The (lack of) effect of birthdates on Fields Medals

I’ll just note, in response to Michael’s post on how birthdates affect Fields Medals: If you actually look at this data, there’s very little support for this idea, given that most people who’ve received Fields Medals in the last 40 years have not only not been just barely elligible, but a small majority of them would have been eligible at the next ICM! In both 1978 and 1986, every single person who the Fields Medal would been eligible in the next go around. 7 of them (Tao, Baker, Novikov, Margulis, Fefferman, Donaldson and Faltings) had 2 more cycles of eligibility.

I’ve got to admit, I was a little surprised by this data, though interestingly young Fields Medalists seemed to peak around the early 80’s, exactly when the small wartime generation would have been turning 40. In recent years, this has been less pronounced (though 3 out of 6 in 2002 and 2006 would have been eligible 4 years later, so this hasn’t entirely changed).

Incidentally, by this logic, I am horrible positioned to get a Fields Medal. I’m 3 weeks too old to get one in 2022. If I do something really amazing in 2019, I’m going to be annoyed (not really. After all, awesome things are worth doing for their own sakes. On some level, being “the guy who would have gotten a Fields Medal if he’d been 3 weeks younger” is more memorable and unique than being “the guy who won a Fields Medal.” After all, there are lots of those).

9 thoughts on “The (lack of) effect of birthdates on Fields Medals

  1. Wiles was born in 1953, and one can only assume he might have gotten the Fields Medal in 1994 had he not been a few months too old. (Although it’s hard to be sure of that fact — I’m not sure of the exact timing of the various pieces of the proof of FLT.)

  2. Scott: I hadn’t noticed Serre was quite that ridiculous, but I’ll note, I said “last 40 years” and 2009-1954 >40.

    Michael: While Scott ably addressed your comment, I’ll just note that in a recently resurrected post, I made the opposite mistake of claiming Wiles would have gotten the Fields Medal if it hadn’t been for the hole, when in fact he was ineligible.

  3. My impression is that Alexander Beilinson is the standard example of a person who could have won if he had been a little younger.

  4. Why didn’t Langlands ever get a Fields medal? He was last eligible in 1974, when only two medals were awarded, and this was after his work on Eisenstein series, functoriality, classification of admissible representations etc. It is hard to think of another body of work that has been as influential, and if the only criterion is completed proofs (as opposed to conjectures) then that would also exclude Witten.

  5. Do you know when Beilinson turned 40? I can’t find this birthdate on the internet.

    Of course, there were other issues there because of the quirks of the Soviet mathematical system, and the diffusion of information between the Warsaw pact and the West. For example, his 1978 paper on the category of coherent sheaves on P^n (one of the more important papers in the study of derived categories of coherent sheaves) is a page and a half long! One can certainly imagine it would have gotten more notice if he’d had more space to explain it.

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