Back now from vacation. On the global warming front, I can report that Northern Norway has gotten rather warm, Svalbard is still pretty cold.
While I was away the big mathematics news was from the ICM. As everyone expected, one of the Fields medalists was Peter Scholze. I was surprised to find a blog post of mine quoted about this in the NY Times, since normally the way this works is that journalists are told who the winners are in advance, and then contact experts in the field (which I’m definitely not one of) for quotes. Some tweets from Davide Castelvecchi at Nature about the unusual embargo rules may provide some explanation:
The whole situation was surreal from the beginning: the organizers gave reporters advance notice of the winners, but on condition that we would not contact them — even though the winners had already been told long in advance.
They also made no other sources available. In other words, we were supposed to write about these difficult concepts without talking to any experts.
Oh and I forgot to say: The email with the names of the winners had no information whatsoever on why they won – in other words, no prize citations.
I suspect one reason for the unusual rules is that the ICM people had decided to concentrate on getting stories out through Quanta magazine, which ran the results here. The stories are very well done, and Quanta magazine is great, but a more usual process involving the rest of the science journalism press would have been a good idea.
One other big piece of news from the ICM was the choice of St. Petersburg over Paris as the site for the 2022 ICM. I was sorry to hear this. Perhaps it’s just that I’d rather have an excuse to go to Paris than one to go to St. Petersburg. It does seem to me though that in these worrisome times, when offered the choice between the world’s most active opponent of liberal democracy and one of the great remaining healthy liberal democracies, the other choice than the one the IMU made would have been the better one. My understanding is that Russia offered twice as much money, and that many feel that was the deciding factor.
Update: I hadn’t realized that the problems with the IMU embargo this year were not new, they were much the same as the problems four years ago with the announcement of the 2014 prizes. See here for discussion of the 2014 story (which, when reading it, I first mistook for a discussion of 2018), and here for a discussion of 2018.
The writer of the new story suggests that “Next time the IMU offers up an embargo agreement, reporters should just refuse” which I’d also semi-jokingly suggested in a comment. Actually, given the history of this, it seems to me that journalists seriously should plan to do this next time, and that sympathetic and well-informed mathematicians should help them find out in advance who the winners are. This would allow journalists to contact experts and do proper reporting, with no reason to wait until the ICM to write their stories.
- The ICM Youtube channel still doesn’t have plenary talks from the ICM posted. Peter Scholze’s talk on Period maps in p-adic geometry is available now on a different channel. It’s an excellent overview of, not the technology of perfectoid spaces, but some of the results achieved using them.
- The reason there are relatively few comments here about the decision to have the next ICM in Russia is that I’ve deleted most of them as they come in. Many commenters don’t believe Russia is any unusual threat to liberal democracy (or, if it is, that US/European liberal democracy is anything worth saving). Most also disagree with the idea that such a threat should have any effect on what mathematicians do. I agree that in general it’s best to keep mathematics and the ICM out of politics. A question to think about though for those who know the history of the 1930s is that of whether there was some point during the rise of Fascism that one would stop thinking it was a good idea to have the ICM in a Fascist capital. We’re not yet far along the horrific path of the 1930s, but maybe that just means that all should be thinking about what can be done to keep the world from going down that path again.
Another frequent comment is “but, by your logic, the US would not be a good place to hold the next ICM!”. I fear the answer to that is that yes, Paris would be a much better choice than the US at this point.