Professor of Mathematics Wilfried Schmid, Harvard University, responds to the New Yorker article
Oct. 12, 2006
Howard M. Cooper, Esq.
Todd & Weld, LLP
28 State Street
Boston, MA 02109
October 12, 2006
Dear Mr. Cooper,
The New Yorker article "Manifold Destiny" is full of slander against my colleague Shing Tung Yau. You and others have pointed out numerous distortions in the article. Let me mention two disparaging passages that have received little attention so far.
The sentence "Yau had since become a professor of mathematics at Harvard and the direc-tor of mathematics institutes in Beijing and Hong Kong, dividing his time be-tween the United States and China" hints that Yau is a peripatetic scientist, unable or unwilling to put full effort into his primary position at Harvard. In fact, Yau teaches full-time at Harvard and carries a wholly disproportionate share of the supervision of Ph.D. students in our department. He travels to China during breaks in the academic calendar, during sabbaticals and occasional unpaid leaves. Such unpaid leaves are taken by many Harvard faculty members from time to time. As far as I know, Yau does not receive salaries from institutions in China.
Immediately after asserting that "Many mathematicians view Yau's conduct over the Poincaré as a violation of this basic ethic, and worry about the damage it has caused the profession" the article quotes Phillip Griffiths, the former Director of the Institutes of Advanced Study, as saying "Politics, power, and control have no legitimate role in our community, and they threaten the integrity of our field". Griffiths was not only Director of the Institute for Advanced Study, but also serves as Secretary of the International Mathematical Union, and he has held various advisory positions, both in the US and internationally. In these roles Griffiths has wielded, and still wields greater influence than virtually any other US mathematician. Let me hasten to add that I once was Griffiths' student, that I am grateful for the support he gave me early in my career, that I value his mathematical work highly, and that I am not criticizing him for the way he has used his influence. But Nasar knows Griffiths well, and she is certainly aware of the extent of Griffiths' political power within the field of mathematics; to use him as an authority to criticize Yau's supposed attempts at "control" is malicious: unlike Griffiths, Yau has never sought out influential administrative positions.
Please feel free to use this letter as you may see fit.
Professor of Mathematics