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Controversy Over 140-Year-Old Math Problem

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the did-so-did-not dept.

Math 64

sciencehabit writes "British mathematician Darren Crowdy has been bragging all week about how he solved a 140-year-old math problem, as we discussed a few days ago. But three American mathematicians say they had the critical idea first."

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FIST SPORT! (-1, Troll)

ringbarer (545020) | more than 6 years ago | (#22676870)

And meanwhile, nobody else GIVES A FUCK!

Indeed (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22676926)

No one cares that you engage in fist sports.

Re:FIST SPORT! (5, Funny)

The Aethereal (1160051) | more than 6 years ago | (#22677618)

You may have posted first, but I thought of posting before you did.

Re:FIST SPORT! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22679666)

Too bad you didn't realize the relevance of the Submit button.

History Repeats (4, Funny)

immcintosh (1089551) | more than 6 years ago | (#22676912)

Newton? Meet Leibniz.

Re:History Repeats (2, Informative)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 6 years ago | (#22676958)

Re:History Repeats (3, Informative)

Btarlinian (922732) | more than 6 years ago | (#22677614)

Sure Archimedes used integral calculus, just like many other Greek mathematicians. Other mathematicians had used differential calculus as well. But as far as we know, Newton and Leibniz were the first to formulate and prove the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, the basic relationship between differential and integral calculus.

Re:History Repeats (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22706672)

But they didn't do a good job of it. It wasn't done well until the 19th century when we got analysis.

Re:History Repeats (2, Interesting)

Asmor (775910) | more than 6 years ago | (#22680680)

This actually seems to be a recurring pattern... There have been many instances where an idea was discovered by multiple mathematicians in a relatively short time frame, and only one gets the credit... Usually not the first, either.

I'm too lazy to do the research, but off the top of my head I think that Galois and Euler were both beaten to the punch in certain theorems by contemporaries, but ultimately they (Galois & Euler) got the credit.

I get it (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22676998)

"I solved this problem, here's the solution." "But we *thought* of it first."

Re:I get it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22677678)

He forgot to follow this simple two step plan:


1. Think of solution
2. Publish solution

Re:I get it (2, Funny)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | more than 6 years ago | (#22683768)

I thought of it way before even them, I just couldn't fit it in the margin of my log book!

What did the three American mathematicians say... (4, Funny)

Trivial_Zeros (1058508) | more than 6 years ago | (#22677014)

Q: What did the three American mathematicians say to the British mathematician? A: FIRST!!!!!

Re:What did the three American mathematicians say. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22681138)

Q: What did the British mathematiciant say? A: FIRST POST!!!!!

Basically... (1)

madhatter256 (443326) | more than 6 years ago | (#22677064)

Basically, the british guy forgot to add a constant to the end. Problem solved.

Re:Basically... (1)

Cheapy (809643) | more than 6 years ago | (#22677764)

Hey man, that constant is a big thing. It could be the difference between the equation giving an answer of 1 and an answer of 10000000000000000000000001.

Big stuff.

-50 off-topic (5, Funny)

WombatDeath (681651) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678374)

Two mathematicians, let's call them Bob and Tarquin, were in a café discussing the woeful state of mathematical ignorance amongst the general public. Bob excused himself to visit the restroom and Tarquin beckoned over the waitress.

"Would you mind helping me with a small bet?" he asked. "When my friend returns I'm going to ask you a question, and I'd like you to reply 'X cubed'. OK?"

The waitress looked mystified but agreed to do as requested. A few minutes later, Dave returned and the two men resumed their earlier conversation.

"It's not all that bad," said Tarquin. "I bet you $10 that even this slack-jawed troll of a waitress can do basic calculus".

"You're on!" scoffed Dave.

So they beckoned the waitress over. Tarquin gave her a surreptitious wink and said "I wonder if you could help my friend and I settle an argument - can you tell me the integral of three X squared?"

The waitress pondered for a moment and replied "Easy: X cubed".

Tarquin grinned smugly at Dave as the waitress walked away. And then, over her shoulder, she added: "Oh yes: plus a constant".

Re:-50 off-topic (1)

sammy baby (14909) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679250)

Okay, that made me smile. Thanks, this Friday has sucked otherwise. :)

Re:-50 off-topic (4, Funny)

Ecuador (740021) | more than 6 years ago | (#22680146)

I loved the joke, even though I probably missed part of the fun.
For example I didn't get the part where Bob goes to the restroom and Dave returns.
Thanks for the laugh! ;)

Re:-50 off-topic (1)

WombatDeath (681651) | more than 6 years ago | (#22680790)

Fuck.

Re:-50 off-topic (3, Funny)

Ecuador (740021) | more than 6 years ago | (#22680906)

Wait, you are saying that Bob didn't just go to take a piss, he really went to the restroom to meet someone for his other "needs" and so when you say Dave returns... hmm... no... I still don't get it. :D

Open the pod bay doors, HAL. (1)

bartmanus (1239912) | more than 6 years ago | (#22687442)

I can't do that, Dave.

Re:-50 off-topic (2, Insightful)

SparkleMotion88 (1013083) | more than 6 years ago | (#22682242)

That's simple: it's because Bob=Dave for sufficiently Bob-ish Dave.

Re:-50 off-topic (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | more than 6 years ago | (#22684572)

You insensitive clod! Bob/Dave has D.I.D! :-)

Re:-50 off-topic (3, Insightful)

japhmi (225606) | more than 6 years ago | (#22683090)

Moral of the story:
It's not just philosophy majors who end up as waitresses.

Re:-50 off-topic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22683412)

Indeed, and in reference to nerdy waitresses, please see: nukees.com for the Nukees Webcomic by Darrel Bluel(sp?)

Re:-50 off-topic (1)

Convector (897502) | more than 6 years ago | (#22683420)

Of course, the answer is correct only if he asked for the integral of three X squared dX. As stated, the problem is ill-posed.

Re:-50 off-topic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22685418)

Which "integral"? Riemann, Lebesgue, Daniell? Is it an indefinite integral (i.e. the antiderivative) or a definite integral (over some interval)? Even the "dX" part wouldn't clarify things, since that could be used with a line integral or surface integral in a way so that the X from "three X squared" is not necessarily the same X from "dX".
To make the question more precise, it should ask for the single-variable antiderivative of the real-valued function three X squared as a function of X.

Grow up (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22677134)

Q: What is the difference between a Ph.D. in mathematics and a large pizza?
A: A large pizza can feed a family of four...

Please continue fighting for who thought the solution first.

More at http://www.math.ualberta.ca/~runde/jokes.html [ualberta.ca]

Its not the thought that counts (1)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 6 years ago | (#22677170)

I always thought it mattered who published first, not thought of it.

The first to post on ./ "wins"?

Re:Its not the thought that counts (2, Funny)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 6 years ago | (#22677488)

For instance, Lobachevsky, at least according to Tom Lehrer [umich.edu] . (For those of you sound-deprived, enjoy the lyrics [aol.com] ).

Lehrer/Lobachevski (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 6 years ago | (#22680414)

I am never forget the day... you post link to song about Lobachevski.

Re:Its not the thought that counts (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22678378)

I always thought it mattered who published first, not thought of it.

Yes, in Mathematics, moreso, even.
The first one to publish a full proof is the one that gets credited with 'solving' the problem. Just coming up with the strategy doesn't mean much, because there's no way of knowing that the strategy will work until you actually carry it out. And doing so is not a trivial thing, either. (or they would've done it immediately)

To take a recent, high-profile example, the Poincaré conjecture was solved by Grigori Perelman. But the strategy he used (of using the Ricci flow) had been suggested years earlier by Richard Hamilton.

Re:Its not the thought that counts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22685334)

But the strategy he used (of using the Ricci flow) had been suggested years earlier by Richard Hamilton.
With an assist from Chauncey Billups.

Re:Its not the thought that counts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22680240)

Is that anything like "He who smelt it delt it?"

Mmmmno... I must be thinking of something else.

Re:Its not the thought that counts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22692554)

DotSlash eh?
Is that like, the site the Aussies visit?
The backwards version of Slashdot where this post is on-topic?

It wasn't obvious until it was pointed out (5, Informative)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 6 years ago | (#22677214)

But mathematicians John Pfaltzgraff of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Thomas DeLillo and Alan Elcrat, both of Wichita State University in Kansas, say they had the basic strategy--and a formula--first.

Crowdy heard Elcrat talk about that work in 2003, but he says the American trio didn't realize the relevance of the Schottky groups.

The Americans' formula, published in 2004, involves the multiplication of an infinite number of terms, which goes haywire if the holes are too close together. Crowdy's formula replaces that product with an obscure beast known as Schottky-Klein prime function. Crowdy says his formula will never fail. "I'm very skeptical" of that claim, says Pfaltzgraff.

Basicaslly, the American Team was clueless until someone pointed out the obvious to them, now they want the credit. Fail.

Re:It wasn't obvious until it was pointed out (3, Informative)

c_jonescc (528041) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679174)

Well, that is how Penzias and Wilson got a Nobel for CMB.

  They had no idea of the significance of their 3.5 Kelvin noise until it was pointed out to them - up to that point they'd been trying to get rid of it under the assumption that it was error.

Re:It wasn't obvious until it was pointed out (3, Insightful)

urcreepyneighbor (1171755) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679710)

Basicaslly, the American Team was clueless until someone pointed out the obvious to them, now they want the credit. Fail.
Quick! Patent it and make money!

Re:It wasn't obvious until it was pointed out (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22688326)

From "The Mind Body Problem" -- a 1980's novel by a Princeton grad student. Quoting from memory ...

"A brilliant professor is giving a graduate course in math. Often she'll skip over details saying to her students "I leave this as an exercise for you." One week, at the beginning of class, all the students complained they couldn't complete one of the missing steps which had been left as an exercise. The professor, was disappointed and pointedly remarked that 'It's a trivial three line proof!' At which point she went to the board to show them how it's done. She started off with one line, then a second, stepped back a moment to look them over, then erased the second and replaced it with something else, stepped back again for several minutes before erasing both the first and the second and rewriting the first ... This went on for until just before the class ended, at which point she completed the trivial three line proof, turned around to face the class and triumphantly declared, 'I told you it was obvious!'."

Re:It wasn't obvious until it was pointed out (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22706862)

And you are basing your information an exactly what? Some quotes from a random journalist? Fail.

you don't win the waffle iron . . . (1)

rev_sanchez (691443) | more than 6 years ago | (#22677246)

... if you don't get the last square and yell "bingo". Them's the breaks Mr. Johnny-Come-Lately

Re:you don't win the waffle iron . . . (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 6 years ago | (#22677578)

Ahh what happened to the good old days, where conflicts like this over credit were resolved based upon the nobility and social standing of the mathematicians? Why, Newton once stated his greatest accomplishment was crushing Leibniz.

Re:you don't win the waffle iron . . . (1)

aldousd666 (640240) | more than 6 years ago | (#22677674)

I hope for the sake of reason and logic that those days are long gone. A schmuck in his basement deserves as much credit for solving a problem as the guy who writes the forwards to your textbooks. Think before you post, and no, I'm not sorry if I've offended you.

Re:you don't win the waffle iron . . . (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678476)

It was a joke. Laugh.

Re:you don't win the waffle iron . . . (1)

aldousd666 (640240) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678632)

Haha, ok. well I'm not used to people joking about that I guess. Recently I've become disillusioned with the majority of public opinion. It's funny because I think that most people would say that. Oh well.

Re:you don't win the waffle iron . . . (2, Insightful)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679166)

You really think most people think credit should be determined based upon who's someone's parents were? Or there social standing? I don't know how to figure either of those out in this day and age.

You must have translated that in your head to the prestige of the university someone went to or number of papers written. That I can see many people actually using today, to my dismay. If being a professor was about more than numbers of papers written in a given time period, I would have considered it as a career option.

Re:you don't win the waffle iron . . . (1)

vajaradakini (1209944) | more than 6 years ago | (#22677806)

Well, Newton was a dick. Apparently he derived great pleasure having people executed for counterfeiting [wikipedia.org] .

And Leibniz's notation is much better than Newton's. Plus the Greeks beat them both to it anyways.

Re:you don't win the waffle iron . . . (1)

Bush Pig (175019) | more than 6 years ago | (#22689494)

Or, of course, the way Janos Bolyai resolved 19 conflicts one morning in 1833. (Well, OK, they weren't exactly mathematical conflicts, but still ...)

American team didn't publish... (5, Interesting)

ELProphet (909179) | more than 6 years ago | (#22677304)

This anecdote is attributed to Landau (the Russian physicist Lev not the Göttingen mathematician Edmund).

Landau's group was discussing a bright new theory, and one of junior colleagues of Landau bragged that he had independently discovered the theory a couple of years ago, but did not bother to publish his finding.

"I would not repeat this claim if I were you," Landau replied: "There is nothing wrong if one has not found a solution to a particular problem. However, if one has found it but does not publish it, he shows a poor judgment and inability to understand what important is in modern physics".
Actually, from TFA, the American team did publish first, but "didn't realize the relevance of the Schottky groups." Further, the Brit (working independently, and supposedly without knowledge of this obscure paper) says his formula will work every time. The Americans are of course sceptical, but can't seem to find any situation where it won't work. Kudos to both, but it seems history will go to the Brit for this. I'll check Wiki in about a year; I'll bet it talks about the Brit, and mentions the American team in passing.

Re:American team didn't publish... (1, Funny)

berashith (222128) | more than 6 years ago | (#22677386)

Why not check the wiki every five minutes. Whoever can keep their name in the article longest is the winner!

Re:American team didn't publish... (1)

MrWa (144753) | more than 6 years ago | (#22681172)

I'll check Wiki in about a year; I'll bet it talks about the Brit, and mentions the American team in passing. Well, as an American, through careful and methodical wiki editing, I will see to it that you are disappointed in a year!

Darren isn't one to brag (4, Insightful)

GuyMannDude (574364) | more than 6 years ago | (#22677358)

I object to the use of the word 'bragging' in the summary. I went to grad school with Darren (his office was 3 doors down from mine) and he was a great all-around guy. He was someone you could joke around with and I never saw any indication of him being a braggard. It's possible that he's changed significantly in the last 10 years, but I see nothing in TFA that would suggest this. He made what is potentially a significant contribution. Why shouldn't he be aloud to be proud of it?

GMD

Re:Darren isn't one to brag (1)

Kamokazi (1080091) | more than 6 years ago | (#22677964)

It's hard to infer tone from reading, but when I read a site with some quotes from him, he used a LOT of "I's", "me's", and "my's"...so it's very easy to come to the conclusion that he was bragging from reading them. He was probably just excited and not necessarily bragging.

But he's working solo (2, Insightful)

Xocet_00 (635069) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678214)

The article seems to indicate that he's working on his own. I agree that overusing things like "I", "me" and "my" can sound a lot like bragging (whereas "We", "ours", etc. does not) but if he really was working solo, he wouldn't need to phrase it any other way, neh?

To be fair, one should probably not be using subjective tenses all that much in academic writing anyway.

Re:Darren isn't one to brag (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22679018)

I take it that your major wasn't English. "Aloud" should be "allowed".

Re:Darren isn't one to brag (2, Funny)

Cragen (697038) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679852)

Actually, the slip of the keyboard is perfect. "aloud" instead of "allowed"? Perfect. "Allowed to be loud" is now "Aloud"! Have a great weekend, All!

Re:Darren isn't one to brag (1)

EddyGL (15300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22681340)

> Why shouldn't he be aloud to be proud of it?

Call me cynical, but what a funny way for a former grad school student to spell "allowed"!

Re:Darren isn't one to brag (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22707362)

Journalists are fucking assholes that like to drum up controversy and drama. They have done this in mathematics reporting to the general public many times in the past. Don't believe everything you read.

Offtopic (4, Funny)

apdyck (1010443) | more than 6 years ago | (#22677472)

The British guy got in his First Post, but was modded -1 Offtopic by three American moderators.

At the very least some credit (2, Interesting)

Woundweavr (37873) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678762)

But mathematicians John Pfaltzgraff of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Thomas DeLillo and Alan Elcrat, both of Wichita State University in Kansas, say they had the basic strategy--and a formula--first. Crowdy heard Elcrat talk about that work in 2003, but he says the American trio didn't realize the relevance of the Schottky groups. The Americans' formula, published in 2004, involves the multiplication of an infinite number of terms, which goes haywire if the holes are too close together. Crowdy's formula replaces that product with an obscure beast known as Schottky-Klein prime function. Crowdy says his formula will never fail. "I'm very skeptical" of that claim, says Pfaltzgraff.

Has Crowdy proven that his technique will never fail? The original article claimed that Crowdy overcame the obstacle of holes in the polygon... but at best it seems he overcame having holes too close together. In reality you have four iterations:

Crowdy over came holes that are "too close" together.
The three Americans deserve credit for overcoming the multiple hole obstacle.
The mathematicians in the 1920s overcame a single hole problem
The original mathematicians deserve credit for the formula in general.

The only way, IMO, that Crowdy deserves an equal amount of credit to the Americans is if his formula is actually universal. The additional functionality seems much smaller than that contributed by the three Americans.

Re:At the very least some credit (1)

Secret Rabbit (914973) | more than 6 years ago | (#22683022)

That's total bullshit! The Americans came up with something that was practically useless and then the Brit came along and turned it into something useful. Sorry, but the Brit is the only one with the claim to fame here. You see, that's how Science and Math works. Everyone builds on everyone else's work and the guy(s) that ends up actually making the breakthrough wins. Want another example? How about Einstein's SR. Most of the stuff used to create that was well known at the time.

Doesn't this mean that... (1)

Swampwulf (875465) | more than 6 years ago | (#22683486)

if they can 'morph' a polygon into a circle and vice versa, then can't they figure the size of the polygon precisely and use it to define the size of the circle and say that Pi is a finite number?

I'll freely admit I'm doing good to count to 21 without slipping off my boots and unzipping my jeans, but...

Re:Doesn't this mean that... (1)

ultranova (717540) | more than 6 years ago | (#22691888)

if they can 'morph' a polygon into a circle and vice versa, then can't they figure the size of the polygon precisely and use it to define the size of the circle and say that Pi is a finite number?

Pi is a finite number: it is more than 3 but less than 4. It is also precisely defined: it is exactly the circumference of a circle in an euclidean plane divided by the diameter of the same circle.

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