You have probably noticed that I have a particular interest in the Yau Shing-tong vs Beida controversy. A while earlier I found a New Yorker article (via ESWN, the cartoon is shown here) about the newest Field Medalist Perelman, the Poincare conjecture, and Prof Yau. The article was quite informative, except that it was highly ignorant of the research environment in China, or how research was conducted in general, and the whole Yau Shing-tong vs Peking University/Tian Gang controversy. I wondered if the reporters had talked to Yau at all.
It turned out that they did talk to Yau and communicated with him for some length, and basically ignored the story from his side (or mostly other knowledgeable poeple). Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Professor Yau is preparing for
Update (Sep 23):
1) commentator LW pointed to a report that New Yorker stands by its story, looks like that leaves Yau with no other option than filing a law suit.
2) (Sep 24) AMS's account of Poincare conjecture (PDF)
3) Yau's lecture in Beijing about Poincare conjecture
4) Scientific American points to Scott Aaronson's blog and new post
5) Testaments of other mathematics professors (from comments on Aaronson's blog)
- 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:
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.
- 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 first 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 Yorker before publication; this was partly because I was travelling in Europe at the time this happened, and there was a rush to publish; the publication date is the same as the announcement date of the Fields Medals I think. I was not sent an advance copy of the article for checking. I spoke with Sylvia on the phone this morning, to no avail. I've also had some email correspondence with Yau on the matter over the last day. I apologized to him and expressed my anger and frustration about what was done, confirming to him the quote attributed to me is false and baseless. The email to Yau is now already posted on a Chinese blog site!）.
I've learned my lesson on dealing with the media the hard and sour way and am still considering what path to pursue to try to rectify the situation, to the extent still possible.
- Princeton Professor Joe Kohn's email to Yao:
I learned from Andreea that you were very hurt by my remarks quoted in the New Yorker. I did not mean to hurt you. You are universally recognizd as one of the foremost mathematicians of our times, which explains my first remark. I know how deeply you care about Chinese mathematics and therefore I assume that you would like to be as effective as possible in your leadership of the Chinese mathematical community - and this explains my second remark.