Although mathematics is often considered a ‘bland’ subject, (I, however, completely disagree with this!), throughout the years there have been many scandals. Here are my top 5 mathematics scandals!
Alan Turing Trial
Turing was on of the mathematical geniuses of the 20th century, working in the areas of cryptology and computer science. In World War II, he worked at Bletchley Park and played a major role in breaking the German codes.
However, he was a homosexual, and at that time this was illegal in Great Britain. After being charged in 1952, he pleaded guilty and as a consequence was stripped of his security clearance and put under hormone treatments. He became deeply unhappy and, sadly, Turing committed suicide by poison apple just two years later at the age of 41.
The British government only officially pardoned him for “the appalling way he was treated” in 2013.
Andre Bloch Murders
I was personally unfamiliar with this story, but it’s pretty shocking so I’d thought I’d share it with you!
Bloch was a French mathematician, who was active for 31 years and is best known for his contributions to complex analysis. However, he spent all these 31 years in a mental institute. Why? In 1917, when he was on leave from World War I, he killed his brother, his aunt and his uncle. He told one of his mathematician colleagues that he committed these murders as an act to rid his family line of people afflicted with mental illness. Crazy right!
Newton vs Leibniz
This story is a classic.
Most of you know ‘calculus’ – we all studied it at some point in secondary school. It is the study of the infinite and infinitesimal and is one of the most amazing tools offered to a student in mathematics. Well, Isaac Newton and Gottfired Leibniz strongly disagreed on who deserved credit for its discovery – they both wanted full credit! The war between Newton and Leibniz was ugly and they battled it out via the letters and journals of the day, each accusing the other of plagiarism. The funny thing is historical documents now seem to reveal that both men made their discoveries independently and nearly simultaneously – they both deserved credit!
Burning of the Library of Alexandria
This library, which was built around the 3rd century BC, was the house of many academic wonders, including a wealth of discoveries in mathematics. In this library were the works of Euclid, Archimedes, Eratosthenes, Hipparchus and many other notable mathematicians. Although, there aren’t many details of the fire, it’s clear that the destruction of the library was a major setback to academics of the time.
Hippasus was part of the Pythagorean society (the people who discovered the infamous theory about right angled triangles: a2+b2=c2). The Pythagorean society is known for their secrecy and, in the 5th century, when Hippasus managed to prove that the square root of 2 was irrational, it is said that he was going to reveal this to the public at large, and so the society drowned him at sea. However, there are some questions about the details of the legend of Hippasus – don’t take this to be fact!
And now for a false scandal: The Nobel Prize
Why is there no Nobel Prize for mathematics? The famous rumour is that this is because Alfred Nobel’s wife was having an affair with a mathematician. This mathematician would have been one of the potential first winners of the Nobel Prize for mathematics. Mr. Nobel, therefore, didn’t set up a prize for mathematics so that he couldn’t win! However, Alfred Nobel was never actually married… This is discussed in detail in the book Mathematical Scandals.