Terence Tao’s Humility

Source: NYTimes, Jun 2014

Three of the five — Dr. Donaldson, Dr. Kontsevich and Dr. Tao — are recipients of the Fields Medal, probably the best known among mathematics awards. Dr. Tao has also received a MacArthur “genius” grant of half a million dollars.

Dr. Tao said Mr. Milner came to his office at U.C.L.A. in January. Mr. Milner had already announced that he would establish the math prizes, and Dr. Tao thought Mr. Milner wanted advice on whom they should go to. Instead, Mr. Milner told him one prize was going to him.

Dr. Tao tried to talk Mr. Milner out of it, and suggested that more prizes of smaller amounts might be more effective in supporting mathematics. “The size of the award, I think it’s ridiculous,” he said. “I didn’t feel I was the most qualified for this prize.”

But Dr. Tao added: “It’s his money. He can do whatever he wants with it.”

Dr. Tao said he might use some of the prize money to help set up open-access mathematics journals, which would be available free to anyone, or for large-scale collaborative online efforts to solve important problems.



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