The High Cost of a Right Answer
(Random Samples, Science, Volume 277, Number
5331, Issue of 5 September 1997)
The saga of a Korean mathematics professor, who says he was dismissed after
pointing out a mistake made by his superiors, is causing a minor furor in
mathematics circles worldwide.
Myung Ho Kim, 40, was an assistant professor of mathematics at Sungkyunkwan
University in Seoul when he found an error in a math problem in the university's
entrance examination. The
problem:
[Three nonzero vectors, A, B, and C in threedimensional Euclidean space satisfy the following
inequality :
xA + yB + zC>=xA + yB
for all real numbers x, y, and z. Show that the three vectors are perpendicular to
each other.]
Kim pointed outcorrectly, mathematicians saythat no three nonzero vectors
satisfying the hypothesis exist, and proposed that the question be disregarded
in scoring the exam. No changes were made; instead, Kim was
denied a promotion
and let go in February 1996.
University officials say Kim didn't meet promotion requirements. Kim,
claiming his dismissal was
retaliation, sued. But the courts ruled against him
after both the Korean Mathematical Society
and the Korea Institute for Advanced
Study declined to come to his defense.
Kim has appealed to Korea's supreme courtand the court of international
opinion. Eminent mathematicians, including
Michael Atiyah at Cambridge
University, have taken up his cause, as have KoreanAmerican scientists. And
Kim, now an unpaid research assistant at the University of California, Santa
Cruz, vows to keep up his fight. "I want to show young Korean scholars there is
justice alive in Korea," he says.
