Saturday, May 14, 2005

Fermat's Last Theorem

I was so upset with the news story by the Manila Times last week that I wrote them a letter.
"I was reading your on-line edition on Thursday (May 5) when I came upon the story about Prof. Edgar Escultura proving the proof advanced by Mr. Andrew Wiles and Richard Taylor on Fermat’s last theorem was incorrect. The story is at the very least incomplete and most probably untrue.

First, according to the theory, the refutation of the proof was published in 1998 and was greeted with much discussion on the Internet. A casual Google search on the terms “proof Fermat’s last theorem” yielded websites that only discuss the proof as presented by Mr. Wiles and Mr. Taylor. No mention has been made regarding Mr. Escultura nor his supposed refutation. Did your reporter, Mr. Rony V. Diaz, even made this kind of cursory search?

Second, according to the story, Mr. Wiles conceded an error regarding his proof and will be reviewing all his proof. But the e-mail was addressed to Mr. Escultura. There is no independent verification of this “supposed” concession was made. Did The Manila Times even tried to contact Mr. Wiles regarding this assertion by Mr. Escultura? Nothing in the article leads me to believe that asking Mr. Wiles nor other mathematicians was even considered.

Third, who even said that Mr. Escultura actually refuted Mr. Wiles’s proof? Who or what body was the source of this story? Whom did this person/body/ experts/ decide that Mr. Escultura was correct? To whom should the readers actually try and validate veracity of the story?

So The Times ran a story from no-one that was verified by nobody. Is this the kind of journalism that The Manila Times practices? I expected more from your paper."
They published the letter together with an editors reply here

According to the reply,
"The source of our information, including the letter of Dr. Wiles, was Dr. Escultura. We did not have any reason to doubt him".
So, the Manila Times will actually print a news story, from anybody, as long as they do not have any reason to doubt him. They will not try to verify the story. They will not dig further for independent confirmation.

Who are then these paragons of truth from whom the Manila Times feel they need not double check? Is Mr. Escultura the only, are there more? What criteria does the Manila Times use to determine who are these founts of wisdom?

How can we then as readers trust the Manila Times? How can we be sure then that the news they print is truthful and factual and not the imaginary submissions of a person that they have no reason to doubt?

I will ask my question again. Is this the kind of journalism the Manila Times practices? It seems so.

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