Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Alexandre Grothendieck hiding

Breaking news: Thomas Čech withdraws from the Harvard presidential search because he already has a great job. I am afraid he is right. His decision makes Dr Faust the #1 candidate.

Scienceline.ORG writes about Alexandre Grothendieck, an eminent mathematician, who is now 78 years old and he is probably doing well but no one has seen him for 14 years. In 1988, he rejected a prestigious award. He also criticized politicization of science - especially awards that change the real goal of science and mathematics. Also, Grothendieck has predicted a complete collapse of scientific establishment.

I share most of his concerns but I am probably less radical about them. ;-) The scientific establishment hasn't collapsed in the last 10 years. Awards suck and all the other phenomena Grothendieck talked about are here and they are pernicious but it doesn't necessarily follow that the scientific establishment must collapse. Because it's contaminated by careerism and politics, it will just become far less appealing for people like Grothendieck and it will lose - it is already losing - its purity. It will attract - and it is already attracting - a different kind of people.

The article also mentions some proposals to rank members of the American Mathematical Society. While there are good aspects of this idea, I also think that it would lead to an even more obvious escalation of political thinking and careerism in mathematics which are bad things. Such a ranking in AMS could reveal some information to the outsiders but I can easily imagine what kind of people would be primarily fighting, using all possible tools, allies, and emotions, for the higher ranks: the ambitious crackpots and mediocre thinkers who like to be described as geniuses by the media and who never disagree even though they know very well that such a description is a flagrant lie.

Via David Goss.

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