Theorems named after the wrong people
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Theorems named after the wrong people
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: BourbakiWitt 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.
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: BourbakiWitt 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.
Re: Theorems named after the wrong people
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
Super fun magical wikipediwonderful articles: Stigler's law of eponymy, List of misnamed theorems.
Re: Theorems named after the wrong people
Also, the CauchySchwarz inequality is variously known as the Cauchy inequality, the Schwarz inequality, and the CauchyBunyakovskySchwarz inequality. Draw your own conclusions from this. Not to mention the Dottie number...
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 madhollywood
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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people
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.
Re: Theorems named after the wrong people
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.
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.
This is a placeholder until I think of something more creative to put here.
Re: Theorems named after the wrong people
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).
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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"We need a reality check here. Roll a D20."  Algernon the Radish
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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people
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
I was under the impression that Einstein himself acknowledged the contributions of Lorentz and Poincaré (the originator of E = mc^{2}).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).
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.
This is a placeholder until I think of something more creative to put here.
Re: Theorems named after the wrong people
So you're saying that the T distribution wasn't discovered by Mr. T?!Frimble wrote:Student's t distribution was also named after a pseudonym. The discoverer's real was William Sealy Gosset.
Re: Theorems named after the wrong people
Robin S wrote:I was under the impression that Einstein himself acknowledged the contributions of Lorentz and Poincaré (the originator of E = mc^{2}).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).
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: LorentzFitzgerald contraction. Minkowski space. Schwarzschild spacetime. Countless named coordinate systems. The EinsteinHilbert 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 energymomentum 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
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
the tree wrote:So you're saying that the T distribution wasn't discovered by Mr. T?!Frimble wrote:Student's t distribution was also named after a pseudonym. The discoverer's real was William Sealy Gosset.
I pity the foo who takes credit for Mr. T's discoveries!
I'm a bad person...
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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people
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?
Re: Theorems named after the wrong people
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.
 Yakk
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Re: Theorems named after the wrong people
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: BourbakiWitt 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
Contradicts: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.
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 GregoryTaylor 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 nonexample.
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
Found in Fermat's Last Theorem by Amir D. Aczel:
In a letter from André Weil concerning the controversy of ShimuraTaniyama conjecture and it being called the TaniyamaWeil conjecture.
So there's some fun info.
In a letter from André Weil concerning the controversy of ShimuraTaniyama conjecture and it being called the TaniyamaWeil 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 AugusteComte; (b) proper names tend, quite properly, to get replaced by more appropriate ones, the LerayKoszul 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.
Re: Theorems named after the wrong people
Ach, what is wrong? You give a name to something because it needs naming. And it needs naming only for brevity, for namedropping 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 selfcentered  or more honestly, for unicity. Plus there's the constant reinventing, 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 badblood 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; EulerLotka 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.
So often enough the inventor names it after someone or something else, to not seem to selfcentered  or more honestly, for unicity. Plus there's the constant reinventing, 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 badblood 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; EulerLotka 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.
Re: Theorems named after the wrong people
This isn't math, but, from Wikipedia:
Symmetry, get it?
Dirac was a cool guy.
Dirac was also noted for his personal modesty. He called the equation for the time evolution of a quantummechanical operator, which he was the first to write down, the "Heisenberg equation of motion". Most physicists speak of FermiDirac statistics for halfintegerspin particles and BoseEinstein statistics for integerspin 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?
Dirac was a cool guy.
Re: Theorems named after the wrong people
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)
Re: Theorems named after the wrong people
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 CardanoTartaglia doesn't help that much either.)
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