(Hey, passing along press releases sent to me by law firms sure is easy! I wonder why more media outlets don’t do exactly the same thing.)
This entry was posted
on Monday, September 18th, 2006 at 8:21 pm and is filed under Nerd Interest.
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
Both comments and pings are currently closed.
Maybe he’s right to sue Sylvia Nasar, I wouldn’t know. I’m glad that he didn’t sue me.
On the other hand, his letter has this weird bounce to it. I feel like Yau is shouting at me when I read it.
He also still says this on his own site:
In Perelman’s work, many key ideas of the proofs are sketched or outlined, but complete details of the proofs are often missing. The recent paper of Cao-Zhu, submitted to The Asian Journal of Mathematics in 2005, gives the
first complete and detailed account of the proof of the Poincaré conjecture
and the geometrization conjecture.
Greg, have a look at Yau’s description of proofs of the Poinare and geometrization conjectures (on the web page Scott quoted). He even names certain things after himself because he “suggested that Hamilton should figure it out.” Also look at the end, where he tries his little heart out to establish priority of the Cao-Zhu proof over the other efforts (he gives Apr as the submission date, and June as the publication date of the paper that he personally ushered through his journal), while noting that those other dismal attempts were not published until May! (well, if you discount the Kleiner-Lott version from 2005, but that was hideously incomplete…)
The letter sez: “Beyond repairing the damage to my own reputation, we seek to minimize the damage done to the mathematics community itself, which is ludicrously portrayed as contentious rather than cooperative and more competitive than collegial,”
I have no idea if Yau is right or wrong on the facts (though his own lawyer letter makes you go yeech here and there), but I do know that in lawsuit-happy USA a magazine such as the New Yorker wouldn’t generally go ahead and publish such things without having it thoroughly vetted by their lawyers. This is not to say they are right on the facts, it just indicates that they can back up things with emails, taped statements, etc.
And yes boys and girls, reporters wanting to do a hatchet job on you will play the ego card. It has been done many times before and has never been found to be illegal by the courts.
Maybe he’s right to sue Sylvia Nasar, I wouldn’t know.
Maybe she libeled him–I think the picture was outrageous–but I feel pretty confident in claiming that it is a mistake for him to sue.
I really liked this passage from the letter: “You were keenly aware of his efforts to challenge ongoing corruption in the paying of substantial monies to foreign based academics for what are essentially no show appointments.”
The legal threat letter is toothless face-saving, but the cartoon (which I have not seen) is scandalous if it is as described in the letter.
Yau and company have a point about Perelman not meeting the standards of exposition that one might ideally like and that filling in
the details is beyond the level of
a simple exercise even for Ricci flow experts. But it is also obvious that there was no way of proving Poincare (or geometrization) in finite time before Perelman came along, but after his work, suddenly numerous independent practitioners can fill in the details in a matter of months after reading the papers.
I am not in a position to assess how that compares to Hamilton’s contribution, but it clearly dwarfs any post-Perelman work including that of Zhu and Cao.
Incidentally, is it clear whether *their* work holds together, as Yau likes to put it?
“Manifold Destiny,” a 10,000-word article by Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber published in the August 28, 2006 issue of The New Yorker, is the product of more than four months of thorough, careful reporting and meticulous fact-checking. Ms. Nasar and Mr. Gruber spent over twenty hours interviewing Dr. Yau; they conducted approximately 100 other interviews with people in the field; corresponded by email with Dr. Yau and many others; and traveled to China where they conducted interviews and attended speeches and events discussed in the article. In addition, the magazine’s fact-checkers spoke with Dr. Yau for approximately eight hours, they examined notes, tapes, and documents gathered by the authors, and the checkers conducted their own thorough research. Contrary to Dr. Yau’s assertions, the article is nuanced and fair, and was prepared using ethical standards of journalism. Dr. Yau, his supporters and his point of view were given ample space in the article.
Just as I said, the New Yorker would generally not publish such a thing without having sources for everything. Yes, there might be inaccuracies in the article, but each one of those can be traced back to a taped/email opinion from someone else or the inaccuracies can be described as subjective opinion. E.g. if person N says that person Y came across as an arrogant bastard, that is subjective opinion and not subject to libel. If person Y then goes on to publish a self-damaging lawyer letter and files a lawsuit he might end up having to pay person’s N legal costs, merely adding insult to injury.
Yau and company have a point about Perelman not meeting the standards of exposition that one might ideally like and that filling in the details is beyond the level of a simple exercise even for Ricci flow experts.
As I think you understand, this is an argument over explanations, not priority.
I would like to make the point that there is already a tremendous amount of variation in the amount of detail skipped in published proofs. There is no one set standard, nor should there be. If you prove something hard, you are entitled to skip over more. You may or may not make use of that license, but you are entitled to it.
It sometimes seems unfair to see someone else skip over more in one leap than you consider an entire publishable paper. But it happens all the time; you have to get used to it. There are also notorious cases where an author abuses the privilege of skipping details, and simply doesn’t understand the difficulty of the claimed result. No one should be content with that kind of thing. But Perelman is not one of these unhappy cases.
Incidentally, is it clear whether [Cao-Zhu] holds together, as Yau likes to put it?
John Morgan has said that he didn’t see anything in Cao-Zhu that was radically different from other sources. He also said that the paper itself is perfectly fair to Perelman, and that the only trouble is the “noise” surrounding it.
I would give this paper some benefit of the doubt and say that it’s probably correct and publishable. It may well have some good alternative arguments. This is purely an external opinion; I don’t really know much about Ricci flow.
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.
The New Yorker article is very unfair and misleading because it tries to create an artificial controversy. There is no controversy at all in the mathematics community, except that some people might attach greater importance to the job of filling in the details to Perelman’s proof.
The notes of Yau’s June 20 lecture (available at doctoryau.com and arxiv.org) seem to support Nasar’s basic claim and refute Yau’s lawyers. On page 18 of the lecture notes, Yau writes that
one of the steps in Hamilton’s surgery program is to prove that the set of surgery times is discrete (i.e. no accumulation points in the set of times), and that there are difficulties at a certain point in doing this.
The incriminating part is that he then asserts that Perelman DID NOT surmount this, because ideas of Cao and Zhu were needed to do so. This is not just an assertion that Perelman claimed to do something but didn’t write up a proof; Yau is clearly saying that Perelman’s published ideas were insufficient without help from Cao and Zhu. This is also very different from saying that Cao and Zhu happen to have worked out one pathway to the goal and that Yau is describing that path only; he is saying that Perelman’s path (or roadmap) has a specific conceptual gap.
Yau’s lawsuit is of course toast for 20 other reasons, but he seems to have pinned himself down enough in print to have to make a retraction sooner or later.
It seems that Yau’s lecture notes are a cut and paste extract from Cao and Zhu’s introduction to their paper. It’s not clear whether the remarks are more forgiveable from Cao and Zhu or whether this helps Yau’s cause, but it does raise the question of what he actually said at the lecture.
Let’s suppose it is true that Yau’s personal opinion was that Perelman left out a nontrivial step, and that Cao-Zhu filled in the details. Isn’t Yau entitled to his opinion? Where’s the scandal?
Even if Yau slightly exaggerated the Cao-Zhu contribution, it wouldn’t justify the attacks in the New Yorker article. The contributions of Perelman and Cao-Zhu and others are on the record, and there are no factual disputes about them. Just opinions about the importance of the details.
I think that Nasar and the New Yorker are really slimy for what they have done.
if one is willfully blind to any extramathematical questions of priority, credit, funding, prizes, etc, then yes, it’s all there in the literature. Nasar’s article was about precisely those not-strictly-mathematical aspects and it was Yau’s non-mathematical actions that came under scrutiny. Your personal lack of interest in these questions of “opinion” is of no public interest.
Yau is a leader and opinion-maker in the field. He is speaking out of both sides
of his mouth by paying lip service to the contributions of Perelman (and Kleiner, Lott, Morgan, Tian) while hiding behind the supposed blurriness of Perelman’s papers. In his lecture notes at the indicated page, the mask comes off and he actually claims that no, Perelman’s work isn’t too blurry to evaluate, it actually contains a specific gap.
The slides of Yau’s lectures are more egregious than the notes of the talk, and it would be interesting to hear what he actually said.
But the difference is that Bruce Kleiner and John Lott do not claim any credit for proving the Poincare conjecture or the geometrization conjecture. They would describe themselves as explaining Perelman’s work. If they say that details are (or were) missing, they do not mean that Perelman’s proof is incomplete. The paper by Yau that I quoted parcels out credit in a non-standard and inappropriate way. (At least, either this paper or the Madrid ICM said it wrong.) For instance, the conclusion section on page 21 refers to Hamilton and to “geometric analysts”, but doesn’t even name Perelman.
I have to say that anyone can walk into misunderstandings over credit. I personally haven’t been all that great at avoiding them. But I am willing to take my lumps and back down, eventually. In a sense, the web site http://www.doctoryau.com is the smoking gun in this story.
1. Did you really read the three articles by Kleiner-Lott, Cao-Zhu and Morgan-Tian?
Perelman’s work is definitely imcomplete. Hanmilton said: “A sketch (Perelman’s own term) is an invitation to complete a finished work”. Atiyah said that “final judgement is suspended until the complete proof has been written down”.
2. As indicated in Yau’s slides, in Perelman’s second famous preprint, he said that another paper with the proof of Theorem 7.4 would be given, but it is still not available. There are two versions of Perelman’s Theorem 7.4. One is the strong version with only two conditions, which no proof is available except for Perelman’s “sketch”. The other is a weak version with an additional condition, which might be too weak to apply according to Kleiner & Lott. Actually, Kleiner-Lott and Cao-Zhu did not prove it, they circumvented it.
How would Perelman reply if he met some experts and they asked for the proof? Note that in April 2003, nobody could fully digest his first two articles. After his return, he posted his third paper devoted entirely to the Poincare Conjecture.
Perhaps we should allow Yau the benefit of the doubt until all the facts are out, and leave it to expert mathematicians to figure out who deserves what credit? Yes he wanted to indicate his students’ work was important, but I dont think he was downplaying Perelman’s contribution. Yau said in his letter that prior to this he always said Perelman deserves the Field’s medal. Perelman’s work was not complete. If Perelman’s work was so complete, why was it necessary for these three papers with hundreds of pages to come out this year? Perelman’s work was published in 2002 and 2003, but like yau said “complete details of the proofs” were actually “often missing” and needed to be given in these papers. It is likely that there has indeed been a progression from Hamilton’s work to Perelman’s to the final three groups. It will be interesting to see where the Clay institute stands on this. I would like to wait until the math community validates the credit as well as see the response of genuine mathematicians on the facts of the New Yorker article itself.
Yau certainly downplays Perelman (and all the non-Yau-affiliated contributors) and in fact tries to discredit his papers. It is impossible to avoid this conclusion unless one is already a Yau worshipper.
Reading Yau’s slides and lecture notes, he devotes a lot of space to questions of credit and priority — but only when it involves Hamilton, Yau or Yau’s students.
For example, he finds it important to say that “any experts would confirm that Hamilton is the primary contributor to this field”.
The story is very different when it comes to Perelman.
Yau’s comments about Perelman, to the extent he even bothers to mention Perelman’s existence, are all either
(a) negative statements about Perelman’s work (it is incomplete, he doesn’t provide the promised proof )
(b) statements that avoid words like “proof” and “result” in connection with Perelman. Vaguer terms such as “this statement would imply Poincare”, etc are used. It is rare for Yau to explicitly admit that Perelman accomplished anything definite.
(c) using Perelman (with or without giving him credit for proving something) as a mirror to reflect credit onto Hamilton, Li-Yau, and Yau. Perelman’s first appearance in the lecture notes and slides doesn’t involve any description of Perelman or his accomplishments, just two quotations from his papers meant to indicate the importance of Hamilton. Perelman, when he is not used as a punching bag, is used as a stage prop for the coronation of Chinese sages.
The premise of Yau’s entire lecture is that a great event has happened: a proof (i.e. Cao-Zhu) has been given of the Poincare conjecture. His lecture describes “the” solution while trying to avoid the fact that there are 3 other proofs published by 5 other people, that at least one of these was published earlier than Cao-Zhu, and that all 4 papers are based primarily on Perelman’s work. In effect he denies the existence of the other work, except when he stoops to discredit it (e.g. the comments on dates and priority at the end, or calling Kleiner-Lott “sketchy”).
If you manage to overlook the fact that the promotion of Cao and Zhu’s work is marinated in nauseating amounts of personal and ethnic chauvinism, then yes, Yau gave a very nice and innocent lecture.
I can harzard some guesses of the circumstances that may have caused Yau’s overturn in promoting Cao and Zhu’s work in June 2006, Beijing.
1) Yau’s ego: he is the one who orgainzed a group of researchers in Beijing to study Poincare conjecture a few years earlier. In the end, probably only Cao and Zhu are the only ones still working on it. Yau’s ego cannot allow someone else like Perelman or worse Tian to finish off the work without his group involved. That will be like admitting his own failure of suggesting others to work on it and now see what happens, Perelman got all the award. Yau is like a god in China’s math and science community now and this mistake certainly cannot happen.
2) The timing of this happening is also very interesting: He chose the string 06 conference and he had invited Stephen Hawkings and other famous scientists to his lecture to lend credibility to the Chinese media that this (Poincare proof) is a big deal and he has the support of Stephen Hawkings. (Here he played a logic trick on Chinese media: The Poincare conjecture is a big deal, but Cao and Zhu’s proof is after Perelman’s work, but he wouldn’t want others to know, nor that there are other people including Gang Tian across the street who’s writing a book about it. This logic of misleading is used again by him later on. When people asked about Asian Journal of Math is a second-tier journal, his reply was that there are many first-rate authors publishing papers on it, and it must be a first-rate journal. He also refused to reveal the referee’s names of Cao and Zhu’s paper, saying it is a tradition of math community that their names not be revealed. I’m doubtful that if this is such an important work, any one associated with refereering thiis paper will be glad to reveal themselves, unless….unless the referee is onlt the co-chief-editor, Yau himself.) But how is Poincare conjecture related to string theory, it’s not totally clear to me. But this certainly gave him a stage and during this conference there were Chinese top leaders granting visits, so there is something to show. Yau did mention that Cao and Zhu’s work is a gift for his Morningside Center of Mathematics’s 10 year anniversay, but why Cao and Zhu’s work has anything to do with his center, I don’t know. Certainly the media coverage of Cao and Zhu’s work is featured prominently in his center site. Maybe this is a way to grab media attention to the center and to him. He’s very good at that, as he has always done in last few years appearing frequently in China’s media coverage. (In China, media appearance of leaders is considered crucial, and Yau probably already knows this China’s politics very well.)
3) IMU conference in August 2006 in Spain when Poincare conjecture proof will be annouced. I think this is very important time for Yau to have a voice that he has played a crucial role. Aka Hamilton’s plenary talk during the 2006 IMU. What Yau did in Beijing is just his way of saying that he and his group deserve a big piece of the credit that goes toward solving the famous puzzle. Unfortuntely in mathematics, there is no medal even if your work is cited or used in one’s paper. Maybe if there is a supporting author category in mathematics, I would think Yau and his group, along with Tian and Morgan, and others are the leading candidates for helping solve this world-famous puzzle. End of my story.
He also refused to reveal the referee’s names of Cao and Zhu’s paper, saying it is a tradition of math community that their names not be revealed.
Actually, in the case of really big results is more traditional for the refereeing *not* to be blind. There are too many questions and gotchas that need to be answered one on one. IIRC Wiles knew the name of his referee and so did Nash when their big results were vetted for publication.
Last, *if* the letter published by anonymous is right, then it is quite damning. Is Yau prepared to see such things come out in print as a result of the trial? If he has more such skeletons in the closet he might end up having to resign in disgrace from Harvard.
(1) In Ms. Nasar’s article with Mr. Gruber, she labeled both Professors Shing-Tung Yau and Shiing-Shen Chern as “the Chinese mathematician”. In fact, both are U.S. citizens born in China. It is important to note that only mathematicians of Chinese heritage were labeled this way in the article. This labeling is in contrary to the common practice of using the term “Chinese American mathematician” in the mainstream news media in both the U.S. and China. (In Chinese media, Yau and Chern are called “mei ji hua ren”-U.S. citizen of Chinese heritage.) Ms. Nasar went to length to describe the contributions of Yau and Chern to the scientific development in China but neglected to mention that both were awarded this nation’s highest scientific honor, the National Medal of Science. The subliminal message is that both Yau and Chern work only to advance the Chinese interest. Such bigotry is nothing new in this country: Jewish people have been subject to such stereotype for a long time.
(2) While there were extensive discussions on original ideas in mathematics in this 14-page long article, not a single sentence, as far as I know, associated mathematicians of Chinese heritage to originality. Even the originality of Yau’s Fields Medal work was downplayed. This article promotes the false and harmful stereotypes that mathematicians of Chinese heritage are “technical” but not “original”. (See an open letter to Ms. Nasar for more detail on this point.)
(3) Seven mathematicians of Chinese heritage were named in the article: Yau, Chern, Gang Tian, Huai-Dong Cao, Xi-Ping Zhu, Kefeng Liu, Bong H. Lian (implicitly, as the coauthor of Liu and Yau). While there was only minimal coverage on Chern, all six others were alleged, one way or another, to involve in plagiary and/or claiming undeserved credits. More importantly, in the article, no other mathematicians but only those of Chinese heritage were alleged to involve of such unethical practices. This is biased, prejudiced, and, in fact, racist. To illustrate this point, substitute all Chinese names by Jewish names, China by Israel, and Chinese by Jewish. This article would then have been easily recognized as anti-Semitic.
(4) This is not the first time Ms. Nasar spews anti-Chinese venom. In her article Best Business Book 2003: Globalization, she promoted the book World on Fire by Amy Chua. Here is what Ms. Nasar wrote:
“Chua compares the wealthy Chinese, like her aunt, who dominate the markets of many Asian countries to the successful Jews of Europe in the 1920s. “In the Philippines, millions of Filipinos work for Chinese; almost no Chinese work for Filipinos. The Chinese dominate industry and society at every level…. When foreign investors do business in the Philippines they deal almost exclusively with Chinese.” When she was 8 years old, she recalls, she stumbled into the servant quarters in her aunt’s villa: “My family’s houseboys, gardeners, and chauffeurs … were sleeping on mats on a dirt floor. The place smelled of sweat and urine. I was horrified.” ”
This is bigotry, pure and simple. It is now well established that Ms. Nasar distorted other people’s statements to fit her own agenda. (“As it appears in her article, she has purposefully distorted my statement and made it unforgivably misleading.” —Dan Stroock of MIT.) There were also controversies regarding Ms. Nasar’s A Beautiful Mind about the anti-Semitic statements that she attributed to Mr. John Nash. (See, for example, An Anti-Semitic Mind? by Tom Tugent at The Jewish Journal.)
1. The following is borrowed from “mathuser” to reply to the AJM question:
I am surprised at this sudden interest in how articles are published in math journals. I, also a math professor (and not Chinese at that!)having refereed many papers, have heard of instances where the editors publish papers without sending it to a referee (and I have never doubted the good intent of the editor.) This is not the case with the article by Cao and Zhu, I was told that it was monitored regularly and details checked by some experts. If one does not understand it it needs to be told again: this is far more rigorous than refereeing. …
2. “Destiny’s Manifold” said:”It is rare for Yau to explicitly admit that Perelman accomplished anything definite.”
In Yau’s lecture notes, Perelman’s “break through” is featured in one sub-section and this cannot be regarded as “rare”.
You can easily find “negative” terms in most of the math papers, including Perelman’s. If you think that some of the “negative” words are not true, then please point out the facts. For example, you mentioned that Yau indicated that Perelman “doesn’t provide the promised proof”, is it a false statement?
3. Actually, Yau made a mistake in his lecture notes about Perelman’s “Theorem 7.4″. Any one who carefully read it can find Yau’s mistake.
the word “breakthrough” is vague lip service, and Yau had no choice but to mention it, as it was a fact known all over the world by that time. All the other comments were more specific references to Perelman’s papers and were worded so as to minimize or devalue Perelman’s work. If you disagree with this characterization of Yau’s notes, please comment on my more detailed remarks above.
Are you a mathematician with expertise in topology qualified to judge their work? Looking at Yau’s lecture slides, there is no downplaying of people as you claim. Unless you can make judgements on the content of the math, there is no point in trying to make subjective judgements on his intentions. But even so, we can look at what you claim is a downplaying by Yau:
Yau greatly cites the work of Hamilton, as you say, and actually this is an important point that has been overlooked in all this fray! Hamilton deserves at least as much credit as Perelman. After all, Perelman considered himself a disciple of Hamilton. Should not Hamilton get more press at this time, and what about his opinion in all of this? He was not even quoted in the New Yorker article nor anywhere else. Dont criticize Yau for spending a large part of his presentation crediting the work of Hamilton. Next, you say that he pays lip-service to Perelman by introducing his work as a “breakthrough”. That is self-contradictory: What would be a higher portrayal of his work? Yau did not call his own students’ work a breakthrough or overplay their work over Perelman’s. He devotes several slides to Perelman’s work and goes into Perelman’s specific accomplishments. Perelman’s work frames the work of his students. It is the foundation, just as Hamilton’s work was for Perelman. The purpose of his talk was to put the newest work of Cao-Zhu in the context of what has led to it. Then there is no problem with so called “mirroring” Perelman’s work with what they have done. Now in terms of the other groups’ work (Kleiner, Lott, Morgan, Tian), only Kleiner-Lott’s work had been out, slightly before his lecture. He mentions that I agree in a somewhat cursory manner at the end of the lecture. However, it may be just a matter of time, as no one was familiar yet with the nuances of their two hundred pages+ work. Morgan-Tian’s work had not even seen the light of day. There is nothing wrong with promoting the work of Cao-Zhu. Any academician would do that in presenting new findings. I think you approached Yau’s slides as having a pre-biased notion of him based on the New Yorker article, and have thus looked for negative signs when this was just a regular talk promoting his students’ work. It was not meant to harm others’ contributions. Finally, the mathematical content of all of all these groups remains to be determined in a scientific manner, and should not take into account the bumblings of bloggers who have no expertise in this field.
Why is the Yau letter so “damning”? The Cao-Zhu paper is an excellent paper, and deserving of publication. The paper was very timely, and of intense interest to a lot of mathematicians. The paper appropriately credited Perelman and others. What’s the problem?
I don’t get all this criticism of Yau. If Yau had delayed publication, the the Yau-haters would have said that he was just doing it to cast doubt on the validity of Perelman’s theorem. Quick publication is a good thing, if the paper is correct.
Perelman did all the work by himself without ANY financial support, living on his meager personal savings (See the footnote to this first paper posted in Nov 2002)
Yau and other guys took NSF and other grants to elaborate and refine the proof and make it a book of almost 400 pages.
Why nobody ever mentioned this fact before? How can you demand a complete polished proof, which in this casem must be a whole book of terse mathematical notations) from a guy who is close to starvation point? Shame on all of you !
Can any of you, professional mathematicians, live for 8 years in solitude and absolute poverty, on bread and water (and some mushrooms you collect in the woods) ) to work on some fundamnetal proof just to be robbed by guys like Yau ?
Disgusting, simply disgusting…
I think you’re neglecting a key fact, anonymous. If Perelman is poor, that’s his own choice; he had no shortage of job offers.
(Also, neither that article nor any other gives any indication that Perelman is “close to starvation point.” Rather, it seems that he enjoys going to the St. Petersburg opera, has decent savings from his years in the US, and held a position at Steklov until he recently resigned for reasons best known to himself.)
Not to offend you, but you just have no idea about Perelman’s conditions and today’s state of academic science in general… (in Russua or in US)
As somebody who is 40 years old (just like Perelman) and who spent first 27 years of life being associated with Russian academic system, I am sort of offended by your perspective…
BTW, St.Petersburg Opera is dirt cheap in comparison to e.g. Metropolitan Opera, his personal savings originated from his short-temr stays in the US as a visiting researcher or something like that(just try to live on visiting reseracher’s salary in, e.g Berkley, CA and try to save some money – you need to be Perelman to save any money at all…)
Now, about his regular position as a “principal researcher” at the Steklov Institute. You can call it any name, but the fact is that position was paying arounf 100 dollars A MONTH (yes you’ve heard me right -100 bucks a month…I suggest you go to St. Petersburg and try to survive on 100 $ a month.
But better not try – I was there some time ago – it’s just not possible unless you are Perelman.)
And BTE, he resighed from this “position” because those mudaks (his fellow co-workers) failed to elect him as a member for lack of scientific contribution long AFTER he published his Poincare papers.
In the US he would be fired much sooner, I shoud say, because you just can’t work on one particular problem for 8 years without publishing anything at all – nobody can do it here unless, of course, you have a tenure…
Now, do you still want a complete polished formalized proof (a 400-pages book of terse mathematical notations) from the poor guy ?
He owes nothing to you or to anybody else, including the entire academic establishment.
Unlike Yau and other guys (collecting 6 figure salaries at Harvad and elsehwere) Perelman didn’t make a dime on his proof !
Other people already made tons of money in grants due to Perelman, but they also want to steal credit from the poor guy…
How is that for fairness ?
anonymous: I, too, lived for four years in Berkeley — not on a “visiting researcher’s salary,” but on a graduate student stipend. I don’t need to be lectured about the realities of academic life.
But since you seem to know more than I do about Perelman, let me take the opportunity to ask you something: if he’s indeed “close to starvation”, why did he turn down well-paying positions in the US and Israel (according to the New Yorker piece), and why did he refuse the money from at least two awards?
Perelman pretty much explained his decision not to accept any of those job offers: he wanted to stay in Russia (Unlike many of us, including myself…)
Illogical as it may seem, this decision to stay in StPetersburg and live a simple life was one of the reasons behind his success at proving the conjecture.
Look, can any of you afford to concentrate on one problem for 8 years ? That means no side publishing, no publishing at all, no lecturing, no classes, no students, just a pure mental concentration, walks in the woods, some opera nights, no mortgage, no children, nothing…
You almost have to be a monk to live like that.
And the final prize was solving the century-old puzzle, which was followed by all those unseemly activities described in the New Yorker article.
No wonder he is sick of mathematics and all the people associated with it by now…
OK, that’s exactly what I thought: Perelman chose to live a simple, monastic life because he works best that way. That’s perfectly respectable or even admirable. My only point was that one can’t both refuse the money and honors offered by the math community, and expect pity for being poor and an outsider.
I think it was Nasar who expect pity and guided Perelman to say that in that interview, perhaps with a loaded question. From all other reports it seems that Perelman never whined about credit. i.e., until he met Nasar. Pereleman has been quite consistent himself.
Just imagine if you were Perelman, you thought you have solved the problem, that it was not understood was because the people were not smart enough. But you didn’t care. Then you met this lousy reporter. I would have said the same.
Perelman never intended to go to the press himself… Hell, he wasn’t even checking his e-mail and postal mail box.
The reporters tracked him down and asked some questions. What was he supposed to answer ? He just said what he was thinking about the math community (if there is such thing…)
But to blame the reporters is not right: they just shed some light on the internal politics going on in the academic world. It’s ugly indeed and somebody would need to put it in a spotlight. If not Nasar then somebody else.
Stop whining about New Yorker article.
It may be inaccurate on some minor details, but it is right in general. Academic science is a circus nowdays, whether you admit it or not…
That’s why I left academia long time ago after getting my Ph.D. and I never regretted my decision
Just some guesses of the circumstances that might have happended to Perelman.
Obviously, Perelman’s relation with Russian’s academic does not seem to be good. One, he was voted by his co-workers not up to standard so he has to resign his position even if he claimed to have proved the Poincare conjecture. This might be the main reason that he had to ask for help from other people to complete his proof and was not able to finally finish his papers. In his interview, he said Yau was not the worst kind of behaviors. Who are the worse ones, are they from Russia, probably. I think in Perelman’s mind there might be a certain segment of mathematicians who may have rooted against him, even in his own country. This may be understandable, considering that he spent 8 years doing nothing else, but proving a theorem which many others have attempted before but failed. He is exactly the kind of person Yau would have actually liked if he truly believed in what he said in Chinese press that a first rate mathematician should only attempt to solve “first-rate” problems, even if this means that you produce much less papers. But the less papers will have much longer impact. I’m sure Perelman’s papers will be read many (100?)years from now, even if, ironically, they are not yet even formally published.
Hamilton’s letter really puts everything in perspective.
Anyone who has ever done some research would know that there are infinite numbers of approaches tackling a particular problem, usually only a few, sometimes even one, that will lead to the solution. Those who come up with the original idea that can eventually lead to the final solution are the true genius. Hamilton is one of them, so is Yau.
Perelman is a great mathematician. He made critical contributions in the Hamilton program. He obviously deserves whatever that has been and will be offered to him. But still, he made his contribution in the Hamilton program based on the fundamental work done by Hamilton, Yau and his students. Perelman obviously knows this better than many people. Did he ask the journalists to have better tasts?
It is so strange that Nasar would write about Hamilton’s personal life and girlfriends. It makes one wonder whether she was jealous, since she loves mathematicians so much. After reading Hamilton’s letter, we know that she is screwed this time.
Hamilton’s letter is quite eye-opening, as opposed to Yau detractors here (see last two posts) claim. Hamilton says that Yau’s own work has contributed greatly to laying a foundation for Perelman’s. He’s supported the field greatly. “I cannot think of any other prominent leader who gave nearly support to our field as Yau has.” But it also shows that in contrast to the person described by Nasar, he has not been seeking credit from Perelman, nor has he done anything but praised Perelman’s work in the past and that he has deserved a Fields. I think that is what struck me most: the person described in this letter is a totally different one than what Nasar describes.
Howard M Cooper
Todd & Weld LLP
28 State Street, Boston, MA 02109
Direct Dial (617) 624-4713 / Fax (617) 227-5777 email@example.com
September 25, 2006
Dear Mr. Cooper
I am very disturbed by the unfair manner in which Yau Shing-Tung has been portrayed in the New Yorker article. I am providing my thoughts below to set the record straight. I authorize you to share this letter with the New Yorker and the public if that will be helpful to Yau.
As soon as my first paper on the Ricci Flow on three dimensional manifolds with positive Ricci curvature was complete in the early ’80′s,Yau immediately recognized it’s importance;and although I had proved a result on which he had been working with minimal surfaces,rather than exhibit any jealosy he became my strongest supporter.He pointed out to me way back then that the Ricci Flow would form the neck pinch singularities,undoing the connected sum decomposition,and that this could lead to a proof of the Poincare conjecture. In 1985 he brought me to UC San Diego together with Rick Schoen and Gerhard Huisken,and we had a very exciting and productive group in Geometric Analysis.Huisken was working on the Mean Curvature Flow for hypersurfaces,which closely parallels the Ricci Flow,being the most natural flows for intrinsic and extrinsic curvature respectively.Yau repeatedly urged us to study the blow-up of singularities in these parabolic equations using techniques parallel to those developed for elliptic equations like the minimal surface equation,on which Yau and Rick are experts.Without Yau’s guidance and support at this early stage,there would have been no Ricci Flow program for Perelman to finish.
Yau also had some outstanding students at San Diego who had come with him from Princeton, in particular Cao Huai-Dong,Ben Chow and Shi Wan- Xiong. Yau encouraged them to work on the Ricci Flow,and all made very important contributions to the field.Cao proved existence for all time for the normalized Ricci Flow in the canonical Kaehler case ,and convergence for zero or negative Chern class.Cao’s results form the basis for Perelman’s exciting work on the Kaehler Ricci Flow,where he shows for positive Chern class that the diameter and scalar curvature are bounded. Ben Chow,in addition to excellent work on other flows,extended my work on the Ricci Flow on the two dimensional sphere to the case of curvature of varying sign.Shi Wan- Xiong pioneered the study of the Ricci Flow on complete noncompact manifolds,and in addition to many beautiful arguments he proved the local derivative estimates for the Ricci Flow.The blow-up of singularities usually produces noncompact solutions,and the proof of convergence to the blow-up limit always depends on Shi’s derivative estimates; so Shi’s work is central to all the limit arguments Perelman and I use.
In ’82 Yau and Peter Li wrote an exceedingly important paper giving a pointwise differential inequality for linear heat equations which can be integrated along curves to give classic Harnack inequalities. Yau repeatedly urged me to study this paper,and based on their approach I was able to prove Harnack inequalities for the Ricci Flow and for the Mean Curvature Flow. This Harnack inequality,generalized from Li-Yau,forms the basis for the analysis of ancient solutions which I started, and which Perelman completed and uses as the basic tool in his canonical neighborhood theorem. Cao Huai-Dong proved the Harnack estimate for the Ricci Flow in the Kahler case,and Ben Chow did the same for the Yamabe Flow and the Gauss Curvature Flow.
But there is more to this story. Perelman’s most important is his noncollapsing result for Ricci Flow,valid in all dimensions,not just three,and thus one whose importance for the future extends well beyond the Poincare conjecture,where it is the tool for ruling out cigars,the one part of the singularity classification I could not do. This result has two proofs,one using an entropy for a backward scalar heat equation,and one using a path integral.The entropy estimate comes from integrating a Li-Yau type differential Harnack inequality for the adjoint heat equation,and the other is the optimal Li-Yau path integral for the same Harnack inequality; as Perelman acknowledges in 7.4 of his first paper,where he writes “an even closer reference is [L-Y],where they use “length” associated to a linear parabolic equation,which is pretty much the same as in our case”.
Over the years Yau has consistently supported the Ricci Flow and the whole field of Geometric Flows,which has other important successes as well,such as the recent proof of the Penrose Conjecture by Huisken and Ilmanen,a very important result in General Relativity. I cannot think of any other prominent leader who gave nearly support to our field as Yau has.
Yau has built is an assembly of talent,not an empire of power,people attracted by his energy,his brilliant ideas,and his unflagging support for first rate mathematics, people whom Yau has brought together to work on the hardest problems.Yau and I have spent innumerable hours over many years working together on the Ricci Flow and other problems,often even late at night. He has always generously shared his suggestions with me,starting with the observation of neck pinches,never asking for credit. In fact just last winter when I finally managed to prove a local version of the Harnack inequality for the Ricci Flow,a problem we had worked on together for many years,and I said I ought to add his name to the paper,he modestly declined.It is unfortunate that his character has been so badly misrepresented.He has never to my knowledge proposed any percentages of credit,nor that Perelman should share credit for the Poincare conjecture with anyone but me; which is reasonable,as indeed no one has been more generous in crediting my work than Perelman himself.Far from stealing credit for Perelman’s accomplishment,he has praised Perelman’s work and joined me in supporting him for the Fields Medal.And indeed no one is more responsible than Yau for creating the program on Ricci Flow which Perelman used to win this prize.
Richard S Hamilton
Professor of Mathematics,
Letter on Yau.nb 3
Remember the debate about “who should get credit for what?”. That is, of course, too subjective a topic and it invites madcap cretins. What Hamilton did in his letter was to depict precisely “who did what”, when the work was done, and how important it is to the completion of the Hamilton program, with all of the major players included. He left the question of “who should get credit for what?” to the readers, maybe even to the jury, if that proven to be necessary. For many, the question is now much easier to answer; for others, the answer may still be too hard to swallow, but that is irrelevant. Hamilton, although indirectly, gave his own answer to the question using mathematical and historical facts, and there is simply no one that is more qualified than he is to make the judgment. After all, everybody has been working in the Hamilton program. Did Yau need credit from Perelman for himself or for his students? Well, you can have your own answer.
What about the accusation that Yau did not think that Perelman deserves Fields medal? Hamilton’s confirmation of Yau’s support to Perelman answered that once for all. Anyone who is familiar with the Fields medal award process would know that he did not leave any room for doubt.
I love Hamilton’s mathematics. He has the talent to present his ideas in a simple, pure and beautiful way even when attacking some extremely difficult problems. His letter is written in almost the same fashion. The letter basically destroyed all the credibility of New Yorker’s “factual” attack to Yau.
If you read Perelman’s three papers and the other three expository papers (strictly speaking, there are only two such papers so far, Kleiner-Lott are still working on theirs), it is easy to find who has made what contribution to the proof of Poincare conjecture. All the relevant works, major and minor, have been cited. You can also find how much contribution was made by the other mathematicians (i.e. except Yau and Perelman) that were quoted by Nasar regarding Yau. Very little indeed. It makes you wonder why they should make any comments on Yau and Poincare conjecture at all. Some of them wanted credit for themselves, others for their students and the rest just want their fifteen minutes of fame.
Some people think Nasar is a good journalist, but allow me to disagree. Any experienced journalist would have his/her rear end covered when badmouthing one of the most important players in the story but without him on tape. Now, with the appearance of Hamilton’s letter, she gets herself exposed.
This is another point in the article that is questionable.
Nasar describes Yau as having a conflict with Chern, trying to supplant Chern’s status. She uses a quote from one of Chern’s relatives. She also gives the example of Yau fighting against Chern by trying to move the IMU congress from Beijing to Hong Kong.
The relative may not exist, according Yau’s letter. The IMU congress story is also very suspect, if you look at the letter and news links posted on the New Yorker website.
On the other hand, just doing a cursory search on the web found many glowing articles written by Yau about Chern.
Most recently: Yau, S.T. “Chern’s Work in Geometry”. Asian J. Math. 10, no 1. (2006), v-xii.
SS. Chern: A great geometer of the 20th century, Expanded Edition. 1998. Edited by S.T. Yau
Too bad Chern is not around to answer to this article, but it doesn’t seem like there’s been much conflict between the two.
How do you know there was no conflict between Chen and Yau? Yau will do anything in Chen’s later years because he didn’t need to fear from Chen and he wanted Chen’s blessing so he can be his heir that’s why he kissed up Chen’s ass. I heard many rumours about Yau and his relation with Chen. I don’t think they come from nowhere. I don’t think the New Yorker article has no evidence about this before it was put in print. I heard a famous comment from Chen that, in trying to praise Yau, Chen said Yau could be another Hilbert. But later on Chen himself realized that Yau’s goal was rather to be Chairman Mao. Yau is a very capable and very ambitious person. In a Chinese website, Yau’s letter to former Chinese President Jiang was posted, in which he really kissed up to Jiang’s ass and showed Jiang the poems he wrote in which Yau said he was aspiring to contribute to his motherland (even if I think he is an American, but just wants to rule China, or at least in China’s Mathematics world).
Could anybody comment on this: Is the use of titles in Cooper’s letter a reflection of usual lawer’s ethics or it comes from the client?
Yau is modestly Dr.
Witnesses Hawking, Cao, Zhu, Hamilton, Manin, Liu, Gathmann, Anderson, Shoen are Professors.
Behind the bars, we have: titless Givental, Ms. Nasar, Mr. Griffiths and even Mr. Perelman.
Umm..this is nitpicking.
Everyone addresses the authors as Ms. Nasar and Mr. Gruber, because they do not hold doctorate degrees. I think it’s fully respectable for them. It would be nice to call Givental as Professor, but the New Yorker article itself just refers to him as plain Givental as well as Perelman.