CTK Insights

25 Apr

When Friends Are Right

Here's a story from the recent book by Dana Mackenzie.

Paul Dirac was notoriously taciturn and shy of publicity. If he spoke two words in a conversation, it meant he was in a talkative mood. When he found that out that he was going to receive the Nobel Proze in 1933, he initially wanted to decline it, until his friends persuaded him that declining the award would cause him to receive more publicity than accepting. Dirac largely escaped public fascination and adulation that followed Newton and Einstein.

What happened happened and there is no predicting what would have happened had Dirac declined the prize. However, the latest events concerning solution of the long standing Poincaré conjecture by Grigoriy Perelman and his refusal to accept the Fields Prize and then also the Clay Mathematics Institute award appear to cause more publicity than otherwise could have been expected. How many Fields medalist received as much press coverage as Perelman? It's hard to escape the conclusion that Dirac's friends had a point.


  1. D. Mackenzie, The Universe in Zero Words: The Story of Mathematics as Told Through Equations, Princeton University Press, 2012

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