Take the 2-minute tour ×
MathOverflow is a question and answer site for professional mathematicians. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In an article by George Johnson in the New York Times back in 1999, it says that an amateur mathematician from India once sent Ian Stewart a proof of the Ramanujan-Nagell theorem that the Diophantine equation $x^2 + 7 = 2^n$ is solvable if and only if $n = 3, 4, 5, 7, 15$. The proof "was badly typed on strange paper and cast in an idiosyncratic style that would have given any journal editor the impression that the writer was a crank." However, it was correct, and after getting some help cleaning it up, the man published the proof.

To me, this is an inspiring story, and I would like to know the name of this man and to see the paper. I asked Ian Stewart but he said that he remembers the incident but not the identity of the man in question. I would try asking George Johnson but I am not sure how to contact him. I searched MathSciNet but was not able to guess which paper it was.

Does anyone know more details?

share|improve this question
    
Johnson's article is based on the book "Mathematical cranks" by Underwood Dudley. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underwood_Dudley Does the book have the name you are looking for? Let me mention that Dudley was sued by one personality mentioned in the book. I remember reading Richard Posner's decision a few years back - it is beautifully worded... –  Igor Pak Jun 5 '10 at 7:05
    
Unfortunately, Mathematical Cranks does not contain the word "Nagell" (according to amazon's search inside the book), so I'm afraid the answer is not there. –  John Stillwell Jun 5 '10 at 7:24
    
I have no details about this story, but George Johnson has a homepage which includes his [contact information][2]. You might want to send him an e-mail. (This answer should have been a comment, but I'm unable to post comments just yet) [2]: sciwrite.org/glj/email.html –  Liran Rotem Jun 5 '10 at 9:07
1  
Having emailed George Johnson, he says that he does not know anything beyond what is said in the article. –  bhwang Jun 6 '10 at 5:01
1  
Well, I hope George Johnson was not bothered by the fact that I emailed him as well. Of course he said the same thing in his reply to me. I'm wondering, as a matter of general MO etiquette, whether the person who asked the question in the first place should be assumed to be the one to contact a suggested person. Otherwise the poor recipient may be barraged by a slew of email messages all asking the same thing. –  Timothy Chow Jun 6 '10 at 18:03

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.