How Scandalous!

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 oDr-Alan-Turing-2956483n 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 pers6a00d834523c1e69e20147e2a982e3970bonally 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 The funny thing is historical documents now seem to reveal that both men made their discoveries independently and nearly simultaneously – they both deserved credit!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

The_Burning_of_the_Library_at_Alexandria_in_391_ADThis 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’ Murder

Hippasus.jpgHippasus 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 Prizefoto_de_alfred_nobel

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.


16 thoughts on “How Scandalous!”

  1. Nice read, I just passed this onto a friend who was doing some research on that. And he just bought me lunch as I found it for him smile Thus let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch!


  2. I could also think of the story (or stories) behind the discovery of the general formula for solving the cubic equations. There are so many versions of the stories and we will never know what really happened since all the people involved (Cardano, Tartaglia, etc.) did tell some lies about it at one point or another…

    I think that the story about the murder of Hippasus is too far-fetched even for the ancient Greek’s standard. I actually just talked about it on my recent post titled “The History and Myth of Mathematics”.

    Nice post btw.


    1. Thank you, glad you enjoyed it 🙂 Yes! I read those in a book a couple of months ago. It’s crazy to imagine the intense rivalries and lengths scientists would go to for the credit of a discovery.
      I must say that I do agree that the myth of what happened to Hippasus seems a little extreme… But I guess we’ll never know for sure if it happened or not! Cool, I’ll go read it now!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That time was one of the greatest moments in mathematics since the general solutions for solving the cubic and quartic equations were finally discovered after so many years. However, on the perspective of professionalism, it was one of the lowest moments of math as well.

        Considering all the craziness that happened during the time of the ancient Greeks, it may not be very hard to picture it happened…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, I mean just take a look at Newton and Leibniz. If this rivalry happened in the 17th century, it might not be hard to imagine that something like that could happen in Ancient Greece!


  3. I’ve always loved Turing… Interesting fact: he was fascinated by the tale of Snow White, and there has been speculation that the cyanide laced apple he used was, in a sense, ‘tribute’ to Snow White. Also I read somewhere that the apple logo was designed as a tribute to Turing; though I can’t remember if the source I read that from was reputable…

    Anyway, great post! I wasn’t aware of those murders; incredibly fascinating history!

    (Personally, I always found Kurt Goedel’s story quite fascinating as well, although I suppose his story isn’t quite as scandalous :p )

    Liked by 2 people

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