• Question: What was your worst mistake and how would u correct it ?

    Asked by 14hughesd to Gergely on 21 Sep 2017.
    • Photo: Gergely Rost

      Gergely Rost answered on 21 Sep 2017:

      Well, mathematicians are famous for working meticulously to achieve the highest preciseness and correctness in all details. Despite, mistakes happen. When you submit your work for publication, it is checked by independent experts, and usually they spot your mistakes. Then you have to revise your work, correct the mistakes if you can and resubmit. Sometimes it happens that mistakes are found even in published works, then the researchers usually write a follow-up note called Erratum or Corrigendum. It happened to me too, once I noticed after publication that one of the key arguments in the proof of my theorem was incorrect, and made corrections in a follow-up paper.

      The most famous historical case is the Swedish Prize Scandal from 1885, when King Oscar of Sweden offered a scientific prize that was awarded to Poincare (one of the greatest mathematicians ever) for his work on celestial mechanics. The winning essay was published in the most prestigious mathematical journal, when a grave mistake was found. The journal was recalled, and all copies were destroyed (except one which was locked away in a museum), and Poincare wrote a new essay, and used his prize money to cover the costs of reprinting the journal with his new essay. Yet, it turned out that his mistake led to new mathematical concepts that became extremely important later in dynamical systems theory!