Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Redeeming Shing-Tung Yau's reputation

After Silvia Nasar and David Gruber trashed   Prof. Yau's reputation, Dennis Overbye tries to restore some of it in his article in today's NYTimes. This new effort can at best be described only as a partial success.

[I]n 2003, a Russian mathematician, Grigory Perelman, sketched a way to jump a roadblock that had stymied Dr. Hamilton and to prove the hallowed theorem as well as a more general one proposed by the Cornell mathematician William Thurston. Dr. Perelman promptly disappeared, leaving his colleagues to connect the dots.

Among those who took up that challenge, at the urging of Dr. Yau, were Huai-Dong Cao of Lehigh University, a former student, and Xi-Ping Zhu of Zhongshan University. Last June, Dr. Yau announced that they had succeeded and that the first complete proof would appear in The Asian Journal of Mathematics, at which he is the chief editor.

In a speech later that month during the string theory conference, Dr. Yau said, “In Perelman’s work, many key ideas of the proofs are sketched or outlined, but complete details of the proofs are often missing,” adding that the Cao-Zhu paper had filled some of these in with new arguments.

This annoyed many mathematicians, who felt that Dr. Yau had slighted Dr. Perelman. Other teams who were finishing their own connect-the-dots proofs said they had found no gaps in Dr. Perelman’s work. “There was no mystery they suddenly resolved,” said John Morgan of Columbia, who was working with Gang Tian of Princeton on a proof.

This new piece of dirt doesn't help Yau's cause at all:

In a twist, a flaw has been discovered in the Cao-Zhu paper. One of the arguments that the authors used to fill in Dr. Perelman’s proof is identical to one posted on the Internet in June 2003 by Bruce Kleiner, of Yale, and John Lott, of the University of Michigan, who had been trying to explicate Dr. Perelman’s work.

In an erratum to run in The Asian Journal of Mathematics, Dr. Cao and Dr. Zhu acknowledge the mistake, saying they had forgotten that they studied and incorporated that material into their notes three years ago.


  1. Anonymous said...

    And I thought math was perfect! It is as good as the people who check the proof :(

    Yau's webpage is interesting: he seems to have taken this to his heart; just look at the links on his first page!

    `Emperor of math' sounds very weird. There's something wrong with these kind of titles.

  2. Michael Zeleny said...

    Dennis Overbye's article referenced above reads as a half-arsed put-up job, whenever it tries to avoid another twisting of the knife in Yau's semi-exsanguinated carcass. In reporting self-acknowledged plagiarism by Cao and Zhu, Overbye tacitly brings to the fore the farce of the three-day refereeing procedure mandated by Yau for their work, as reported by Nasar and Gruber. Overbye also quotes Deane Yang writing in a letter to The New Yorker: "Yau has an outsized ego and great ambition, and has done things that dismay his peers." However, he neglects to quote another letter published in the same issue, penned by Solomon Golomb, Professor of Mathematics and Electrical Engineering at the University Of Southern California in Los Angeles:

    "When a mathematician thinks he has solved a famous, long-standing problem, it is more the rule than exception to circulate the purported proof informally first to have it critiqued by experts in the specialty of the proof. Perelman's use of the Internet for this purpose was merely a twenty-first-century variation on this practice. What was exceptional was his unwillingness, once his proof outline was examined by the handful of experts qualified to judge it, to write his own more detailed version in a form suitable for journal publication. Whenever a famous conjecture is proved, other people who have worked on the problem are likely to come forth with variations, simplifications, or generalizations of the first correct proof. Only rarely does this lead to disputed claims of priority. (A famous case occurred in the late nineteen-forties regarding the rival claims of Atle Selberg proof of the Prime Number Theorem in number theory). In the Poincaré case, Yau's attempt to shift some credit from Perelman to Xi-Ping Zhu and Huai-Dong Cao seems to be utterly without merit."

    Draw your own conclusions.

  3. Anonymous said...

    Just found this on MathForum. One of the worst cases of plagiarism seen in mathematics in a while, I suspect. This does not seem to help out Yau's case much...

    In response to allegations of plagiarism, Cao-Zhu published an erratum. Is it adequate?

    Here is the "evidence" supporting the allegation of plagiarism:

    Here is the Cao-Zhu erratum:

  4. Anonymous said...


  5. Dreeyuw said...

    Just another Jew hitjob.