John Baez is encouraging people to join in a campaign to “save New Scientist” from itself, i.e. to get them to stop publishing so much scientific nonsense. This seems to me like a worthwhile goal; maybe if they stop writing articles about crackpots and their “electromagnetic drives”, they’ll also stop promoting bogus over-hyped claims from prominent theorists about cosmology, string theory, etc….
Shing-Tung Yau is fighting back against the New Yorker article “Manifold Destiny”, which was very critical of him, essentially claiming he was trying to steal credit for the proof of the Poincare Conjecture from Perelman. He has hired a lawyer and set-up a web-site. The web-site includes a long letter from his lawyer to the New Yorker, making his case that the article has many inaccuracies. There will be a webcast tomorrow at noon giving his side of this story. Many other blogs and newspapers are discussing this, see here, here, here, here, and here. Unfortunately for Yau, he has strong support from Lubos Motl, who seems a tad obsessed, ranting about how the quality of the New Yorker article:
resembled the style and ethical standards of many jerks in the blogosphere, including a colleague of Sylvia Nasar at Columbia University.
[Note: this has been edited by Lubos, now I’m not a “jerk”, but instead a “despicable writer”]
People who want to engage in bashing of Yau or of his opponents are warned that they should do it elsewhere. Only comment on this here if you have something to say that is substantive and respectful of all parties involved.
Besides Yau’s webcast, tomorrow you can also listen to me on the SETI Radio Network program, broadcast on Discovery Channel Radio. This will also be on their web-site, more info here.
The Harvard Crimson has an article about Nima Arkani-Hamed, who evidently made Popular Science’s “Brilliant 10” list for
his research on the idea that our universe may be only one of many “multiverses” and that additional dimensions may exist.
(many “multiverses”???) Arkani Hamed promotes the anthropic landscape and split supersymmetry as a test for it:
He recently proposed a model for new physics, called split supersymmetry—which theorizes that half of all particles in the universe have partner particles. He said that if the results of the LHC experiment reveal split supersymmetry, “it would be a tremendous push in the direction of a multiverse.”
“Right now a lot of people are on the fence,” about the theory of a multiverse, Arkani-Hamed said. “I think if the LHC sees split super symmetry it’s over.”
Also on the multiverse front, Gibbons and Turok have a new paper out on The Measure Problem in Cosmology. They claim to have a way of determining a measure on the “multiverse”. Only problem is that with their measure, the probability of having inflation work out the way it is supposed to is about e-180.
Update: Another radio appearance today, on the program This Week in Science.
Update: To view today’s webcast, go to www.premierewebcast.com, get your software working, and enter room 150144. I’ll be skipping this myself, partly because I’ll be in a faculty meeting.
Update: If you want to read a lot of incredibly ill-informed and worthless comments on the Yau story, there’s always Slashdot.
«John Baez is encouraging people to join in a campaign to ?save New Scientist? from itself, i.e. to get them to stop publishing so much scientific nonsense.»
Last time I read New scientist was arround 1994. Back then I was still in high-school and even so I recognized it mostly (not all) as vapid at best, deceitful at worst.
Apparently it has gotten worse.
«The writer of this article, Justin Mullins, seems aware that conservation of momentum is violated, but then churns out a lot of meaningless double-talk about ?reference frames? which he seems to think demonstrates that relativity somehow comes to the rescue:»
New Scientist is too far gone to save. If I were to get a paper cut from an issue, I would immediately seek a tetanus shot.
What worries me more is the fate of Scientific American. Scientific American inspired generations of people to become scientists and engineers. Though it is still miles above New Scientist, its quality has significantly declined.
It seems pointless for people to take sides in the Yau vs. Perelman
fight. With so much attention focused on the debate, the truth will
win out, no matter who champions either side. What a silly waste of time. The people who will (and should) decide the issue is the mathematical establishment. The papers are there, with dated submissions, in black and white – so where is the debate?
The argument does not seem to even be a matter of intellectual courage, since neither side needs defenders from the sidelines. It is
courageous to take an unpopular position out of conviction, not to argue who deserves more credit.
The campaign to save new scientist from itself is much like your campaign to save science from itself.
As far as string theorists go: Just give them enough string and they will hang themselves.
I don’t think the campaign to save New Scientist will go anywhere. Reed Elsevier is surely not going to change their ways unless profits fall, which is not likely to happen.
On Yau, it’s just sad to see this man, to whom math and physics are so indebted, embroiled in a he said, she said scandal at this point in his life.
New Scientist’s success in popularizing physics in the UK is demonstrated by hard, factual statistics:
“Physics has declined in popularity among pupils at school and students at university, research suggests.
“A-level entries have fallen from 55,728 in 1982 to 28,119 in 2005, according to researchers at Buckingham University.” – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4782969.stm
Cause for real celebration by New Scientist! I wrote an opinion leader in Electronics World saying that stringy hype is destroying British physics years ago, but the only responses were from moronic crackpots who claimed the decline in interest in physics was due to TV or computers or anything but stringy stuff. Nobody cares.
New Scientist is published by Reed Elsevier?! In that case, I don’t particularly care what happens to it.
Just to clarify one thing: The so-called “Yau vs. Perelman fight” does not exist at all. Yau, in his attorney’s letter, calls it a “fictitious battle.” Cao and Hamilton also testified publicly that there was never a controversy surrounding questions of credit, etc. (As it turned out, the 50-25-30% quote was made up by a third-world reporter!) The only people who decided to make it a problem were the irresponsible authors/”fact-checkers” of that NYer article. As we now know, that piece apparently contains a lot of fiction.
There is a so-called “Tian-Yau affair,” however, but it is a different matter entirely and should best be left to the two parties involved to sort out.
I read the various commentaries that followed The New York article, and I’m shocked by how Nasar seems to have enticed then misinterpreted every single academic that she interviewed.
I still have to read one academic that was quoted in her article come out and say “Hell, yeah, that’s my opinion. What will you do, Yau? Not invite me to your birthday party?”
Regarding Gibbons and Turok: Lubos had a posting about this paper which reveals something about his way of thinking. Basically he thought that they were criticizing inflation, which is The Establishment. He even went so far as to say that the GT paper should not be published, and should not even have been posted on the arxiv, because it criticizes an Established Theory.
He doesn’t like *any* criticism of The Establishment, and that is the sole reason for his support of Yau. See? It all hangs together. Sort of.
Regarding Yau: To many people, I think the most shocking thing in the original Nasar article was the allegation about how he rammed through the paper in the Asian JM. I note that this crucial episode is not mentioned in the long letter. Why? I think we all know the answer, and we all know what it implies.
Perhaps I mischaracterized the matter as a fight. Yau’s talk at the meeting in China, however, certainly seemed like a shot across the bow. Usually when a breakthrough occurs, attention should be (and usually is) focused on the research articles where the breakthrough happened. I don’t work in the field, but the breakthrough in this case seems to be Perelman’s, from what I can tell.
Incidently, I have not read the New Yorker article yet, but now I am very curious to know why some people are very upset about it.
Oops, I meant werdna, not MathPhys. Please excuse me.
Slightly off topic– but I was curious what you meant by the following– “(As it turned out, the 50-25-30% quote was made up by a third-world reporter!)”
Why is the adjective “third world” important?
I think that if people have an objection to anything Yau might have said or done, they should personally write him at his Harvard address using their real identity and give the professor a chance to reply to it.
It pains me to see such a hardworking and accomplished mathematician who’s contributed so much to the field to be dragged through the mud by an outsider like Nasar. He does not deserve it. And neither did those people who have been deliberately misquoted in the article. The judging of all relevant works, including who contributed how much to what part of the PC, should be left entirely to the mathematical community. And this community likes to take its time to rigorously go through everything to ensure correctness and fairness. This is something that certain writers/researchers/journalists could learn from.
The episode in Nasar’s article regarding the publication of Cao and Zhu’s paper is not mentioned in Yau’s lawyers’ letters because it has nothing, and I repeat nothing, to do with this entire sad story.
As werdna said earlier, the Yau-Tian conflict has nothing to do anything else.
First time listen to your radio interview (This Week in Science). The messages are certainly there, but if you can make the sentence shorter and not stop in the middle of it, it will sound much better. Still, very well done.
In the letter of Yau’s lawyer, it mentioned the relationship between Phillip Griffiths and Nasar. What is the relationship? Wife, girlfriend or mistress?
You’ve asked a fair question. I added that adjective to suggest that the authors should have known better than to rely solely on a source of information that might not be completely reliable, given that journalism standards were generally considered lower in developing countries. I certainly did not mean to suggest that reporters there were less honest than those in wealthier nations. There are many factors (such as educational level, likelihood of being sued, job pressures, etc.) that may cause or force some reporters to be sloppier than others. But again, that is the general impression.
Re: This Week in Science podcast.
Helpful note for those wanting to listen to Peter and not the less hot broadcaster’s notes about his Hawaii vacation: start the audio exactly 30 minutes after the beginning.
“I think if the LHC sees split super symmetry it’s over.”
If the LHC sees sparticles, it would prove nonsplit SUSY, wouldn’t it? What is the signature for split SUSY, and how can it be distinguished from no SUSY?
1) I personally think that this is a free country and people can say whatever they want without providing their names, but you seem to follow a different standard (and I respect that). So if you wish to critisize Nasar you should write to her using your real identity, so she has a chance to respond to the accusations.
2) I welcome Yau’s letter (the more information the better), and I am especially glad the quote of credit distribution seems to be false (as it was ugly). The way I see it Yau knew the “50/25/30 quote” went arount the world like fire, and he knew it was reported by Xinhua, which is a news agency millions of people pay attention to (I am sure New Yorker has much smaller audience). So if Yau wanted to rectify the situation he could’ve posted/distribute a correction saying that “Xinhua report was incorrect, and here is what really happened”. Yau did not do that. Now some people might think that “Xinhua report” benefited Yau’s case (and it did, at least initially), and this is why he did not compain.
I found very interesting the words by Perelman in an interview after he talked with J.Ball in St. Petersburg. “It seems that Cao did not understood my arguments and he rewrote them, but everything is there”.
Now at this point is hard to say who contributed what; But a good indicator will be the Clay prize, since they will be hearing from the people who actually has been working on Perelman’s papers and I guess only one or at most two persons will receive it, being Perelman one of them of course.
I don’t believe the New Yorker’s report on Yau!
Parts of the report are hard to be proved.
About your point 2, it’s actually the case. The counsel’s letter clearly states that the misquoted deputy director Yang Lo refused the idea of share of credit. Unfortunately only the first Xinhua news goes through the world, not the second one. But those facts were available to Nasar. Nasar was even warned by Yau that there were opponents to his fight against corruptions in Chinese universities / higher education system. Those opponents have obviously their fingers in the press.
BTW, we all support free speach and free press, but not free slandering. Every one is responsible for his / her own words. I don’t see werdna using any other standard here.
The counsel’s letter really shed light on this subject. It’s clear, Nasar’s article damaged the math community severely. Hints point to conspiracy that those who have an interest to against Yau are at work. Nasar may become involved knowingly or unknowingly.
Yau should be doing the webcast in approximately 11 minutes.
Unfortunately I cannot read Chinese, but I did run the Yang Lo’s intervew through the web translator and could not see any clear claim that the previous news was incorrect. In fact, the whole Yang Lo’s interview was a celebration of “Cao-Zhu success”, and it implied, as far as I could see, that their effort was no less significant that Hamilton’s or Perelman’s (which is false in my professional opinion).
I agree that “The counsel’s letter really shed light on this subject”, but I see no damage to the math community. On the contrary I think we shall all gain at the end because of this extra publicity.
There are anonymous commentators who post responsibly, and then there are those who hide behind a cover to hurl personal attacks and baseless accusations at others. The postings of the latter usually get deleted – at least in this forum anyway. As has been pointed out, free speech does not mean free slandering.
Personally, I would not write to Nasar myself. Those who have been misquoted by her had made repeated requests to correct inaccuracies and distortions in the past, but their attempts were unsuccessful. If the messages of these victims were ignored, what good would my letter to her do? Do you think she would even respond?
As for your other point, I believe MathLover has addressed it satisfactorily. Note that the June 4th Chinese news report was quickly rescinded on June 9th.
There were interesting comments signed by “Anon at
They are now partially removed?!
Lubos objected that my first post here didn’t address the individual points of the letter, so I’ll try to do a bit of that presently. This may be boring, but hey, our host asked for it.
The letter does not provide 12 pages of evidence of libel–it provides a few pages of evidence that Nasar was less-than-ideally fair, along with a whole lot of petty bitterness and innuendo. A general issue that I would mention first is that, as I indicated earlier, I think that Nasar probably got the impression by talking to a lot of people that Yau wasn’t trustworthy. Whether or not that’s a correct impression is not something that I feel competent to judge, but if she had that impression then I do not believe that Yau saying, “I told you X and you didn’t print it” or “You didn’t let me give my version of X” is actionable, because a journalist is free to judge whether or not certain statements and sources are credible.
The specific objections don’t start until page 3. We see a long list of sentences beginning with “You gave [Yau] no chance to respond to…” As I indicate above, all these can be explained by Nasar growing to distrust Yau over the course of researching the article. If there is a law stating that journalists are obliged to solicit and reproduce all of their subjects’ opinions on everything they discuss in an article (even when they distrust the source in question), I’d be interested in seeing it. Nasar may be guilty of jumping to conclusions or being somewhat unfair here, but I seriously doubt that she’s guilty of libel.
Page 4 first complains about the subtitle and the picture–as I said I think the picture is rather problematic, but again it’s not clear to me that Nasar is responsible for it. There’s then a complaint about the famous 50-25-30 distribution of credit that the Chinese state media reported in early June (mysteriously, this seems to have disappeared from the online stories). Nasar and Gruber quoted from a press conference, attributing the distribution to Yang Le and giving a quote from Yau (which Yau now says was fabricated–by a Chinese reporter, not by Nasar) which seems to endorse it. Now Yau is quoting an e-mail that he sent to the fact checker to the effect that “I did not say it and people put that into my mouth.” Again, perhaps Nasar doesn’t trust Yau about this–and perhaps for that matter that fact-checker looked into this and found that he did in fact say such a thing at the press conference; there surely were witnesses that could have been consulted.
Lubos, you presumably remember very well the 50-25-30 distribution of credit, since you wrote a blog post featuring it. It seemed to make a very real impression on you and many other people around the world. If Yau didn’t believe in this, the time to distance himself from this was immediately afterward–but he didn’t see fit to do so at the time. (Yang a few days later apparently gave an interview–AFAIK only ever published i
AFAIK only ever published in Chinese–saying that he (Yang) wasn’t qualified to give such a distribution of credit…but Yau is someone who is qualified to do so, and I’m not aware of him retracting anything prior to his interview with Allyn Jackson in the September Notices, if you even count that.) Instead, Yau went on to give the talk at Strings ’06 which, again, trumpeted very heavily what Cao and Zhu did (and also everything that Yau did that could at all be connected to the conjecture–remember a certain blogger who explained that Yau had given “a talk about the Poincare conjecture and how he proved it!”?). Only later, when criticism of this distribution started mounting, did Yau suddenly decide that it would be prudent to move away from it. Throughout June, Yau was presenting the proof of the Poincare conjecture as a triumph of Chinese mathematics. Nasar and Gruber had every right to report on this, and to view Yau’s modest reversal on this issue as insincere.
There follows a weird reference to Nasar and Griffiths’ “relationship” and the confident declaration that the negative comments obtained from other mathematicians about Yau only resulted from Nasar poisoning their mind with nasty rumors about him. Well, I seriously doubt that every mathematician I’ve talked to who has a negative opinion of Yau has talked to Nasar and got it from her. These opinions circulate widely throughout the community, and it’s much more likely that the community passed them on to Nasar than the other way around.
Much of page 6 discusses the Cao-Zhu paper and the amount of credit it gives to Perelman. The statements are framed very carefully in order to make Yau (and Cao-Zhu) look like they’re giving as much credit to Perelman as possible and that Nasar was denying this, but it also doesn’t bother to provide any actual statements in the article that contradict anything being said here (there is a reference to a sensationalistic subtitle and to the picture–probably neither of which was Nasar’s work). These paragraphs also commit what I would say is a slight misdirection–what’s at issue in the New Yorker article is not how much credit the Cao-Zhu article gives to Perelman (indeed neither Cao nor Zhu come off at all badly in the article, I thought) but rather whether Yau’s public behavior was aimed at giving an unreasonably large amount of credit to Yau and his proteges at Perelman’s expense. Note that the Cao-Zhu article was never even publically available until July (or maybe late June in paper form), and the number of mathematicians (and laymen) who had some exposure to Yau’s actions in the press in June is much larger than the number who have looked at the text of the Cao-Zhu paper. And Yau’s actions in June (which admittedly may have been misrepresented by the Chinese press–but that’s something for him to take up with them, not the New Yorker) sure looked a lot like he was claiming credit for himself and his proteges
–the only debate anyone was having back then was whether said claim was valid; I don’t recall any of Yau’s defenders saying at the time that the claim wasn’t being made.
Starting on page 7 there’s a discussion of the Givental flap. The letter of course neglects to mention that the article says, “Liu maintains that his proof was significantly different from Givental’s,” but does complain about the fact that the article didn’t refer to specific arguments that Liu made to support this statement. I don’t know a lot about this specific dust-up, beyond the fact that at least a significant number of people believe that Yau’s behavior was inappropriate here and that the Lian-Liu-Yau paper claimed more credit than was fair. When Givental came up for tenure at Berkeley, the department of course consulted experts in the field about this, and you can guess what the outcome was based on where Givental is now. This was certainly natural background for the authors to give, and while again I can understand if Yau thinks the description of the Givental conflict was unfair to him I can’t imagine what could be considered libellous about it.
Then we get into the issue of the authors’ statement that although Yau had been publishing prolifically it has been a decade since his last major result. Yau may not like this statement, but it’s so subjective (what’s a “major result”?) that once again I just don’t see anything that deserves a libel suit here. I’m not an expert on Yau’s work, but I’m sure not aware of anything that he’s done in the last decade that has been anywhere near as influential in mathematics as a lot of the work he did in the period from, say, 1975-86. Or as influential as the proof of the Poincare conjecture. Of course Schoen and Smoller (in the former case talking about one of his pet sub-subjects (special Lagrangians) and in the latter case talking about his own joint work) are entitled to their own opinions here. Quoting Stroock (a famous probabilist) of all people about string theory doesn’t exactly do wonders for the credibility of the argument being made here.
OK, if Mike Anderson’s account is true then the magazine should probably run a correction removing those words from his mouth. The letter then mentions Stroock’s (or rather “Strook’s”) complaint that he was taken out of context. That may be true, but I strongly suspect that every magazine and newspaper in the country would go bankrupt if they were sued every time they took someone’s statements out of context. Like so many other things in the letter, this is just filler that is not remotely cause for a lawsuit. And it’s also worth mentioning that Anderson’s and Stroock’s widely-circulated letters that are critical of the article’s treatment of Yau appear were directed to Yau, seemingly at his insistence. Stroock did write a letter to the editor of the New Yorker, the published version of which had a quite different focus.
The first section of page 10 raises a subjective matter of interpretation–again, this is filler.
The implication of the start of the next section is that it’s libellous and/or defamatory to point out (truthfully) that Yau has never spent more than a few months at a time in mainland China. Hmm…
“Yau’s efforts to combat institutional corruption at the highest levels of academia in China,” referred to many times in the letter, have nothing to do with the question of whether the article in question is libellous.
Presumably if this whole thing goes anywhere (it probably won’t), we’ll find out whether the mysterious Chern relative really exists, and whether the claims about Yau trying to move the ICM to Hong Kong (which the article acknowledged that Yau denied–of course the letter doesn’t mention this) have any basis in fact. I’m getting tired of going through this page by page by now, but I think I’ve addressed most of the main points. It may be 12 pages, but there’s really not much there beyond lawyerly intimidation that I suspect the magazine will easily see through.
Now that I think about it, Yau’s main goal here may not be to extract anything in particular from the New Yorker, but rather to get his version of the story out in wide circulation. And I guess he’s succeeded in that.
Anyone who frequents Lubos’s blog should be aware that he has a policy of deleting comments he disagrees with, especially if they are substantive and present facts that he doesn’t like.
You wrote: “There are anonymous commentators who post responsibly, and then there are those who hide behind a cover to hurl personal attacks and baseless accusations at others… As has been pointed out, free speech does not mean free slandering”.
I fully support polite intellegent discussions. However, it seems to me that you and MathLover confuse “slander” with the “difference in opinions”. One is yet to PROVE in court that Nasar’s article is slander, and I think, this might be difficult. I assure you there are many very respectable mathematicians that feel the article is basically correct. You may well disagree, just please do not call this slander. And there is nothing wrong in anonymous postings as long as they are polite and responsible.
You wrote: “Personally, I would not write to Nasar myself. Those who have been misquoted by her had made repeated requests to correct inaccuracies and distortions in the past, but their attempts were unsuccessful. If the messages of these victims were ignored, what good would my letter to her do? Do you think she would even respond?”
She would not, and this was exactly my point. It makes no sense for a Prof. Nobody to openly critisize to Prof. Yau, who would not even respond. However, Prof. Nobody can still express her opinions anonymously in a forum, as long as she is polite.
You wrote: “As for your other point, I believe MathLover has addressed it satisfactorily. Note that the June 4th Chinese news report was quickly rescinded on June 9th.”
So I figure you can read Chinese. I truly envy you. Could you kindly translate for me the exact quote where the 1st news report was rescinded?
The slandering I was talking about were the “personal attacks and baseless accusations” that have been deleted in this blog by Peter. Please read my entire paragraph again. I have always been supportive of polite, fair, and meaningful discussions here and elsewhere, and have never tried to silence anyone for a difference of opinions.
I did not say Nasar’s article was “slander.” Please read my earlier post above. I said it “apparently contains a lot of fiction.” This is based obviously on the new information provided by the attorney’s letter and the letters written by the academics who were (mis)quoted in the article.
You said that “I assure you there are many very respectable mathematicians that feel the article is basically correct.” If that is the truth, then let the truth be told honestly. Why does a writer need to use deceptive interviewing methods and questionable editing styles to twist people’s words? Wouldn’t it be easier to just tell it like it is?
Finally, the June 4th and June 9th dates were taken from the attorney’s letter. It is written in English, not Chinese.
Curious Bystander writes,
“A general issue that I would mention first is that, as I indicated earlier, I think that Nasar probably got the impression by talking to a lot of people that Yau wasn’t trustworthy.”
You think? Nasar probably? So, you just went on writing everything based on your imagination. I thought that we are here to talk about irresponsible writers.
MathPhys said: “The episode in Nasar’s article regarding the publication of Cao and Zhu’s paper is not mentioned in Yau’s lawyers’ letters because it has nothing, and I repeat nothing, to do with this entire sad story.”
I thought what the authors were trying to get across was that Yau was trying to get more than his fair share of credit, and ramming the Cao-Zhu paper through the journal and bypassing the usual procedures was an example of him doing that. How then does it have “nothing” to do with this story?
“Finally, the June 4th and June 9th dates were taken from the attorney’s letter. It is written in English, not Chinese.”
Oh, so you simply believe what is stated in the attorney’s letter. I have no more questions. If you ever wish to research the original sources try the direct links in Chinese listed at
I wish someone could translate all this for me.
Jeremy writes: “You think? Nasar probably? So, you just went on writing everything based on your imagination. I thought that we are here to talk about irresponsible writers.”
1. Though I agree with most comments made by “Anon” in my post I do not want to attribute the credit for his thoughtful remarks on the subject to myself.
2. We are not talking about imagination but of opinion. This opinion agrees we the opinion of a lot of machinations in this and other blogs. I, like “Anon” also believe that “These opinions circulate widely throughout the community, and it’s much more likely that the community passed them on to Nasar than the other way around.”
3. The previous posting was not about responsible or irresponsible writes (though I believe that Sylvia Nasar is a responsible one) but of the grounds for a legal dispute.
4. Talking of responsibility, why does nobody complain about completely irresponsible remark in Dr Yau’s letter on “relationship between Ms. Nasar and Mr. Griffiths”?
“I thought what the authors were trying to get across was that Yau was trying to get more than his fair share of credit, and ramming the Cao-Zhu paper through the journal and bypassing the usual procedures was an example of him doing that. How then does it have “nothing” to do with this story?”
How did Yau get his share of credit? It is Cao-Zhu’s paper, right? If there is redit to get, it would be credit for Cao-Zhu. Do people really give credit to someone who talks about a problem being solved rather than give it to the ones who wrote about how to solve it?
How fast a journal wants to publish a paper is solely decided by the editor of the journal. In this case, it was Yau. If everything in the Cao-Zhu paper is correct, he can take credit for publishing a good paper. But if something turned out to be wrong in the paper, he will be humiliated publicly at least in the mathematics community. So, it is a fair game and there is nothing wrong with it.
I think you’ve got it slightly wrong, at least according to my reading of the article, it implies that Yau was motivated by trying to get as much credit for China as possible.
They are implying that he wanted credit but what they are implying that he wanted credit for was as a leader in promoting chinese mathematics not for his intellectual efforts.
New Scientist has always been pretty flaky, but whatever happened to the other science magazines on a similar level? There seem to be a lot fewer of them now than there were ten years ago, and they all seem to be increasing their flakiness content. Maybe it’s just that I’m increasing my standards, though. Other opinions?
I think people that are fans of science magazines like for science articles to be inspirational in a sort of pseudo-religious way. The commercial entities that sell these magazines are aware of it and twist the content to suit.
In other words, the job of New Scientist is to make money and I’m sure it does what it is made to do.
From the business perspective, that is what a business is supposed to do — make money. Anything else is superfluous and naive.
Oops, how stupid of me, I meant mathematicians, not machinations.
You wrote: “How did Yau get his share of credit? It is Cao-Zhu’s paper, right?”
In addition to what TheGraduate said, you should know that Cao is Yau’s former student, and any success of a former student is (quite naturally) considered a success of his advisor. (Just imagine that you have had several students who are now tenured at top-5 universities?)
1. The first responsibility of any publication is to its readers. It has no responsibility to make anyone “look good” or to ensure that everyone written about is perfectly happy with how they are portrayed. Their responsibility is to inform their readers about interesting things that they would have otherwise been ignorant of. I think Nasar and Gruber did this admirably doing a lot of original reporting and conducting dozens of interviews. This is the very definition of a good magazine article.
2. Obviously S.-T. Yau has a right to present his own view. Indeed this is very much a good thing, so people can get both sides. But I do question the logic of a law suit. Imagine if GW Bush sued every news paper that portrayed him as an idiot or Bill Clinton sued every one who portrayed him as a liar? The fact that people say something bad about you does not mean it would be wise to sue them.
Here is a wikipedia article on libel. Based on the information presented there, I don’t think S.-T. Yau has a chance unless he shows that the New Yorker presented as fact something that they had no reasonable basis to believe was true. Since the most damaging parts are public statements of Yau and quotes from fellow mathematicians, I don’t see how he can win this.
3. Lastly, here is the response of The New Yorker:
Basically, after reading this latest law suit, I am even more inclined to believe truth of The New Yorker article. We should be wary of covering up for famous people. That will only tell them that they can get away with anything and lead to more and more outrageous behavior.
Where is that quote of the New Yorker’s response from?
This whole Perelman-Yau thing kind of reminds me of the Einstein-Hilbert episode where Hilbert was going around discussing Einstein’s ideas for GR and not attributing them to Einstein; this was right before his 1916 paper came out, if I remember correctly. Einstein had to write him a nasty letter to ask him to stop presenting Einstein’s work as his own. Hilbert nearly beat Einstein to his Lagrangian for GR, or maybe he did find it a little before Einstein. There was also something where Einstein was publishing some work similar to what Cartan had done so Cartan wrote him and they ended up being great friends and collaborating on their teleparallel theory. Anyway, that is my recollection from reading about these things 20+ years ago, so I may be a little off.
In answer to Peter Shor’s question, I had the same impression about 20 years ago when I stopped reading Scientific American. I can’t resist generalizing the observation to other periodicals, such as the New York Times, which I also no longer read. Given my advanced state of mental decay, I find it hard to believe my own standards are rising; I’m afraid the mainstream publishing business is going to hell in a handbasket. And speaking of the New Yorker, I still read it, but I think it, too, has declined in recent years (think of what A. J. Liebling would have written about Yau and Perelman).
Peter Shor writes:
I don’t think New Scientist was always so flaky. In the 70’s it used to be pretty good, except perhaps with a left-wing bias (which some people like more than others).
Scientific American took a big slide downhill a while back. When I complained about it in This Week’s Finds, one of the editors asked me to write some articles for them. I never got around to it. I didn’t think it was a deliberate trick to prevent me from complaining further, as in “hey! how can you complain about us when you’re one of the writers?” I even sort of wanted to do it, since Martin Gardner had been one of my heroes. But I just couldn’t get up the enthusiasm to spend my expository energies in old-fashioned media where the readers have to pay and the writers don’t get much of the money. I don’t want a middleman.
And maybe I’m not the only one – maybe all the scientists busy blogging these days would once have been trying to write articles for pop science magazines! Maybe that’s part of the reason for the downhill slide?
Or is the main problem the takeover of magazines by media conglomerates, who demand a certain percent of revenue growth per year? I always thought it was that.
Or, maybe, as you suggest, we’re getting to be old crochety academics who whine about standards have dropped since the good old days when we were young. This reminds me of that New Yorker cartoon where two balding gentlemen are slouching in over-stuffed chairs in some faculty lounge, and one says:
“At least we never stooped to popularizing science!”
I don’t really know. Whatever happened to Omni, and Discover, and the much better Science News?
Does anyone even care?
I have posted a review of NEW on my blog.
While I can’t disagree with anything you say, I have to say I’m sorry you never wrote those articles for Scientific American. There is something to be said for writing for the intelligent layman. It’s certainly true that the magazine has gone downhill, but as a subscriber since approximately the time they started running the “25 years ago” column, I’m not going to give it up now.
You wrote: “How did Yau get his share of credit? It is Cao-Zhu’s paper, right?”
In addition to what TheGraduate said, you should know that Cao is Yau’s former student, and any success of a former student is (quite naturally) considered a success of his advisor. (Just imagine that you have had several students who are now tenured at top-5 universities?)
Interesting. But do we all get jubilant about the achievements of our children, our students and our friends (well, forget about the friends part), no matter how small the achievements may be? Are we all proud of how they thrived in their life, in their work and in their research? Are these the most glorious feelings that any parents and teacher could ever have? Do we all have the urge to go out to tell everybody that we know about their success? And do we sometimes even exaggerate a little? Is that the natural behavior that made what we are as human? There is nothing wrong about it, isn’t?
Ultimately, whatever we say about our children and about our students does not mean too much, because their achievement and success will be judged by the society and by their peers. Likewise, Cao-Zhu’s contribution will also be judged by the mathematics community and by their peers, no matter what Yau says. And whatever Yau says, as a proud teacher, to praise his students is not wrong.
I am a Chinese but not a mathematician. I do read Chinese. I read of the 50%-25%-30% news on a Chinese News website a few months ago. The quot was attributed to S.T. Yau as I recalled. It’s clearly aimed at bolstering Chinese self-confidence on Yau’s part. I personally felt it’s a rather silly act. Yau was doing a disservice to the very Chinese people he was trying to help in my opinion. However, I do not doubt Yan’s motive. Yau is a Chinese patriot. Cantonese are among the most patriotic people in China.
About 80 years ago or so, the great Chinese writer Lu Xin wrote that the most damaging act to the Chinese people would be for teh Nobel committee to award a Nobel literature prize to a Chinese writer for the sake of being Chinese. I concurred 100%. If you read Chinese News from China today, you can feel the intense yearning from the public and academic circles alike for winning a Nobel prize for the Chinese people. Unbelievable!
By the way, this quote is interesting:
“Howard M. Georgi ’68 wrote in an e-mail that Arkani-Hamed’s work on split supersymmetry could be just as important as his research on large extra dimensions”
I have to admit that I suspect a touch of subtle Georgian humor here……..