×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Science's Breakthrough of the Year

CmdrTaco posted more than 7 years ago | from the break-this-science dept.

Math 92

johkir writes "Last year, evolution was the breakthrough of the year; We found it full of new developments in understanding how new species originate. But we did get a complaint or two that perhaps we were just paying extra attention to the lively political/religious debate that was taking place over the issue, particularly in the United States. Perish the thought! Our readers can relax this year: Religion and politics are off the table, and n-dimensional geometry is on instead. This year's Breakthrough salutes the work of a lone, publicity-shy Russian mathematician named Grigori Perelman, who was at the Steklov Institute of Mathematics of the Russian Academy of Sciences until 2005. The work is very technical but has received unusual public attention because Perelman appears to have proven the Poincaré Conjecture (Our coverage from earlier this year), a problem in topology whose solution will earn a $1 million prize from the Clay Mathematics Institute. That's only if Perelman survives what's left of a 2-year gauntlet of critical attack required by the Clay rules, but most mathematicians think he will. There is also a page of runner-ups. Many of which have been covered here on Slashdot."

cancel ×
This is a preview of your comment

No Comment Title Entered

Anonymous Coward 1 minute ago

No Comment Entered

92 comments

Update please (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 7 years ago | (#17337888)

Did Grigori Perelman turn up to collect his 1 million, I remember at the time there was some speculation on the matter.

I hope he isn't living in poverty when things are available to him, but if he is who do I speak to about claiming the unclaimed prize?

Re:Update please (4, Informative)

Wooloomooloo (902011) | more than 7 years ago | (#17337938)

He turned the prize down. In fact, he didn't even show up at the ceremony.

Re:Update please (2, Informative)

modular_form (1042794) | more than 7 years ago | (#17338634)

He turned down the Fields medal, but the million dollars is a separate thing. They won't even offer it until two years after his proof is published. I heard the man lives on $1 a day, so he's probably not interested in the money either.

Re:Update please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17339080)

I heard the man lives on $1 a day, so he's probably not interested in the money either.

What's the matter with him?! He could live to be over 2700 years old with that money!

Re:Update please (1)

garion888 (1042184) | more than 7 years ago | (#17338168)

As far as I remember he took all the money he made as an American and moved back to the former Soviet Russia WHERE CONJECTURES PROVE YO--++NO CARRIER:CLICHE MAXIMUM REACHED++--

x/0 (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17337890)

Dividing by 0. Above all. Before, doing that would make your head explode. Now it won't!

Religion and politics off the table? I think not. (5, Funny)

KingSkippus (799657) | more than 7 years ago | (#17337912)

Our readers can relax this year: Religion and politics are off the table, and n-dimensional geometry is on instead.

I've got karma to burn, so let's use some up.

You stop right there, mister.

I don't care what kind of "proof" this seedy Perelman character says he has. In Leviticus, The Bible makes it clear that in a closed 3-mainfold, there non-spherical loops that can be continually tightened to a point. Who are you going to believe, Grigori Perelman, or God? If you even try to put this proof in my kid's math book, I'm going to demand more stickers! Slashdot obviously wants the terrorists to win!

Apologies to any real mathematicians out there, that was the best twisting of Poincaré Conjecture I could come up for the sake of this joke based on Wikipedia's article. And while I hope that while everyone realizes that I'm kidding, I also hope that some folks realize that I'm kinda not. The vast majority of people who insist that such things as evolution aren't true sound to me pretty much like I just did, because the vast majority of people who I argue with over the subject start from the premise, "It says in Genesis..."

Re:Religion and politics off the table? I think no (1)

Pedersen (46721) | more than 7 years ago | (#17338176)

the vast majority of people who I argue with over the subject start from the premise, "It says in Genesis..."

I think I'm going to start my own replies to this sort of argument with this reply: Is this from the same Bible which is missing a whole book? Not just a testament, like Luke, but a whole book. After all, unless you're a Roman Catholic, you very likely do not have a bible which has the Apocrypha in it. And if your Bible is missing that entire book, how can you be sure of what is actually said in so much as a single chapter and verse?


Not that I expect to ever win such an argument, but it makes for some fun when they look at you as if you've just grown an extra head, and then realize you're being serious.

Re:Religion and politics off the table? I think no (1)

KingSkippus (799657) | more than 7 years ago | (#17338566)

Well, I'm really pushing the karma, so I swear, I'll leave this thread completely alone after this, and feel free to mod it down if you want. (My preferred mod tag is "Off-Topic," because that's what this post is, as it's pretty much solely intended for its parent post. I'm not trolling, so get it right.)

Before I get into any sort of argument about evolution these days, I ask a pretty simple question that will determine whether or not it's worthwhile to go any further: Is there anything whatsoever, any evidence in any scientific field, that, if discovered, could possibly convince you that that the story of creation in Genesis is not the literal truth?

If the answer is no, then going any further is pointless. If they won't believe decades of rigorous scientific research and overwhelming compelling evidence, they sure as hell aren't going to believe you, and trying to convince them isn't really arguing about the subject, it's more like pointless bickering.

Re:Religion and politics off the table? I think no (1)

Apathist (741707) | more than 7 years ago | (#17344636)

Is there anything whatsoever, any evidence in any scientific field, that, if discovered, could possibly convince you that that the story of creation in Genesis is not the literal truth?
It's no surprise that going any further is pointless after this question, because you have essentially just segregated them into two groups: those who's belief is based on faith, and those who's belief is based on rationality... and a rational argument means nothing to a Faithy (and vice versa, of course).

Re:Religion and politics off the table? I think no (2, Informative)

c_forq (924234) | more than 7 years ago | (#17338854)

I think you are a little off. The Apocrypha isn't a book, it is a collection of books, and a couple different versions of books existing in the canonical bible. At the time of Jesus the Apocryphal books were debated in the Jewish community, and in the modern world, besides a couple of extremely small Judaism sects, I believe only the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches use it, but could be wrong. The reason the Apocrypha is not included in the normal canon of the bible is usually accredited to lacking authenticity, or conflicting with established books.

Re:Religion and politics off the table? I think no (1)

GrumpySimon (707671) | more than 7 years ago | (#17341882)

The reason the Apocrypha is not included in the normal canon of the bible is usually accredited to lacking authenticity, or conflicting with established books.


that, and there's only four corners of the world [wikipedia.org]. Irenaeus argued that there should only be four gospels as those ones were good, but also because there are four corners of the world, four winds, animals have four legs, etc. The choice was really quite arbitary.

Re:Religion and politics off the table? I think no (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 7 years ago | (#17338972)

And if your Bible is missing that entire book, how can you be sure of what is actually said in so much as a single chapter and verse?

Personally, I though GP was being sarcastic, but you do have a very serious point about religion.

If one were to take religion seriously, you must really consider the problem of the nature of Holy Books and man's interaction with them.

Unless you believe much like Kings of the Medieval era that if god didn't want you to do something he wouldn't have made you king.

As in... If god didn't want you to read this particular set of books rather then another set a books in even a different language and context then he would have done so.

So the question if god is all powerful then why does he fail at communication unless he tried several times and humans didn't get it right, which means the only group that is right is Islam considering they were the last of the big three (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) to get their word of god and they actually claim to have gotten their book directly from god and the book says you have to read it in Arabic to interpret it.

So... Unless you believe the Pope at the time was the mouthpiece of god and that god was indeed telling him what books were go into the gospel and what language to translate it in (Latin) then perhaps they got it wrong.

There was actually a Christian sect of Agnostics called the Cathars [wikipedia.org] who actually believed the bible was not holy and it was simply man's attempt to understand god (they also believed the Judaic old testament was actually evil). The Pope did not approve so he set about and killed them all off.

So what if the Cathar's were right and that the Catholic Bible was simply a political tool of the Papacy to bring the incorrect version of God's word to man. Obviously man has free will to do what he pleases (unless you believe in predestination like certain sects do) so the possibility that over the age's that man disobeyed God's will and changed the Bible to of man's own choosing is possible.

Disregarding science versus religion, there is a possibility the modern Bible is indeed not really God's true will and many Christians are actually worshiping it as an idol rather than what God really wants them to do.

Re:Religion and politics off the table? I think no (2, Insightful)

TheDreadSlashdotterD (966361) | more than 7 years ago | (#17341438)

So what if the Cathar's were right and that the Catholic Bible was simply a political tool of the Papacy to bring the incorrect version of God's word to man.

Perhaps you haven't been paying attention. Religion has always been a political tool. It's a convenient mechanism used to control people, and has worked beautifully for thousands of years. If you need an example, see the current U.S.A.

Re:Religion and politics off the table? I think no (1)

mav[LAG] (31387) | more than 7 years ago | (#17353098)

And if your Bible is missing that entire book, how can you be sure of what is actually said in so much as a single chapter and verse?

Personally, I though GP was being sarcastic, but you do have a very serious point about religion.


He doesn't actually. It is a huge jump to go from "there's a book missing" (which is entirely possible) to "every single chapter and verse is in doubt" which is nonsense given that we have thousands of copies of those chapters and verses, some of them dated to the early 2nd century AD. The New Testament documents can be reliably said to be intact, more than 99% so, and of those bits in doubt (a sentence here or there), none have the slightest effect on its major teachings.

If one were to take religion seriously, you must really consider the problem of the nature of Holy Books and man's interaction with them.

I couldn't agree more. Luckily there are established practices for studying all ancient literature - not just the Holy Books - and they include textual criticism, archaeology, sociology and dating methods.

So the question if god is all powerful then why does he fail at communication unless he tried several times and humans didn't get it right, which means the only group that is right is Islam considering they were the last of the big three (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) to get their word of god and they actually claim to have gotten their book directly from god and the book says you have to read it in Arabic to interpret it.

There's a credibility problem though. It's dead easy for someone to disappear and then return and claim "God appeared to me and here is his will for all of you." The problem with that is there's no way to check it out. Far more reliable would be multiple eyewitness testimonies composed over many years and thoroughly cross-checked with both friendly and hostile sources.

So what if the Cathar's were right and that the Catholic Bible was simply a political tool of the Papacy to bring the incorrect version of God's word to man. Obviously man has free will to do what he pleases (unless you believe in predestination like certain sects do) so the possibility that over the age's that man disobeyed God's will and changed the Bible to of man's own choosing is possible.

No it's not. I can compare my copy of the New Testament in Greek with the earliest dated copies of it (somewhere around 110AD) and bingo - they're the same. Case closed.

Disregarding science versus religion, there is a possibility the modern Bible is indeed not really God's true will and many Christians are actually worshiping it as an idol rather than what God really wants them to do.

How exactly could Christians know what God wants them to do if the Bible doesn't contain statements about what God wants them to do? Should they just make stuff up and follow that? On second thoughts, don't answer that...

OT:Religion and politics off the table? I think no (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339078)

Is this from the same Bible which is missing a whole book?

Every religion define their own truth. If it's not there, it's because it's not meant to be there. In a way, Christianity is very loosely defined because Jesus never made writings so anything authentic about his words or actions is fair game. You could actually invert that statment and say "Is this from the same Bible that included a whole false book?".

In contrast, you have the Qur'an, which there is exactly one definitie version of, written down at the time of Muhammed (though not in person) and is generally considered to be the direct words of Allah.

Fortunately, since the Bible's already an interpretation that also makes it a lot more "interpretable" which generally means that we'll ignore the parts we don't like. Trust me, Christian fundies that take the Bible literally could be just as bad as muslim fundies.

Unfortunately there's so many more of the latter kind, because of the shape of the Qur'an. There's no ambiguity, no conflicting stories, no missing context. That kind of religious conviction frightens me, because there's no discussing controversial topics on a secular basis.

"Is this section of Sharia law fair and just?" "It is the word of Allah. QED." "Homosexuality?" "Sura 66, Ayat 44. QED." "Premarital sex?" "Sura 43, Ayat 32. QED." "Equality of the sexes?" "Sura 23, Ayat 54. QED." "Female sexuality and dress code?" "Sura 57, Ayat 12. QED." That kind of "immortal truth" means society is stuck at whereever it was at 600AD.

If you look through the Bible, you'll find the same sort of stuff, we just ignore it. And for the most part, we leave religious punishments to the divine - sure you might burn in Hell but you don't get stoned on Earth. Makes it a lot safer for the rest of us.

Re:OT:Religion and politics off the table? I think (1)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 7 years ago | (#17347286)

In contrast, you have the Qur'an, which there is exactly one definite version of
It's not quite that simple. Caliph Uthman sponsored an official text and tried to destroy all variants in the 650s (about 20 years after Muhammad died), but in the 10th century some Islamic scholars were imprisoned for refusing to abandon their preferred variants, and even in the mid 20th century there was a variant still being used in North Africa.

Fortunately, since the Bible's already an interpretation
?! I'm puzzled as to what you mean by that.

Re:Religion and politics off the table? I think no (1)

fritsd (924429) | more than 7 years ago | (#17344060)

Isn't the Apocrypha by definition all bible books that are not part of the Canon? I.e. the ones like Jesus Sirach (which is my favourite btw) and this new Judas gospel I haven't even read yet?

Re:Religion and politics off the table? I think no (1)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 7 years ago | (#17347266)

I'm not sure what you mean by "Bible books", because surely if it's not part of the canon it's not a Bible book?

That said, you need to distinguish between "the Apocrypha", which the RCC holds to be a second canon, and various other apocryphal and pseudepigraphical books.

Re:Religion and politics off the table? I think no (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 7 years ago | (#17338748)

In Leviticus, The Bible makes it clear that in a closed 3-mainfold, there non-spherical loops that can be continually tightened to a point.

Clear? As in the Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, or 15th century English version of Leviticus?

And are these African or European non-spherical loops?

Re:Religion and politics off the table? I think no (1)

njchick (611256) | more than 7 years ago | (#17342448)

The Bible makes it clear that in a closed 3-mainfold, there non-spherical loops that can be continually tightened to a point.
But you need to be God to do that, and even then, it takes at least six days! Not to mention that some loops start misbehaving and need to be relocated to a different manifold.

Re:Religion and politics off the table? I think no (1)

professorfalcon (713985) | more than 7 years ago | (#17343056)

Your argument might just be valid... if the Bible actually talked about a closed 3-mainfold and non-spherical loops.

But it doesn't.

It does mention a little something about the first humans, though.

someone get this guy a tequila, quick (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17345738)

OMFG, the rod up your ass must have a rod up its ass.

The Origin of Species... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17337926)

...as I recall was published in 1859. Not only was it not a breakthrough of this year, it was a breakthrough of near 150 years ago. As they say, "What exactly are you smoking, sir?"

Re:The Origin of Species... (1)

stewwy (687854) | more than 7 years ago | (#17338744)

I prefer to believe in Terry Prachett, after all it makes far more sence (will someone correct this I can never spell it and firefox's dictionary doesn't pick it up) than some crazy stuff in some odd book from years ago.

The universe is an odd place and I wouldn't be surprised if the supreme being (if (s)he exists) put all those fossils there just before they where dugg up, would be great fun to watch all the theories sprout up.

I like the idea of a world carried by 4 elephants on the back of a star turtle there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with it

Hey dude pass that over its seriously good stuff man ....................

Re:The Origin of Species... (1)

rrohbeck (944847) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339596)

...as I recall was published in 1859. Not only was it not a breakthrough of this year, it was a breakthrough of near 150 years ago. As they say, "What exactly are you smoking, sir?"

Some people/groups/societies are just a tad slower than others.
Unfortunately, it seems advantageous (evolutionarily) to be a religious nut. Go forth and multiply.

Re:The Origin of Species... (1)

FuzzyBad-Mofo (184327) | more than 7 years ago | (#17345100)

Unfortunately, it seems advantageous (evolutionarily) to be a religious nut. Go forth and multiply.

It seems that way right up until the human population goes past the tipping point and there's a huge die-off. Reckless multiplication may have been good for humans in the past, but it's about to start becoming very inconvenient..

Re:The Origin of Species... (1)

joker784 (741265) | more than 7 years ago | (#17342974)

...and Poincaré's question was published in 1904, so this is also old news :-) Who could have known that the proofs of both Origin of Species and Poincare Conjecture would take so long to come up with...?

Re:The Origin of Species... (2, Insightful)

fafalone (633739) | more than 7 years ago | (#17344306)

The Origin of Species is not the absolute complete flawless manual for evolution. There's been plenty of huge breakthrough in evolution that weren't even touched on in Darwin's book. The biggest one is tracking evolution through molecular genetics; the mechanism of what Darwin observed. Not to mention models for evolution like punctuated equilibrium (long periods of little evolution, short periods of rapid change in response to some major change in environment)... that was not part of Origin. Major breakthroughs recently have come in looking at evolutionary pathways for certain species or traits, way beyond the book.
I hope the funny mod captures the intent of the parent, but nonetheless I thought I would post this since peoples abhorrent ignorance of evolution never ceases to enrage me.

Diabetes cure? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17338076)

Maybe this is worthy of honorable mention: Cure for Diabetes [slashdot.org]

Sounds like a breakthrough to me.

Oh yeah? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17338092)

Our readers can relax this year: Religion and politics are off the table

No, it's still there http://politics.slashdot.org/ [slashdot.org] and turning Slashdot into a FUD and shit spewing fountain where all attention whore dance hand in hand around the fire of karma whoring.

oh boy! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17338112)

Some sort of math thingee has been proven by some Russian crazy guy.

The world is a better place. It's all I hear about. Hooray

Its all way over my head (3, Funny)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 7 years ago | (#17338124)

But I found this on the Wikipedia page
Similarly, the hairy ball theorem of algebraic topology says that "one cannot comb the hair on a ball smooth". This fact is immediately convincing to most people, even though they might not recognize the more formal statement of the theorem, that there is no nonvanishing continuous tangent vector field on the sphere.
I am now gagging for an opportunity start making crap up about nonvanishing continuous tangent vectors the next time hairy balls come up in conversation.

Re:Its all way over my head (1)

Stanistani (808333) | more than 7 years ago | (#17338240)

>the next time hairy balls come up in conversation...

If this is a common topic in your conversational circle, please include me out - :)

Re:Its all way over my head (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17341068)

please include me out

What a convoluted way to say "exclude".

It's runners-up, not runner-ups. (4, Informative)

isaac (2852) | more than 7 years ago | (#17338286)

In case you were sick that day in remedial English 101, noun-adjective compounds - attorney general, mother-in-law, runner-up - are made plural by pluralizing the noun: attorneys general, mothers-in-law, runners-up.

-Isaac

Re:It's runners-up, not runner-ups. (1)

heinousjay (683506) | more than 7 years ago | (#17340838)

Since attorney general is treated as a title in normal speech, saying attorneys general sounds overly pedantic and stilted. The entire phrase is essentially a noun.

Also, picking on grammar with a snotty tone is a pretty good reason why everyone hates nerds.

Re:It's runners-up, not runner-ups. (1)

WilliamSChips (793741) | more than 7 years ago | (#17342778)

I'd rather be hated then follow your advice on "how not to be hated". I think I'll correct grammar with a more snotty tone because of that. You didn't give me a life, so stop trying to show me how to live.

Re:It's runners-up, not runner-ups. (1)

MadUndergrad (950779) | more than 7 years ago | (#17344678)

"I'd rather be hated then follow your advice on "how not to be hated". I think I'll correct grammar with a more snotty tone because of that. You didn't give me a life, so stop trying to show me how to live."

Why do both? Wouldn't you rather be hated than follow his advice?

Re:It's runners-up, not runner-ups. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17347952)

You didn't give me a life

Don't give up! Maybe you made Santa's good list this year...

Re:It's runners-up, not runner-ups. (1)

Shag (3737) | more than 7 years ago | (#17342730)

Well, if we're going to be pedantic, English 101 would be a non-remedial first-semester course at most schools; remedial classes would be sub-100, like ENG 090. But I've never taken any, and I suppose Isaac hasn't either.

-Dan (without whose name one cannot spell "pedantic")

Re:It's runners-up, not runner-ups. (1)

isaac (2852) | more than 7 years ago | (#17344558)

Pedantry accepted. During my undergrad stint, non-remedial first-term English was designated 1101. Remedial English was 0101. I imagine it differs from place to place.

-Isaac

There's a podcast as well (3, Informative)

ahab_2001 (610339) | more than 7 years ago | (#17338808)

This all comes from the 22 December issue of the journal Science, in case that wasn't clear from the original posting. All of the stories from the issue are indexed here [sciencemag.org]; to get access to the articles I believe you need to register with the site. There's also a podcast [sciencemag.org], which doesn't require registration.

Mathematics is NOT Science (1)

beachmike (724754) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339334)

Mathematics is not science, my impressionable little Slashdoters.

Re:Mathematics is NOT Science (1)

notnAP (846325) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339508)

True. But, more and more, science is becoming mathematics.

Re:Mathematics is NOT Science (1)

beachmike (724754) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339882)

Please elaborate on your comment "but more and more, science is becoming mathematics." Mathematics is abstract and is exists independent of the natural world, unlike science. Mathematics is, however, the greatest TOOL of science.

Re:Mathematics is NOT Science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17340962)

Like switching from a hand saw to a circular saw, this new "tool" is a breakthrough for science.

Re:Mathematics is NOT Science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17342136)

Newtonian mechanics and Maxwell's equations are abstract and exist independent of the natural world. At its best, science aspires to mathematics in this manner.

Re:Mathematics is NOT Science (1)

notnAP (846325) | more than 7 years ago | (#17344318)

Perhaps I should limit the point to physics, but I think it holds true for other sciences as well to varying degrees.

More and more, the path to scientific "discovery" has been led more by mathematical speculation than by experimental observation. As the trend continues, experimental observation is becoming more the tool to verify or invalidate mathematical paradigms than it is to discover new unanswered questions.

The most obvious example is string theory, the debate about which continues as to whether or not it is more mathematical philosophy than practical science.

But even going back to relativity, the trend was started. Relativity, while it sought to answer some specific unanswered questions of its time, was a coldly logical and yet highly speculative mathematical analysis, as it led to many repercussions not provable experimentally or observationally for decades. The experiments which led to the unanswered questions relativity sought to answer were actually very few, though they were vexing. The implications arrived at mathematically were the true advancements of relativity.

OK, I'm not a scientist or a mathematician, though I did almost become one once upon a time. However, {cue someone who knows what they're talking about to rip me one}

Re:Mathematics is NOT Science (1)

beachmike (724754) | more than 7 years ago | (#17347666)

Blah blah blah blah...blah. BOTTOM LINE, you Slashdot nincompoops...MATHEMATICS IS NOT SCIENCE. Mathematics exists as mental constructs totally independent of science. It is the greatest tool of science. It is NOT science.

Re:Mathematics is NOT Science (1)

notnAP (846325) | more than 7 years ago | (#17347790)

--OK, I'm not a scientist or a mathematician, though I did almost become one once upon a time. However, {cue someone who knows what they're talking about to rip me one}
-Blah blah blah blah...blah. BOTTOM LINE, you Slashdot nincompoops...


Well, that wasn't exactly what I had in mind.

Re:Mathematics is NOT Science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17346878)

"Mathematics is not science, my impressionable little Slashdoters."

Forget Emacs vs Vi, parent just re-introduced the longest running nerd flamefest ever! ^_^

Science? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17339356)

That geometry thing is great and all, but math is not science; science is not math.

A more appropriate title (1)

leoval (827218) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339564)

The main article should be changed to read: Mathematics' Breakthrough of the year.

Not trying to be picky, but there is a substantial difference between Science and Mathematics (although that might be a surprise to some people, it is true).

Err... not quite (1)

dfedfe (980539) | more than 7 years ago | (#17343648)

The title of the magazine is Science. The magazine announced its breakthrough of the year. So: Science's Breakthrough of the Year.

Science and Mathematics are Not the Same (1, Insightful)

pz (113803) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339680)

While this is a wonderful recognition of some fantastic work, the Slashdot editors should bear in mind that science and mathematics are not the same thing. To call solving the Poincarre Conjecture a breakthrough in Science (breakthrough of the year, no less!) is disrespectful to both scientists and mathematicians.

There have been some breakthroughs in Mathematics that were simultaneously notable in Science (solving the 4 Colors Problem, for example, the first time a computer was used to experimentally and exhaustively validate the results of a theorem), but these are rare. To the limits of my mathematical knowledge, this was not one of them, despite it being remarkable work.

Re:Science and Mathematics are Not the Same (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17342542)

Solving the 4 color conjecture was not notable in science, it was notable for showing that computers are useful tools for doing serious mathematics(even though many mathematicians didn't believe this even after it had been demonstrated). Computers also happen to be useful tools for doing serious science, but this had already been demonstrated. In popular works there is no distinction between science, mathematics, and engineering... and in many cases public policy or politics either. This is unfortunate, and also disrespectful, but it should be noted that you will find people in these fields who exploit this blurring together when it is to their advantage.

Re:Science and Mathematics are Not the Same (1)

cuby (832037) | more than 7 years ago | (#17344598)

So... If mathematics is not a science, then what it is?

Science Magazine (1)

toddhisattva (127032) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339812)

It's Science Magazine's "Breakthrough of the Year."

Not the entire endeavor of Science.

(Those breakthroughs are noted by the Ig Nobel Prizes.)

Number three (1)

rrohbeck (944847) | more than 7 years ago | (#17340136)

This one's by far the most important. We all knew it, but now the data is in.

3 SHRINKING ICE

Glaciologists nailed down an unsettling observation this year: The world's two great ice sheets--covering Greenland and Antarctica--are indeed losing ice to the oceans, and losing it at an accelerating pace.

Pereleman isn't accepting for a reason. (5, Informative)

Starker_Kull (896770) | more than 7 years ago | (#17340400)

He thinks that academia is littered with people who are more interested in promoting themselves than who are actually good at research, and this leads to a lot more politicing than researching, and the system is set up to promote that. This is the reason he is not interested in claiming prize money or prizes or other official recognition of his worth. I don't necessarily agree with that point of view, but perhaps it is worth considering if he has a legitimate gripe? There is a good article about him in the New Yorker Mag; here is the link and concluding paragraphs:

http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/060 828fa_fact2 [newyorker.com]

As for Yau, Perelman said, "I can't say I'm outraged. Other people do worse. Of course, there are many mathematicians who are more or less honest. But almost all of them are conformists. They are more or less honest, but they tolerate those who are not honest." The prospect of being awarded a Fields Medal had forced him to make a complete break with his profession. "As long as I was not conspicuous, I had a choice," Perelman explained. "Either to make some ugly thing"--a fuss about the math community's lack of integrity--"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." We asked Perelman whether, by refusing the Fields and withdrawing from his profession, he was eliminating any possibility of influencing the discipline. "I am not a politician!" he replied, angrily. Perelman would not say whether his objection to awards extended to the Clay Institute's million-dollar prize. "I'm not going to decide whether to accept the prize until it is offered," he said. Mikhail Gromov, the Russian geometer, said that he understood Perelman's logic: "To do great work, you have to have a pure mind. You can think only about the mathematics. Everything else is human weakness. Accepting prizes is showing weakness." Others might view Perelman's refusal to accept a Fields as arrogant, Gromov said, but his principles are admirable. "The ideal scientist does science and cares about nothing else," he said. "He wants to live this ideal. Now, I don't think he really lives on this ideal plane. But he wants to."

Hypocrite (-1, Troll)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 7 years ago | (#17342814)

Let Perelman's mother kick him out on the street and see how long it takes him to lose his "principles".

Until citizen's dividends derived from taxation of nonsubsistence property rights [geocities.com] are a reality, Perelman's principles are destructive for those of us who might want to support a family and raise children. It should be immoral to promote, as Perelman does, the future portrayed in Idiocracy [google.com].

Re:Hypocrite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17345196)

It looks as if he's not trying to support a family or raise children. Dedicating oneself purely to science and parenting many offspring are both laudable objectives. There's no need and really, no logical way to play them against each other.

math isn't science (0, Flamebait)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 7 years ago | (#17340506)

Last time I checked, math and science were two different subjects in school. Why didn't they pick the invention of Gorilla Glue, that stuff's like magic! Oh wait, that wasn't invented this year...hmmm...well they still could have picked a cooler scientific breakthrough.

Interesting, but very esoteric... (4, Interesting)

posterlogo (943853) | more than 7 years ago | (#17340882)

This mathematical proof is clearly interesting from a mathematics-proofs-point-of-view. But I'm surprised it's considered the breakthrough of the year. Its very difficult for most people to relate to. I'm a scientist, and I try and keep up (at a basic level) with many fields of research other than my own (by reading articles in Science), but I think the nature of this proof is very difficult to keep up with. Not to mention it is difficult to even be sure that the proof works (since it can really only be evaluated by highly specialized experts). If this breakthrough pans out, mathematicians need to do a much better job of public relations, like most other sciences do. I for one think the data from the Mars Rovers, the Cassini spacecraft, and the comet material recovery mission represent (collectively) the breakthrough of the year. The amount we have learned about our solar system this past year is extraordinary. I say this even though I am a biologist, and we've done some marvelous things in biology this year. But the unmanned space program really came through this year, and is far more captivating than the math proof, no offense.

Re: Interesting, but very esoteric... (2, Funny)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 7 years ago | (#17344008)

> This mathematical proof is clearly interesting from a mathematics-proofs-point-of-view. But I'm surprised it's considered the breakthrough of the year.

The actual breakthrough of the year was that a Slashdotter got laid back in February, but they couldn't include it in the list because they haven't been able to confirm the details. So this one is a sort of symbolic stand-in.

Re: Interesting, but very esoteric... (1)

Rambo, John J. (633310) | more than 7 years ago | (#17347180)

missing you.. missing me..btw, the slashdotter that got laid was your mother when i bare-backed her. DAMN, i love busting a PETER NORTH in a hoe's vagina/mouth. love you baby, return my calls, k?

Re:Interesting, but very esoteric... (1)

zen-theorist (930637) | more than 7 years ago | (#17351424)

This mathematical proof is clearly interesting from a mathematics-proofs-point-of-view. But I'm surprised it's considered the breakthrough of the year. Its very difficult for most people to relate to.
huh, by that measure, no mathematical proofs would ever make it to the breakthrough of the year. for that matter, the layman is not a technical expert on genetics, but he is happy to discuss the "media-filtered" version of any result: "eye color is not a genetic trait" is interesting pub-conversation.

for that very reason, the Poincare conjecture must have made it to the top, the conjecture is intuitively statable to John Doe. and, oh yeah, it has been resolved after 200 years. good call, Science.

Re:Interesting, but very esoteric... (1)

posterlogo (943853) | more than 7 years ago | (#17361750)

I hardly think it has been 'resolved'. Are you qualified to judge the solution? Didn't think so. For that matter, most mathematicians aren't either. This russian guy is clearly a genius, but let's not be so quick to think this is a settled matter.

Re:Interesting, but very esoteric... (1)

zen-theorist (930637) | more than 7 years ago | (#17361910)

Did you get the point of my posting? Didnt think so. The word "resolved" was just the garnish of my posting, the meat-and-potatoes being why the proof deserved the award it received. Go troll on yauforums.com or someplace else!

Re:Interesting, but very esoteric... (1)

posterlogo (943853) | more than 7 years ago | (#17383226)

Did you get the point of mine? Didn't think so. I think you may be too focused on garnish rather than substance. Go flame elsewhere.

Discover Magazine has best 100 science stories (1)

WiseMuse (1039922) | more than 7 years ago | (#17341052)

A special report on the most interesting, amazing, and important science news of the year DISCOVER Vol. 28 No. 01 | January 2007 - Check it out!

The Article (3, Informative)

Starker_Kull (896770) | more than 7 years ago | (#17341442)

The Poincare Conjecture-Proved: The solution of a century-old mathematics problem turns out to be a bittersweet prize

TO MATHEMATICIANS, GRIGORI PERELMAN'S proof of the Poincare conjecture qualifies at least as the Breakthrough of the Decade. But it has taken them a good part of that decade to convince themselves that it was for real. In 2006, nearly 4 years after the Russian mathematician released the first of three papers outlining the proof, researchers finally reached a consensus that Perelman had solved one of the subject's most venerable problems. But the solution touched off a storm of controversy and drama that threatened to overshadow the brilliant work.

Perelman's proof has fundamentally altered two distinct branches of mathematics. First, it solved a problem that for more than a century was the indigestible seed at the core of topology, the mathematical study of abstract shape. Most mathematicians expect that the work will lead to a much broader result, a proof of the geometrization conjecture: essentially, a "periodic table" that brings clarity to the study of three-dimensional spaces, much as Mendeleev's table did for chemistry.

While bringing new results to topology, Perelman's work brought new techniques to geometry. It cemented the central role of geometric evolution equations, powerful machinery for transforming hard-to-work-with spaces into more-manageable ones. Earlier studies of such equations always ran into "singularities" at which the equations break down. Perelman dynamited that roadblock.

"This is the first time that mathematicians have been able to understand the structure of singularities and the development of such a complicated system," said Shing-Tung Yau of Harvard University at a lecture in Beijing this summer. "The methods developed ... should shed light on many natural systems, such as the Navier-Stokes equation [of fluid dynamics] and the Einstein equation [of general relativity]."

Unruly spaces

Henri Poincare, who posed his problem in 1904, is generally regarded as the founded of topology, the first mathematician to clearly distinguish it from analysis (the branch of mathematics that evolved from calculus) and geometry. Topology is often described as "rubber-sheet geometry," because it deals with properties of surfaces that can undergo arbitrary amounts of stretching. Tearing and its opposite, sewing, are not allowed.

Our bodies, and most of the familiar objects they interact with, have three dimensions. Their surfaces, however, have only two. As far as topology is concerned, two-dimensional surfaces with no boundary (those that wrap around and close in on themselves, as our skin does) have essentially only one distinguishing feature: the number of holes in the surface. A surface with no holes is a sphere: a surface with one hole is a torus; and so on. A sphere can never be turned into a torus, or vice versa.

Three-dimensional objects with 2D surfaces, however, are just the beginning. For example, it is possible to define curved 3D spaces as boundaries of 4D objects. Human beings can only dimly visualize such spaces, but mathematicians can use symbolic notation to describe them and explore their properties. Poincare developed and ingenious tool called the "fundamental group," for detecting holes, twists, and other feature in spaces of any dimension. He conjectured that a 3D space cannot hide any interesting topology from the fundamental group. That is, a 3D space with a "trivial" fundamental group must be a hypersphere: the boundary of a ball in 4D space.

Although simple to state, Poincare's conjecture proved maddeningly difficult to prove. By the early 1980's, mathematicians had proved analogous statements for spaces of every dimension higher than three - but not for the original one that Poincare had pondered.

To make progress, topologists reached for a tool they had neglected: a way to specify distance. They set about recombining topology with geometry. In 1982, William Thurston (now of Cornell University) theorized that every 3D space can be carved up so that each piece has a unique uniform geometry, and that those geometries come in only eight possible types. This hypothesis became knows as the geometrization conjecture.

If true, Thurston's insight would solve the Poincare conjecture, because a sphere is the only on of the eight geometries that admits a trivial fundamental group. In 1982, Richard Hamilton (now of Columbia University) proposed a possible strategy for proving it: Start with any lumpy space, and the let it flow toward a uniform one. The result would be a tidy "geometrized" space a la Thurston. To guide the flow, Hamilton proposed a geometric evolution equation modeled after the heat equation of physics and name it "Ricci flow" in honor of Gregorio Ricci-Curbastro, an early differential geometer. In Ricci flow, regions of high curvature tend to diffuse out into the regions of lower curvature, until the space has equal curvature throughout.

Hamilton's strategy works perfectly in 2D surfaces, Slender "necks," like the one seen on the cover of this issue, always expand. In 3D spaces, however, Ricci flow can run into snags. Necks sometimes pinch off, separating the space into regions with different uniform geometries. Although Hamilton did a great deal of pioneering work on Ricci flow, he could not tame the singularities. As a result, the whole program of research seemed to run aground in the mid-1990s. In 2000, when the Clay Mathematics Institute named the Poincare conjecture as one of its $1 million Millennium Prize problems, most mathematicians believed that no breakthrough was in sight.

The breakthrough

In fact, Perelman was already well on his way to a solution. In 1995, the 29-year-old St. Petersburg native had returned to Russia after a 3-year sojourn in the United States, where he had met Hamilton and learned about Ricci flow. For the next 7 years, he remained mostly incommunicado. Then, in November 2002, Perelman posted on the Internet the first of three preprints outlining a proposed proof of the geometrization conjecture.

To experts, it was immediately clear that Perelman had made a major breakthrough. It was in the title of the first section of the first paper: "Ricci Flow as a Gradient Flow." Perelman had spotted an important detail that Hamilton had missed: a quantity that always increases during the flow, giving it a direction. By analogy with statistical mechanics, the mathematics underlying the laws of thermodynamics, Perelman called the quantity "entropy."

The entropy ruled out specific singularities that had stymied Hamilton. To reach a safe harbor, however, Perelman still had to identify the remaining types of singularities that might cause problems. He had to show that they occurred one at a time instead of accumulating in an infinite pileup. Then, for each singularity, he had to show how to prune and smooth it before it could sabotage Ricci flow. Those steps would be enough to prove Poincare. To complete the geometrization conjecture, Perelman had to show, additionally, that the "Ricci flow with surgery" procedure could be continued for an infinitely long time.

In 2003, when Perelman revisited the United States to lecture on his work, many mathematicians doubted that he could have pulled off all of these feats. By 2006, however, the mathematical community had finally caught up. Three separate manuscripts, each more than 300 pages in length, filled in key missing details of Perelman's proof.

Two of the papers - one authored by Bruce Kleiner and John Lott of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, the other by John Morgan of Columbia University and Gang Tian of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge - stopped short of the geometrization conjecture, because Perelman's explanation of the final step had been too sketch. (Both groups are still working on it.) They did, however, include enough math to nail down the Poincare conjecture.

The third paper, by Huai-Dong Cao of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Xi-Ping Zhu of Zhongshan University in Guangzhou, China, was less circumspect. Cao and Zhu claimed to have "the first written account of a complete proof of the Poincare conjecture and the geometrization conjecture of Thurston." This summer, the International Mathematical Union (IMU) decided to award Perelman the Fields Medal, traditionally considered the highest honor in mathematics.

Anticlimax

Since then, the rosy glow of triumph has taken on darker hues. On 22 August, IMU President John Ball announced that Perelman had declined the Fields Medal. In an interview in The New Yorker, the reclusive mathematician said he was retiring from mathematics, disenchanted by unspecified lapses in "ethical standards" by colleagues. The New Yorker article also painted an unflattering portrait of Yau, intimating that he had claimed too much credit for his proteges Cao and Zhu.

In the ensuing months, hard feelings have abounded. Certain mathematicians claimed that their quotes were distorted in the New Yorker, and Yau threatened to sue. Kleiner and Lott complained that Cao and Zhu had copied a proof of theirs and claimed it as original, and the latter pair grudgingly printed an erratum acknowledging Kleiner and Lott's priority.

This fall, the American Mathematical Society attempted to organize an all-star panel on the Poincare and geometrization conjectures at its January 2007 meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana. According to Executive Director John Ewing, the effort fell apart when Lott refused to share the stage with Zhu. Ewing still hopes to organize such an event "at some time in the future." For the time being, however, the animosity continues to make it hard for mathematicians to celebrate their greatest breakthrough of the new millennium.

-DANA MACKENZIE

Re:The Article (2, Funny)

jklappenbach (824031) | more than 7 years ago | (#17342754)

As far as topology is concerned, two-dimensional surfaces with no boundary (those that wrap around and close in on themselves, as our skin does) have essentially only one distinguishing feature: the number of holes in the surface. A surface with no holes is a sphere; a surface with one hole is a torus...

And a donught with no holes is a danish.

Re:The Article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17351338)

Except in Denmark, the familiar American Danish pastry is known as a Wienerbrød -- a Vienna Bread.

HPV Vaccine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17341736)

Should have received the science breakthrough of the year, not this IMHO.

Re:HPV Vaccine (1)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 7 years ago | (#17342874)

I'm reminded of Nietzsche who complained often about the way the two meanings of the word 'good' are conflated. There's good as in morally good and there's good as in...well...stuff done well. The HPV vaccine is good both senses, but its newsworthy mainly because of the moral use of the word 'good', it's morally good (IMHO) to allow people to be sexually active with a reduced chance of getting sick as a result. But if this virus didn't make people sick, few people would care about the science in itself. Proving the Poicaré Conjecture, on the other hand, is bloody good science (except that I'm not sure I'm happy calling mathematics science) despite it probably having no moral value whatsoever.

Mathematics is "A" Science (1)

shaze (665876) | more than 7 years ago | (#17343016)

Mathematics is one of the purest representations of Science, of all time.

Re:Mathematics is "A" Science (0, Redundant)

arevos (659374) | more than 7 years ago | (#17347264)

Mathematics may be pure, but it's not a science. Science deals with explanations of natural events, known as theories, which can never be proven. Mathematics deals with logical deductions from a set of axioms. Science attempts to understand the axioms of the Universe through observations, whilst mathematics is about making observations about a base set of axioms. In many respects, mathematics works the opposite way around to science.

Let's see it in action... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17345124)

Open up any handy dandy 3D modeling program...
Import various meshes with no holes passing through them... ('cuz if they had holes, they'd be toroids or knot structures of some sort.)

Now let's see how it pans out...
Step 1: Tighten all vertices by some amount.
Step 2: Inflate by some amount.
Step 3: Repeat steps 1 and 2 until you have a sphere.

Ummm... I'll have to get back to you on that...

And another question that should be asked: Why is the math behind making virtual 3-D balloon animals (by animating the process played in reverse) worth $1 million?

Check for New Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Sign up for Slashdot Newsletters
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...