Written: March 27, 2012
Since (apocryphally) Mittag-Leffler had a love affair with Alfred Nobel's non-existent wife, the inventor of TNT decided not to give out a Nobel prize in mathematics. So we mathematicians felt inferior to physicists, chemists, biologists, authors, and even economists. Some of us (e.g. beautiful-mind John Nash) got the Economics prize (that was not Alfred's idea), but the closest analog, until nine years ago, was the Fields medal whose monetary value is epsilontic, and is only awarded to (relatively speaking) epsilons.
Finally, in 2003, Norway decided to honor its most gifted mathematical child, Niels Abel, by introducing a mathematical analog of a Nobel prize, and named it the Abel prize, and we finally had a prize of our own, and were hoping to get at least some of the attention that our scientific, pseudo-scientific (i.e. economists), and literary colleagues enjoy. Of course none of them can equal the celebrity of sports and movie celebs, after all, like us, they are also just nerds, but even our dream of getting the modest attention that our scientific colleagues get, apparently did not get fulfilled, even with the Abel prize.
As soon as I found out that my Rutgers colleague Endre Szemerédi won the "math Nobel", I looked at the front page of the New Times, then in the inside pages. Nothing! Then I went to google news, and saw that besides a short and perfunctory article in the Washington Post (that proves that it is a better daily than the NYT), and a charming but mathematically inaccurate (how many errors can you spot?) article in the regional newspaper, the Newark Star-Ledger, no major American newspaper wrote about it. Even the French, who traditionally, at least, have much greater respect for mathematics, didn't do as well as expected. Le Figaro had a short article, and Le Monde, even though a search in their website revealed that it covered all the previous years' Abel awards, had nothing about this year's. Hooray to India's "The Hindu" that had a decent coverage.
Let me conclude by wishing Endre, "the computer science professor who never touched a computer", many more beautiful and deep theorems, and console him (and us) that in a hundred years, and definitely in a thousand years, he would be remembered much more than any contemporary sports or movie star, and probably more than any living Nobel prize winner.