Obviously, you are never going to get as much attention when trying to solve a lesser known problem. That’s a given.

There is an endless stream of papers by outsiders claiming to have resolved P vs NP. Deolalikar is getting a much more favorable reception. We never hear about the other papers. I’m interested in what makes him different. Why are people finding him more credible even though they (obviously) have not read the paper fully?

I’m not dismissive of Deolalikar’s work. Yet, there is no shortage of papers with potentially interesting ideas. His instant fame is an outlier.

Whether he just shattered theoretical computer science, or faked it really well, is beside the point. Nobody knows at this point whether his work will hold under scrutiny.

If me (in the case I fulfilled all three requirements) or some of my friends out of academia (by lack of post-doc offers, satisfying all 3 conditions!) did the same about our research, the results would be near 0.

Daniel, while I completely agree with your post, I think it should be noted that Deolalikar’s paper (which is a preliminary version) reportedly â€œmade it to the web without [his] knowledgeâ€.

He is getting more credit for your 3 points. He doesn’t sound like a nut, like a lot of people sound when solving the Riemann hypotheses, for example. Once or twice I checked proofs in ArXiV for the RH, they were pretty funny reads. This sounds like a legitimate attempt from someone sounding sane.

But I won’t prove anything worth of attention outside my field 😉

It also helps if you introduce your proof with a spiffy one-liner. If Deolalikar’s proof is correct, then I suspect, “I am pleased to announce a proof that P is not equal to NP, which is attached in 10pt and 12pt fonts” will enter the canon of famous mathematical one-liners, alongside “I have discovered a marvellous proof, which this margin is too small to contain.”

The fact it was published in a private email is important. It’s a narrative hook, something unexpected that adds a little flavor to the story. That gives the story a hint of viral nature, as it makes people more inclined to share it.

Additionally, it seems like the theory community has gotten pretty good at quickly invalidating most bogus proofs. Whenever a proof gets a little press someone raises their hand and points out some counterexample. While we obviously need to wait for proper time for an examination of a 100 page paper, when you get used to instantaneous rebuttal, a pause starts to feel like confirmation.

Anonymoussays:

I think you have missed the main points. The reason everyone is excited about this is that: some experts in the area have said that this seems to be a relatively serious work, and it is not just P vs NP, but contains ideas that people think are interesting even if the proof does not work.

Einstein was only 26 when he published his first seminal paper. Comparatively, Deolalikar is an established scientist, with a bona fide research job, a family, and so on.

@Itman Both Perelman and Deolalikar are in their late thirties or early forties.

Robertsays:

The mathematical techniques seem interesting, somewhat plausible and heretofore unexplored, this is what enticed the experts.

The vast majority of “amateur” proofs do not have any of these qualities.

So even if people haven’t rigorously checked the proof, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a some idea of its quality.

Itmansays:

Einstein also had just a handful of papers 🙂

Itmansays:

Daniel,
And Galois made a major math discovery before he was 20. It is a good point. Yet, I am not convinced: it may be just an illustration how immature was the state of math and physics 100-200 years ago.

Kensays:

Reading this list of reasons I was also struck by the very good timing of the announcement. In mid-August most academics are getting back into ‘work mode’ but not yet saddled with courses to teach; their grad students are not around (as much) – it’s really the ideal time to get them to look at something new and not just dismiss it. Had the email been sent just one month later, it might have been summarily deleted for lack of time by many of the recipients. Probably a coincidence, but history is made by such chance.

Daniel Lemiresays:@Ruben

Obviously, you are never going to get as much attention when trying to solve a lesser known problem. That’s a given.

There is an endless stream of papers by outsiders claiming to have resolved P vs NP. Deolalikar is getting a much more favorable reception. We never hear about the other papers. I’m interested in what makes him different. Why are people finding him more credible even though they (obviously) have not read the paper fully?

Daniel Lemiresays:@Anonymous

I’m not dismissive of Deolalikar’s work. Yet, there is no shortage of papers with potentially interesting ideas. His instant fame is an outlier.

Whether he just shattered theoretical computer science, or faked it really well, is beside the point. Nobody knows at this point whether his work will hold under scrutiny.

Ruben Berenguelsays:I guess there is a 3rd point in that list:

* Prove something worth 1M$.

If me (in the case I fulfilled all three requirements) or some of my friends out of academia (by lack of post-doc offers, satisfying all 3 conditions!) did the same about our research, the results would be near 0.

Ruben

Antonio E. Porrecasays:Daniel, while I completely agree with your post, I think it should be noted that Deolalikar’s paper (which is a preliminary version) reportedly â€œmade it to the web without [his] knowledgeâ€.

Ruben Berenguelsays:@Daniel

He is getting more credit for your 3 points. He doesn’t sound like a nut, like a lot of people sound when solving the Riemann hypotheses, for example. Once or twice I checked proofs in ArXiV for the RH, they were pretty funny reads. This sounds like a legitimate attempt from someone sounding sane.

But I won’t prove anything worth of attention outside my field 😉

Ben Babcocksays:It also helps if you introduce your proof with a spiffy one-liner. If Deolalikar’s proof is correct, then I suspect, “I am pleased to announce a proof that P is not equal to NP, which is attached in 10pt and 12pt fonts” will enter the canon of famous mathematical one-liners, alongside “I have discovered a marvellous proof, which this margin is too small to contain.”

Paulsays:The fact it was published in a private email is important. It’s a narrative hook, something unexpected that adds a little flavor to the story. That gives the story a hint of viral nature, as it makes people more inclined to share it.

Additionally, it seems like the theory community has gotten pretty good at quickly invalidating most bogus proofs. Whenever a proof gets a little press someone raises their hand and points out some counterexample. While we obviously need to wait for proper time for an examination of a 100 page paper, when you get used to instantaneous rebuttal, a pause starts to feel like confirmation.

Anonymoussays:I think you have missed the main points. The reason everyone is excited about this is that: some experts in the area have said that this seems to be a relatively serious work, and it is not just P vs NP, but contains ideas that people think are interesting even if the proof does not work.

Daniel Lemiresays:@Itman

Einstein was only 26 when he published his first seminal paper. Comparatively, Deolalikar is an established scientist, with a bona fide research job, a family, and so on.

Daniel Lemiresays:@Itman Both Perelman and Deolalikar are in their late thirties or early forties.

Robertsays:The mathematical techniques seem interesting, somewhat plausible and heretofore unexplored, this is what enticed the experts.

The vast majority of “amateur” proofs do not have any of these qualities.

So even if people haven’t rigorously checked the proof, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a some idea of its quality.

Itmansays:Einstein also had just a handful of papers 🙂

Itmansays:Daniel,

And Galois made a major math discovery before he was 20. It is a good point. Yet, I am not convinced: it may be just an illustration how immature was the state of math and physics 100-200 years ago.

Kensays:Reading this list of reasons I was also struck by the very good timing of the announcement. In mid-August most academics are getting back into ‘work mode’ but not yet saddled with courses to teach; their grad students are not around (as much) – it’s really the ideal time to get them to look at something new and not just dismiss it. Had the email been sent just one month later, it might have been summarily deleted for lack of time by many of the recipients. Probably a coincidence, but history is made by such chance.