Prof. Shlomo Sternberg, Harvard University, responds to the New Yorker article

Oct. 13, 2006

An open letter on behalf of Dr. Yau:

Prof. Yau is one of the greatest mathematicians of our time. He has done, and continues to do extremely important work in mathematics and mathematical physics. He is also a remarkably devoted and successful teacher. He is a jewel in the crown of the Mathematics Department here at Harvard.

The idea that Prof. Yau was trying to "steal" the credit from Perelman as depicted in the cartoon and article in the New Yorker is an outright calumny. One can only speculate about the motivations behind the writing of such an article. Without Prof. Yau's work in the early 1980's, and without his guidance and suggestions that the study of Ricci flow might lead to a solution of the Poincare conjecture (at that early stage) the work of Hamilton would not have ensued, and there would have been no program for Perelman to finish. Far from stealing credit for Perelman's accomplishment, he has praised Perelman's work and joined Hamilton in supporting Perelman for the Fields Medal.

To talk of Prof. Yau as attempting to be "Chern's successor" as the "emperor of Chinese mathematics" (as in one of the letters to the New Yorker) is outright anti-Chinese racism. I am old enough to remember similar comments being made about Jewish mathematicians in this country. I am a student of Prof. Chern. He had the greatest impact on my career as a mathematician — more than that of any other of my teachers. I still vividly remember his lectures in the early 1950's and his mathematical advice and guidance. Prof. and Mrs. Chern were extremely kind to my wife and me when we first were married in 1958 and I was an instructor at the University of Chicago (where Prof. Chern was teaching). Late in life, Prof. Chern told us that he was retiring to China because he felt that there was greater respect for and care of elderly people in China than could be found in the US. He would have laughed at the idea of being called the "emperor of Chinese mathematics". He would have been horrified at the treatment accorded Prof. Yau in this slanderous article.

Shlomo Sternberg