Monday, March 23, 2015

Why isn't the Emmy Noether Google Doodle being shown worldwide?

Monday's Google Doodle honors German mathematician Emmy Noether, who overcame impediments barring women from academia and prejudice and exclusion at the hands of the Nazis, but was unable to have her Google Doodle universally shown on what would be her 133rd birthday.

Born on March 23, 1882 in the Bavarian town of Erlangen, Noether contributed to major advancements in both physics and mathematics, subjects that shunned women. She was also Jewish, a serious career liability in Germany at the time.

Noether worked at the Mathematical Institute of Erlangen, without pay or title, from 1908 to 1915, and later created a conceptual approach to algebra which led to a body of principles unifying algebra, geometry, linear algebra, topology, and logic, according to one biography.
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In her 1935 New York Times obituary, Albert Einstein referred to her as “the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.”

Yet her doodle, according to an interactive map on the Doodle’s web page, is not being seen in most of Africa, the UK, France, Hungary and many other nations due to the fact that the online editors for those nations chose not to run it, according to a Google Spokesperson.

“We put it out there and they choose whether or not to select it,” says Christina Radosavldevic-Szilagyi of Google’s public relations team in an interview.

Ms. Radosavldevic-Szilagyi points out that topics that are considered “universal, such as the first day of Spring” are typically used on all countries' Google homepages, while other doodles run in the nations that have direct, individual ties to the subject.

“We do so many doodles and we try not to do them in subsequent areas because the idea is for the doodle to be surprising and unexpected,” she says. “In this case Emmy Noether was from Germany and was later in the US so those are the primary area where it’s being seen.”

What some fans of women in math and other STEM subjects find surprising is that those nations where the doodle failed to run would not consider math to be a “universal” topic.

“It’s very unfortunate that in this day and age there are those who do not automatically consider a universal theory in mathematics to be universally of interest,” says Chess Grandmaster Susan Polgar in an interview. “I don’t know who the Google editors are in those countries where they chose not to have Emmy Noether as the Doodle, but I am disappointed in their choice.”

Polgar, who is Jewish and was born in Hungary, one of the nations not choosing to share the Noether doodle was particularly disconcerted by the narrowing of this doodle’s audience.

“Emmy Noether overcame being Jewish in the time of Hitler and the Nazis, not to mention being a woman in the time when women were being horribly oppressed,” Ms. Polgar says. “Girls and women lack sufficient role models in the STEM fields, women like Emmy Noether. Which is why it’s so disappointing that she’s not being celebrated in all countries today.”

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