Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Poincaré conjecture: press accounts

Wow. When a mathematics story makes the news, it really makes it big. Sometimes.

Unfortunately, most of the emphasis seems to be on the personality of Grigory Perelman and how, like, weird he is portrayed as being.

One commentator, who calls his blog "Freakonomics" (yeah, I know, same as his book) compares Perelman and the Unabomber: What Do the Unabomber and Grigori Perelman Have In Common? The list is long: both are (or were at some time in their lives) mathematicians, bearded and long-haired, reclusive, and scholars/teachers at -- get this -- U. C. Berkeley.

Jesus. (Speaking of hirsute guys known for decidedly unnormal behavior.) It's stereotype-o-rama. Shouldn't we mention Rasputin as well? I mean, he was also Russian (like Perelman), though not, as far as I know, interested in mathematics.

But let's not dwell on this sort of thing, OK? Now, where was I? Oh, yes, press accounts of the (apparent) solution of the Poincaré conjecture.

It must be said that this isn't exactly news. It came to the attention of the mathematical community in 2003, when Perleman lectured on his results at MIT -- see here. The news even leaked out to the general public in 2004, as in this ABC News/Reuters story.

Of course, it's all getting attention now, since just recently others have filled out and prepared for publication most of the necessary details of Perelman's proof, as was noted here (near the end, via Peter Woit's blog) two weeks ago. There was also much speculation that, for his work, Perelman would be offered a Fields Medal at the International Congress of Mathematicians meeting Tuesday (8/22), and that he would neither accept the award nor even be at the meeting.

The New York Times picked up on this in a story on August 15 by Dennis Overbye. And on Tuesday the speculations proved correct, which is when the news flood really rolled in.

I'm not going to dig further into the press accounts in this post. That's for later, when I'll also try to say a lot more about the Poincaré conjecture itself, which is what really matters. (I'll leave the tabloid stuff about Perelman for others -- watch for the Broadway play next year, and the movie starring Tom Cruise the year after that.)

But for now, I just wanted to provide, for your reading pleasure, some of the other press accounts that showed up in the past 24 hours or so...

More to come. Stay tuned.

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