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Mathematician Claims New Yorker Defamed Him 212

Posted by kdawson
from the smile-when-you-say-that dept.
An anonymous reader writes, "Last month the New Yorker ran the article 'Manifold Destiny' (slashdotted here), by Sylvia Nasar, author of 'A Beautiful Mind.' Now a renowned Harvard mathematics professor, Dr. Shing-Tung Yau, is claiming the article defamed him. His attorney wrote the New Yorker a letter (PDF) threatening that Yau will have 'no choice but to consider other options' if Nasar, her co-author, and the New Yorker fail to undo the damage done."
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Mathematician Claims New Yorker Defamed Him

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  • by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:04AM (#16153621)
    I thought it was the mathematics and physics guys who'd be bringing us the time machine, not the New Yorker...
  • by InterruptDescriptorT (531083) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:06AM (#16153639) Homepage
    At least the New Yorker didn't denormal [wikipedia.org] him...

  • Hey! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AltGrendel (175092) <ag-slashdot@e x i t0.us> on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:11AM (#16153687) Homepage
    Doesn't this prove the article's point?
    • Re:Hey! (Score:4, Informative)

      by Raindance (680694) * <johnsonmx@@@gmail...com> on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:19AM (#16153755) Homepage Journal
      In my mind, yes. Using these kinds of tactics is precisely what the New Yorker accused Yau of doing.
      • Re:Hey! (Score:4, Informative)

        by littlem (807099) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @12:09PM (#16154204)

        It's true that the Chinese pair did contribute something highly non-trivial in filling in the details left by Perelman, so in this sense it's not unreasonable for Yau to claim a certain amount of credit for this. However, given the past history, he looks an awful lot like someone vociferously aggrieved to have been accused of robbing a bank in New York when he was actually robbing a bank in Chicago at the time.

        Suing journalists is high-profile and attracts attention. The effect of these Chinese politics on journal publishing in differential geometry in the US, particularly for young mathematicians forced to tread on egg-shells and play off one ego against another, happens behind the scenes but is far more damaging for our subject in the long-run.

    • If the people who provided the original quotes used against Yau, now say they were misquoted and don't agree with the premise, then I think its a valid case. I think as in most things the truth lies in the middle. The title of the paper " The first complete solution to Poicare" says more than any of the quotes or anything else. Its very clear from that title that the authors are saying that Perlman didn't solve it completely. The Jounalist who wrote the New Yorker had a somewhat borring story about academia
      • by lscoughlin (71054)
        Well, it was the first complete proof, but in the title, it's the first complete proof of the "Hamilton-Perelman theory of the Ricci Flow."

        I really don't think that that is too confusing.
    • Re:Hey! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by the-empty-string (106157) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @01:19PM (#16154822)
      Doesn't this prove the article's point?
      Actually, no. He claims the authors distorted the facts, and he provides his own account of said facts as he sees them. How does this prove anything? What you're saying is no different from "I think this guy really raped that girl, because he acted too outraged when we accused him."

      I actually read the original article in the New Yorker at the time, and found it to be a fascinating look into the inner workings of science at the highest level. Having no direct knowledge of any of the people involved, my impresion of their roles in the story (and ultimately of their character), was shaped entirely by what the article authors have said. In particular, Dr. Yau did come across as a deeply flawed, manipulative individual obsessed by his place in history, which I thought was very sad indeed, given his apparently uncontested mathematical genius and his achievements formaly acknowledged by having been awarded his very own Fields Medal.

      However, after reading the letter, I am not so sure anymore. Don't forget that he who frames the discussion controls the outcome. Once this article has been out there, people already formed their perceptions. The deck is stacked against the defendant. Remember how Al Gore took credit for inventing the Internet? Oh, wait, he didn't.

      What if the thrust of the story is in fact false? The letter states rather convincingly that the interviews were conducted under false pretenses, that certain critical quotes were distorted or outright fabricated, and that important pieces of information that would have painted a different picture were simply left out. Yeah, he "looks" guilty in the original article, but why should we consider that version of the facts true, and discard the letter as "proving the point"? That's not how we arrive at the truth.

      • by strider44 (650833)
        I think you're missing the point of your parent. Yau's trying to prove he's not flawed, manipulative and obsessed with his place in history by threatening to sue a newspaper for publishing an article?

        A better tactic by Yau would just be to publish a letter without actual legal action. If he didn't get his attorney involved outside of perhaps looking over the letter to make sure nothing was wrong with it I think people would be a lot more sympathetic.
    • by greppling (601175) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @01:36PM (#16154978)
      I agree with you halfway, for example some of the dementis are so lukewarm ("Sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you with that remark.", another more or less saying "Sorry, we know both it's true but I was REALLY trying to persuade here to leave this out from the article."...) that they pretty much emphasize the point...

      However, what I find more interesting is the light it shed on how Nasar did her excellent research for this article; it's not like it is easy to get scientists speak openly about one of their most famous and influential peers. Giving them some quotes by Yau, etc. (Yau's claim that she misled them is baseless, IMO -- nobody makes a statement to a journalist about someone he has know well for 30 years just based on a single reported quote; it's just that she got them to talk openly.)

      I found it funny how Yau believed she would be captivated by being able to talk with Hawking - something many uninformed journalists would get excited about, whereas Nasar knew well that Hawking didn't have any insights relevant to her article. I just loved to read how she cleverly played along with the cliche... (I don't know why journalists, and slashdot included, still blow Hawking so much out of proportion, but that's another story...)

  • Cool (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anon-Admin (443764) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:11AM (#16153689) Homepage Journal
    This looks like a well calculated attack and response by a few mathematicians with a lawyer thrown in to check the work.

    Ill give 2:1 odds that the lawyer has checked the proofs and found that the math is wrong because no one else added in the cash coefficient. He will keep the cash for him self and may give a small percentage of the proceeds to the mathematician if the mathematician can figure it out.
  • Yau (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:12AM (#16153698)
    Read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shing-Tung_Yau [wikipedia.org] and the New Yorker piece. Yau supposledy tried to take credit for Perelmans work on the Poincare conjecture, publishing a solution after Perelman published his on arxiv, calling Perelmans 'incomplete' and saying he and his students didn't understand it.

    I'm not far enough along in my math studies (will I ever be?) to understand their papers, but if it's true Yau is pretty sleazy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Timesprout (579035)
      While I dont even begin to understand the math it looks a little more murky than blatantly just trying to steal Perelmans credit. No one seems to have found significant error in Perelmans work but also no one seems to understand completely how he actually arrived at his solution. Now I remember from my math class that if you could not show how you arrived at your answer it was treated as a guess and thrown out.

      I am not saying Perelman did not solve the conjecture but his approach to publishing his work i
      • by rossifer (581396)

        Now I remember from my math class that if you could not show how you arrived at your answer it was treated as a guess and thrown out.

        That's because you're being graded on providing the correct answer and demonstrating the process you used to reach that answer. Perelman (and other mathemeticians, including Yau) are instead judged solely on the correctness of their work.

        I am not saying Perelman did not solve the conjecture but his approach to publishing his work in a piecemeal and incomplete manner was a po

    • Re:Yau (Score:5, Informative)

      by Coryoth (254751) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:59AM (#16154117) Homepage Journal
      I'm not far enough along in my math studies (will I ever be?) to understand their papers, but if it's true Yau is pretty sleazy.

      There's a blog called the Poincare project [jtauber.com] that is seeking to build up enough math, from the ground up, to understand the proof. So far it's only just past stating the conjecture (which still takes a lot of work if you're going to cover all the technical material required to state it properly), but it's pretty god work and understandable by most anyone.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Yau supposledy tried to take credit for Perelmans work on the Poincare conjecture, publishing a solution after Perelman published his on arxiv, calling Perelmans 'incomplete' and saying he and his students didn't understand it.

      He's more or less right. Perelman's solution was, by modern standards, woefully patchy and incomplete. He didn't even try to get it published in a journal because no modern mathematical journal would accept such a "lax" work, hence he only posted on the arXiv.

      Perelman got by on geomet

      • Re:Yau (Score:5, Informative)

        by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7 @ c o rnell.edu> on Thursday September 21, 2006 @12:51PM (#16154544) Homepage
        "And so, modern mathematics, unwilling to give the Fields medal to the intuative but not pedatic Perelman, but unable to give it to the super garbled Morgan and Tian, instead had to give it to Yau. But since Yau hadn't actually added anything but formality to the proof, and the other team and only added more, they had to give the medal to Perelman as well. They would have preferred to have just given it to Morgan and Tian, so they're bitter now and blaming Yau for publishing so soon."

        I can't comment on the rest of your post, but you got at least one critical fact wrong:

        Perelman won the Fields medal, but refused to accept it. The article essentially claimed that all of this corruption and bickering was why Perelman refused the medal - He seemingly wants nothing more to do with the field of mathematics in its current state.
      • Re:Yau (Score:4, Informative)

        by zen-theorist (930637) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @02:33PM (#16155519)
        another critical mistake:
        And so, modern mathematics, unwilling to give the Fields medal to the intuative but not pedatic Perelman, but unable to give it to the super garbled Morgan and Tian, instead had to give it to Yau. But since Yau hadn't actually added anything but formality to the proof, and the other team and only added more, they had to give the medal to Perelman as well. They would have preferred to have just given it to Morgan and Tian, so they're bitter now and blaming Yau for publishing so soon.
        Yau did not receive the (2006) Fields medal for this body of work. he received the Fields medal back in 1982 for his contribution to resolving the Calabi conjecture and other related work. Calabi-Yau manifolds come up in string theory, the new hotbed of expository physics.
      • by ozbird (127571)
        He's more or less right. Perelman's solution was, by modern standards, woefully patchy and incomplete. Perelman got by on geometric intuition and terse writing, probably because he was either unable or more likely unwilling to go into the level of pedantic and often overbearing detail demanded of modern mathematics journals. In other words, he proved the theorem like the great masters of old.

        Exactly - like Fermat's Last Theorem: "... I have discovered a truly marvelous demonstration of this proposition
      • by Stalyn (662)
        This is not even close to true. The entire mathematical community accepts that Perelman made the important breakthroughs and actually proved the Poincare Conjecture. No new original work was done by Yau, Cao, Zhu, Morgan and Tian. Also as others have noted it was Perelman who received the fields medal related to this work. Yau received a fields medal some 20 years ago.

        We have referred to those notes countless times as we came to grips with Perelman's ideas. In late August and early September of 2004, Kleine

    • Re:Yau (Score:5, Informative)

      by aufumy (999278) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @01:56PM (#16155171)

      From this page http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/2006/08/fruitcak e-fields.html [scottaaronson.com] are published clarifications from Nasar's interviewees denouncing her and claiming that she falsely quoted and purposefuly miscontrued their statements.

      a Clarification from MIT mathematician Dan Stroock:

      I, like several others whom Sylvia Nasar interviewed, am shocked and angered by the article which she and Gruber wrote for the New Yorker. Having seen Yau in action during his June conference on string theory, Nasar led me to believe that she was fascinated by S-T Yau and asked me my opinion about his activities. I told her that I greatly admire Yau's efforts to support young Chinese mathematicians and to break down the ossified power structure in the Chinese academic establishment. I then told her that I sometimes have doubts about his methodology. In particular, I told her that, at least to my ears, Yau weakens his case and lays himself open to his enemies by sounding too self-promoting.

      As it appears in her article, she has purposefully distorted my statement and made it unforgivably misleading. Like the rest of us, Yau has his faults, but, unlike most of us, his virtues outweigh his faults. Unfortunately, Nasar used my statement to bolster her case that the opposite is true, and for this I cannot forgive her.

      State University of New York at Stony Brook professor Michael Anderson's email to Yao:

      Dear Yau,

      I am furious, and completely shocked, at what Sylvia Nasar wrote. Her quote of me is completely wrong and baseless. There are other factual mistakes in the article, in addition to those you pointed out.

      I have left her phone and email messages this evening and hope to speak to her tomorrow at the latest to clear this up. I want her to remove this statement completely from the article. It serves no purpose and contains no factual information; I view it as stupid gossip unworthy of a paper like the New Yorker. At the moment, the print version has not appeared and so it might be possible to fix this still. I spent several hours with S. Nasar on the phone talking about Perelman, Poincare, etc but it seems I was too naive (and I'm now disgusted) in believing this journalist would report factually.

      I regret very much this quote falsely attributed to me and will do what ever I can to have it removed.

      I will keep you informed as I know more.

      Yours, Michael

      Michael Anderson's further announcement:

      Many of you have probably seen the New Yorker article by Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber on Perelman and the Poincare conjecture.

      In many respects, its very interesting and a pleasure to read. However, it contains a number of inaccuracies and downright errors. I spent several hours talking with Sylvia Nasar trying to dissuade her from incorporating the Tian-Yau fights into the article, since it was completely irrelevant and I didn't see the point of dragging readers through the mud. Obviously I was not successful.

      The quote attributed to me on Yau is completely inaccurate and distorted from some remarks I made to her in a quite different context; I made it explicit to her that the remarks I was making in that context were purely speculative and had no basis in fact. I did not give her my permission to quote me on this, even with the qualification of speculation.

      There are other inaccuracies about Stony Brook. One for instance is the implication that Tian at MIT was the first to invite Perelman to the US to give talks. This is of course false - we at Stony Brook were the firs t to do so. I stressed in my talks with her the role Stony Brook played, yet she focusses on the single talk Grisha gave at Princeton, listing a collection of eminent mathematicians, none of whom is a geometer/topologist.

      I was not given an opportunity to set the record straight with the New Yor

    • by gbulmash (688770) *
      Read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shing-Tung_Yau [wikipedia.org]

      Because of WikiPedia's current editorial model, any time I want information on a person or a debated topic, if I read the WikiPedia entry on it, I take that with a HUUUGE grain of salt.

      - Greg
  • New Yorker can rest. Yun is famous again now that Slashdot and other web sites are printing his lawyer's words.
  • by igb (28052) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:15AM (#16153718)
    When I read the original article it struck me that either they had very good sources, or they were confident he wouldn't sue, or they were happy to get embroiled in one of those venue shopping disputes. Given The New Yorker is sold in newsagents in the UK, and people here have subscriptions (I do, for example), and mathmatics is an international field, it's hard to see how a UK court would object to being the venue for a libel action such as this. And, on the face of it, the guy wouldn't have problems showing the words were capable of admitting a defamatory reading, which is the basic test, or that it would lower him in the eyes of a reader, which is another. They'd have to plead justification, and that's hard.

    Hell hath no fury like an academic with his reputation scorned.

    ian

  • by peter303 (12292) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:22AM (#16153782)
    He complained she wrote too much about his sex life, with some of it exaggerated. If you believe Sylvia's book he had lots of girlfriends and few boyfriends too.

    Whats Nash up to these days?
  • Defamation (Score:5, Informative)

    by jefu (53450) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:22AM (#16153790) Homepage Journal

    While the New Yorker article was not particularly favorable to Dr. Yau, it didn't seem to me that it could be called defamation. Indeed, to the extent that it says negative things about him, they seem to be coming from his peers in mathematics - and not from the writer of the article. Is that a sufficient defense against a legal claim of defamation [wikipedia.org]? I guess that is for the courts to decide.

    More importantly, by suing for defamation, Dr. Yau appears to be manifesting exactly the kind of behavior that he was described as having in the article. One mathematician is quoted as saying "Yau wants to be the king of geometry. He believes that everything should issue from him, that he should have oversight. He doesn't like people encroaching on his territory.". Another says : "This is a guy who did magnificent things... He won every prize to be won. I find it a little mean of him to seem to be trying to get a share of this as well."

    • Re:Defamation (Score:4, Informative)

      by kabocox (199019) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:57AM (#16154103)
      While the New Yorker article was not particularly favorable to Dr. Yau, it didn't seem to me that it could be called defamation. Indeed, to the extent that it says negative things about him, they seem to be coming from his peers in mathematics - and not from the writer of the article. Is that a sufficient defense against a legal claim of defamation? I guess that is for the courts to decide.

      More importantly, by suing for defamation, Dr. Yau appears to be manifesting exactly the kind of behavior that he was described as having in the article.


      Did no one else read Dr. Yau's website and his pdf letter to the New Yorker? In that letter Dr. Yau's agents have contacted most of those sources and according to Dr. Yau's letter they were all misquotes or slated in a manner to make him look bad. Read his pdf letter http://www.doctoryau.com/9.18.06.pdf [doctoryau.com] . It is only 12 pages, but it is quiet calmly written. I would hope that if the facts are on Dr. Yau's side then the New York will fire on so called reporter and have to pay heavy damages to this individual.

      It sounds like the article was set out to discredit this guy. I'd honestly want more sources than either the New Yorker, this guy's website or wikipedia. Honestly, I don't really care about it that much except that I hope that the facts come out and that the New Yorker will be punished if they are in the wrong. Actually, I'm thrilled that some is standing up to "the press" for a change. I'd think that if the content of the article was actually true, then he'd have a difficult time when under peer review of his future papers.
      • Indeed, but this is Slashdot. No-one Reads The Fine Article here (except, apparently, you and myself).
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cool_arrow (881921)
        When you speak negatively about someone, however true it may be, how likely are you to confess to it when asked by that person (or his reps) whether it was true. Human nature being what it is.
      • by pilkul (667659)

        Right. Most of slashdot is dead set against Yau without even having read his claims. But if you actually read his letter, his story is quite plausible and more importantly, verifiable. There are several factual claims in his letter -- that other impartial parties quoted in the article say their statements were misinterpreted, that false quotes were used, and that that Yau explicitly and in writing said the opposite of certain beliefs that were attributed to him. If these claims check out to be true (whi

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by kabocox (199019)
          Right. Most of slashdot is dead set against Yau without even having read his claims. But if you actually read his letter, his story is quite plausible and more importantly, verifiable. There are several factual claims in his letter -- that other impartial parties quoted in the article say their statements were misinterpreted, that false quotes were used, and that that Yau explicitly and in writing said the opposite of certain beliefs that were attributed to him. If these claims check out to be true (which s
          • by TubeSteak (669689)
            Reading the guy's legal letter, apparently he has been fighting to correct what he sees as corruption in China. This would seem to make the New Yorker a tool of the Chinese government. So much becomes clear now.

            Curious.

            What makes you think it isn't in the interests of the United States to rachet up tensions with China?

            Or more plausibly, someone decided that injecting some drama (into what would otherwise be a boring math article) would sell more copies.
      • I read the pdf letter. I don't have the background, but it does sound a lot like the New Yorker may have a case to answer. The article did seem like a bit of a hatchet job, and the complaints from several parties that their quotes were taken out of context seem like there may be something to this.

        Of course, Yau's going to get slammed on Slashdot, where people love hackneyed ideas like "evil, hierarchical, credit-stealing Chinese mathematician" and "eccentric genius solving difficult problem on their own and
      • It sounds like the article was set out to discredit this guy.

        I agree. Anybody reading Yau's letter can see that. The sad fact is that whether they are or not successful, the New Yorker will at most publish a two line retraction in an obscure part of a future edition. Most people who have read the original story will miss that.

        The fact is that with today's internet, it is easy to make available primary sources. It's shoddy that today's journalists like Nasar should continue to write articles purport

    • He's not suing, jackass. He's asking the New Yorker to work with him to reverse the damage they have done to his reputation.

      If nothing else, read the last page of the PDF. But really, you should read all the material before you start typing your reply.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by rca66 (818002)

      While the New Yorker article was not particularly favorable to Dr. Yau, it didn't seem to me that it could be called defamation. Indeed, to the extent that it says negative things about him, they seem to be coming from his peers in mathematics - and not from the writer of the article. Is that a sufficient defense against a legal claim of defamation? I guess that is for the courts to decide.

      The article painted a very negative picture of this man. According to the lawyer's letter this article is already u

    • IANAL, but I worked as an editor at daily newspapers for many years, and as part of that process got to sit through more than few briefings from media company lawyers about libel and defamation. Laws vary from state to state, but the key issues for newsroom employees in defending a contested story usually focus on "absence of malice" (i.e. the reporter wasn't "out to get" the subject) and the amount of care taken in the process of preparing and editing the story, and that there wasn't "reckless disregard" f
  • by ishmalius (153450) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:23AM (#16153796)
    Parts i, ii, and iii are saying, basically:
    1. Everything you say is all lies
    2. All of the events you quote were staged for the purpose of generating all lies
    3. Everything everyone else says is all lies, or, if it is true, is taken out of context in such a way as to become all lies
    While I, of course, speak only the truth.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by kfg (145172) *
      In other words, he's accusing her of being . . .a journalist!

      KFG
    • by ktappe (747125)

      Everything you say is all lies...All of the events you quote were staged for the purpose of generating all lies... Everything everyone else says is all lies, or, if it is true, is taken out of context in such a way as to become all lies

      Did we read the same legal document, because this is not what I got out of it. He certainly does not say "everything" is lies and "all" the events were staged for generating lies. Further, it seems to me that he has quite a few valid points, such as:

      * She had every oppor

  • Barbara Streisand in Full Effect!

    When will people learn that this sort of thing only draws more publicity and if they wanted it to go away they would just ignore it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I think he is FULLY aware of that.
      • by achacha (139424)
        I have not too many mathematicians who were into self promotion, especially is such a silly way. Most just want to be left alone to work in seclusion, but he is a complete unknown so maybe he's trying to make a name for himself. I heard he is in talk with Paris Hilton about a duet on her next techo-bland upcoming CD.

        Math power!
    • by steeviant (677315)
      Yeah... of course! When someone publicly sets out to ruin your reputation and undermine your credibility using a falsified story in an internationally distributed publication, just sit back and relax it'll all go away.

      Because people are actually excellent judges of the difference between lies and truth when it's published in an authoritive sounding source with little surrounding story or supporting facts. Everyone knows that.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:28AM (#16153842)
    In other news, Dr. Yau is suing Slashdot and OSTG for damage done to his reputation by an Anonymous Coward who reportedly stated, "Yau is a big jerk!" in a recent posting.
  • Makes Me Hungry (Score:3, Informative)

    by Baavgai (598847) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:32AM (#16153891) Homepage
    The article also stole the title from one of my favorite cooking books [amazon.com]. Damn confusing, that.
  • It's Math! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Billosaur (927319) *

    Who cares? Some professor of Math gets his knickers in a twist because he's been outted as a self-aggrandizing, self-important weasel by his peers, only confirming his peers' extimation of him, and this is important? Somebody get this guy some Xanax and a legal dictionary then send him off to some nice, quiet, restful place where he can contemplate geometry and leave the rest of us alone.

  • by SigmoidCurve (188795) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:37AM (#16153936) Homepage Journal
    New Yorkers defame me all the time. You just have to build a thick skin to live here, that's all.
  • The essential gist of the story is that the chinese mathematician didn't prove anything but merely re-hashed the Russian's work but it trying to take the actually credit for proving what has already been proved.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by waxigloo (899755)
      And the point of Yau's response is that most of the claims made by the article have no sources. From the legal letter, even the sources used in the New Yorker article claim they were misquoted. Many of the sources for the article also seemed to be Chinese news articles that were retracted as being false...but were still used as fact.

      I am sure Dr. Yau has an ego and thinks of himself as awesome, but the New Yorker article went a bit over the top. In no way has Dr. Yau ever said Perelman does not deserv

    • My favorite quote (trying to put the Chinese contribution above Perlman's (the Russian):

      Hamilton contributed over fifty per cent; the Russian, Perelman, about twenty-five per cent; and the Chinese, Yau, Zhu, and Cao et al., about thirty per cent." (Evidently, simple addition can sometimes trip up even a mathematician.) Yau added, "Given the significance of the Poincaré, that Chinese mathematicians played a thirty-per-cent role is by no means easy. It is a very important contribution.

      Yau needs a goo
      • by waxigloo (899755)
        too bad the 'acting director' who is reported to said that does not exist...did you even read the letter? perhaps you need a good cockpunch, also.
        • Yes, I did. And the deputy director (acting director) WAS at the conference. Do you possibly think he may be furiously backpedaling now that what he said made it into an article that puts the almighty Yau in an unfavorable light?

          Perhaps you should get in line for a cockpunch as well.
  • As much as I read from the comments, I can see that very very few of us have a grasp of the ins and outs, who did what, and what it all mean. Can someone actually in the field, somewhat familiar with the subject say something more objective and insightful?
  • Let the Brit sci-fi Jokes commence.
  • by WED Fan (911325) <akahige&trashmail,net> on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:53AM (#16154073) Homepage Journal

    A professor rides the back of his students' work and findings?! Say it ain't so.

    Nope, never been there. Never ever had a prof do that...o.k., maybe...I'm not bitter.

    • by gosand (234100)


      A professor rides the back of his students' work and findings?! Say it ain't so.

      Nope, never been there. Never ever had a prof do that...o.k., maybe...I'm not bitter.

      I had a professor in college who assigned us sections of his book he was working on, to proofread it and evaluate it for technical accuracy. I don't know if he ever published it or not. It was in the exciting field of computer logic design, in the early 90s. On the final exam, we were given a diagram of processing logic, and asked various qu

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:54AM (#16154082)
    Whee... I love Slashdot readers! As usual, nobody feels obliged to read the original article, or the response, before blasting thier commentary. Dr. Yau isn't just some Harvard mathematician; he's heavily connected into Chinese politics and education. The article, if true, suggests that he's built that base on stealing the work of others. This isn't defaming his math career; this is going to cause enormous damage politically, if it's true.

    I'm not claiming it's true or not -- there are two totally opposing views, neither with particularly good evidence. But before you're all "lol lawyerz are teh suck", figure out what's going on.
    • nobody feels obliged to read the original article

      That includes you, it seems.

      The article, if true, suggests that he's built that base on stealing the work of others.

      It suggests no such thing. It makes it clear that Yau has accomplished enough to be regarded as one of the greats. (He won the Fields medal 24 years ago, for $deity's sake.) What it suggests is that he is not satisfied with those accomplishments and wants a share of the limelight in other work too.

    • Begging the question, why do you care enough about slashdot posters to deride them?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by greppling (601175)

      Whee... I love Slashdot readers! As usual, nobody feels obliged to read the original article, or the response, before blasting thier commentary. Dr. Yau isn't just some Harvard mathematician; he's heavily connected into Chinese politics and education. The article, if true, suggests that he's built that base on stealing the work of others.

      Maybe you should read the article. Yau has done magnificient work. It's just that recently he has tried to claim a little more credit (even when it's on behalf of his stu

  • by mac-diddy (569281)
    For those who don't want to read the entire article, try the much shortened haiku version [blogspot.com]. It's the fourth haiku down.
  • I've read all the posts up to now, and most are overlooking what I think is an important fact.

    The Clay Institute [claymath.org] has put up a bounty of one million US dollars for a proof of this conjecture.

    There seems to be a good chance that Perelman [wikipedia.org] will decline it (or his share of it), given his behavior.

    This may be a factor in Yau's rush to get a share of the credit. He's famous enough that he doesn't really need to do this to improve reputation.
    • There seems to be a good chance that Perelman will decline it (or his share of it), given his behavior.
      Not really, if you read Sylvia's article then you would note that Perelman said that he would think about it if they asked him to accept the Clay prize.
  • I have no choice but to choose something.
  • From the original article:

    "I find myself getting annoyed with Yau that he seems to feel the need for more kudos," Dan Stroock, of M.I.T., said. "This is a guy who did magnificent things, for which he was magnificently rewarded. He won every prize to be won. I find it a little mean of him to seem to be trying to get a share of this as well."

    Seems to be pretty even handed journalism to me. Theft of ideas is not a light matter for such an important problem.

  • That legal thing sure uses a lot of "quotes". It makes it seem "unprofessional" to me, although I am not a "lawyer".
  • Slashdotted here? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Chapter80 (926879)
    Last month the New Yorker ran the article 'Manifold Destiny' (slashdotted here)
    Since when does "Slashdotted" mean "reported and discussed on Slashdot" as opposed to "site went down due to the Slashdot effect" [wikipedia.org]?
  • by chaboud (231590) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @01:33PM (#16154940) Homepage Journal
    This isn't the first time that he's used failure to understand portions of proofs to piggyback on others by collaborating to fill non-holes in proofs.

    Part of this is due to the obscenely political state of modern mathematics. Part of it is the silly amount of credit given to people willing to do the grunt work of filling out proofs, even though it's important. Still, a great deal of this has to be put on Yau and his strong-arm, slap-dash tactics. It doesn't help that the accusation of the portrayal of a racial stereotype is contained within fulfillment of the accused behavior, but Nasar never said that Chinese mathematicians are dirty, cheating bastards. She said that Yau is.

    Yau's press-release shows how much he believes he represents Chinese mathematics. A statement disparaging Yau does the same for Chinese mathematicians?

    Please.

    There's nothing racial about someone spending the latter half of his life manipulating a broken system when his actual intellect is insufficient.
  • funniest part of the original NYer article:

    By early June, Yau had begun to promote the proof publicly. On June 3rd, at his mathematics institute in Beijing, he held a press conference. The acting director of the mathematics institute, attempting to explain the relative contributions of the different mathematicians who had worked on the Poincaré, said, "Hamilton contributed over fifty per cent; the Russian, Perelman, about twenty-five per cent; and the Chinese, Yau, Zhu, and Cao et al., about thirty pe

  • by TheGuano (851573) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @06:00PM (#16157297)
    As a graduating law student, I've read a number of these. Yau makes a lot of claims, which may very well be true, but what struck me was the section about how there has been "no battle" over priority for the Poincare proof.

    In it, he claims there was never any battle, and that his paper merely established the "first complete proof applying [Perelman's] and Professor Hamilton's work." But if I understand my mathematics nomenclature correctly, isn't that the exact act of trying to establish priority? He's actually saying, "I've (or my students have) PROVED the theorem, Perelman and Hamilton have both done work allowing me to do so." Of course, since what Perelman did is considered by many mathematicians to actually BE the first complete proof, Yau's letter essentially confirms what he's being accused of doing. The fight is about who has the first complete proof, not how much recognition Perelman should have been received in the paper.

    Legally, this sounds like a lot of hot air. The letter isn't a legal document, and well-established precedents in defamation law protect journalists in cases such as this where the event is easily newsworthy and the people involved have become public figures. Yau is relying less on any legal basis he has, and more on being able to use the letter as evidence that he's outraged by his portrayal in the article.

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