Plagiarism by ex-president of the Royal Society. 1: The facts

Background: What the decolonisation activist should know

By way of background theory, decolonisation activists need to understand the following. Western wealth was initially built on the obvious theft of land (e.g. of “Red Indians” by killing them) and the theft of labour (of blacks by enslaving them) and forcing them to work on the land. However, colonial power was built on a lesser known and more intangible theft: the intellectual theft of knowledge. This intellectual theft was used to glorify the West by systematically creating fake intellectual heroes from early Greeks to the “renaissance” (see Is Science Western in Origin?). This self-glorification was then used (e.g. by Macaulay) to impose colonial education, the key and continuing source of colonial power. (See, Ending Academic Imperialism: a beginning.)

To dismantle continuing colonial power, decolonisation activists must understand two key ways of covering up intellectual theft. The first is to use the “doctrine of independent rediscovery”, to let off the intellectual thief, and, indeed, continue to give credit to him. The second is the systematic technique of demonisation, to attack the one whose idea is stolen. Recall, how, instead of condemning genocide, it was the “Red Indians” who were demonised e.g. through “Western” films and narratives of “cowboys and injuns”. Likewise, instead of condemning slavery, it was the blacks who were demonised, and continue to suffer from the resulting prejudice even after slavery and apartheid officially ended. That is, apart from creating fake heroes, the West also systematically creates fake villains by demonising all its opponents to make even genocide and slavery “morally righteous”.

The following should be regarded as a case study which explains how these tricks continue to be used today at the highest level of the most reputed Western academic organizations to perpetuate colonial power and academic imperialism.

Introduction

Recently, a blog post “Putting math in context” came to my notice. It “tangentially” links (a) decolonisation of math (in which I have been involved over the past decade) to (b) the brazen and repeated plagiarism of my earlier published mathematical work by a former President of the Royal Society, Sir Michael  Atiyah and (c) its cover-up by the American Mathematical Society (AMS). This post on the AMS official blog, is written by Anna Haensch, an Assistant Professor at Duquesne University, and former AMS-AAAS mass media fellow. Her job as a blogger is supposedly to improve the public understanding of science. But the post is misleading. It distorts facts. Since this is a matter of great public importance, the issues need to be clraified, especially in the context of attempts by racists and formal mathematicians to protect their power (and jobs) by derailing the effort to decolonise math.

My response is in three parts. (1) The facts, (2) the cover-up by the American Mathematical Society, and (3) the lessons for decolonisation.

Fact, not allegation

First, referring to my webpage on Atiyah’s  plagiarism of my work and its cover-up by the AMS, Haensch calls it an “allegation of intellectual theft”, and “a really wild ride”.

But, it is a FACT that Atiyah plagiarised my work. There is a public finding by an ethics body that Atiyah was prima facie guilty of plagiarism. This is the first entry on the Atiyah webpage:

Hence, this is today an established and cited case of plagiarism. There is a distinction between a convicted criminal and an alleged criminal! Journalists are required to respect facts, but Haensch does not. (Perhaps because she is also a formal mathematician. Formal math is divorced from empirical facts, and hence can reach any false conclusions through bad postulates. This is one good reason to decolonise math.) A formal mathematician can simply postulate that “fact=allegation”. :) How else does Haensch reduce the public finding of three experts of an ethics body to a mere allegation made by me? For she has not offered a single new fact, or argument. Her related journalistic trick of avoiding facts is “proof by adjectives”, to persuade people who are too lazy to check facts.

AMS belatedly acknowledged my prior work

The other fact is that even before the judgment by the ethics body, the Notices of AMS itself eventually admitted the similarity of my earlier published ideas to those falsely claimed by Atiyah. This is again stated on the Atiyah webpage:

Is the journal (the most widely read math journal) so abysmally lacking in standards that it published such an admission merely on the strength of a wild allegation? Haensch’s insinuation implies this!  Actually, the strong similarity with my ideas is indubitable, and anyone can cross check it: just use the links to various documents on my Atiyah  webpage.

To recall, I first linked functional differential equations to a paradigm shift in physics on the one hand, and to quantum mechanics on the other. This was published as part of a long series of journal articles later consolidated into a book, Time: Towards a Consistent Theory, Kluwer Academic, 1994. (Fundamental theories in Physics, vol. 65.) These novel ideas were exactly the one’s for which Atiyah dishonestly claimed credit in his AMS Einstein centenary lecture 2005 and in its report published in 2006. This was done in full knowledge of my past work.

Why a post-facto acknowledgement is NOT enough

OK, so why is the post-facto acknowledgement to my prior work not enough? The first reason is obvious: can a thief be let off if he surrenders the stolen goods AFTER being caught? This sets a bad precedent. It encourages plagiarism by making it riskless. Can a student caught cheating be let off so easily? At the very least an apology was in order, but not even an apology was offered. Instead, the AMS acknowledgement dishonestly pretended that it was an accidental theft, done unknowingly.

Secondly, it is very easy to pass off each and every act of plagiarism as an “accidental oversight” or “independent rediscovery”. Even the AMS recognizes this: that the claim of “independent rediscovery” can be easily misused. Hence, the AMS ethics (see extract) states:

  • “A claim of independence may not be based on [professed] ignorance of widely disseminated results.”

So, the stated test of plagiarism is whether or not the copied work was widely disseminated. One prior journal publication is enough to count as “wide dissemination”, and copying from it amounts to plagiarism, for a researcher is expected to be diligent.

But in my case, my work was very widely disseminated. Why? Because it made an extremely novel mathematical point about Einstein. The mathematical point was so novel and so little understood that I called it a paradigm shift. This was exactly the novel mathematical point repeated by Atiyah (but without mentioning my work), in his Einstein Centenary lecture, and the offending article repeated exactly the term “paradigm shift”. Further, it is not a case of a single novel idea. I linked that novel mathematical idea to quantum mechanics. Atiyah too linked it to quantum mechanics, as I had done a decade earlier (but he failed to understand how, and could give no clear explanation of the linkage).

The AMS acknowledged two of my books Time: Towards a Consistent Theory, Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht, 1994, and The Eleven Pictures of Time, Sage 2003, and a journal article from 2004. Both books are from prestigious publishers (Springer, Sage). They were reviewed in Western scholarly journals such as Foundations of Physics, etc. Each has a full chapter on Einstein, which goes into great depth on the issue of Poincare vs Einstein, but adds a novel mathematical point. The journal article (in Foundations of Physics) also begins by mentioning:

  • “certain subtle mathematical features of electrodynamics and relativity noticed by Poincare, but overlooked by Einstein and subsequent researchers.”

The books were also preceded by journal articles. So, on grounds of extensive prior publication alone, my novel mathematical point about “Einstein’s mistake” was disseminated widely enough to classify Atiyah’s pretension of ignorance as a blatant act of plagiarism. For, after repeating exactly my novel mathematical point about Einstein, in his Einstein centenary lecture, he added “Don’t forget that I suggested this”, pretending to be ignorant of all my past published work on Einstein.

Apart from extensive prior publication, my ideas made a splash and were hotly debated in academic forums including forums where several of Atiyah’s colleagues from both Cambridge and Edinburgh were present. They knew about my 1994 book, and hence invited me to a 1999 meeting in Gronningen. Now, my book clarified a mathematical point which has caused confusion for over a century among physicists. Hence, I called it a paradigm shift. Atiyah repeated exactly that novel mathematical point, and the term paradigm shift was also repeated. Because the point was so novel, confusion about it still lingered, and it was hotly debated in the 1999  Gronningen meet (where several of Atiyah’s colleagues were present). All mathematical issues were clarified, when I published  my first solution of functional differential equations in 2004. This too was before Atiyah’s 2005 Einstein lecture. [See, the description of the Gronningen debate, in expository papers on functional differential equations Part 1, and Part 2.] Other academics right-away picked up the thread of my argument.

Again, my novel point was very widely disseminated also because it concerned a mathematical mistake made by a celebrity, Einstein, in understanding the theory of relativity attributed to him. My conclusions were regarded as sensational, and very widely disseminated, even among laypersons, through newspaper reports, cited on my Atiyah webpage, and a press release still archived on my press page.

If two books, several journal articles, hot academic debates (with Atiyah’s colleagues) and newspaper reports do not qualify to be called “widely disseminated”, what does?

To reiterate, it was not only my novel mathematical point (about “Einstein’s mistake”) which Atiyah repeated in his AMS Einstein Centenary lecture. He also repeated my related claim about quantum mechanics, covered in both my books and the journal article which were later acknowledged. And the offending article repeated the term paradigm shift. Copying one novel (and sensational) point would have been bad enough, but the three together make for a fantastic coincidence. Nevertheless, in his AMS Einstein lecture, Atiyah dishonestly pretended to be ignorant of my prior work on Einstein. Instead, he prominently laid claim to my mathematical ideas: asserting “Don’t forget I suggested it”.

This is already an egregious case of plagiarism by a top mathematician stealing credit from earlier published and very widely disseminated work. Obviously, Atiyah was smart enough to spot the high value of my work and coveted credit for it. He well knew formal math is all about authority, so he thought he could successfully push his claim by misusing his authority. Probably the whole thing was pre-meditated, and Atiyah got himself invited to deliver the AMS Einstein centenary lecture, so he could set the plagiarism ball rolling with a splash.

Atiyah’s second act of plagiarism

In Act 2 of the story, Atiyah proceeded to plagiarise even more brazenly. Atiyah was immediately informed of my past work through emails sent both by my son and me, and he acknowledged those emails. This was immediately after his 2005 lecture(s). but some 9 months BEFORE the offending article of 2006 was published in Notices. But so strongly did he covet my thesis about Einstein, that this knowledge of my past work did not deter him from persisting in his plagiarism.

Atiyah knowingly advanced his false claim to my work a second time, through the offending article published in the Notices. At the time this article was PREPARED, Atiyah most certainly knew of my past work. He had been directly informed, and had acknowledged being so informed.

When the report of his 2005 lecture was published by the Notices in 2006, this offered Atiyah a chance to set the record straight and acknowledge my earlier work. That is what an ethical person would have. Instead, the article published by the Notices of the AMS AGAIN prominently repeated Atiyah’s false claim: “Don’t forget that I suggested it”, as its bottom line. (See, this excerpt.) It still did not refer to my work, about which Atiyah self-acknowledgedly knew at this time.

This was when I strongly objected. When the offending article reporting on his lecture was prepared for the Notices Atiyah certainly knew about my work, for he was informed immediately after his lecture. Since the offending article reported on his lecture he was obviously consulted, as Walker was eventually forced to explicitly admit. This consultation gave him a second chance to acknowledge my work and correct his earlier lack of professional ethics. Instead he further brazenly pressed his priority claim harder, using a further trick, explained in part 2.

This is plagiarism beyond reasonable doubt. (To be continued.)

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply