The Atiyah case

Image: under construction

Current status

  • Society for Scientific Values accepts prima facie case against Atiyah. (Scroll down to 2007 case No. 2.)
  • Wikipedia hides it by mischievously misclassifying it as "scientific plagiarism in India"!  (Wow! To hide a book in a library, put it in the wrong rack. But how wrong a rack!)
  • Belated acknowledgment to my work in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society54(4) (2007) p. 472. Link to AMS site. (Scroll to 2nd page.)
  • Why this is not enough:  it does not mention the second "oversight" — that Atiyah's claim was   publicised and named "Atiyah's hypothesis" even after he was directly informed of my work.  Those who did it had consulted him.
  • I wrote a letter mentioning the second "oversight".
  • Couldn't there be an innocent explanation? My letter also pointed out my "epistemic test": conceptual mistakes are proof of copying, and Atiyah made such a mistake.
  • The AMS won't publish the letter, even to correct the mistake it published. Gave no reason. Petition against Celebrity Justice still pending. Signatories include M. G. K. Menon, Pushpa Bhargava, A. N. Mitra, Vandana Shiva, Ashis Nandy, S. P. Shukla, etc. 
  • Video of Atiyah's Einstein lecture removed. Atiyah's KITP lecture (24 Oct 2005) still available. Provides proof of Atiyah's mistake.  
  • The source: Chapter 5b and Chapter 6b from my book  (Time: Towards a Consistent Theory, Kluwer Academic, 1994) now made available on the arxiv. (BUT, again wrongly classified!)

The story in detail...

My earlier work and its dissemination

In 1994 I proposed (a) a new paradigm for physics (b) based on functional differential equations. (c) I proved that this could explain key features of quantum mechanics.

Knowledgeable people understood my point, and my book Time: Towards a Consistent Theory was published by the foremost scientific publisher in the area. Reviewers praised it. Many scientists still did not understand why a paradigm shift was needed, so the idea was also fiercely debated in conferences. As a fallout of these debates, I clarified these ideas in a paper for the specialist, and even explained them for the layperson in another book.

Atiyah's lectures

In 2005, Sir Michael Atiyah, winner of two awards at the level of the Nobel prize, and former President of the Royal Society, repeated my claims during his Einstein lecture: proposing (a) a new paradigm for physics (b) using functinal differential equations. (c) He conjectured that this could explain quantum mechanics.

The second "oversight"

Atiyah was immediately informed about my work, and he acknowledged the email. However, through a "second oversight" his claim to my ideas was reported  in the June-July 2006 issuse of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society,  8 months later.  The Notices is a widely read journal, so Atiyah's claim to my ideas received very wide publicity. My work again went unacknowledged. Had my work been  acknowledged, the article could hardly have been  published.  To  drive home Atiyah's claim, it was catchily named "Atiyah's hypothesis". Atiyah certainly knew about my work at this time. He had also seen a draft of the article in the Notices before its publication.

Belated acknowledgment

After a prolonged protest, my earlier work was briefly acknowledged in an inconspicuous letter in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, April 2007. But the letter did not mention or explain the peculiar "second oversight". (Atiyah had admittedly seen a draft of the article prior to publication.)

Is this ethical?

I wrote a letter "Is this ethical?" to the Notices of the AMS, explaining how this procedure of belated acknowledgment without an apology set a faulty precedent contrary to the stated ethics of the AMS. 

According to the AMS ethics it is unethical to not acknowledge past work, and unethical to plead that this was done on grounds ignorance. But if someone does something unethical, at least there should be a public apology. Allowing a belated acknowledgment without an apology would encourage plagiarists. Everyone can have a try at claiming independent rediscovery, and then acknowledge the past work only when compelled to do so. (The claim of independence can still be kept intact.)

In fact, on the precdent actually set by the AMS, everyone gets two chances to claim someone else's work as his own, once by himself, on grounds of ignorance, and once through others!  

This is hardly the sort of precedent that a learned society like the American Mathematical Society should encourage.

Atiyah's mistake

In my letter I advanced a third argument to show that Atiyah knew of my work even at the time of his "first oversight" during his Einstein lecture. The onus of proof is not on me to prove copying.   However, I gave such proof.

The idea of the proof derives from my experience as a teacher. While grading the answer sheets of students, one often comes across a situation where two answer sheets are remarkably similar. How does one determine whether one student had copied from another?  The method I use is to call the students and ask them questions. If a student does not fully understand what he has written, that is proof of copying. Thus, the idea is that, in a situation of suspect copying, lack of understanding is proof of copying.

Later I applied this test to the cases of purported independent rediscovery in the history of science. How to determine whether a claim of independent rediscovery is genuine or dishonest?  The same principle applies: those who copy do so without full understanding, so they tend to make conceptual mistakes.

A conceptual mistake is proof of lack of understanding. On my epistemic test, such a conceptual mistake is, therefore, proof of copying, in the context of a claim of "independent rediscovery". Atiyah had made such a conceptual mistake, and I pointed it out. (See more  details below.)

However, the AMS refused to publish this letter.  

Why did it do that? There are deep suspicions surrounding the case. The AMS itself is involved. It should have admitted its error. If there was something wrong with what I said, the AMS could have set suspcions to rest, by publishing my letter, and publicly defending its actions. It did not do that, because it has no solid defence but is guilty as charged. 

Petition against celebrity justice

A number of academics, including many leading academics from India, protested, that in this whole matter, which concerned me so deeply, the AMS had not given me even a single chance to express my side of the matter. Doing things in such a one-sided way is itself an indication that something is seriously wrong.

The AMS has stonewalled this protest so far---another implicit admission of guilt. 

The fantastic "coincidence"

What makes this whole blatant episode even more extraordinary is that even Atiyah's "first oversight" already involves a fantastic coincidence.

To understand this fantastic coincidence, one needs the following background about Einstein.  

In the popular imagination, today, Einstein is associated with the special theory of relativity. In fact, however, the French mathematician Henri Poincare was working on relativity well before Einstein, and Einstein was certainly aware of Poincare's work up to 1902. However, Einstein denied having read Poincare's 1904 and 1905 papers which gave a full account of relativity.

So, we have another unpleasant case of purported independent rediscovery associatied with Einstein. My epistemic test, however, applies to this case as well.

My key point was that Einstein, unlike Poincare, had made a mathematical mistake about functional differential equations. Therefore, Einstein's claim of independent rediscovery was not genuine. (More details about Einstein's mistake may be found here.

My other key point was that by correcting Einstein's mistake, one could carry relativity to its logical conclusion, and explain quantum mechanics.

This was the point that Atiyah copied, and advanced as  his own suggestion, although without mentioning the part about Einstein's mistake.

This involved a fantastic coincidence of timing:   "Atiyah's" suggestion "accidentally" corrected Einstein's mathematical mistake during his Einstein lecture, exactly 100 years after Einstein's relativity paper! Atiyah would like people to believe that this happened "accidentally" without him knowing (a) that Einstein had made a mathematical mistake in the matter, or (b) that Poincare had not, or (c) that I had pointed out the difference.

Instead of believing in this fantastic coincidence, there is a simple and natural explanation. Atiyah heard about my stand on Einstein, and read my book while preparing for his Einstein lecture. He could have easily found the book in the library, or have heard about the talks I gave. He could have heard of  the related debate or paper, either directly or from a colleague. He could have heard of  my work through citations, or found the book's website. He could have come across other web references to my point about Einstein's mistake or the press release that I put out for my next book, or to news items relating to my claims about Einstein, or to links to the news items. As a  scholar speaking on Einstein, Atiyah should certainly have been aware of my work.

Therefore, it is easier to believe  that Atiyah already knew of my work, and hid the fact,  than to believe in the fantastic coincidence involved in the claim of even the "first oversight".

Atiyah is, of course, well aware of the Poincare-Einstein matter, and commented to the local press about it on that very day. He said that Einstein was no mathematician ("he needed help"). He also said that although "most [but not all] people" credit to Einstein for relativity, Poincare was "very close". So Atiyah certainly knew that there are some people who do not credit Einstein with relativity.

Thus, Atiyah's claim of "independent rediscovery", during his Einstein lecture, was an ironically fitting tribute to Einstein's claim of "independent redisovery" a hundred years ago! If one plagiarist succeeds so well, there will be a thousand cynics who will try to imitate this success. 

Equally ironically, in the process, Atiyah himself made a conceptual mistake as Einstein had done. Atiyah proposed using functional differential equations as a hypothesis, later called "Atiyah's hypothesis", though no hypothesis was necessary. (My point was that this was the matheamtically correct way to do physics after relativity.) 

Even a layperson can understand Atiyah's mistake. How? Watch the video of Atiyah's second lecture. His mistake was repeatedly pointed out by David Gross (2004 Nobel laureate in physics), but Atiyah did not understand. That is proof for persons who understand authority, not physics.



  • Claims of "independent rediscovery" based on ignorance of past work are unethical. That is what the AMS professional ethics states. Blatantly repeated unethical claims of this sort require a public apology: mere belated acknowledgment is not enough.
  • Atiyah's "first oversight"---"accidentally" correcting Einstein's hundred year old mistake during his Einstein lecture--- already involved a fantastic coincidence. It is not credible that this happened by chance.
  • There is a simpler and more natural explanation: Atiyah read my book. There were numerous easy ways he could have known of my work.
  • The "second oversight" came 8 months after Atiyah had been informed of my earlier work.  This was blatant. The claim of a first oversight should also be re-evaluated in this light. 
  • Atiyah made a conceptual mistake, and such mistakes are proof of copying in the context of a claim of "independent rediscovery".
  • AMS has suppressed a public discussion on the issue, although (because?) its actions are contrary to its stated ethics. 

Quick links

Earlier articles

My earlier work

Its dissemination


Atiyah's two lectures

  • Video of Atiyah's Einstein lecture (21 Oct 2005) (Now removed from the website of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.) (Hah! Something to do with Atiyah's mysterious joke? How, Atiyah's botched defence gave away the careful planning that went into his claim. Details to be put up shortly.)
  • Video of Atiyah's KITP lecture (24 Oct 2005)


The "second oversight"

  • Report of Atiyah's talk in the Notices of the AMS. (June-July 2006). Excerpt.  Full article on AMS site. 
  • Walker's email admitting that Atiyah was shown a draft of this report before publication.

Belated acknowledgment

  • Acknowledgment in Notices of the AMS (April 2007). Excerpt. Link to AMS site. (See how difficult it is to locate the acknowledgment.)

Subsequent developments

Evidence of copying

  • AMS ethics require no proof of copying. Onus on Atiyah to be knowledgeable. Relevant excerpts. Link to AMS site.
  • The fantastic coincidence: How Atiyah "accidentally" corrected Einstein's 100 year old mistake during his Einstein lecture.
  • Atiyah's "second oversight".
  • Atiyah's mistake and the epistemic test of copying. 

Relation to Einstein's mistake

Einstein's mistake in the news and on the web

Links to these reports on other sites


  • Paper in Philosophy of Mathematics Education, 1999. 
  • Talk at Liverpool "On Time" conference, 1999, on "Relatvity: History and History Dependence". Abstract. Extended Abstract. Extracts from Presentation.

The SSV complaint


  • SSV first resolution: three experts accept my charge. 
  • SSV second resolution: prima facie case exists. 


  • How a teacher catches a cheater: the epistemic test.
  • Saving the story: why it is unscientific to believe in fantastic coincidences.
  • Why simpler and more natural explanations are preferable.
  • On complicity through inaction.
  • Gullibility or plain lack of ethics?