FOM: Re: MAndelbrojt and Bourbaki

Harvey Friedman friedman at
Wed Oct 14 08:42:21 EDT 1998

Mathias 1:31PM 10/14/98 writes:

>I have passed the challenges (to the suggestion that Mandelbrojt
>was kept out of university positions by Bourbaki) back down the
>pipeline to my source and have received the following clarification.
>(The original statement was in another language and was probably
>misunderstood by me)
>> No, this is not what I said.  What I was told is that he (SM) had been
>> kept out of the Academie des Sciences until the very end of his
>> mathematical life by the Bourbaki lobby, while many other mathematicians
>> of arguably less stature than his got quite easily into the Academy.
>Comments welcome
My comments have nothing to do with (any) Mandelbrojt or Bourbaki. I assume
that the Academie des Sciences, like all (or most) such Societies, has
secret proceedings, in which there is no public discussion, nominations
from the public are not solicited, and do not have to explain their

As I have indicated in earlier postings, especially "Fields Medal process",
10:16PM 9/14/98, and "secrecy" 12:10PM 9/14/98, such secret processes
cannot have any intellectual legitimacy. Like minded people think alike,
and share and reinforce both deep insights and prejudices. There is no
adequate check against this. The evaluation of genuine intellecual activity
at the highest levels is too delicate a matter - and too important - to be
left to such devices. It is remarkable how willing the rank and file - who
have absolutely no chance for such honors - feed this system by lending
their support to it. The rank and file should unite to open these processes
up to the crucially needed doses of sunlight. Everybody would learn a great
deal from such reform - and such reform is inevitable.

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