## “À l’université, j’étais le matheux qui savait parler aux statisticiens.”

**T**his weekend edition of Le Monde had [most of] Cédric Villani as its cover story. Mostly about his new career as a representative of Orsay at the French Parliament. And a member of the presidential majority. But the weekend edition being the weekend edition, it cannot escape its glossy tendencies and rather than focussing on the political agenda and achievements of the député, including a radical restructuring of the maths curriculum in French high schools, or maybe even his position on the harsh stance of the Macron government on migrants and refugees, Le Monde spends most of the article on the extra-ordinary personality of Villani. Paris-Match-like. Which leads to quote as the one below, where I find myself at a loss on how to interpret this “ability to speak to statisticians”…!

February 19, 2018 at 8:55 pm

By the way notice also the interview given by another Fields Medal winner, Alain Connes to Etienne Klein, a physicist on France Culture radio channel last saturday at “La conversation Scientifique”. Very exciting exchange on math, prime number distribution and its relationship to Messiaen’s music,Grothendiek’s way of thinking, recurrence reasoning examples and so on… especially due to A Connes’ clarity of expression.

February 19, 2018 at 10:00 pm

Merci Jean-Louis, I am sure this is an order of magnitude more interesting than the shallow Le Monde article..!

February 19, 2018 at 11:19 am

No mention of the fact that statistics is, perhaps, the most successful branch of mathematics, ever, permeating so many aspects of our social and political discourse in a way that Algebraic Geometry or Homotopy (or even, dare I say, my own area, PDE) will never be able to.

A mathematician should be honoured to be able to ‘speak statistics’. Only so many mathematicians are boggled by the seeming inexactness. They just plain miss the point.

IMHO, as a PDE guy who spends 95% of my time doing (sloppy) applied statistics, the bridge between pure maths that I learned in school and stats is one which most mathematicians are incapable of crossing. I’ll bet Villani feels he can be on both sides of the bridge at once.

February 19, 2018 at 2:44 pm

From this sole sentence, conditional on the context and with all due provisions (!), it sounds like statisticians are not considered mathematicians. Maybe by other mathematicians than CV.

February 19, 2018 at 7:32 pm

I would hope that statisticians are not considered mathematicians (just by virtue of being statisticians), since statistics is not a subfield of math, just like physics is not a subfield of math, despite both of these fields using lots of math.

You can easily see that statistics is not math from the prevalence of debates about things like Bayesian versus frequentist inference, or the possibility of demonstrating causality from observational data. These are not debates about mathematics.

February 19, 2018 at 8:33 pm

Thanks Radford: I agree that stats is not maths. The paradox is that in the French academic system there is no recognition of statistics as a separate field, which means statistics is always part of an applied or a generic maths department. This means in particular that university and CNRS positions are generally in competition with other branches of mathematics.