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[Computational Complexity] Don't Get Mad, Get a Lawyer

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  • Lance
    Shing-Tung Yau, who doesn t like his portrayal in Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber s New Yorker article on the Poincar conjecture. So Yau, who apparently has
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 20, 2006
      Shing-Tung Yau, who doesn't like his portrayal in Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber's New Yorker article on the Poincaré conjecture. So Yau, who apparently has discovered the American way, hires a lawyer who sends a letter to the authors and the fact checker. A PR firm emails me (and Scott) a press release.
      Dr. Yau has demanded that The New Yorker and Nasar make a prominent correction of the errors in the article, and apologize for an insulting illustration that accompanied it.

      "Beyond repairing the damage to my own reputation, we seek to minimize the damage done to the mathematics community itself, which is ludicrously portrayed as contentious rather than cooperative and more competitive than collegial," Dr. Yau said. "Mathematicians from the foremost institutions – from Beijing to Berkeley – have been appalled at the fictionalizing of our profession."

      The old "you are not just attacking me, you are attacking all of mathematics" argument. Most of the mainstream media has not picked up this part of the story. The Boston Herald did and they also published the New Yorker's response.
      "Manifold Destiny," a 10,000-word article by Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber published in the August 28, 2006 issue of The New Yorker, is the product of more than four months of thorough, careful reporting and meticulous fact-checking. Ms. Nasar and Mr. Gruber spent over twenty hours interviewing Dr. Yau; they conducted approximately 100 other interviews with people in the field; corresponded by email with Dr. Yau and many others; and traveled to China where they conducted interviews and attended speeches and events discussed in the article. In addition, the magazine's fact-checkers spoke with Dr. Yau for approximately eight hours, they examined notes, tapes, and documents gathered by the authors, and the checkers conducted their own thorough research. Contrary to Dr. Yau's assertions, the article is nuanced and fair, and was prepared using ethical standards of journalism. Dr. Yau, his supporters and his point of view were given ample space in the article.
      Whatever the merits of Yau's claims (a reliable source tells me the article is mostly a reasonable and accurate reporting of events), Yau only hurts his reputation with this newest action. Yau should have written a short letter to the New Yorker editor with a pointer to a detailed discussion on his web site. Instead by having an argumentative letter written by a lawyer with the implicit threat of a lawsuit, Yau only encourages the very portrayal he tries so hard to fight against.

      Posted by Lance to Computational Complexity at 9/20/2006 08:40:00 AM
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