Recent developments in Twin Primes, Goldbach, and Open Access Tuesday, May 21 2013 

It has been a busy two weeks all over the math community. Well, at least it seemed so to me. Some of my friends have defended their theses and need only to walk to receive their PhDs; I completed my topics examination, Brown’s take on an oral examination; and I’ve given a trio of math talks.

Meanwhile, there have been developments in a relative of the Twin Primes conjecture, the Goldbach conjecture, and Open Access math journals.

1. Twin Primes Conjecture

The Twin Primes Conjecture states that there are infinitely many primes p such that p+2 is also a prime, and falls in the the more general Polignac’s Conjecture, which says that for any even n, there are infinitely many prime p such that p+n is also prime. This is another one of those problems that is easy to state but seems tremendously hard to solve. But recently, Dr. Yitang Zhang of the University of New Hampshire has submitted a paper to the Annals of Mathematics (one of the most respected and prestigious journals in the field). The paper is reputedly extremely clear (in contrast to other recent monumental papers in number theory, i.e. the phenomenally technical papers of Mochizuki on the ABC conjecture), and the word on the street is that it went through the entire review process in less than one month. At this time, there is no publicly available preprint, so I have not had a chance to look at the paper. But word is spreading that credible experts have already carefully reviewed the paper and found no serious flaws.

Dr. Zhang’s paper proves that there are infinitely many primes that have a corresponding prime at most 70000000 or so away. And thus in particular there is at least one number k such that there are infinitely many primes such that both p and p+k are prime. I did not think that this was within the reach of current techniques. But it seems that Dr. Zhang built on top of the work of Goldston, Pintz, and Yildirim to get his result. Further, it seems that optimization of the result will occur and the difference will be brought way down from 70000000. However, as indicated by Mark Lewko on MathOverflow, this proof will probably not extend naturally to a proof of the Twin Primes conjecture itself. Optimally, it might prove the p and p+16 – primes conjecture (which is still amazing).

One should look out for his paper in an upcoming issue of the Annals.

2. Goldbach Conjecture

I feel strangely tied to the Goldbach Conjecture, as I get far more traffic, emails, and spam concerning my previous post on an erroneous proof of Goldbach than on any other topic I’ve written about. About a year ago, I wrote briefly about progress that Dr. Harald Helfgott had made towards the 3-Goldbach Conjecture. This conjecture states that every odd integer greater than five can be written as the sum of three primes. (This is another easy to state problem that is not at all easy to approach).

One week ago, Helfgott posted a preprint to the arxiv that claims to complete his previous work and prove 3-Goldbach. Further, he uses the circle method and good old L-functions, so I feel like I should read over it more closely to learn a few things as it’s very close to my field. (Further still, he’s a Brandeis alum, and now that my wife will be a grad student at Brandeis I suppose I should include it in my umbrella of self-association). While I cannot say that I read the paper, understood it, and affirm its correctness, I can say that the method seems right for the task (related to the 10th and most subtle of Scott Aaronson’s list that I love to quote).

An interesting side bit to Helfgott’s proof is that it only works for numbers larger than 10^{30} or so. Fortunately, he’s also given a computer proof for numbers less than than on the arxiv, along with David Platt. 10^{30} is really, really, really big. Even that is a very slick bit.

3. FoM has opened

I care about open access. Fortunately, so do many of the big names. Two of the big attempts to create a good, strong set of open access math journals have just released their first articles. The Forum of Mathematics Sigma and Pi journals have each released a paper on algebraic and complex geometry. And they’re completely open! I don’t know what it takes for a journal to get off the ground, but I know that it starts with people reading its articles. So read up!

The two articles are

GENERIC VANISHING THEORY VIA MIXED HODGE MODULES

and, in Pi

$p$-ADIC HODGE THEORY FOR RIGID-ANALYTIC VARIETIES
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Math journals and the fight over open access Friday, Jan 18 2013 

Some may have heard me talk about this before, but I’ve caught the open source bug. At least, I’ve caught the collaboration and free-dissemination bug. And I don’t just mean software – there’s much more to open source than software (even though the term open source originated in reference to free access to source code). I use open source to refer to the idea that when someone consumes a product, they should have access to the design and details of implementation, and should be able to freely distribute the product whenever this is possible. In some ways, I’m still learning. For example, though I use linux, I do not know enough about coding to contribute actual code to the linux/unix community. But I know just enough python to contribute to Sage, and do. And I’m getting better.

I also believe in open access, which feels like a natural extension. By open access, I mean free access to peer-reviewed scholarly journals and other materials. It stuns me that the public does not generally have access to publicly-funded research. How is this acceptable? Another thing that really gets to me is how selling overpriced and overlarge calculus textbooks can allow the author to do things like spend 30+ million dollars on his home? This should not happen. At least, it shouldn’t happen now, in the internet age. All the material is freely available in at least as good of a presentation, so the cost of the textbook is a compilation cost (not worth over $100). But these books are printed oversize, 1000+ pages, in full color and on 60-pound paper. That’s a recipe for high cost! It’s tremendously unfortunate, as it’s not as though the students even have a choice over what book they buy. But this is not the argument I want to make today, and I digress.

Recently, I was dragged down a rabbit hole. And what I saw when I emerged on the other side made me learn about a side of math journals I’d never seen before, and the fight over open access. I’d like to comment on this today – that’s after the fold.

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