Wikipedia Fail

Congratulations to the 2010 Fields Medalists, announced yesterday in Hyderabad. Elon Lindenstrauss, Ngo Bau Chau, Stanislav Smirnov, and Cedric Villani have been awarded math’s highest honor. (Up to four medalists are chosen every four years.)

My sense going in was that Ngo was widely considered a shoo-in, for his proof of the Fundamental Lemma of Langlands Theory. Do you want to know what the Fundamental Lemma says? Here is an 18-page statement (not proof!) of the lemma. The others were all strong favorites. Nevertheless:

  • Ngo’s Wikipedia page was created in May, 2007 — three years after he had won the prestigious (though not quite as prestigious as the Fields Medal) Clay Research Award.
  • Smirnov’s Wikipedia page was created in May, 2009 — eight years after he had won the Clay Research Award.
  • Villani’s Wikipedia page was created in May, 2010 — just a few months ago, and two years after he’d won the prestigious European Math Society award. (Moreover, until my friend Tim fixed it this morning, the page failed to come up if you searched for “Villani” on Wikipedia.)
  • Lindenstrauss’s Wikipedia page was less than one week ago — four days before he won the Fields Medal, and six years after he won the European Math Society award. .

Now I realize that of all the wonderful free services we get from the web, the one we have least cause to complain about is Wikipedia. Still, I’m struck that as recently as a week ago, a mathematician with the caliber and influence of Elon Linderstrauss did not have a Wikipedia page, and a few months ago the same was true of Cedric Villani.

Are the superstars of other areas equally poorly represented?

Share/Save

17 Responses to “Wikipedia Fail”


  1. 1 1 Patrick

    I#d say it was because the people who use wikipedia tend not to be the people interested in advanced mathematics, so it could stay unchanged for a while, without the groups coinciding.

  2. 2 2 ErikR

    Landsburg fail!

    If it is so important, why aren’t you contributing the missing information? Wikipedia is a cooperative effort.

  3. 3 3 Harold

    Maybe Steve is Megadeff, creator of Smirnov’s page.

  4. 4 4 Dan

    Wikipedia is good at covering people/events/things who many people know about and care about. Not many people know about or care about mathematicians.

  5. 5 5 nobody.really

    *Shrug* The more esoteric the subject, the less quickly I’d expect Wikipedia to be updated. Face it, Ngo Bau Chau ain’t no Justin Bieber.

    Funny this topic would come up. As I mentioned yesterday, I value this blog due to Landsburg’s capacity to make esoteric ideas concrete, although I sometimes can’t tell when Landsburg is speaking literally and when he’s speaking metaphorically. So here’s how I read the blog: 1) Landsburg explains some esoteric idea. 2) I thing, “Wow!” 3) I think “Really?” And then I look up the esoteric idea on Wikipedia (or elsewhere). 4) I get some vague confirmation of Landsburg’s exposition, usually offered in more technical terms that would have meant nothing to me if I hadn’t read Landsburg’s exposition first, but which also provide some larger context for understanding how practitioners in the esoteric field regard the concept.

    And I come away with two insights: The first pertains to whatever the estoteric idea of the day is. The second is the idea that society would be richer if Landsburg would stop wasting his gift of exposition on us and instead use it on Wikipedia.

    Of course, I also could also take a stab at expanding/revising Wikipedia’s exposition of Godel’s Completeness Theorem (or whatever) based on Landsburg’s ideas. But I don’t. So here we are.

  6. 6 6 Alan Wexelblat

    *applauds ErikR*

    Seriously, blaming “Wikipedia” for not having entries you could have written is a serious case of missing the point. Wikipedia has the content its users choose to add; if you want content to be there, then take the time to write it.

    Blaming others for your (or your colleague’s) lack of effort is wholly misguided.

  7. 7 7 Frank

    Probably even more poorly represented. Mathematics articles on Wikipedia are relatively well-developed, especially when compared with the abysmal quality of economics articles. But perhaps biographies in a field have a different quality profile than topic articles.

  8. 8 8 hanmeng

    I don’t have a wikipedia page, and I’m out standing in my field…every day (under an umbrella if it rains).

  9. 9 9 Steve Landsburg

    Alan Wexelblat:

    blaming “Wikipedia” for not having entries you could have written is a serious case of missing the point.

    Which is exactly why I wrote:

    Now I realize that of all the wonderful free services we get from the web, the one we have least cause to complain about is Wikipedia.

    Perhaps overlooking this could be characterized as a serious case of missing the point :)

  10. 10 10 Dave

    Got a Friday Funny emaail today that I though I would share with all you Maths lovers (unfortunately no Krugman jokes).

    An infinite amount of mathematicians walk into a bar.

    The 1st one says: “I’ll have a pint of beer”
    The 2nd one says: “I’ll have half a pint of beer”
    The 3rd one says: “I’ll have a quarter a pint of beer”

    The barman says: “OK I get it, I get it….2 pints of beers coming right up”

  11. 11 11 Jonathan Kariv

    On the case of biographies I remember being surprized that Ed Coan didn’t have one (no, there is no reason to know who he is if you don’t care about powerlifting). I didn’t really feel qualified to wrote one myself so I didn’t. Someone now has but it’s recent.
    Point being that yes Steve there are superstars in other ) areas that the wiki community hasn’t quite gotten around to.

  12. 12 12 neil wilson

    Mr. Landsburg:

    Why did you set up a blog and spend so much time posting here?

    Would any of your time be better spent (you need to define “better”) by putting some of your information in Wikipedia?

  13. 13 13 Josh

    Can you give specific examples of how certain Field’s medalists’ ideas have changed the world?

  14. 14 14 Steve Reilly

    @Dave, Good thing that third mathematician didn’t order a third of a pint, or that bartender would have been really screwed.

  15. 15 15 Bob

    “Lindenstrauss’s Wikipedia page was less than one week ago — four days before he won the Fields Medal”

    I don’t know how much advance knowledge there is of the winners’ identities. If little to not, then shouldn’t this be a Wikipedia win?

    neil: But then again, how many of us would be likely to go to Wikipedia to read up on the subjects covered here?

    hanmeng: “I don’t have a wikipedia page, and I’m out standing in my field…every day (under an umbrella if it rains).”

    And he’ll be there all week! Try the cow!

  16. 16 16 Bob

    To clarify my previous comment: “how many of us would be likely to go to Wikipedia to read up on the subjects covered here?” That is, given the absence of this blog.

  17. 17 17 David Gerard

    Well, Wikipedia is just written by people, after all. So if we could find a person interested in there being Wikipedia articles about mathematicians of this level of achievement … Any ideas where we could find such a person?

  1. 1 Weekend Roundup at Steven Landsburg | The Big Questions: Tackling the Problems of Philosophy with Ideas from Mathematics, Economics, and Physics
Comments are currently closed.