Thursday, April 19, 2018

Marilyn vos Savant Steps In It…

Marilyn vos Savant is widely-known for writing a column and giving answers to puzzles of all sorts... and also famous for sometimes having her answers challenged, only to have the critics often embarrassed — famously so in the instance of the Monty Hall problem, but occasionally with other problems as well (she’s also had to correct or refine given answers on various occasions).
I didn’t recall however her controversy over Andrew Wiles’ proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem ’til I read the below brief passage in David Wells' “The Penguin Book of Curious and Interesting Mathematics”:
“Less than five months after Wiles’s lecture, she published a book, The World’s Most Famous Math Problem (The Proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem and other Mathematical Mysteries), in which she claimed that non-Euclidean geometry is unsound, and so therefore is Wiles’s proof, because he uses non-Euclidean geometry. She also claimed that his proof depends on developments in mathematics that are relatively recent and poorly understood, and she encouraged her readers to try to ‘demolish Einstein’s theories of relativity’ by proving the parallel postulate.”
Wow, pretty harsh… I’ve never read her short (80-page) book, but as best I can tell, the consensus of professional mathematicians is more uniformly critical of it than some of her other writings; one mathematician calling the book “pure drivel” (and this is despite Martin Gardner writing the Foreward, initially calling the volume "a delightful, informative, and accurate book”).
IF I understand correctly, Marilyn did retract much of her criticism at a later date?
I recommend a very interesting read, by the way, about the whole Gardner/vos Savant relationship here:  (link corrected, I think?)

Anyway, if anyone out there is more directly familiar with this particular controversy (and book), and cares to add anything further about it, I’d be curious to hear.


John Golden said...

For me, your digital commons link went to an America First Twitter account, which is almost certainly not your intent.

"Shecky Riemann" said...

Thanks John; I'm completely baffled what was happening, but merely converting the URL to a TinyURL seems to now make it work.