons why Templeton is not so bad after all.

    5. tytung says:

      As long as the scientist need it and they provide him with the money, I don’t think there is any problem with it. Who knows, maybe the next Einstein will turn out to be a templeton funding beneficiary?

    6. ninguem says:

      @Sakura-chan: I believe Tate has had a very happy and trouble-free life and, especially after taking up the Chair he had at Texas, no money worries. One could argue that the money could be better spent elsewhere but prizes like this add visibility to math. I don’t think the press would have taken this much notice if the amount was, say, 100K. But I confess to have mixed feelings about these huge prizes.

    7. Peter Shor says:

      One million-dollar prize will get a lot more publicity then ten $100,000 prizes, and so this is a lot better for the donor. I’m not sure that it’s better for the field, even though mathematics publicity is good in general.

    8. chris says:

      i don’t really get it why Templeton money is thought of as untouchable by some. just imagine, if you had a hundred million bucks to spare, and you would really like to know what science has to say about religion. would it be so unreasonable and bad if you just set up a foundation to fund people who want to find out by doing some research?

      sure, it might be all politically motivated. but you are free to turn away from it the moment this becomes obvious.

      i personally find Templeton-like money to be about the ‘cleanest’ possible source of funding nowadays. it seems to be spare money donated by someone who really would like to know. this is what science is all about after all. now think of the other funding sources: DoE, NSF, DoD – and their equivalent counterparts in other countries. don’t they have an agenda? or is it so much cleaner than Templetons?

      as a grad student, i was financed by the DoE nuclear stockpile stewardship program. nowadays i get grant money by basically promising that we can beat other countries in supercomputer applications and give ours a competitive edge. maybe many of the readers here are much closer to the true spirit of fundamental science in their funding sources, i don’t know. but for me, i feel that I have no right really to despise Templeton-funding.

    9. Diz says:

      i don’t really get it why Templeton money is thought of as untouchable by some. just imagine, if you had a hundred million bucks to spare, and you would really like to know what science has to say about religion. would it be so unreasonable and bad if you just set up a foundation to fund people who want to find out by doing some research?

      The concern is mostly that they do not in fact “really want to know”, but rather are trying to push a foreordained conclusion, i.e. compatibility between science and Christian doctrine.

      Most detractors would put very long odds on a Templeton award being presented for findings that the two are incompatible, or that modern science vindicates Hinduism or Zoroastrianism or the worship of Marduk, however compelling a case was made.

    10. Cathy O'Neil says:

      Go John!! Woohooooooo!!!

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