Milner-Zuckerberg Prizes for Mathematics

At the Hollywood-style awards ceremony last night for $3 million string theory and biomedical research prizes, it was announced that Yuri Milner and Mark Zuckerberg will now start funding something similar in mathematics, called the Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. According to the New York Times:

Yuri Milner, the Russian entrepreneur, philanthropist and self-described “failed physicist” who made a splash two years ago when he began handing out lavish cash awards to scientists, announced Thursday that he was expanding the universe of his largess again: This time, he will begin handing out $3 million awards to mathematicians…

For the new math award, Mr. Milner and Mr. Zuckerberg, the co-sponsor of the math prize, will decide who gets the money, in consultation with experts. Mr. Milner declined to say how many mathematicians would be chosen, but there could be quite a number of windfalls in store: for the physics price, there were nine inaugural winners, and for the life sciences prize, there were 11.

I’ve written extensively about the “Fundamental Physics Prize” and what I see as the worst problem with it (heavily rewarding and propping up a failed research program). While many physicists are privately unhappy about this prize and its effects, few prominent ones are willing to speak publicly with their name attached, since this kind of mouthing-off could turn out to be personally extremely expensive. Ian Sample at the Guardian has a story today, which quotes a “prominent physicist who did not wish to be named”:

One prominent physicist who did not wish to be named said the huge sums of money could be used better: “The great philanthropists of the 19th and 20th centuries, like the Rockefellers and the Carnegies, did not create prizes – they created universities and research institutes that have enabled thousands of scientists to make great breakthroughs over the succeeding decades.

“By contrast, giving a prize has a negligible effect on the progress of science. A few already well-recognised people get enriched, but there is little value added in terms of the progress of science compared to the multiplier effect of creating new institutions for scientific research.”

The Guardian does quote one critic by name, but it’s just the usual one.

The physics prize has turned out to be extremely narrowly targeted at one particular subfield of physics, and from what little I know of the life sciences, the prizes in that area seem to be also narrowly targeted (US biomedical research aimed at curing diseases that most afflict those in the developed world). I’m highly ignorant about life sciences research, but it seems striking that the 6 $3 million winners in this field were all men.

I have no idea how Milner and Zuckerberg will go about choosing the $3 million winners in mathematics, and whether this new prize will end up being narrowly targeted to a certain sort of mathematics research. If so, it may have very significant effects on what kinds of mathematics get done. Based on the other prizes, it seems likely that the winners will be mostly prominent US academics, people already well-rewarded by the current academic star system. I don’t see any reason to believe that these kinds of financial awards will allow such mathematicians to do work they wouldn’t otherwise do, so the main argument for the prizes is that the money (and Academy Awards-style ceremonies) will help make them celebrities, and that this is a good thing. One can predict that public criticism from prominent US academics may be rather muted once the checks start coming.

Even if the Milner-Zuckerberg prize does end up focused on the best mathematics research, I still think the whole concept is problematic. The US today is increasingly dominated by a grotesque winner-take-all culture that values wealth and celebrity above all else. While mathematics research, like the rest of academia, has been affected as a star system has become increasingly part of the picture, this field has been somewhat immune to celebrity culture. While people typically think that what mathematicians do is perfectly respectable, they don’t understand much about it and aren’t especially interested. Milner and Zuckerberg want to change this by turning mathematicians into celebrities, but I don’t see any reason to believe this is going to lead to better mathematics.

Update: Here’s the statement from Milner about the planned mathematics prize:

Yuri Milner said: “Einstein said, Pure mathematics is the poetry of logical ideas. It is in this spirit that Mark and myself are announcing a new Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. The work that the Prize recognizes could be the foundation for genetic engineering, quantum computing or Artificial Intelligence; but above all, for human knowledge itself.”

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65 Responses to Milner-Zuckerberg Prizes for Mathematics

  1. Hack says:

    Great! It is not enough to add difficulties to theoretical physics research alone, now these prizes will cause problems in the life sciences and mathematics fields. Scientists need to grow up and put a stop to this, but we all now that will not happen. What ego-driven hard working researcher would turn down $3 million or the chance of $3 million, despite the fact that these prizes are going to hurt their respective fields in the long run. This is incredibly disappointing.

    By the way Peter, your right, it is rather amazing that no women were awarded the $3 million dollar prize in the life sciences. I am probably more familiar with that field than most of your readers and there are many brilliant and successful women researchers. One would think somebody on the prize committee would have been smart enough to think that not awarding any women the prize might lead people to believe their chauvinistic…

  2. John McAllison says:

    Who on earth came up with this clueless idea that physicists and mathematicians should be patronized by Vanity Fair magazine and presided over by actors such as Kevin Spacey at an awards ceremony?

    Let the awards be given out by those mathematicians and scientists their peers look up to, or perhaps a representative from the awarding organization itself.

    This is just adding further to the negative status of science and mathematics relative to the entertainment industry.

  3. BCnrd says:

    Jim Simons has taken a more productive/thoughtful approach in his philanthropy for mathematics: some serious long-term prizes without Hollywood distractions (with the requirement that they be used in a substantial way to support research activities), and a substantial grant program to help working mathematicians (not just super-stars) in constructive ways via summer support, sabbatical support, conference support, etc. It is quite a contrast with the approach chosen by Milner and Zuckerberg (whom I am sure have good intentions, and hopefully can be convinced to modify their plans so as to have a greater benefit to mathematics; the big prizes seem unlikely to encourage increased government support for research mathematics).

  4. Peter Woit says:

    BCnrd,

    Thanks, I very much agree. Simons has provided an excellent model of carefully thought out plans to use some of his wealth to further mathematics research. It would be great if Milner and Zuckerberg would take their inspiration from his model.

    This is likely a pipe-dream, but it really would be wonderful if the mathematicians Milner and Zuckerberg consult with about this as they start their process of choosing prize winners would politely tell them something like “we appreciate the thought, but we wish you wouldn’t do this, and would find some other better way to support mathematicians and their research. You might want to talk to Jim Simons…”

  5. kashyap vasavada says:

    I think criticisms of Milner-Zuckerberg awards are unwarranted. On the one hand we complain that society awards big money to sports figures, entertainment celebrities, CEOs and hedge fund managers and ignores talented scientists and mathematicians. Then when some visionaries like Milner and Zuckerberg put large sums of their own money, we complain that it is not going to be good for science and mathematics! We cannot have it both ways! I agree people may have different opinions about which sub field deserves prizes. But there are differences of opinions about Nobel Prize also. Admittedly Nobel Prize is given for some successful previous scientific research. But I do not see any problem in awarding promising scientists and mathematicians. Also we don’t tell CEOs of hospitals and pharmaceutical companies that their salaries could be used for cheaper health care!! So better use of money is also not a particularly great argument.

  6. peter says:

    I prefer Simon’s effort to Milner’s. But maybe we should not blame Milner. The point is why those fpp winners not spend their prizes in supporting more other young people. Since they have not made it, this means this prizes are at least important for their personal lives.

  7. Peter Woit says:

    kashyap,

    Actually, if I could get any of them to listen to me, I’d very happily “tell CEOs of hospitals and pharmaceutical companies that their salaries could be used for cheaper health care.”

  8. DaDa says:

    Peter you are too cynical.

  9. Peter Woit says:

    DaDa,
    Actually I think the standard criticism of someone like me who objects to the influence of large sums of money is that I’m too idealistic, not that I’m too cynical…

  10. Simple biologist says:

    @Hack
    You’re absolutely right about the gender issue.

    To add, if I needed to name the one field of science that has the best level of funding, enjoys already the highest support from the general public, is by far the most over hyped field, and was in the least need of big bags of cash & PR from eccentric billionaires…it would biomedical research into first world diseases.

    (I know it’s off topic for the site and I already wrote about it in the earlier Milner topic. Sorry Peter)

  11. Hank Damage says:

    kashyap vasavada:

    We don’t “complain that society awards big money to sports figures, entertainment celebrities, CEOs and hedge fund managers” at all. We complain that the money is distributed unevenly or at least not according to merit among the respective groups, which is exactly what’s happening with these M-prizes again.

    Another thought/hypothesis: Convincing Milner to do the funding in a reasonable manner is impossible. Because despite claiming, that the prizes are there to promote “human knowledge itself”, it is much more likely that this failed – yet obviously ambitious – physicist was trying to convert the currency he had into social currency aka said fame. Successfully too, just telling by the numbers of mentions he got in this respectable blog.

    DaDa, it’s either cynicism or somatic bliss. People choose whatever keeps them going.

    Well, none of this was new, but thanks for listening.

  12. Sam Lewallen says:

    I had a thought like Peter’s: especially if there are multiple inaugural math prizes, maybe there would be some way that all the winners could be convinced to pool their prize money and fund something beneficial to mathematics, such as a research center. It seems a long shot, but I’d think math would be the field most able to pull this off. I think this would generate a really interesting media response as well, and maybe send a message to Milner et al.

    Maybe Jim Simons could make an open offer to the award recipients, that he would match their donations to fund a new research center somewhere (his foundation could lend their expertise in making this happen)? That would really be a neat situation. Anyone think something like this is even conceivable? Could we start a petition?

  13. Allan Rosenberg says:

    Certainly Edward Witten, Maxim Kontsevich, and Nima Harkani-Amed (for Amplitudhedrons or whatever they’re called) should be on the short list for the Math prize. Is this one going to be awarded via Facebook?

  14. Bee says:

    I’m not prominent but for what it’s worth I’ve stated my disapproval about the Milner prize here http://backreaction.blogspot.de/2013/01/private-funding-for-science-good-idea.html

  15. Navneeth says:

    String math, Quantum Computing, Number Theory and Cryptography. Those topics have the most visibility in popular literature, right?

  16. Zwirko says:

    I hope layman questions are welcome here?

    Do these cash prizes come with terms and conditions? That is, are they to be used for research purposes? Fund students or buy materials and equipment? Or can the recipient use the money to buy a Ferrari or two? Are there any stories of what people have spent the money on?

    I’d feel very uncomfortable if I won several million for my research and decided to keep it for myself. I think my conscience would force me to either share it with colleagues or donate to the lab.

  17. other says:

    This is nothing to worry about. Start being concerned when a subject develops a “priesthood” and canon of knowledge …

  18. Peter Woit says:

    Zwirko,

    The prizes have no restrictions, people can use them for whatever they want. I know nothing about what the biomedical research people have done with the money so far, they generally have large labs that could use the money.

    Among the physicists, most of the experimentalists seem to have publicly announced they are giving the money away, to various projects to support young people, teachers, etc. In these cases, the recipients were mostly spokespersons for their experiment, so it was kind of odd for them to be getting money personally. The research of the theorists is already very well supported by grants, so I don’t think there’s a viable way for them to spend any significant amount of the money on their own research. On the whole, there has been little news from the theorists about what they are doing with the money. If they’re giving it away they’re doing so privately.

  19. CU Phil says:

    I think Witten gave a significant portion of his to J Street, if I remember correctly.

  20. Deane Yang says:

    Peter et al, I think the Milner Prizes *do* benefit mathematics and mathematicians but in a very different way than what Simons does and in a similar way to the Nobel Prizes.

    The Milner Prize, like the Nobel Prizes, does little directly to benefit scientific research. Both are given to prominent established scientists unconditionally, often after their best work has already been done. In that sense they are both relatively useless, and that’s the focus of much criticism.

    But for me the huge value they add is the attention it attracts to the great things done by mathematicians and scientists. Most media attention is devoted to the most “sexy” advances, which usually sound better than they are and draw attention to people who don’t necessarily deserve it. “Cold fusion” is the one that comes immediately to my mind. Although we can all criticize the choices made by the prize committees, there is no question in my mind that these prizes draw attention to at least some of the best in their respective fields and their accomplishments.

    I know you’re frustrated by the Milner Prize being awarded to string theorists, but no matter what we think of the theory itself, there’s no question that these are, for better or worse, the best and brightest in physics today.

  21. Jesper says:

    @ Deane Yang

    “there’s no question that these are, for better or worse, the best and brightest in physics today.”

    By what measure? If they all work on the wrong theory (which, of course, remains to be determined), then I don’t think they deserve this distinction. Until we know what is up and what is down I certainly think there is a question.

  22. Peter Woit says:

    CUPhil,
    While Witten was quoted as saying he would donate some money to JStreet, I’m not sure about how “significant” this is. He got the prize in mid 2012, in the JStreet 2012 report he’s listed as a $10,000 donor, but not a $25,000 donor. If he did give the whole $3 million to JStreet, he would quite significantly change the organization, roughly tripling its assets.

  23. Peter Woit says:

    Deane,
    At this point I don’t think we have any way of knowing one way or another how the Facebook prize (I think I’ll refer to it that way because that’s where most of the money is coming from) will affect mathematics. It’s quite possible that even Milner and Zuckerberg haven’t figured out how they are going to make these awards.

    Based on the history so far though, I think there is plenty of good reason for the math community to be worried. In both the physics and life sciences cases, the awards are targeted at a narrow part of the subject, one that already gets the most attention. Mathematicians may wake up one morning a few months from now to find that some narrow, already well-funded and hyped sub-field of mathematics has been identified as the one that’s relevant to what really matters (“genetic engineering, quantum computing or Artificial Intelligence”, according to Milner), and from that day forward, that’s going to be the sub-field that gets attention and resources. Yes some mathematicians will become wealthy, maybe even celebrities, and get to hang out with Kevin Spacey, Conan O’Brien, etc. but will this really have a positive effect on mathematics?

    Part of my reason for skepticism about whether bringing celebrity culture into science or mathematics is a good idea is based on seeing what it has done in theoretical physics, where, personally I think it has had a strongly negative effect. This has partly to do with independent problems of the subject, but I just don’t see much evidence of the supposedly positive things happening. One standard argument is that this encourages young people to go into STEM careers, but I just don’t believe that too few people interested in such careers is the problem. Rather the problem is more people than jobs of this kind, and celebrity culture may just change the mix of reasons why people go into these fields. Will we really be better off if fewer people become mathematicians because they deeply love mathematics and more do it because they want to meet Conan O’Brien?

  24. Peter Woit says:

    Deane and Jesper,

    I’d change Deane’s “the best and brightest” to “some of the best and brightest”. Again, Milner’s prize is aimed at a narrow slice of theoretical physics. Witten is definitely about “the best and brightest” around by most measures. On the whole though, the rest of the Milner prize winners, while talented and accomplished, are not significantly more so than many others in the field. As an example, consider the quote I posted here recently from Milner prize winner Arkani-Hamed about Bern, Dixon, Kosower, where he describes them as much more talented than himself. One might want to discount that as false modesty, but I do believe they’re equally talented, accomplished and hard-working. Unlike Arkani-Hamed, they chose to work on less popular topics, and not to hype the significance of their work. They may of course in the future get on the Milner prize list, especially since Arkani-Hamed has been on a hype campaign for a few years now for their subfield.

    An interesting example is this year’s winners, Green and Schwarz. Back in the late seventies/early eighties, they were very admirably working on a quite unpopular topic (superstrings). Schwarz back in 1984 was a 43 year old research associate, without a permanent job (or even a tenure-track one). Post-1984 (Green-Schwarz anomaly cancellation and the ensuing “First Superstring Revolution) he and Green became highly-rewarded celebrities of the field. From the vantage point of 30 years later, it now is clear that the great hopes of 1984 were misguided, this is an idea about unification that hasn’t worked (and likely never will). So, yes, they’re good theorists who 30-40 years ago did good work on an unpopular idea, one that turned out to be misguided once it became popular and much better understood. Other than the fact that their ideas ended up getting overhyped, there’s nothing else to distinguish them from a fairly large group of theorists active during the late seventies and eighties who worked on various ideas which either never worked out, or never got enough attention for anyone to know whether they might work out.

  25. Bernhard says:

    “Among the physicists, most of the experimentalists seem to have publicly announced they are giving the money away”

    The experimentalists might have publicly announced giving the money away, but as far as I know, so far only two out of seven (Virdee and Incandela) actually did what they said.

  26. Bob Jones says:

    “If they all work on the wrong theory (which, of course, remains to be determined), then I don’t think they deserve this distinction. Until we know what is up and what is down I certainly think there is a question.”

    You act as if we’re all awaiting the results of some big experiment that will tell us whether these theories have any value. What you don’t seem to understand is that these ideas are already known to be important. The ideas that these scientists are working on are all very coherent physical ideas which have taught us a lot about how nature works. They have remarkably rich mathematical structure and, in some cases, strong support from experiment. There’s really no question that these are the right ideas to be looking at, and every one of these scientists is certainly among the best and brightest in the world.

  27. Peter Woit says:

    Bob Jones,
    “There’s really no question that these are the right ideas to be looking at”
    You’re doing a good job of illustrating the what’s wrong with the Milner prize for physics, but, another round of string theory rules/string theory sucks is both off topic and a complete waste of time. Enough on both sides, will delete any more.

  28. Bob Jones says:

    Peter,

    I thought you made a very good point in your earlier post when you said that the amplitudes people deserve more recognition. My reference to the “right ideas” was not meant to exclude this sort of work, which is exactly the sort of mainstream research that might one day be recognized with a Milner prize.

  29. martibal says:

    Peter,

    maybe a thing that may “save” mathematics for being corrupted by prices is that, at the end, one needs a proof. One can have millions of dollars, hang out with K. Spacey, at the end what will convince the community is your ability to prove theorem. Hyping has no real meaning in maths, unlike what may happen in physics. Nobody can claim that “his approach to Riemann hypothesis is the only worth pursuing”, like B. Jones roughly said about string theory. Either you prove it (and this does not mean that your proof is the best one can imagine), or you do not prove it. People like Perelman or Wiles are good examples of “anti-hype” mathematicians, I would say :-)

  30. martibal says:

    Schwarz back in 1984 was a 43 year old research associate, without a permanent job (or even a tenure-track one).

    The best piece of news I have read for long time. So there is still some hope :-)

  31. Jon Tyson says:

    All the people upset about how the billionaires give away their money should get their own philanthropic organization. Public complaints, some of which will certainly get back to the donors, can only be described as obnoxious.

  32. Marcel van Velzen says:

    It must feel really good to get a fundamental physics prize from a “failed physicist”.

  33. Anonyrat says:

    Twenty years ago, I heard a talk by Bern. I thought Bern was on the right track, and today if I was a physicist I would want to be someone like him, who has done more to elucidate the world we actually live in, not the world we might live in, than some big name physicists.

  34. Peter Woit says:

    Jon Tyson,
    Billionaires can do what they want with the billions (within the law), but non-billionaires, who can’t do the same thing, have every right to obnoxiously criticize. That this criticism of their plans might get back to them doesn’t seem to me like a problem.

  35. Jay says:

    Congrats to the winners.

    Peter, I understand some your concerns (physics almost equated with research on string theory, biology almost equated with research on cancer), but I still don’t understand how negative is your view about these prices.

    Or, more precisely, I don’t understand how your rant should not apply to the prices that were setted by another nouveau riche, M Nobel. The main difference I can see is the Nobel price is in practice restricted to the oldest of our peers (but as you know we can’t blame Nobel -it’s clearly against its will), whereas Milner’s prices are given to active researchers, who are moreover free to do whatever they want with the cash. This is a freedom we hardly see anywhere else.

    All in all, your main concern seems that it may drive students toward the wrong directions, even when these directions have clearly failed. Seriously? Were you yourself influenced by the Nobel price when you were to choose your carreer path? Do you know anyone in this case?

  36. Peter Woit says:

    Jay,
    At least as far as the physics Milner prizes go I don’t see much difference in age distribution with the Nobel. The last few winners (Polyakov, Green, Schwarz) are all around retirement age. It seems that Milner in some sense wants to compete with the Nobel, awarding Nobel-type prestige to those ineligible because their ideas cannot be experimentally tested (or have been tested and failed).

    About the proposed math prize, it’s unknown how it will work, but I just don’t see anything positive for math research coming out of it, and serious potential for negative effects.

    Yes, the Nobel prize did affect me, and I think it affects most people’s view of a scientific field. Not by making me want to be a physicist so that I could get a prize, but by identifying certain people and their ideas as the most distinguished and most worth paying attention to. When one is trying to understand a subject, one has to make decisions about what to pay attention to, and the Nobel prize is a marker identifying a scientific consensus about the best work and most important ideas. The Milner prize is intended to play that role, indicating that string theory and other ideas it rewards are the best and most important ideas about fundamental physics. Whatever Milner and Zuckerberg decide is the most important part of mathematics will be destined for the same treatment.

  37. jonah says:

    It might be more of an applied math prize rewarding stuff out of scope for a Fields Medal or Abel prize. Statistics, signal processing, data mining… That would be welcome IMHO, there are several SIAM prizes already but something with more public visibility isn’t a bad idea on paper. Let’s see how this enfolds…

  38. Bob Jones says:

    “awarding Nobel-type prestige to those ineligible because their ideas cannot be experimentally tested”

    Do you really think it’s fair to say that someone like Kontsevich is doing untestable work? Sure, his ideas will never be tested in an experiment, but that doesn’t make them any less important. These are formal ideas that aren’t even subject to testing. When you use this kind of language, you’re just misleading the public and stigmatizing some of the world’s top scholars.

  39. Peter Woit says:

    Bob Jones,
    Kontsevich is kind of a special case, the only mathematician to get a Milner prize. Yes, the test of good mathematics is not experimental testability.

    I’ll stand by the statement you quote, it’s accurate and not misleading in the least (unlike the vast hype campaign of the past 30 years that has now achieved huge success by getting a billionaire to provide $3 million awards for failed ideas like Green-Schwarz’s work on string theory unification).

  40. Jay says:

    >Yes, the Nobel prize did affect me, and I think it affects most people’s view of a scientific field.

    Well, let’s agree we don’t have the same perception of what affect most scientists. But realistically, what kind of decision did you take that was influenced by this? If this is not too personal, I’m really curious!

  41. Bob Jones says:

    Okay, so you agree with me about Kontsevich. How about Maldacena? Or Witten? Or Seiberg? Does it really make sense to say that they’re doing untestable work?

  42. Bob Jones says:

    In fact, I’m pretty sure my comments apply to everyone who’s won this prize… Can you point to a single person whose work is untestable but not formal?

  43. Peter Woit says:

    Jay,
    All I mean is that when I was first learning about quantum mechanics and particle theory, and thus first learning names like Heisenberg, Dirac, Feynman, Gell-Mann, the fact that these were Nobel Prize winners did make an impression. This made me want to learn more about them and their work, so was one of many factors determined what book I read and what subjects I tried to learn more about. It’s not that they had won a million dollars, but that the physics community had identified them as the individuals who had made the most important advances.
    I think this is pretty common. Popular science articles often identify people as Nobel Prize winners I think exactly for this reason: it’s a way of saying “this person is not just anybody, but someone who the scientific community has identified as responsible for one of the most important advances in the subject”.

  44. Peter Woit says:

    Bob Jones,

    Characterizing the work of these people as “untestable”, that that’s why they get a Milner prize, not a Nobel, is accurate. If it’s math, that’s not a bad thing, it’s not supposed to be testable, and they’re not supposed to get Nobel prizes. If it’s supposed to be physics, it can be a bad thing and is, intentionally, a serious criticism of their work. I’m not going to review the long list of things all the Milner prize winners have worked on, and what significance they have. But I think the characterization of “untestable” is actually too kind in many cases. Arkani-Hamed’s work on extra dimensions and SUSY has been experimentally tested, and is just wrong. He’s a case of a $3 million award for not just untestable, but wrong ideas. The latest award (Green-Schwarz) is another example: string theory unification is now clearly not just an experimentally untestable idea with current technology, but one that predicts nothing, so is both vacuous and wrong as an idea about science.

  45. Bob Jones says:

    Green and Schwarz demonstrated that superstring theories have certain formal properties. These theories describe strings in ten-dimensional spacetime, so they have nothing to do with the real world a priori. In order to talk about testing these theories experimentally, you first have to specify a particular phenomenological model. Otherwise you might as well be complaining that mathematics is untestable…

  46. Igor says:

    I think the point of such prize is to have more researchers with rock star status. Terence Tao is such example in math.
    Prize money could be used to promote breakthrough that has been achieved.

  47. gs says:

    IMHO first-class work should also be recognized when it invalidates a widely held theory, even if a correct replacement for the theory is not immediately at hand. The Michelson-Morley experiment was recognized via the Nobel Prize; maybe there should be a major award for such contributions. I’m thinking not only of experiments, but e.g. of the claim that 10^lots string-theory parametrizations are compatible with currently foreseeable experiments. In mathematics, counterexamples could be recognized.

    Roughly speaking, if demonstrating A would win something like the Nobel or the Fields, then demonstrating not-A should qualify for the proposed award(s). Such prizes perhaps should not be awarded on a regular schedule.

    It would be hard to persuade people of means to fund such an award. If a wealthy short seller wants to perpetuate their name. that might be a possibility.

  48. Muri Yilner says:

    And then more “Perelmans” would continue to decline awards…

  49. Peter Shor says:

    @gs: there are lots and lots of experiments looking for stuff that would probably be given the Nobel if they found it. There’s LIGO looking for gravity waves, many experiments looking for dark matter, SETI looking for alien civilizations, experiments looking for an electron dipole moment, cold fusion, …We can’t give all of them prizes.

  50. gs says:

    Peter Shor: Without having thought through the criteria for a “Naked Emperor Prize”, I suspect that, vis–à–vis the “regular” prizes, deserving candidates would be relatively sparse.