I have just finished presenting the work of this year’s Abel Prize winner, who is Pierre Deligne. In due course, the talk will appear on the Abel Prize website. As in the last two years, I have also prepared a written version of the talk, which goes into more detail. However, even the written version leaves a lot out. It was intended for a general — that is, not necessarily mathematical — audience, though I had to assume at least some maths. If your level of mathematical experience means that you find it too elementary, then I have three recommendations for further reading. I found these slides of Kumar Murty about Ramanujan’s tau function helpful and interesting. I also very much like Brian Osserman’s article on the Weil conjectures, written for the Princeton Companion to Mathematics. Finally, Nick Katz did the laudatio for Deligne’s Fields Medal and wrote an excellent article on his work. (Another article that I stumbled on only recently that looks incredibly nice, which is not about Deligne, though it mentions him, but which sheds interesting light on some of Deligne’s work is Finding Meaning in Error Terms, by Barry Mazur. So far I have just skimmed through some of it, but I think I’ll be going back to read it in more detail.)
Archive for the ‘News’ Category
For some months now I have known of a very promising initiative that until recently I have been asked not to publicize too widely, because the people in charge of it did not have a good estimate for when it would actually come to fruition. But now those who know about it have been given the green light. The short version of what I want to say in this post is that a platform is to be created that will make it very easy to set up arXiv overlay journals.
What is an arXiv overlay journal? It is just like an electronic journal, except that instead of a website with lots of carefully formatted articles, all you get is a list of links to preprints on the arXiv. The idea is that the parts of the publication process that academics do voluntarily — editing and refereeing — are just as they are for traditional journals, and we do without the parts that cost money, such as copy-editing and typesetting.
This brief post is to update further a recent post that was itself an update on the situation with EPSRC. The good news is that EPSRC postdoctoral fellowships in mathematics are now available for “intradisciplinary research” (as was already the case with the early career and established career fellowships). I am told that a certain amount of work went on behind the scenes to achieve this: we should be very grateful to the mathematicians involved, and grateful also to EPSRC for being prepared to show a degree of flexibility in this instance. I am also told, though only time will tell how true this is, that the interpretation of the word “intradisciplinary” will be generous, so unless your research is extremely narrow, you should be able to present it in a way that will qualify.
If you read an earlier post of mine about Elsevier’s updated letter to the mathematical community then you may remember that towards the end of the post I claimed that Elsevier was lobbying heavily to have all mention of open access removed from the documents of Horizon 2020, Europe’s “Framework Programme for Research and Innovation”, a claim that was then denied by Alicia Wise, who is Elsevier’s “Director of Universal Access”.
Leaving aside who is right about this (which may depend rather sensitively on the precise words used to describe what happened, not to mention the interpretation of those words), news has broken today in the THE of potentially important developments. It seems that whatever lobbying Elsevier might have gone in for has been to no avail, because open access will be a very significant aspect of Horizon 2020.
A natural way that one might hope to bring about a genuine change to the current subscription model where libraries pay through the nose for journals is that (i) we all put our papers on the arXiv and (ii) the libraries conclude, correctly, that the benefits from their very expensive subscriptions do not justify the costs. Bundling across subjects makes this a lot more difficult of course, but it seems that some institutions in Germany do not subscribe to the Freedom Collection (see previous post for a definition), which makes it easier. And now there is an example. The Technical University of Munich mathematics department has put out an announcement that it will cancel all its Elsevier subscriptions by 2013.
Please, if you are considering submitting a paper to an Elsevier journal without putting it on the arXiv, think of the faculty members of TU Munich who will not be able to get access to your papers (or at least not conveniently), and change your mind. If you do, it will also make it easier for other departments and libraries to make similar decisions.
I’m glad to be able to report that “A new proof of the density Hales-Jewett theorem” has recently appeared in Annals of Mathematics. Unfortunately it’s behind a paywall, but you can find an almost final version on the arXiv.
I might add that my enthusiasm for this way of working is undimmed. The reason there has been no Polymathematical activity on this blog for quite a while is that I’ve been busy with more conventional projects, but in the not too distant future I’d like to do some more open research. Also, Gil Kalai and I have a plan to try soon to revive the EDP project. I won’t say any more about that now, but it seems a good moment to mention it.
If you were looking for a clue about this year’s winner, you could perhaps have paid attention to the curious incident of my recent Mathoverflow question.
“But you haven’t asked any Mathoverflow questions recently.”
That was the curious incident.
Anyhow, it was wonderful to be told that Endre Szemerédi was to be this year’s winner. I won’t say any more in this post, but instead refer you to the Abel Prize website and to the written version of the talk I gave, which was intended for non-mathematicians.
This time a year ago, I had the privilege of attending the announcement of the 2011 Abel Prize, which was awarded to John Milnor. I also had the daunting task of presenting his work to a non-mathematical audience in twenty minutes or so. The same privilege/task has befallen me this year: I leave for Norway tomorrow and the announcement ceremony for the 2012 Abel Prize is on Wednesday at midday Norwegian time (11am GMT). If you are keen to know at the earliest possible opportunity which particular mereological sum of mathematicians has won the prize this year, then you can watch the event streamed live. For instructions, go to the Abel Prize website.
Most of the time I’m reasonably proud to be British. Not in an excessive way I hope: indeed, to be too unquestioningly proud to be British is somehow not British — part of our national character is to take a kind of masochistic pleasure in the country’s failures, such as being beaten to the South Pole by the Norwegians, never winning a tennis Grand Slam, regularly going out of the soccer World Cup at the quarter-final stage, letting other countries derive the economic benefit from research we do that has practical applications, etc. etc.
But recently two things have happened that are highly relevant to academic life and that make being British a straightforward embarrassment. One is that an immigration quota system has recently been introduced that has absolutely nothing to do with national interest and everything to do with pandering to the unsavoury instincts of certain kinds of voter. As a result of this system, many academics who would like to visit this country have been unable to do so because they have been denied visas, and others have had to be removed from shortlists for academic jobs (sometimes not because they have been denied visas but because the appointments committees in question cannot afford to offer a job to somebody who might discover a few months later that they are unable to accept it).
I have just completed one of the more difficult assignments of my mathematical life: to give a popular presentation of the work of John Milnor immediately following the formal announcement that he was the winner of this year’s Abel Prize. Of course, in one way the task is very straightforward, since Milnor is a mathematical giant and has a large number of fascinating theorems to his name. However, these theorems are not in my field, the talk was supposed to last fifteen minutes, and my immediate audience included not necessarily mathematical journalists who were supposed to understand what I was saying. If you go to the Abel Prize website, you will find a webcast of the whole announcement, including my talk (which includes a telephone interview with Milnor himself), and also a link to a written version of the talk, in which I go into more detail. But if you are a mathematician, then be warned that even the more detailed version is more about the background to Milnor’s results than to the results themselves. And since I was obliged to prepare the talk in secret, I cannot rule out that some of what I have said is wrong, or gives the wrong emphasis.