Links, 11/12/09

Just two links I thought worth sharing; Josh alerted me to this excellent article in the WSJ about the system Soviet Russia set up for mathematics. From the article:

Following the war, the Soviets invested heavily in high-tech military research, building over 40 cities where scientists and mathematicians worked in secret. The urgency of the mobilization recalled the Manhattan Project—only much bigger and lasting much longer. Estimates of the number of people engaged in the Soviet arms effort in the second half of the century range up to 12 million people, with a couple million of them employed by military-research institutions.

These jobs spelled nearly total scientific isolation: For defense employees, any contact with foreigners would be considered treasonous rather than simply suspect. In addition, research towns provided comfortably cloistered social environments but no possibility for outside intellectual contact. The Soviet Union managed to hide some of its best mathematical minds away in plain sight.

Please do read the whole thing – of immediate interest is the description of how academia in America works, and how that managed to disillusion some. Of note is one Grigory Perelman, whose accomplishment you can read more about in this New Yorker article from a while back, but of whom this description from the WSJ will suffice:

He [Perelman] was immediately showered with offers of professorial appointments and research money, and, by all accounts, he found these offers gravely insulting, as he believes the monetization of achievement is the ultimate insult to mathematics. So profound was his disappointment with the rewards he was offered that, I believe, it contributed a great deal to his subsequent decision to quit mathematics altogether, along with the people who practice it. (He now lives with his mother on the outskirts of St. Petersburg.)

I need to have intellectual integrity like that. Sometimes I feel like I’ll do anything for a blog reader.

1 Thought.

  1. Thanks for this little gem. I had no idea about the huge number of mathematicians the Soviet machine was focused on. It also makes me extremely hopeful when I see geniuses like Perelman turn their back on financial gain to stick with their principles.

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