## Tuesday, November 3, 2009

### Lucasian Litotes

Well, it wasn't a woman (Gee! I'm shocked), although it could have been but the committee wimped out. And it won't be long. At 63, Mike Green is the oldest appointment yet, and if the retirement rules are applied consistently (which they haven't always been), he only gets four years in the prestigious Chair once held by such luminaries as Newton (at 26) and Dirac (at 30). Conventional wisdom has it that theoreticians are past their "sell-by" date in their late twenties, but Newton didn't write The Principia until his mid forties and Hawking is still publishing in his sixties.

The comparison with Hawking will be inevitable. At least Hawking was only 37 when he was appointed, so he certainly had time to really put theoretical cosmology back on the map; which has done in spades. String theory, by comparison, is in its third or fourth incarnation—depending on how you count—and yet to produce any real physics. Given that both Davis and Green are String theorists (and who isn't these days?) of the same vintage, the breakthrough move, in my opinion, would've been to appoint Davis. But committees, especially academic committees, are not known for their boldness. Without wishing to be unkind, it's a strain to see Green's appointment as anything but a placeholder.

Anyway, the stats now look like this:
    Appt                     Name Born  Died1  1664             Isaac Barrow 1630  16772  1669         Sir Isaac Newton 1643  17273  1702          William Whiston 1667  17524  1711      Nicholas Saunderson 1682  17395  1739              John Colson 1680  17606  1760            Edward Waring 1736  17987  1798             Isaac Milner 1750  18208  1820         Robert Woodhouse 1773  18279  1822            Thomas Turton 1780  186410 1826  Sir George Biddell Airy 1801  189211 1828          Charles Babbage 1791  187112 1839              Joshua King 1798  185713 1849        Sir George Stokes 1819  190314 1903        Sir Joseph Larmor 1857  194215 1932               Paul Dirac 1902  198416 1969      Sir James Lighthill 1924  199817 1979          Stephen Hawking 1942   NAN18 2009            Michael Green 1946   NAN> apage [1] 34 26 35 29 59 24 48 47 42 25 37 41 30 46 30 45 37 63> summary(apage)   Min. 1st Qu.  Median    Mean 3rd Qu.    Max.   24.00   30.00   37.00   38.78   45.75   63.00 > lpdata\$Name[which.max(apage)][1]  Michael Green