Theorems named after the wrong people

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rhino
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Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby rhino » Sun Jun 08, 2008 9:42 pm UTC

I always think it's a great honour to have a theorem named after you. Your name gets to be associated forever with something that is immutable and true - this is, in my opinion, pretty cool. However, mathematicians have a habit of naming theorems after the wrong people.

Example: Taylor's theorem - named after Brook Taylor, who stated the theorem 41 years after it was discovered by James Gregory.
Example 2: Maclaurin series - Taylor series taken about zero. Why does this even get a name?
Example 3: Hölder's inequality - discovered by someone called Leonard Rogers, whose original paper was referenced by Hölder.
"Example" 4: Bourbaki-Witt theorem - named for Nicolas Bourbaki, who didn't even exist!

Does anyone know of other cases of this happening?
Personally I would be somewhat pissed off in the afterlife if I discovered something important enough to have a name, only to find it named after someone else for no good reason.

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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby SimonM » Sun Jun 08, 2008 10:10 pm UTC

Pell equations? I think that Euler has enough named after him to be honest, and I think the real reward is less in the name and more in the thrill of discovering and success in resolving a problem
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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby the tree » Sun Jun 08, 2008 10:26 pm UTC

Super fun magical wikipediwonderful articles: Stigler's law of eponymy, List of misnamed theorems.

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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby Fafnir43 » Mon Jun 09, 2008 12:22 am UTC

Also, the Cauchy-Schwarz inequality is variously known as the Cauchy inequality, the Schwarz inequality, and the Cauchy-Bunyakovsky-Schwarz inequality. Draw your own conclusions from this. :) Not to mention the Dottie number...
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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby madhollywood » Mon Jun 09, 2008 6:16 am UTC

If I am not mistaken L'Hopital was notorious for stealing both the work of his students and even most famously one of his teachers John Bernoulli. In fact, L'Hopital's Rule (for which he is most famous) was in fact proved by Bernoulli. We mathematicians are a funny lot.

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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby Robin S » Mon Jun 09, 2008 10:07 am UTC

I'm pretty sure Pythagoras' Theorem was known long before Pythagoras.

A lot of Maths has been discovered multiple times independently, so it's not surprising that it doesn't always get named after the first person to discover it, but rather the most famous discoverer.

As for Bourbaki, they were an anonymous group who wrote under a pseudonym. I think using that pseudonym to name the theorem is the most sensible way of doing things.
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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby Frimble » Mon Jun 09, 2008 1:22 pm UTC

Not actually theorems as such but:

Student's t distribution was also named after a pseudonym. The discoverer's real was William Sealy Gosset.

I think that Einstein gets overdue credit for relativity, seeing as the equations were first derived by Lorentz (or however you spell his name).
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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby boss_mc » Mon Jun 09, 2008 1:25 pm UTC

In our group theory lectures last year, the lecturer was insistent that we refer to one of the theorem's as 'not Burnside's lemma' as apparently it was proved years before Burnside mentioned it in a book of his (Burnside never even claimed to prove it...). The lecturer even claimed he would dock marks in the exam if we incorrectly called it Burnside's lemma
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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby Robin S » Mon Jun 09, 2008 1:54 pm UTC

Frimble wrote:I think that Einstein gets overdue credit for relativity, seeing as the equations were first derived by Lorentz (or however you spell his name).
I was under the impression that Einstein himself acknowledged the contributions of Lorentz and Poincaré (the originator of E = mc2).

The thing about theorems and so forth, indeed about inventions and discoveries in general, is that for convenience they can only be credited to a couple of people (or to a group of people with a collective name) but they almost always build on years of work in the same general direction. Hence the adage about standing on the shoulders of giants, itself often misattributed to Newton who was far from the first to use it.
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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby the tree » Mon Jun 09, 2008 5:07 pm UTC

Frimble wrote:Student's t distribution was also named after a pseudonym. The discoverer's real was William Sealy Gosset.
So you're saying that the T distribution wasn't discovered by Mr. T?!

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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby taby » Mon Jun 09, 2008 8:55 pm UTC

Robin S wrote:
Frimble wrote:I think that Einstein gets overdue credit for relativity, seeing as the equations were first derived by Lorentz (or however you spell his name).
I was under the impression that Einstein himself acknowledged the contributions of Lorentz and Poincaré (the originator of E = mc2).

The thing about theorems and so forth, indeed about inventions and discoveries in general, is that for convenience they can only be credited to a couple of people (or to a group of people with a collective name) but they almost always build on years of work in the same general direction. Hence the adage about standing on the shoulders of giants, itself often misattributed to Newton who was far from the first to use it.


You got it: Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction. Minkowski space. Schwarzschild spacetime. Countless named coordinate systems. The Einstein-Hilbert action. And of course, The Einstein Field Equations. Attribution was given where due.

Poincaré (and the others) tried, but did not fully succeed in deriving the consequences of true energy-momentum equivalence. Close, but not quite -- like with Lorentz and Fitzgerald, the ether was obscuring their view.

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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby HenryGifford » Wed Dec 03, 2008 12:06 am UTC

Robin S wrote:I'm pretty sure Pythagoras' Theorem was known long before Pythagoras.


Sorry to bring back a (relatively) old thread, but I was just looking around and saw this. I'm under the impression that Pythagorean Triplets were known about and discussed long before Pythagoras, but the theorem itself was not. Nonetheless, I'm also pretty sure the theorem wasn't truly come up with by him, but by one of the Pythagoreans.

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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby Xanthir » Wed Dec 03, 2008 12:30 am UTC

the tree wrote:
Frimble wrote:Student's t distribution was also named after a pseudonym. The discoverer's real was William Sealy Gosset.
So you're saying that the T distribution wasn't discovered by Mr. T?!

I pity the foo who takes credit for Mr. T's discoveries!

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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby t0rajir0u » Wed Dec 03, 2008 4:42 am UTC

HenryGifford wrote:I'm under the impression that Pythagorean Triplets were known about and discussed long before Pythagoras, but the theorem itself was not.

The Babylonians knew the Pythagorean triple generating formulae and the Egyptians used right triangles with integer side lengths to plan their farms; what's to suggest that they didn't understand what the properties of a right triangle were?

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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby nazlfrag » Wed Dec 03, 2008 12:43 pm UTC

On the Pythagoras theorem, perhaps they just knew the magic numbers without knowing the fundamental principle behind them, perhaps not. We have no way to tell, so we credit the earliest known discovery of the principle behind it. This is fair enough I think, there are plenty enough credit thieves without trying to second guess two thousand year old scholars.

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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby Yakk » Wed Dec 03, 2008 4:37 pm UTC

rhino wrote:Example: Taylor's theorem - named after Brook Taylor, who stated the theorem 41 years after it was discovered by James Gregory.


In the 17th century, James Gregory also worked in this area and published several Maclaurin series. It was not until 1715 however that a general method for constructing these series for all functions for which they exist was finally provided by Brook Taylor, after whom the series are now named.

So, um, no.

Example 2: Maclaurin series - Taylor series taken about zero. Why does this even get a name?


Maclaurin appealed to the geometrical methods of the ancient Greeks and to Archimedes' method of exhaustion in attempting to put Newton's calculus on a rigorous footing. It is in the Treatise of fluxions that Maclaurin uses the special case of Taylor's series now named after him and for which he is undoubtedly best remembered today. The Maclaurin series was not an idea discovered independently of the more general result of Taylor for Maclaurin acknowledges Taylor's contribution.

He used the Taylor series about 0 to produce a (more) solid foundation for Calculus.

"Example" 4: Bourbaki-Witt theorem - named for Nicolas Bourbaki, who didn't even exist!

While Nicolas Bourbaki is an invented personage, the Bourbaki group is officially known as the Association des collaborateurs de Nicolas Bourbaki ("association of collaborators of Nicolas Bourbaki"), which has an office at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. Bourbaki is a respected name now, but it was initially a clever prank played on the entire scientific establishment. For a few years, people thought that Nicolas Bourbaki existed and admired his talent, which was of course the combined talent of the group.

Sure, Nicolas Bourbaki didn't exist as a person. As a source of some rather good mathematics? Nicolas Bourbaki did indeed exist, but it was a society of mathematicians.

Which leaves this:
Example 3: Hölder's inequality - discovered by someone called Leonard Rogers, whose original paper was referenced by Hölder.

Citation?

...


madhollywood wrote:If I am not mistaken L'Hopital was notorious for stealing both the work of his students and even most famously one of his teachers John Bernoulli. In fact, L'Hopital's Rule (for which he is most famous) was in fact proved by Bernoulli. We mathematicians are a funny lot.

I was under the impression that this was more of a 'work for hire'. As in, L'Hopital paid good money to get a mathematical theorem named after him to Bernoulli?
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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby rhino » Wed Dec 03, 2008 5:26 pm UTC

Wikipedia wrote:In the 17th century, James Gregory also worked in this area and published several Maclaurin series. It was not until 1715 however that a general method for constructing these series for all functions for which they exist was finally provided by Brook Taylor, after whom the series are now named.
Contradicts:
Mathworld wrote:Taylor's theorem (without the remainder term) was devised by Taylor in 1712 and published in 1715, although Gregory had actually obtained this result nearly 40 years earlier. In fact, Gregory wrote to John Collins, secretary of the Royal Society, on February 15, 1671, to tell him of the result.

So pick your favourite source. Shall we settle on Gregory-Taylor series as a compromise?

The Maclaurin series was not an idea discovered independently of the more general result of Taylor for Maclaurin acknowledges Taylor's contribution.

Is this worthy of a name? I guess it's a matter of opinion.

Yakk wrote:Sure, Nicolas Bourbaki didn't exist as a person. As a source of some rather good mathematics? Nicolas Bourbaki did indeed exist, but it was a society of mathematicians.

Hence the use of inverted commas, this being something of a non-example.

Yakk wrote:
Example 3: Hölder's inequality - discovered by someone called Leonard Rogers, whose original paper was referenced by Hölder.

Citation?

"Why Hölder’s inequality should be called Rogers' Inequality"

I didn't expect a lighthearted thread to be subject to such intense scrutiny!

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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby HenryGifford » Wed Dec 03, 2008 10:20 pm UTC

Found in Fermat's Last Theorem by Amir D. Aczel:
In a letter from André Weil concerning the controversy of Shimura-Taniyama conjecture and it being called the Taniyama-Weil conjecture.

As to attaching names to concepts, theorems, or conjectures, I have often said: (a) that, when a proper name gets attached to (say) a concept, this should never be taken as a sign that the author in question had anything to do with the concept; more often than not, the opposite is true. Pythagoras had nothing to do with "his" theorem, nor Fuchs with the Fonctions fuchsiennes, any more than Auguste Comte with rue Auguste-Comte; (b) proper names tend, quite properly, to get replaced by more appropriate ones, the Leray-Koszul sequence is now a spectral sequence (and as Siegel once told Erdös, abelian is now written with a small a).


So there's some fun info.

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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby McHell » Fri Dec 05, 2008 7:57 pm UTC

Ach, what is wrong? You give a name to something because it needs naming. And it needs naming only for brevity, for name-dropping is faster than spelling out the argument with requirements plus sources.

So often enough the inventor names it after someone or something else, to not seem to self-centered --- or more honestly, for unicity. Plus there's the constant re-inventing, as articles published in chinese or russian papers weren't much available until the second half of the 20th century. The [very badly written] Poincare's Conjecture book mentions such cases, as well as bad-blood cases about misattributing. But then, if you have one person writing up a thing where the crucial part is given by another and all of the parts have been shaped by a discussion in a group, what do you want? It's like the root of the evolutionary tree --- it's not a tree because of lateral gene transfers; you cannot draw it as it truly is so screw that, we draw a tree and damn the sleight of hand/ basic falsehood.

Misnaming? My supervisor kept talking about Lotka's Equation as is regular in theoretical biology, while my editor insisted I call it Euler's; Euler-Lotka is also frequently found for this thing. The two are very close colleagues though, with a different background and slightly different public. Is this misnaming? No, technically the same thing may get a very different life from a specific usage that follows from applying it in a specific context.

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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby Herman » Sat Dec 06, 2008 11:15 pm UTC

This isn't math, but, from Wikipedia:

Dirac was also noted for his personal modesty. He called the equation for the time evolution of a quantum-mechanical operator, which he was the first to write down, the "Heisenberg equation of motion". Most physicists speak of Fermi-Dirac statistics for half-integer-spin particles and Bose-Einstein statistics for integer-spin particles. While lecturing later in life, Dirac always insisted on calling the former "Fermi statistics". He referred to the latter as "Einstein statistics" for reasons, he explained, of "symmetry."


Symmetry, get it?

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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby cascabel » Mon Dec 15, 2008 5:47 am UTC

Apparently, the method that became known as Simpson's rule was well known and used earlier by Bonaventura Cavalieri (a student of Galileo) in 1639, later rediscovered by James Gregory, and was only attributed to Simpson.

(source)

This formula is frequently and mistakenly known as Bode's rule (Abramowitz and Stegun 1972, p. 886) as a result of a typo in an early reference, but is actually due to Boole (Boole and Moulton 1960).


(source)

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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people

Postby t0rajir0u » Mon Dec 15, 2008 11:10 pm UTC

I'm surprised Cardano's method hasn't been brought up yet since that's one of the more atrocious examples. After nagging Tartaglia to reveal his results, Cardano saw the cubic formula in an unpublished manuscript of del Ferro and published the results, and while it's true Cardano officially gave credit where credit is due it's his name that is attached to the method instead of two other worthier candidates. Talk about unfair. (Calling it Cardano-Tartaglia doesn't help that much either.)


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