Sunday, April 24, 2005


JSH: Why would mathematicians lie?

Some of you may see all the smoke and wonder if there's fire: are mathematicians lying to suppress major discoveries that upset the status quo?

I can tell you, yes, but then there's the question, of why.

There's also the question of how.

First off, how would you know if a mathematician were lying to you about mathematics?

That's an important question.

Let's say some professional mathematician, a professor at a major university were talking to you about some mathematics, and lying to you quite boldly about that mathematics, how would you know?

For most of you I suspect the answer would be, you need another mathematician!

You'd need another mathematician to tell you if that person were lying through their teeth to you, or was telling you the truth.

So then, on to how math society is supposedly policed: mathematicians police themselves and each other.

What do I mean by "policed"?

Well, in any society, you have those knuckleheads who don't like playing by the rules, who lie, cheat and steal, so other people have to be on the lookout for them or they really muck up society.

Like, one of those knuckleheads might lie to you about mathematics, for some social gain, like maybe, just to impress you, you know?

So your protection is, what?

Your protection from a lying mathematician has to come from other mathematicians, as they police themselves.

So then, why would they lie?

Why do any people lie?

I do have more to it than that as guess what?

Mathematics is a difficult discipline.

It is difficult to understand many parts of it, takes a lot of work for most people to learn, and it is VERY difficult to make a major discovery, or even anything other than a minor discovery.

Most "mathematicians" will fail in their careers to make any major discovery.

We're talking about the majority of mathematicians.

But what if they fudge?

What if, they kind of just SAY they have an important discovery, and then go from there? How can anybody tell?

The answer, mathematicians police themselves, so then, one would expect another mathematician or group of mathematicians to catch them.

But what if they don't?

I dare any of you to do a Google search on "math fraud" or "fraud in mathematics" or anything about fraud and mathematics, and see what you find.

You will find a field that appears to be pristine, perfect.

Mathematicians will appear to be beautifully, almost divine in their perfection, and lack of fraud, based on that search.

Succinctly, you won't find any cases.

I'm not saying few case. I'm saying you will not find ANY cases of caught fraud in the mathematics field.

Zero. None. Nil.

If you are a naive human being you will believe that mathematicians police themselves perfectly.

My degree is in physics as a I have a B.Sc. from Vanderbilt University.

So I'm like a quasi-physicists as I don't have a high enough degree to lay claim to the wonderful title: physicists.

But I have some training in the field and an interest in it.

Recently headlines were made about some researcher making up research.

He got caught.

Yes, you can find cases of fraud in the physics field, and the field of medicine, and probably just about any other field that you can think of, like even English Literature…but not in the field of mathematics.

So how do they get away with it?

Yes, I'm telling you that there must be fraud in that field, as mathematicians are human beings, whether you wish to believe it or not.

So how do they get away with it?

Well, if a mathematician is lying to you about mathematics, how do you tell?

Get it, yet?

If you had a job, where you and others in your job could lie, and make money, and get social prestige, where no one seemed capable of figuring it out because they thought of your field as too damn hard, might you not be tempted?

What if you gave in, and no police came, no one busted down your door, and you were not thrown ouf the field in disgrace?

What if instead, you got tenure, lots of young students to teach, and maybe wrote a textbook?

Society has given math society a license to steal by not policing it.

Do that search. If you're a true skeptic then you won't believe that mathematicians are saints.

You'll recognize that something is amiss in math land.

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