Monday, August 24, 2009

The Hungarian Reputation foR Combinatorics

I met and talked with two Israeli Graduate Students Working on Derandomization (if you are them please email me- I seem to have lost your names and email addresses, and I want to acknowledge you in a paper I am working on and send you a first draft).

Is Israel known for work in derandomization? I do not know. Is Hungary known for combinatorics? Of course. This raises some questions.
  1. Is the notion that Hungary is strong in combinatorics true? I would think so; however, I would like to see some hard data: Do they have the most combinatorists per capita? (probably yes). Do they teach Ramsey Theory in Kindergarden? (probably not).
  2. Assuming that Hungary is strong in combinatorics, what caused it? One answer is Erdos. Certainly Erdos encouraged and amplified the trend, but it was already there. In particular there were already Math Competitions in Hungary way back in 1884. See here for a short history of The Eotvos Compeition and see here for the problems.
  3. What other countries have reputations for certain areas? Are these reputations accurate? How does one measure such things? One problem with measuring such things is how much do you count one superstar? Is Israel strong in Logic because of Shelah? (I tried to see if he was the best logician in the world by typing Best Logician in the world into Google; however, it returned Did you mean Best Magician in the world?.) Do you count where someone was born? where they went to High School? College? Grad School? Where they are now?
  4. With Globalization will these differences fade away? (probably Yes). Have they already? (probably yes).


  1. I'd say Israelis are known for cryptography and complexity, of which derandomization is a part. Other observactions:
    Databases - Greece
    Low-level systems (i.e., wireless) - China
    High-level systems (i.e., decentralized systems) - India

  2. About 4, I don't think globalization will get rid of these affects. There is a correlation between a culture of a country and the type of science they are good at. For example, the French will never be better engineers than Germans, regardless of globalization. And so I think there is a link between strengths in computer science in a country and that country's culture. The link between a strength and a country is not, as you suggest, just a matter of circumstance.


  3. Some more free associations, in math:

    Poland - Analysis

    Russia - Probability

    Germany - Foundations of Math

  4. Doron Zeilberger discusses why there are a lot of 50 year old Israeli combinatoricists.

  5. "For example, the French will never be better engineers than Germans, regardless of globalization." I love this cliché. That's why a french nuclear plant explodes every day, and that's why Dassault aircrafts cannot fly.

  6. If you look even just in the US, you will notice different schools having different strengths. Perhaps the association with a country rather than a single school is due to the small size (and thus relatively small number of major research universities) in that country. I don't think this covers all cases, but it probably covers many.

  7. I love racist posts like these. They are so funny!!!

  8. Gian-Carlo Rota, in his book "Indiscrete Thoughts", wrote the following:

    "Some subjects can be roughly associated with geographic locations: graph theory is a Canadian subject, singular integrals is an Argentine subject, class field theory an Austrian subject, algebraic topology an American subject, algebraic geometry an Italian subject, special functions a Wisconsin subject, point-set topology a Southern subject, probability a Russian subject."

  9. Considering your earlier post remembering Imre Simon:

    "Most of his scientific accomplishments were in "European" Theoretical Computer Science"

    I would say that there are certainly geographic differences in computer science. For a specific example, none of the top 10 American schools, excepting CMU have strong research groups in theoretical programming languages. Meanwhile the UK schools do an awful lot of work in this area. This makes sense since the UK has a strong tradition of logicians.