Elitism in mathematics and inequality
The Fields Medal, often referred as the Nobel Prize of mathematics, is awarded to no more than four mathematicians under the age of 40, every 4 years. In recent years, its conferral has come under scrutiny of math historians, for rewarding the existing elite rather than its original goal of elevating under-represented mathematicians. Prior studies of elitism focus on citational practices while a characterization of the structural forces that prevent access remain unclear. Here we show the flow of elite mathematicians between countries and lingo-ethnic identity, using network analysis and natural language processing on 240,000 mathematicians and their advisor–advisee relationships. We present quantitative evidence of how the Fields Medal helped integrate Japan after WWII, through analysis of the elite circle formed around Fields Medalists. We show increases in pluralism among major countries, though Arabic, African, and East Asian identities remain under-represented at the elite level. Our results demonstrate concerted efforts by academic committees, such as prize giving, can either reinforce the existing elite or reshape its definition. We anticipate our methodology of academic genealogical analysis can serve as a useful diagnostic for equity and systemic bias within academic fields.
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