Serge Lang

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Serge Lang lecturing for the Math Club at the Louisiana State University in 2004

Serge Lang (19 May 1927 – 12 September 2005) was a French-born American mathematician. In addition to being one of the most prolific mathematicians of the 20th century, Lang was also a vocal activist, often speaking out against what he perceived as damaging political influences in science. Lang was a vocal critic of the orthodox consensus on HIV and AIDS. At the time of his death, he was professor emeritus of mathematics at Yale University and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Life and mathematical career

Lang was born in Paris in 1927, and moved with his family to California as a teenager. He graduated from CalTech in 1946, and received a doctorate from Princeton University in 1951. He had positions at the University of Chicago and Columbia University. (AMS 1999)

Lang made fundamental contributions to many areas of mathematics, including complex analysis, differential geometry, algebraic geometry, and analytic number theory. He wrote a large number of mathematics textbooks which influenced a generation of mathematicians. Marco Mamone Capria wrote in an obituary, "...it is hard to find a single discipline in basic or advanced pure mathematics where Lang has not left his imprint, either by proving new theorems or by systematizing the matter in one of his treatises. And there is hardly one mathematician who had his education during the last thirty years and who has not profited from pouring over one or the other of Lang’s books." (Capria 2005)

Lang was critical of the "publish or perish" mentality of contemporary mathematics: "Our response should be flexible and daring, and we should create an atmosphere which allows young mathematicians to feel that they can make it in the academic world without having to write one mediocre paper every year or two." (Lang 1970)

Activism

Lang spent much of his time engaged in politics. He was active in opposition to the Vietnam War and quit his position at Columbia in 1971 over the university's treatment of anti-war protesters. He was also engaged in several whistle-blowing crusades to challenge anyone he believed was spreading misinformation or misusing science or mathematics to further their own goals.

He attacked the 1977 Survey of the American Professoriate, an opinion questionnaire that Seymour Martin Lipset and E. C. Ladd had sent to thousands of college professors in the United States, accusing it of containing numerous biased and loaded questions. This led to a public and highly acrimonious conflict.

In 1986, he challenged the nomination of political scientist Samuel P. Huntington to the National Academy of Sciences, claiming that his research consisted of "political opinions masquerading as science". The challenge was successful.

Lang kept his political correspondence and related documentation in extensive "files". He would send letters or publish articles, wait for responses, engage the writers in further correspondences, collect all these writings together and pointed out what he considered contradictions. He often mailed these files to people he considered important. His extensive file on the Baltimore affair of alleged scientific misconduct was published in the journal Ethics and Behaviour in January 1993.

Later in his life, Lang expanded his "challenges" to include the humanities. For example, he fought the decision by Yale University to hire Daniel Kevles, a historian of science, because he disagreed with Kevles' book The Baltimore Case.

AIDS activism

Lang was particularly critical of the treatment of AIDS dissidents in major scientific journals, especially Nature and Science. He kept extensive "files" on HIV/AIDS, which included many communications with the editors of these journals. Many of these files concerning HIV and AIDS can be found in the book Challenges (ISBN 0387948619) (Lang 1998), and a collection of roughly 600 pages of original documents from these files can be found at this website.

Lang not only spoke out on the Baltimore affair and the controversy between Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier concerning priority over discovery of HIV, he also advocated for funding of Peter Duesberg's aneuploidy hypothesis of cancer and drug-AIDS hypothesis and wrote a lengthy reply to Richard Horton's review of Inventing the AIDS Virus in the New York Review of Books. (Lang 1998)

Quotes

By Lang

  • "As to my activism, some people have asked what it has to do with mathematics, which is my main activity in life. They seem surprised by a mathematician who shows some professional interest outside his narrower scientific commitments. But why should I not be interested in other aspects of intellectual or social activity?...There is something in me that makes me want to make others understand explicitly the assumptions under which they operate. I want to make people think independently and clearly. Is that not part of the educational commitment?" (Lang 1998)
  • "I am especially concerned when people who construct a reality askew from the outside world have the influence or power to impose their reality in the classroom, in the media, and in the formulation of policy, domestic or foreign. I find the situation especially serious when political opinions are passed off as science, and thereby acquire even more force." (Lang 1998)
  • "To an extent that undermines classical standards of science, some purported scientific results concerning 'HIV' and 'AIDS' have been handled by press releases, by disinformation, by low-quality studies, and by some suppression of information, manipulating the media and people at large. When the official scientific press does not report correctly, or obstructs views dissenting from those of the scientific establishment, it loses credibility and leaves no alternative but to find information elsewhere." (Lang 1994)
  • "I do not regard the causal relationship between HIV and any disease as settled. I have seen considerable evidence that highly improper statistics concerning HIV and AIDS have been passed off as science, and that top members of the scientific establishment have carelessly, if not irresponsibly, joined the media in spreading misinformation about the nature of AIDS." (Lang 1994)

About Lang

  • "Serge Lang’s writings on scientific practice are arguably among the most important contributions to the sociology of contemporary science. They are at the same time a poignant testimony of the struggle of a great scientist against the forces that are stifling scientific research today – not from outside but within the scientific community itself... As courses in ethics or bioethics multiply, so do also the 'examples of transgressions of the classical standards of science'. Lang’s method of documenting and advertising these transgressions is one of the few tools which may have a chance of contributing to a substantial improvement of this lamentable situation." — Marco Mamone Capria (Capria 2005)
  • "Serge Lang, the man whose published mathematical papers in number theory outnumber the great Euler, passed away at the age of 78 on September 12. Serge was among the most passionate and influential supporters of fellow National Academy of Sciences member Peter Duesberg's critique of HIV/AIDS. His loss to the insurgency is incalculable." — Harvey Bialy (Bialy 2005)
  • "I do not believe Lang pursued his causes out of a desire for fame or notoriety. Rather, he was horrified by the falsity he found all around him, and he would not let others turn their eyes from it. We have lost a person with a highly attuned sense of what is truthful and what is a sham, and it is a profound loss indeed." — Allyn Jackson, Senior Writer and Deputy Editor of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society (Jackson 2006)

See also

Memorial HIV/AIDS Archive

External links

Lang's writings on HIV/AIDS

Interview

Commentaries

General information

References

  1. American Mathematical Society, 1999. "1999 Steele Prizes", 1999. Notices of the American Mathematical Society, April 1999.
  2. Bialy, Harvey, 2005. Personal blog post, 17 September 2005.
  3. Capria, Marco Mamone, 2005. "Serge Lang’s last file and the suppression of dissent in contemporary science", posted 19 October 2005.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Jackson, Allyn, 2006. Remembrances of Serge Lang PDFsmallicon.gif, Notices of the American Mathematical Society, May 2006.
  6. Lang, Serge, 1970. Rats in a Box.
  7. Lang, Serge, 1994. "HIV and AIDS: Questions of Scientific and Journalistic Responsibility", originally published in Yale Scientific, fall 1994, published in Challenges, Springer (ISBN 0387948619), p. 605
  8. Ibid, p. 613
  9. Lang, Serge, 1998. Challenges, Springer (ISBN 0387948619).
  10. Ibid, pp. 698-713, available at "The Case of HIV and AIDS"
  11. Ibid, p. 8.
  12. Ibid, p. 7.

Further reading

Credit

Wikipedia
This page uses content from the Serge_Lang article on Wikipedia, captured on 17 Nov 2005. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the AIDS Wiki, the text of Wikipedia is available under the GNU Free Documentation License.