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The Real Story of the Fields Medal

Writing for the New York Times, Michael J. Barany debunks an apocryphal tale of the Fields Medal's origins and explains how the prize attained its Nobel-level status.

The latter part of Barany's account, which involves Stephen Smale and the House Un-American Activities Committee, sits at the intersection of math and politics.

"Mr. Smale is not a mathematician who merely happened to oppose the Vietnam War, just as others are not mathematicians who merely happen to work for (or oppose) the N.S.A.," writes Barany. "Mathematics is a critical part of who they are and what they do, for better and sometimes for worse."

He concludes: "To say mathematics is political is not to diminish it, but rather to recognize its greater meaning, promise and responsibilities."

Read the story.

Start Date: 
Tuesday, August 12, 2014