Great New York Times profile of Terry Tao by Gareth Cook, an old friend of mine from Boston Phoenix days.
I’ve got a quote in there:
‘‘Terry is what a great 21st-century mathematician looks like,’’ Jordan Ellenberg, a mathematician at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who has collaborated with Tao, told me. He is ‘‘part of a network, always communicating, always connecting what he is doing with what other people are doing.’’
I thought it would be good to say something about the context in which I told Gareth this. I was explaining how happy I was he was profiling Terry, because Terry is at the same time extraordinary and quite typical as a mathematician. Outlier stories, like those of Nash, and Perelman, and more recently Mochizuki, get a lot of space in the general press. And they’re important stories. But they’re stories because they’re so unrepresentative of the main stream of mathematical work. Lone bearded men working in secret, pitched battles over correctness and priority, madness, etc. Not a big part of our actual lives.
Terry’s story, on the other hand, is what new, deep, amazing math actually usually looks like. Many minds cooperating, enabled by new technology. Blogging, traveling, talking, sharing. That’s the math world I know. I’m happy as hell to see it in the New York Times.