On Genius, Prizes, and the Mathematical Celebrity Culture

Document Type



Mathematics (Pomona)

Publication Date



genius, stereotype


Ultimately, this association of genius and brilliance with our profession is misleading. Extreme intelligence or technical skills are good to have, but they are certainly not prerequisites to join the ranks of our profession. It takes only one time at a mathematics department meeting to see that logical fallacies, hyperbole, and inconsistencies find a comfortable home among mathematicians, too, as they argue vehemently about small and irrelevant matters. More seriously, there are more than thirty thousand members of the American Mathematical Society; it would be a stretch to assume all are geniuses. Many working as actuaries or insurance agents or software developers or teachers or researchers self-identify as mathematicians. There just are a great many of us. In geek-lingo, what I’m trying to say is that our community is like a blue police box; it’s bigger on the inside.


Final published version can be found at: Karaali, G., “On Genius, Prizes, and the Mathematical Celebrity Culture”, The Mathematical Intelligencer, Volume 37 Issue 3 (2015), pages 61–65.

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© 2015 Springer Science+Business Media