Corporatism in Science and Math: Mathematician Missing – Part 2

03 Jun

“It may be hard to believe that a mathematician of Grothendieck‘s caliber could not find an adequate academic position in France after he left the IHES. I am convinced that if Grothendieck had been a former student of the Ecole Normale and if he had been part of the system, a position commensurate with his mathematical achievements would have been found for him. Let me digress on this a minute. When Pierre-Gilles de Gennes got his physics Nobel Prize in 1991, there was an official ceremony in his honor at the Sorbonne, with speeches by de Gennes himself and the minister (Lionel Jospin). On this occasion de Gennes branded corporatism as the plague of French science. Certainly this applies to physics, and even more to mathematics. What this means is that it is all important whether you are from the Ecole Normale or Ecole Polytechnique, in whose lab you are accepted, whether you are at the CNRS, the academy, a suitable political party, and so on. If you are in one of those groups, they will help you and you have to help them. In the case of Grothendieck, he was nothing (not even having at the time French or any other citizenship). He was nobody’s responsibility; he was just an embarrassment.

… the disposal of Grothendieck will remain a disgrace in the history of twentieth century mathematics.

… In 1981 he speaks of a ‘bash in face’ (un coup de poing en pleine guele) when his candidacy for a professor position was rejected by a committee comprising three of his former students.”

From ‘The Mathematician’s Brain: A Personal Tour Through the Essentials of Mathematics and Some of the Great Minds Behind Them‘ by David Ruelle

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Posted by on June 3, 2009 in General, Math, Science


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