Here’s something you don’t see every day: A state senator with an academic publication record, in his former career as a mathematician. Even more unusual: A retraction of one of his 15-year-old papers, after the journal realized most of the results were incorrect.
According to the notice, some aspects of the paper by Daniel Biss — now a democratic Illinois State Senator — are also “ambiguous.”
We spoke with Senator Biss, who told us he had been contacted by an editor who told him someone had raised questions about the paper, but he didn’t have much input in the notice:
He asked me if I had a reply and I said ‘no I don’t, so you should run what you want to run.’
Here’s what ran, in Topology and its Applications:
This article has been retracted at the request of the Editors-in-Chief after receiving a complaint about anomalies in this paper. The editors solicited further independent reviews which indicated that the definitions in the paper are ambiguous and most results are false. The author was contacted and does not dispute these findings.
“The topological fundamental group and generalized covering spaces” has been cited 27 times since it was published in 2002, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters.
Biss was elected to the Illinois senate in 2012, after earning a PhD in mathematics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then working as a professor at the University of Chicago.
Biss added that the work was done in the 1990s, and he can’t speak to any potential problems in the paper:
I’m just not in a position to evaluate it…I’m not in academia.
We asked if he stood by the findings, he said:
Obviously I published it for a reason.
We’ve contacted the editors of the journal for more information, and will update if they respond.
Biss has made no secret of his scientific background, as in his 2009 essay “A Mathematician Runs for Political Office:”
One thing you’ll learn how to do is cut corners. A campaign inevitably involves a lot of corner-cutting. Over 70,000 voters reside in our district, and 52,418 of them cast a ballot in my race. The ideal campaign would involve talking individually with each one for at least half an hour. Obviously, I didn’t have 25,000 hours. The main purpose of a campaign is to short-circuit that process but still deliver substantive communication.
We asked Biss if he thought he might ever return to academia:
I can’t speak to the future, but I certainly have no plans.
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