Opinion 79: The Rutgers Mathematics Department Should Reverse Its Unfortunate Decision To Forbid The Sale of Mathematical Identities

By Doron Zeilberger

Written: April 1 (!), 2007.

I can't believe how stupid, narrow-minded, uptight, self-righteous, short-sighted, etc. etc. my colleagues are, especially the members of The Rutgers Math Department Executive Committee.

Everybody is complaining about the severe budget cuts, that forced us to discontinue many worthwhile projects, cancel interesting classes because of insufficient enrollment (as though quantity is more important that quality. A class with one student who is willing to take "Advanced Riemann Zeta Function", in my opinion, is worth a class of fifty who take "Introduction to Applied Finance"), downgrade the quality of the cookies in the daily coffee hour, and most distressingly, make our pay-raises so low, that many of us have to moonlight as "consultants", and I know of one case of a distinguished professor who is working as a bus boy in a downtown restaurant, to help put his mistress through college.

So I got that brilliant idea how to generate lots of revenue for our department, and I only asked for a token ten percent of all income, to pay for expenses.

The seed of the idea came a long time ago, when I was teaching L'Hospital's rule to my calculus students, and mentioned that the rule is not really due to him but to a starving bright contemporary who sold it to him for a good price. It so happens that my beloved electronic servant, Shalosh B. Ekhad, can generate mathematical identities almost instantaneously, many of them much deeper than Dixon's, Saalschutz's, Gauss's, Dougal's, Euler's and Ramanujan's. These new identities are desperate for good names, since it would be boring to call them by serial numbers "Ekhad's one hundred and fifty seventh identity" for example.

So I offered to put them up for auction in eBay, with starting price of $500 each. The lucky winner of each of those (thousands and thousands of) mathematical identities would get a framed certificate, certifying that the sold identity is named after him, and in the data-base of the identities, the identity would be clearly named after the buyer. In addition, an automatically generated paper, would get published in "Electronic Journal of Named Mathematical Identities", with the title "Proof of Joe Doe's Identity", complete with the automatically-generated proof.

I am sure that this great marketing idea would be very successful, and not only would it generate lots of extra income, it would be also good for mathematics, since one can relate much better to an identity with a name. It is also a great way to honor friends and relatives, and to guarantee immortality. Pythagoras may be dead, but the Pythagorean Theorem lives for ever. It is much cheaper than having a marble grave-stone, that would probably deteriorate in one or two hundred years. But for as low as $500, any Dick, Tom, or Harry can gain immortality, and envision a paper dated ca. 5000, with the title "A Generalization of Birnbaum's Identity". This proposal is also very democratic. You no longer have to be a Pythagoras, Euclid, Euler, or Rogers-Ramanujan to have a mathematical identity named after you, all you need is some cash.

It was probably this last prospect that was the decisive factor in the shameful rejection by that stupid committee to my wise proposal. One committee member, let's call him Professor Joseph Birnbaum, claimed that the reason he chose to be an academic mathematician, getting paid one tenth of what he would have been able to get paid, had he gone to Wall Street, is that hope for immortality. Now, if every idiot who has enough cash can "buy" that same immortality, it would trivialize mathematics, and worse, commercialize it.

Excuse me, Prof. Birnbaum, but if the football team can have "sponsors" and advertisements in the stadium, why can't we? Maybe our department's ranking will improve as much as our football team's ranking? And do you think that the spectacular rise from one of the worst teams in the nation to a top twenty team came for free? Rutgers decided to pump lots of money into its football program, at the expense of other, lower-profile endeavors, like math. So I finally came up with a great and harmless way to generate lots of funding, but you, and your colleagues, knock it down citing antiquated and misplaced mathematical puritanism.

No offense, Prof. Birnbaum and other committee members, but you are really being hypocritical. Every day you use google for your own research, and you told me yourself that you were able to dig out references that helped your research dramatically. Now this would not have been possible without the sponsored ads of google. So it is time that you get rid of your puritan and antiquated views, and learn to compromise. In fact, I can make you a deal. If you would change your mind, I promise to name three fascinating new identities after you, completely free of charge!

Please reconsider!

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