> This is enough to put a smile on my face. There is something wonderful about skepticism and cynicism being proven wrong, especially when the skepticism is my own.
Mathematicians have always amused me with their weird way of turning their craft upon themselves. There's an astonishing amount of work done (I assume by procrastinating PhD candidates) on the statistics of performance in mathematics. Mathematics is supposed to be such a "pure" science, but this work seems to be motivated by insecurity and a base of other negative emotions. The skepticism it breeds isn't at all useful or beneficial for the field; if anything it's destructive, but yet it seems to persist.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great piece for The New Yorker  on late vs early bloomers in the art world. Gladwell writes that early bloomers are often driven by a sort of internal energy, and since they haven't taken time to refine their process they tend to be more abstract or conceptual. Late bloomers, he suggests, tend to take years or decades honing their craft. They're extreme perfectionists who, instead of working on building a piece, tend to work on refining the skills they need to build a piece.
In Gladwell's model for genius, Zhang is obviously the latter. I think as a society we'd benefit from celebrating the successes (and even the failures) of "late-bloomers" like Zhang a lot more. Maybe it would promote the kinds of intrinsic motivation which would encourage more brilliant people to continue their struggle.
All of that said, the thing that brings a smile to my face is the fact that Zhang didn't come from one of the MITs, Harvards, Stanfords, or Cornells of the world. He came from a "lowly" state school. Here's hoping he stays there.
> I think as a society we'd benefit from celebrating the successes (and even the failures) of "late-bloomers" like Zhang a lot more.
What do you mean? It seems like Zhang's success is being fully recognized and celebrated, by mathematicians and the public alike. Do you think it deserves still more press than it is getting?
> Mathematicians have always amused me with their weird way of turning their craft upon themselves
> this work seems to be motivated by insecurity and a base of other negative emotions.
On what basis do you make these assertions? How many mathematicians do you personally know?
Mathematicians are overall a positive and cheerful group who are positive, welcoming, and as optimistic as circumstances allow. It's one reason I love working in this subject. Our portrayal in the media and Hollywood is, I think, a bit misleading.
When the editors of the Annals of Mathematics received Zhang's manuscript, from someone in his fifties and entirely unknown, what was their response? To forward the paper to experts, and ask for an evaluation. And, indeed, the paper was evaluated on its merits.
> The skepticism it breeds isn't at all useful or beneficial for the field; if anything it's destructive, but yet it seems to persist.
Since I don't understand what you're talking about, could I please ask you to translate your criticism into advice, which I might then consider following?