Mathematics on public radio

Following the Field medals awarded to Cédric Villani (the head of IHP and a former Dauphine PhD, as our president quickly communicated about) and Ngô Bao Châu (formely at Orsay, now moving to Chicago a fact omitted on the local news!), the French public radio, France Inter, dedicated one of its evening phone debates (Le Telephone Sonne) to research in Mathematics. The panelists were Cédric Villani, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon (head of IHES), and Guy Métivier (head of Mathematics at CNRS). This actually happens rather often (i.e. more often than once every four years when a French mathematician gets a Field medal) and I came across several of those by happenstance. The exercise (explaining to the layman what is the meaning of doing research in Mathematics and what are the advances made by the medalists in the current case) is interesting if delicate as the temptations to get lyrical or technical abound! I found the panelists did a very good job last Wednesday night. (Note that Terry Tao gave a summary of the four panelists’ achievements on his blog.) A very sweet (and my preferred) question was whether or not mathematical objects/concepts have an existence of their own or are created in mathematicians’ minds. In linking pure and applied maths, ie stating that there was no frontier between the two and that pure mathematicians are often involved in fruitful applications, Cédric Villani even mentioned Statistics, which is nice even though I doubt there is the remotest chance a statistician could get the Field Medal. (Incidentally, the COPSS Award, which is the Field Medal of Statistics, was attributed to David Dunson, from Duke, last August. Well-deserved, David!)

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