Thursday, August 31, 2006

A New Yorker Article on the Poincaré Conjecture

Yesterday I finished reading a rather long, but interesting article published in the New Yorker. The article, written by Sylvia Nasar (of Beautiful Mind fame) and David Gruber, describes some of the developments surrounding the proof of the Poincaré conjecture, has excerpts of an interview with Perelman, and offers us a glimpse of what happens behind the scenes of the mathematical arena. The former Fields medal winner and top-notch mathematician Shing-Tung Yau appears as the "villain" in the story.

I do not know if the content of the article is truly trustworthy, but it makes for some interesting, and at times arresting, reading. This excerpt, for one, tells the remarkable story of the recent publication of what could be a key paper in the story of the solution of the Poincaré conjecture:

On April 13th of this year, the thirty-one mathematicians on the editorial board of the Asian Journal of Mathematics received a brief e-mail from Yau and the journal’s co-editor informing them that they had three days to comment on a paper by Xi-Ping Zhu and Huai-Dong Cao titled “The Hamilton-Perelman Theory of Ricci Flow: The Poincaré and Geometrization Conjectures,” which Yau planned to publish in the journal. The e-mail did not include a copy of the paper, reports from referees, or an abstract. At least one board member asked to see the paper but was told that it was not available. On April 16th, Cao received a message from Yau telling him that the paper had been accepted by the A.J.M., and an abstract was posted on the journal’s Web site.

Quite a remarkable refereeing process for a paper proving one of the Millennium Problems of the Clay mathematical institute!

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