Google Analytics

Friday, March 26, 2010

Turning down a Fields Medal is eccentric, turning down the Millennium Prize is INSANE!

NEWS on Poincare Conjecture:
  1. Recall that Perelman was given the Fields Medal in 2006 for proving the Poincare Conjecture. He declined the award.
  2. Recent news: Quoting the Wikipedia article on Perelman: Perelman was officially awarded the Millennium prize on March 18, 2010. Note that they are giving it JUST to him. There was some discussion earlier if there would be split credit of some kind.
  3. He turned it down! That is, he turned down $1,000,000. See here
  4. Perelman's reasons for turning down the Millennium prize are likely similar to why he turned down the Fields Medal. To quote him on the Fields Medal: I'm not interested in money or fame. I don't want to be on display like an animal in a zoo. I'm not a hero of mathematics. I'm not even that successful; that is why I don't want everyone looking at me.
Some random views I've heard about this: NONE are mine.
  1. Turing down the Fields Medal ($15,000) is eccentric. Turing down the Millennium prize ($1,000,000) is insane.
  2. I have some sympathy. I have a grant and now I have to work on the stuff it says to work on rather than the stuff I later got interested in. Money and prizes should not guide research. Wait, did you say its $1,000,000? My mistake, this guy is not playing with a complete axioms set.
  3. By turning it down the Fields Medal, and now the Millennium prize, he gets more people to look at him like he's an animal in a zoo. I doubt he planned that.
  4. After turning down the Fields medal, if he had taken the Millennium then it would look like he had compromised his ideals (making him an ideal compromiser). But see the next item.
  5. His reasons for turning either prize down do not seem idealistic.
  6. It was rumored that Andrew Wiles locked himself in his attic or basement for 7 years to work on FLT. This story is either false or an exaggeration. It made the rounds because it enforces the stereotype of a mathematician. By contrast, Perelman's story IS true but is SO bizarre that I do not think it enforces any stereotype.
  7. Is Perelman still doing math? If he solves Riemann then he'll save the Clay Inst. another $1,000,000.
  8. What happens to the money? Do the other prizes all get increased by 1,000,000/6 ? Do they find another problem instead?
  9. Some in Russia are saying he should have given it to charity. On the other hand, the Clay Inst IS a charity, so in a sense he did give it to a charity. Instead of helping Russian Orphans he is helping Mathematicians.

58 comments:

  1. Why is it insane?

    He seems to think he has enough to live on, and as he once said somewhere, all he cares about are tickets to the opera which he also has access to.

    Why is this even eccentric? He doesn't want to play by your rules, and he doesn't need to.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I like him already. I wished everyone acted like him.
    i agree with the fact that he think he is not a hero of mathematics. I mean none of the new math ppl is a true hero. Yes not even gowers nor tao belong to the true heros. It's hard to be a true and legimitate hero as math has become is just too broad. A hero by definition is an expert in at least 40% of all of math. Nobody nowadays comes even to half of that.

    ReplyDelete
  3. bang on, anon1!

    ReplyDelete
  4. It's very easy to understand. He wants to make a statement that math shouldn't be about money. Relatedly, he is in a perfect position to make such a statement, because he doesn't need any money at all. Which part of this you don't believe or can't accept as sane?

    ReplyDelete
  5. I don't applaud to his decision, but maybe people in academia will get the message? How much time of an average professor is spent for research itself versus begging for grants, managing students, or participating in meaningless faculty meetings (as well as other non-research activities necessary to live up to the social status)? How many of people in academia care about scientific progress more than about money, career and social status?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Perhaps what hurts (American people) the most in Perelman's behaviour (yes, I am not American) is his different ranking of values, as revealed by the semi-serious joke "Turing down the Fields Medal ($15,000) is eccentric. Turing down the Millennium prize ($1,000,000) is insane.", which seems to suggest the idea that wealth is an indicator of "self fulfillment".

    On this, I totally agree with Anon #1.

    And I also like the "math shouldn't be about money" of Anon #4. I'm not saying that all of us should reach Perelman's asceticism, but that money or fame should not be our driving forces.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I am not surprised by surprises coming from this very original mind, as long as he is not harming himself or others.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Perelman's achievements and potentials are worth more than $1M for sure. So what is important for him and for others to think of him is how to allow him contribute more to math. P seems to think that his talents are no public assets and he does not owe to the society to continue to contribute (including exchanges with other experts). That is sad. The morale should be promoted that great talents have great social obligations.

    ReplyDelete
  9. There's various bits of research that suggest a rather low cutoff point beyond which more money doesn't correlate with more happiness. If we take that to be true, then declining $1m is highly rational.

    And whether its intentional or not, he's cementing a mythos people will remember after he's gone. Would Erdos be as famous if he had a home his whole life?

    Whatever the motives, it's healthy for us a culture to be reminded that money isn't the end all be all now and again.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Quite the contrast to the whole Mihai Pătraşcu hubbub from last year (http://infoweekly.blogspot.com/2009/09/loser-awards.html). Mihai might want to take a lesson in humbleness from Perelman.

    ReplyDelete
  11. We should be creative and find a way to honor him in a way he likes it too.

    May be do something in the name of his accomplishments instead of in his name.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Commenter "logos" leads to an interesting point. If Perelman accepted either prize, it would be much easier to argue that he has "social obligations" to the rest of mathematics. (Of course one may claim he has such obligations, regardless of what prize he rejects...)

    This is more than just "math shouldn't be about money or fame." What we have really learned is that Perelman values his privacy more than either of the two.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Before we get carried away with Perelman's humbleness: this is the guy who turned down a prize from the European Maths Society, saying that the committee was not competent enough to judge his work. He also stated that he was disappointed with the ethical standards of current Maths. Being reclusive, eccentric, and successful at Maths does not imply any other saintly traits that you may wish to find in a hero :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. "Would Erdos be as famous if he had a home his whole life?"

    This is, I think, our problem. Grigory Perelman does not have it. Erdos is famous not for this. He just proved and conjectured. Just like GP.

    In 2003 the Institute in St Petersburg failed to re-elect him as a member ... And he is jobless since then. Something is wrong with the whole our system. Very wrong. And it is something very fresh in this his last action. He just said he sees all this monster of overorganized science wrong ... An encouraging step. From a great but jobless scientist ... Something is wrong. Not with GP, but with the whole "science doing" system (firings, counting publications, advertisement, etc.)

    ReplyDelete
  15. What's insane about it is that he could have accepted the money and donated it to his favorite charity.

    Or used it to support other mathematicians.

    Or whatever other 'cause' he thinks is worthwhile.

    That's why it's crazy.

    ReplyDelete
  16. "What's insane about it is that he could have accepted the money and donated it to his favorite charity."

    But then he would already be IN the system ...

    ReplyDelete
  17. I have no idea about his real motives but one could imagine safety and peace of mind as concerns since money that everyone knows about might make him a target. The possibility of the prize money has already made him a target of charities.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Keep in mind that the fact that Russian has problems with the mafia may have influenced his decision. It may be difficult to just quietly accept 1mil and keep it in your bank account or even transfer it to a charity. Some unfriendly people may come knocking on your door.

    Pavel

    ReplyDelete
  19. Sorry, Pavel, "Russian mafia problem" has nothing to do with this. I am 100% sure. Do not simplify the picture made by master. (Although such a simplification is also a part of THE system.) The meaning of this action is much deeper, I guess ...

    ReplyDelete
  20. I just realized what the word "insane" means. Sorry ... This already reflects the whole destruction of our "system." This is, perhaps, why GP prefers a distance from it?

    No, I don't think this was an "insane." This is a sign to the whole "science bureaucracy." A sign with weight!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Come on, guys. We all get the message that Perelman is trying to tell us with this action of his, and we all sympathise and agree with him of course...

    but I really do not think it is such a bold statement to say that just turning down 1,000,000.- dollar (and also not even giving a good explanation for it) *is* actually a little bit crazy.

    ReplyDelete
  22. According to the BBC ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8585407.stm ), Perelman lives with his mother in a cockroach-infested "tiny flat". I have previously read, although I canot find a source right now, that he is unemployed and lives off (the equivalent) of his mother's social security pension.

    It seems pretty heartless to not take the money and help out his mother.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Concerning a "good explanation" -- here is what he said once:

    "As long as I was not conspicuous, I had a choice. Either to make some ugly thing or, if I didn't do this kind of thing, to be treated as a pet. Now, when I become a very conspicuous person, I cannot stay a pet and say nothing. That is why I had to quit."

    Just at the point.

    ReplyDelete
  24. "It seems pretty heartless to not take the money and help out his mother."

    Yes. And what? Perhaps his mother also doesn't want to be "in the system"? Why we want to stamp all differently thinking people as "insane" ones?

    I like what Grisha has done. Nobody understands things behind ... I wonder whether the P/NP solver will follow him ...

    ReplyDelete
  25. I hope that Perelmannnnn is happy after all this.

    Can you believe that he wasn't re=elected to as steklov member ?

    I mean, razborov is a member there isn't he ? Maybe he can put on a good word for Perelman ?

    Would you think that these two know one another ?

    Also, I would love to know what Sasha thinks of Perelman's action.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Isn't razborov now at the university of chicago ?

    Must be quite mindblowiing to be a theory student there ...

    ReplyDelete
  27. In 2003 the Institute in St Petersburg failed to re-elect him as a member ... And he is jobless since then.

    Stasys, the rumour that GP was fired from the institute is thrown in by incompetent journalists. In fact, he decided to leave the institute and the mathematics himself.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Maybe he thought the e-mail was a scam message. I've likely turned down millions and millions of dollars in inheritance from relatives in Africa of whom I had not been previously aware.

    ReplyDelete
  29. How much time of an average professor is spent for research itself versus begging for grants,

    Depends where you are. In most first world countries, not that much, maybe 5% of the time. In the US, it can easily be upwards of 20% of the time depending on the field and the pressure from your institution to get support.

    How many of people in academia care about scientific progress more than about money,

    This would be pretty much all professors, since any one of them could substantially increase their salary by switching to industry.

    career and social status?

    Professors worry about career and social status? Gasp, what an unusual thing! This is totally contrary to the rest of the people who are impervious to those human foibles.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Stasys, the rumour that GP was fired from the institute is thrown in by incompetent journalists. In fact, he decided to leave the institute and the mathematics himself.

    Thanks, Edward, for correction! This is entirely different situation. (One could use harder words than just "incompetent" for such journalists.)

    This correction sheds a different light on inner intentions of GP. No more stress on "bad system." Just another view at happening around (also in science), not shared by most of us. A wish of silence. So, now his decision looks even nicer and quite understandable. He just doesn't want to be in public light. Even for 1mln. High price for inner silence ... But it is nice that we still have such people.

    ReplyDelete
  31. How much time of an average professor is spent for research itself versus begging for grants,

    Depends where you are. In most first world countries, not that much, maybe 5% of the time. In the US, it can easily be upwards of 20% of the time depending on the field and the pressure from your institution to get support.



    You're not even in the ballpark. Easily 50% at a serious research university.

    ReplyDelete
  32. So, what is your opinion Mr. Gasarch?

    ReplyDelete
  33. >> How many of people in academia
    >> care about scientific progress
    >> more than about money,

    > This would be pretty much all
    > professors, since any one of
    > them could substantially
    > increase their salary by
    > switching to industry.

    For the record: not true. Even ignoring the fact that most profs would be unhirable in industry, one can easily make more in academia than in industry when you factor in consulting. There is also the cost-of-living issue. Whether one is happier in academia or industry -- that's another question.

    ReplyDelete
  34. come on. what is 1 millions usd nowadays truly worth ?

    nothing really. If u think about the fact that u can't even buy a small luxurious apartment in downtown manhattan ? or that u cannot even afford buying a maserati with the intention of maintaining it hassle free, financially over the next decade ?

    what is a million usd really worth ? definitely not this amount of media attention.

    now if we were to talk about 50 million usdollars ... all these comments would be somewhat understandable.

    With 50 millions us dollars, I can definitely see someone buying out a somewhat reasonable apartment as well as somewaht decent medium for transportation and additionally not worry about how to maintain his status over the next few decades.

    but one million dollars ? haha ... it's like pocket money.

    ReplyDelete
  35. For the record: not true. Even ignoring the fact that most profs would be unhirable in industry, one can easily make more in academia than in industry when you factor in consulting.

    You might think they are unhirable, but to use an actual data point, professors who are denied tenure and choose to get off the academic track usually land an industry job in no time.

    About consulting fees don't be fooled by the gross amount earned. Most universities have overheads and claw-backs on them.

    Industry tends to hire professors at salary rates that are 50 to 100% over and above their 12 month academic salary.

    ReplyDelete
  36. You're not even in the ballpark. Easily 50% at a serious research university.

    It really depends on the field. I have never met a computer scientist who spends 50% of his/her time applying for grants, which is what the "upwards of 20%" refers to. Researchers in the natural sciences do spend upwards of 50% of their time applying for grants.

    Also beware of tales where researchers spend 50% of their time applying for grants, 30% teaching, 30% doing research and the remaining 20% doing service.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Industry tends to hire professors at salary rates that are 50 to 100% over and above their 12 month academic salary.

    An average US professor's 12-month starting salary is in the ballpark of $110K. After a few years it will be $130K. Except for high-profile names, I doubt any industry job pays 100% more than that. Even 50% more seems unlikely to me.

    ReplyDelete
  38. ur figures seem to be pulled out of ur .... head.
    how much does an associate professor earn ? or even full time professor at harvard ? more like 80K ++

    ReplyDelete
  39. Professors worry about career and social status? Gasp, what an unusual thing! This is totally contrary to the rest of the people who are impervious to those human foibles.

    Nothing wrong with that, but if one lives on $100K+ per year of taxpayers' money just for having a tenure, and then gets even more from public by receiving grants, higher moral standards are expected :). Meanwhile, it often works like this.

    ReplyDelete
  40. ur figures seem to be pulled out of ur .... head.

    Just look at the Taulbee survey, keeping in mind that it's now almost 2 years out of date.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Except for high-profile names, I doubt any industry job pays 100% more than that. Even 50% more seems unlikely to me.

    To introduce data here, a certain large software company is hiring our bright PhDs students fresh out of grad school at ~$110K. Once you consider that, $180-190K for a full professor (12 years out of PhD) doesn't sound like such a big number anymore.

    You can readily get $250K if the match is right. This is the most common case for senior hires: if they want out of academia, they make contact with the one company that needs their knowledge and command the big bucks.

    The last five colleagues who left for the greener pastures of industry in the last seven years got deals ranging from 1.5x annual salary and lots of stock options to 3x annual salary and small number of options in a large corporation with non-rising share price. The average and median offer was around 2x annual salary with a modest share plan.

    ReplyDelete
  42. "An average US professor's 12-month starting salary is in the ballpark of $110K."

    You are kidding, right? Perhaps in Computer Science. Certainly not in mathematics- my field- and most certainly not at my university (a public one, which has a top 15 math department).

    ReplyDelete
  43. You can readily get $250K if the match is right...

    The last five colleagues who left for ... industry ... got deals ranging from 1.5x annual salary and lots of stock options to 3x annual salary and small number of options ...


    I (and others) would love to know what companies you are talking about.

    To the best of my knowledge, average salary at research labs (even for senior people, but not for exceptional cases) is $150-175K. Google is in the same ballpark (for technical hires, even senior ones). Jobs in finance (if you can get them anymore) pay around the same, but offer potentially huge bonuses. Technical consulting jobs also pay the same. So what companies, exactly, are offering 3 x $133K ~ $400K/year salaries?

    ReplyDelete
  44. Can't we just say that he is slightly insane but still a mathematical genius? He would not be alone in that rank...

    ReplyDelete
  45. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Some comment asked what my opinion is so I will give it, though it will likely be lost among the side topic of professors going to industry.

    When I first wrote this post I thought that he was crazy to not take the money. But reading the intelligent comments defending him raise some very good points. Even to say ``he can give it to charity'' is work and hassle. Keeping it could be even more of a hassle. So, while I would certainly take the money
    (I have to now- Lance tweeted that I would :-) ) I can somewhat understand his viewpoints, and respect it, and I would not call him crazy based on his refusal of
    the Fields Medal OR of the Millennium Prize.

    ReplyDelete
  47. I'm with anon1. I've read much Russian literature: now I see a representative figure of a great Russian in real life. I spent time in Russia in the 80s and 90s. Perelman to me is a figure of fantastic mathematical ability who is deeply spiritual or individualistic (or both). Many of the finest Russian thinkers in history have been non-materialists. I have deep respect for Perelman, period.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Of course, GP is a true hero.

    Something is rotten in Academia.
    We all know about that.

    GP just doesnt want anything to do with all that corruption.
    You bet he endures a number of humiliations during all of his academic years while trying to do some serious research.
    What he called being a pet.
    Getting dissed all the time by whacky carreerist paper pissers and journal editors "for the friends".

    And now that his talent cannot be denied, he stays true to his ideal.
    Of course, he is a hero.

    Failing to recognize this shows the poor state of Academia. When a true genius surfaces, the only one able to solve one of the greatest problem of the time, rather than

    On a side note, not all professors have the required skills to be hired by the industry: dont believe the lore they tell their students to justify their taxes-funded wages.

    On another side note, I may sound a little bit overcritical ... I guess it compensates the total lack of

    ReplyDelete
  49. Stasys, if you read Russian (I heard you do), here is a recent comment from the institute's director:
    http://trv-science.ru/2010/03/30/o-prichinax-uxoda-g-perelmana-iz-pomi/

    ReplyDelete
  50. If I recall correctly, after learning he had been awarded a Nobel Prize, Richard Feynman's first thought was to turn it down, to avoid all the hassle of accepting it, and only after consulting someone else, and realizing that turning it down would be a much larger hassle than simply accepting it, did he accept it.

    I might be mistaken though, memory is always suspect.

    ReplyDelete
  51. Thanks, Edward, for the link. (I can read Russian, very well. I've spent several years in Moscow when working on my PhD. These were the best years! Perhaps because I was so young then, or maybe because the "russian sole" has something magic?)

    On the letter of the director of PDMI (Petersburg Division of Steklov Math Institute):

    (1) He confirms that GP was *not* fired from the institute;

    (2) GP has decided to leave it by himself (on 2004);

    (3) GP hasn't written a PhD; he doesn't published his results as "all of us" in journals.
    He published them online.

    (4) He was fired to the "leading scientific researcher." And still he left the institute.

    (5) The director of the institute (PDMI) says at the end that it is very bad that we are estimated by some "impact factors" etc., etc.

    (6) And he adds that after all this "estimation madness", it is hard to expect yet another of these 7 problems (P-NP perhaps?) being solved in Russia ...

    All in all, it seems like people in Petersburg are trying to tell us the truth. The truth about all this happening. And I am tending to believe them. Many things go in Russia differently. (As also Geoff said.) U.S. success measures do no apply there! Spiritual people (like G.P.) do not play our game. And when media people come then to "tell us the truth" -- then God save our soles ...

    B.t.w. Edward, it could perhaps make sense to make an official statement of the PDMI on all this happening? Before the "other truth" will establish it?

    ReplyDelete
  52. Stasys, some corrections:

    (4) "was fired" - probably you meant "was promoted";

    (6) he says that things will be that bad "*if*" this bibliometry wins.

    In Russia "harshness of laws is compensated by slack execution". We can still find a workaround if needed :)

    ReplyDelete
  53. Indeed, Edward, he was of course *promoted*: "leading scientist" is the highest position in the institute, as I know. Sorry. My English seems to be worse than than my Russian ...

    ReplyDelete
  54. "Turing down the Fields Medal ($15,000) is eccentric. Turing down the Millennium prize ($1,000,000) is insane."

    Did you intentionally write "Turing" or have you lost the middle "n" along the way? :-)

    ReplyDelete
  55. Grigori Perelman is a little Jewish Mama's Boy!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mama%27s_Boy_%28film%29

    ReplyDelete
  56. Grigori Perelman is a Mama's Boy!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mama%27s_Boy_%28film%29

    ReplyDelete
  57. It may not be the money Grigori Perelman rejected, but the poverty of ethics in academia!

    ReplyDelete
  58. I have become a great fan of GP. A true ideal for which mathematics stands for i.e If you play just for winning you cannot enjoy playing.Do Mathematics for the sake of mathematics.

    ReplyDelete