Opinion 134: Pure Mathematics is Forty Years Behind Chemistry

By Doron Zeilberger

Written: Nov. 20, 2013

Last Thursday, Jon Hanke gave a brilliant talk at the famous Rutgers Experimental Mathematics seminar. When we took Jon out for dinner, I found out from him, to my utter shock, that the reason Jon left academia was not greed, but because he was denied tenure at the University of Georgia. (More precisely, was told that there is no way that he would get tenure, so he didn't even apply for it).

Give me a break! This guy proved, with Manjul Bhargava, The 15 and 290 theorems about quadratic forms, one of the most important objects in number theory, dear to Gauss and many others.

Why did he not get tenure? because he is `only' a computational number-theorist. Mathematicians, and especially pure ones, are still in the dark ages when people think that all computations are routine! Jon's contributions to human knowledge are probably much more significant than any of the people in the committee that would have denied him tenure.

Just see his software page, where he makes available for everyone, sophsiticated and useful number-theoretical programs! The significance of this far surpasses thousands of technical papers, written in humanese, that no one would read!

But, the good news is that Jon may get the Abel prize in 37 years. The 2013 Chemistry Nobel Laureate Arieh Warshel was denied tenure from the Weizmann Institute of Science, back in 1976 (see the Hebrew wiki page) because he was `only' a computational chemist!

But, let's hope that it would be sooner, and even if Jon would not wind up getting the Abel prize of 2050, The University of Georgia (and any other department) would consider computational `pure' math at least as important as paper-and-pencil humanese.


Opinions of Doron Zeilberger