Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Prof Yau demands correction

Woit reports:
Shing-Tung Yau is fighting back against the New Yorker article "Manifold Destiny", which was very critical of him, essentially claiming he was trying to steal credit for the proof of the Poincare Conjecture from Perelman. He has hired a lawyer and set-up a web-site. The web-site includes a long letter from his lawyer to the New Yorker, making his case that the article has many inaccuracies.
I previously criticized the New Yorker article below.

I've heard people say that the New Yorker magazine has a high reputation for accuracy, and I've wondered why they say so. They have traditionally paid by the word, and liked long tedious articles that are chosen for stylistic reasons. The Poincare Conjecture article is more interested in gossip than substance. It misses the big story and tries to create an artificial controversy over who should get how much credit. I hope Prof Yau succeeds.

The print edition shows a big cartoon of Yau trying to steal Perelman's Field's Medal. But that is absurd, as Yau already has his own medal and is not eligible for another. He was never against Perelman getting a medal, as far as I can tell.

The New Yorker article was coauthored by Sylvia Nasar, the overrated author of A Beautiful Mind, the unauthorized biography of mathematician John Nash. I thought that she was very unfair to Nash in some ways in that book. It also had too much gossip and not enough substance.

Update: The New Yorker responds:
"Contrary to Dr. Yau's assertions, the article is nuanced and fair, and was prepared using ethical standards of journalism," the magazine said in a statement. "Dr. Yau, his supporters and his point of view were given ample space in the article." ...

But The New Yorker said the article was the result of four months of reporting and hours of meticulous fact-checking. The authors spent over 20 hours interviewing Yau, conducted approximately 100 other interviews with people in Yau's field and even traveled to China to research the story.
The time spent just makes the New Yorker all the more culpable.

Update: Another Chinese mathematician is offended by the way the article describes Chinese mathematics as technical and unoriginal. Other mathematicians comment here.

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