Talk:Michael Atiyah

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Former good article nominee Michael Atiyah was a Mathematics good articles nominee, but did not meet the good article criteria at the time. There are suggestions below for improving the article. Once these issues have been addressed, the article can be renominated. Editors may also seek a reassessment of the decision if they believe there was a mistake.
Article milestones
Date Process Result
August 17, 2008 Peer review Reviewed
November 21, 2010 Good article nominee Not listed
Current status: Former good article nominee

Proposal for April 22, 2009[edit]

Although I hadn't paid much attention to the Atiyah page, I certainly have now. This effort to add controversy has also made me angry, as I'm sure it has others. What better way to use that anger productively than to expand this article, take it for an FA and have it featured on the main page on Atiyah's 80th birthday, April 22, 2009. I understand that everyone is busy with their own commitments, but since there is time, I feel that it could be done in small efforts here and there. Atiyah's is an exemplary life, one of great interaction with a wide array of other mathematicians and physicists. By adding narrative to the article, it could also become a kind of history of the mathematics of the second half of the 20th century. Fowler&fowler«Talk» 19:57, 28 July 2008 (UTC)

By coincience, I just had the same idea, but decided it was too much work for just me. It would be useful to have someone who knows math and can also write english, so I'll see if I can get WillowW interested. R.e.b. (talk) 20:13, 28 July 2008 (UTC)

Comment about citations[edit]

I think the citations should be to Atiyah's original papers, with citations to his collected works as a sort of "optional bonus". Aside from this being standard practice, it makes it easier to see the year in which the work was done (or at least published). Plclark (talk) 01:51, 30 July 2008 (UTC)Plclark

If someone adds his 200 or so papers, I will be happy to cite them directly. R.e.b. (talk) 03:38, 30 July 2008 (UTC)

Atiyah has too many papers to make it practical or even desirable to list them all. However, you should cite the papers you are referring to so that someone can find them. If you know which number they are in the collected works, then you already have all the bibliographic information on the paper, don't you? I would have to guess which ones you mean: for instance, based on what you write, I suspect Atiyah 1988b, Paper 36 =

MR0145560 (26 #3091)
Atiyah, M. F.; Hirzebruch, F.
Analytic cycles on complex manifolds.
Topology 1 1962 25--45.

and Atiyah 1988b, Paper 37 =

MR0148084 (26 #5593)
Atiyah, M. F.; Hirzebruch, F.
The Riemann-Roch theorem for analytic embeddings.
Topology 1 1962 151--166

but these are just guesses. Plclark (talk) 04:27, 30 July 2008 (UTC)Plclark

I sympathize with both views. I could certainly add the papers that are being referred to in the text as the article progresses. It is true that there are a lot of papers, so that's a minus for a general reader, but perhaps we could put them in a compressed box so that the references don't become longer than the article (or some scheme like that). The reason why I don't like collected works references is that they are all too anonymous, in particular they don't mention the collaborators in the text, sometimes not even the year (or time frame). For a mathematician like Atiyah who thrives on collaboration, that would (in my humble opinion) steal from the social narrative of his mathematics. Fowler&fowler«Talk» 12:02, 30 July 2008 (UTC)
A belated reply, but: a compressed box containing the full list of Atiyah's papers sounds like an excellent idea. Plclark (talk) 19:04, 15 February 2009 (UTC)

Avoid peacock terms[edit]

As per Wikipedia:Avoid peacock terms, Peacock terms like "greatest geometer of 20th Century" should be avoided. In this case , the source cited "abel prizr citation" does not support this.-Bharatveer (talk) 05:51, 5 August 2008 (UTC)

Its still a peacock term and not exactly according to the source. It should be removed from the intro .-Bharatveer (talk) 11:16, 5 August 2008 (UTC)
It is a direct quote from the Abel prize citation. According to the citation, Atiyah has been one of the most influential 20th century mathematicians. It says so in the source, which by WP:RS standards is cast iron, so that is why it is now in the article. Please do not use the word "peacock" when it is not applicable. Thanks, Mathsci (talk) 11:35, 5 August 2008 (UTC)
"greatest" is a peacock word. If you want to include it, you need to attribute it properly. "According to XX, Atiyah is greatest geometer of the 20th century". Nishkid64 (Make articles, not wikidrama) 12:19, 5 August 2008 (UTC)
I can't find "greatest" anywhere in the article at the time you wrote this so I don't see the relevance of your remark. -- Jitse Niesen (talk) 12:28, 5 August 2008 (UTC)
I don't think Nishkid64 looked at the mainspace article before posting his comment. He hadn't realised it had been changed. Mathsci (talk) 12:44, 5 August 2008 (UTC)
I did look at the article, but I didn't know you were the one who had changed the wording in the lede. Well, glad that's resolved! Nishkid64 (Make articles, not wikidrama) 12:53, 5 August 2008 (UTC)
Now that you know, All's well that ends well!!-Bharatveer (talk) 13:09, 5 August 2008 (UTC)

Working on the article again[edit]

Sorry, a series of family emergencies resulted in my being away, and mentally away long after I had returned to Wikipedia. I don't know if people are still interested in working on this article, but in case they are, here are some suggestions. I just read the peer-reviews, and I tend to agree with someone who said that R.e.b. has put together a great resource here, viz. a complete description of Atiyah's work and collaborations. I think, if R.e.b. doesn't mind, that complete description (minus the biography) could perhaps be a separate article called Mathematical work of Michael F. Atiyah. Such an article would be a great aid to mathematicians or mathematical physicists should they want to study Atiyah's mathematics or track down sources on-line. That article, I believe, should also have a list of the actual journal articles with the names of the collaborators (in addition to the Collected Works references). I believe we had begun to do this, when I went away in late July 2008.

Here, however, are my suggestions for this article. I believe this article should also be about the broad collaborative movement(s) in mathematics (in the second half of the 20th century) that Atiyah has both represented and championed. I feel we should highlight (and perhaps linger a little on) only a few topics (two or three at best) in each period of Atiyah's working life and spend the rest of the space talking about the mathematical environment (and social environment too, if we can get a handle on it) in which Atiyah's work arose. (Please excuse me if I am repeating things already mentioned by others in the peer-review. I read it fast, and that means I've absorbed it in ways I'm not aware of.)

For example, consider topological K-theory. We could talk about, say, the elementary Atiyah-Hirzebruch definitions, about elementary Bott periodicity, and perhaps about elementary (Adams-Atiyah) Hopf invariant one and its connection to division algebras, but we should stop there (in other words, ignore the Spectral Sequence, Clifford Modules etc.), and even for these three topics, the descriptions should, as I've already said, be very elementary. (See, for example, what I say about the index theorem below). However, we should situate these descriptions in mathematics of post-war America and France (Bourbaki), which was to become the spawning ground for other similar developments. Singer, Adams, Atiyah, Hirzebruch, Bott were all there at the Institute for Advanced Study around the same time. Perhaps, we could make the Institute and Bourbaki (the latter through Grothendieck->K-theory) as the two "hubs" of these descriptions.

Same with the Index Theory section. It is probably enough to mention only the ordinary index theorem and the (heat equation) boundary-index-theorem. In other words, ignore the equivariant theorem, Lefschetz Fixed Point formulas (except in a final paragraph which would mention these and provide links to the "Mathematical work" article). We could, however, spend most of the section on describing Gauss-Bonnet as the simplest example of the Index Theorem (perhaps the combinatorial version, which could be made comprehensible to a lot of people) and the boundary-Gauss-Bonnet, which brings in the second fundamental form. Atiyah, Patodi, Singer, for example, mention this in the introduction of their Spectral Asymmetry papers. In terms of the "social background," we should dwell a little on the work of Calderon-Zygmund on Singular Integrals and the insight of Smale when he visited Atiyah and Singer (in 1963?), the conjecture of McKeon and Singer (but made elementary) that led to Patodi's work (again describing only the results for Euler characteristic) and so forth. (Chicago, Oxford, Cambridge-Mass., and the Institute again, perhaps, could be the "hubs" of this work.) A similar "framework" could be worked out for Gauge Theory and Mathematical Physics (and Algebraic Geometry, although perhaps we could ignore this entirely, making it a part of his student days).

In addition, we should spend more space on his biography: his childhood in the Middle-East and Africa (i.e. describe those regions during those times a little), his student years in Cambridge (describe the mid-50s Cambridge; Atiyah, after all, was there during Watson-Crick); his wife, how he met her and so forth. The same would apply to later his work as Master of Trinity (i.e. some actual changes made during his tenure), President of Royal Soc. (the same), and Director of Newton Institute (the same). Someone mentioned his political interests; perhaps these could be fleshed out too. I believe one of his siblings has a web site which describes the family history in some detail (I vaguely remember it mentioning his dad as the author of some early book(s) on Middle-East problem). I'm writing this in a brief window of time available to me, so, again, please excuse any repetitions.

Finally, since there are only 2 months left for his April 22 80th birthday, let's not worry too much about our original reason to go for an FA (i.e. to have him featured on the main page on that day). I think we should work out an approach through consensus and begin work at our convenience. This, after all, has to be fun. I am sure we can find many meaningful dates during the coming year on which to feature Atiyah on the main page, should we get the article featured. Fowler&fowler«Talk» 01:32, 15 February 2009 (UTC)

Thanks for the message and for thinking about this in such depth. I see two main problems with your proposed approach if FA is the goal. The first is focus (criterion 4). If the article is about Atiyah, then Bourbaki and Gauss-Bonnet are somewhat digressive. However, 1b now has "places the subject in context" so you may be able to justify the inclusion of some social and mathematical background. The second is OR by synthesis, which is covered by 1c. The problem, as I mentioned in my peer review comments, is that there simply aren't good secondary sources that present any analysis of Atiyah's life. If we take a point of view, or approach the subject in a particular way, then we need such secondary sources to support the analysis. Who are you going to quote for the influence of post-war mathematics in America and France on Atiyah's thinking? Where are you going to get additional biographical material from? A family website is unlikely to be accepted at FAC.
In these circumstances, in my view, it isn't practical to start from a vision of what you want to say about Atiyah. You actually have to start with an in depth search through reliable secondary sources and find out what they say. Then build your vision on that. It may include some of the above. For instance I provided a primary source for Atiyah's political interest in nuclear weapons, and secondary sources are surely out there. There are probably also some sources for what he did as Master of Trinity and President of the Royal Society, but they won't necessarily be easy to track down. I'm willing to do what I can to help with the article if you can find the sources. I may be able to help with some of the searching too. In any case, good luck. Geometry guy 19:17, 15 February 2009 (UTC)
I was unable to find any sources about Atiyah's non-mathematical life, other than the brief CV in his collected works and occasional hints in newspaper interviews and web sites. Without such sources there is not much more that can be done, beyond adding a bit of padding. Since there seems to be little chance of getting this to FA in time for his birthday, I suggest waiting until someone writes his biography. And writing for wikipedia about broad collaborative movements in mathematics or Sudan in the 1930s would be fine, but should go in articles titled "broad collaborative movements in mathematics" or "Sudan in the 1930s" rather than "Michael Atiyah". r.e.b. (talk) 20:28, 15 February 2009 (UTC)
That is essentially my view. Going further now may need some serious legwork, e.g. to Trinity College library. Geometry guy 20:51, 15 February 2009 (UTC)
Yeah, I began to have some of those same thoughts (second-thoughts in my case) as soon as I had signed my hurriedly penned epiphany above. There's clear danger of OR in my approach. So, I agree with both of you, and I will now put this page on the back burner (to await a biography or articles in Historia mathematica etc.) Thanks for replying! Fowler&fowler«Talk» 16:10, 16 February 2009 (UTC)

Lebanese nationality?[edit]

Several anonymous IPs have repeatedly inserted the claim that Atiyah has Lebanese nationality. While not implausible, there seem to be no reliable sources for this. Does anyone know whether or not this claim is true? r.e.b. (talk) 15:52, 25 April 2009 (UTC)

Frankly, I don't pretend to have a "scientific" proof of Atiyah's nationality, eventhough I know someone quite close to his family that is still in Lebanon. However, what is sure is that he has lebanese origins because his father is lebanese. The nationality is yet a different issue, and I don't see how to bring up a proof, except by contacting him or his family : ). 26 October 2009 (FR)

Both The International Who's Who 2004 and A Dictionary of Twentieth-Century World Biography (1993, OUP) list Atiyah as British. Gareth Jones (talk) 16:20, 25 April 2009 (UTC)

External links[edit]

In external links please consider adding this link to an in depth video of Sir Michael Atiyah telling his life story. The video is freely available on the Web of Stories website (

Fitzrovia calling (talk) 08:41, 22 July 2010 (UTC)

GA Review[edit]

This review is transcluded from Talk:Michael Atiyah/GA1. The edit link for this section can be used to add comments to the review.

Reviewer: Jezhotwells (talk) 13:36, 14 November 2010 (UTC)

I shall be reviewing this article against the Good Article criteria, following its nomination for Good Article status.

Disambiguations: one found and fixed.[1] Jezhotwells (talk) 13:39, 14 November 2010 (UTC)

Linkrot: five found, three fixed and two tagged.[2] Jezhotwells (talk) 13:46, 14 November 2010 (UTC)

Checking against GA criteria[edit]

GA review (see here for criteria)
  1. It is reasonably well written.
    a (prose): b (MoS for lead, layout, word choice, fiction, and lists):
    Although somewhat dense in part the prose is "reasonably well written.
    The artcile complies sufficiently with the Manual of Style.
  2. It is factually accurate and verifiable.
    a (references): b (citations to reliable sources): c (OR):
    Two dead links in the External links section. I couldn't find them in the internet archive, I guess you could just remove them.
    All other references check out.
    I placed some citation needed tags on paragraphs which contain statements that need citing. Not done
    I see that the dead links have been removed, but nothing has been done about the needed citations. This needs to be fixed, the deadline is 21 November. Jezhotwells (talk) 01:46, 20 November 2010 (UTC)
  3. It is broad in its coverage.
    a (major aspects): b (focused):
    Broad and focussed.
  4. It follows the neutral point of view policy.
    Fair representation without bias:
  5. It is stable.
    No edit wars, etc.:
  6. It is illustrated by images, where possible and appropriate.
    a (images are tagged and non-free images have fair use rationales): b (appropriate use with suitable captions):
    Correctly tagged, licensed and captioned
  7. Overall:
    On hold for seven days for the issues above to be addressed.
    Well the citation needed tgs have not been addressed so I am failing this as seven days have elapsed. Jezhotwells (talk) 15:07, 21 November 2010 (UTC)


the quotes are interesting, but do they really need to be scattered through the article like that? personally i think it's somewhat distracting and awkward. also the quotes don't seem to have any relationship to the main text. is it standard for quotes to be placed in biographical articles like this? i'm not sure if having all those pictures of his collaborators really adds much to the article either (talk) 11:24, 30 September 2012 (UTC)

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