By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
The moment I read about Dr. Enoch Opeyemi's claim to have solved the 156-year-old Riemann Hypothesis in the Vanguard of November 15, 2015, I didn't need to read a second opinion to know it was suspect at best and fraudulent at worst.
You don’t need to think too deeply to realize that Dr. Opeyemi is one heck of a hilariously delusional intellectual scammer in the mold of Philip Emeagwali and Gabriel Oyibo. The second to the last paragraph in the Vanguard story that announced Opeyemi’s “mathematical genius” was what did it for me. “Dr Enoch had previously… discovered a scientific technique for detecting and tracking someone on an evil mission,” the report said. Seriously? How do you scientifically detect and track someone on an “evil mission”? What is an “evil mission,” and what has science got to do with that? No one with this kind of prescientific, atavistic mindset can be trusted to have the cognitive capacity to solve an age-old mathematical puzzle like the Riemann Hypothesis.
Now, Opeyemi’s only evidence for claiming to have solved the Riemann Hypothesis was that he presented a paper on the puzzle at the International Conference on Mathematics and Computer Science in Vienna, Austria.
Well, it has turned out that the conference itself may be a borderline scam operation. An August 20, 2011 blog post titled “Fake Paper Accepted by Nina Ringo's Vienna Conference” revealed that a scientist by the name of Mohammad Homayoun who was suspicious of the genuineness of the International Conference on Mathematics and Computer Science (ICMC) decided to test his suspicion by submitting a fake, worthless, nonsensical paper to the conference to see if it would be accepted or rejected.
The researcher’s hunch was accurate: the ICMC in Vienna appears to be an elaborate, money-making scholarly scam. His paper was accepted even though it was intentionally nonsensical. “The conference claims that submissions/papers are reviewed/refereed BUT they are not,” the researcher wrote. “A fake paper was submitted for evaluation to firstname.lastname@example.org on Sun, Jan 2, 2011. The notification of acceptance was received on Sun, Jan 9, 2011.” That’s just one week of “peer review.”
But even if the conference were genuine, and it could very well be, you can't prove something as momentous as a 156-year-old mathematical problem with a mere conference presentation. In the rituals of knowledge production in academe, for any claim to be taken seriously, it has to be published in a well-regarded, peer-reviewed outlet, such as a journal. This is elementary knowledge.
In fact, a spokesperson for the US-based Clay Mathematics Institute (CMI), which offers a $1 million reward for anyone who can solve the Reimann Hypothesis, told CNN that any claim to have proved the hypothesis “would need to be published in a journal ‘of worldwide repute’ and accepted for two years within the mathematics community before it would be considered.”
Opeyemi merely orally presented what he claims is his proof of the hypothesis at a conference on November 11. As of the time of writing this column, there is no written record of the paper Opeyemi presented at the conference, much less its publication in a journal. He told CNN’s Thomas Page that his proof of the hypothesis is “due for publication by a journal attached to the Vienna conference on December 1.” So why claim to have solved a problem when you haven’t even gone through the basic protocols of scientific verification? Even if Opeyemi has indeed proved the hypothesis, it would take two years to earn the recognition and the reward. Why is he jumping the gun?
But, most importantly, Opeyemi actually stands no chance of even being able to prove the hypothesis because none of the journals published by the International Conference on Mathematics and Computer Science is of “worldwide repute.” The conference’s flagship journal, called the International Scientific Journal, isn’t even listed, much less ranked, in Scientific Journal Rankings (SJR), the most prestigious database that measures the scientific impact and prestige of journals in the hard sciences.
My sense is that Dr. Opeyemi genuinely fancies himself as having solved this mathematical puzzle, and his self-construal of his intellectual machismo got a boost when his paper got accepted for presentation at a conference in Vienna, Austria. In the now rampant xenophilic academic culture in Nigeria that uncritically valorizes the foreign, for one's paper to be accepted at an "international" (read: white) academic conference is seen as an endorsement of one's peerless scholarly prowess. Never mind that many of these “international” conferences and journals are actually fraudulent.
When naive xenophilia seamlessly commingles with the kind of mortifyingly cringe-worthy credulity that pervades the Nigerian media landscape AND the progressive dearth and death of basic fact-checking in even international media outlets like the BBC, you end up with embarrassing stories like this.
This is not the first time this has happened. In July 2011, another Nigerian academic by the name of Michael Atovigba claimed to have solved the same Riemann Hypothesis. The ever so gullible Nigerian media believed and celebrated him. The reason Atovigba convinced himself that he had solved the mathematical puzzle that Opeyemi now also claims to have solved was that his paper (which has only seven references, four of which are from Wikipedia!) was found “worthy” of publication in an "international" journal, which turned out to be a notoriously worthless, predatory, bait-and-switch Pakistan-based journal that masquerades as a UK journal.
I wrote a widely circulated article on August 13, 2011 titled “Bait-and-Switch Publishing: New Face of Academic Fraud” that exposed this fraud. Among other things, I wrote: "Mr. Atovigba’s claims to unparalleled mathematical genius might very well be true, but we have no way of knowing this for certain because he chose to publish his 'record-breaking' findings in the 'Research Journal of Mathematics and Statistics' owned by a bait-and-switch publishing company called Maxwell Scientific Organization."
Atovigba told the (Nigerian) Guardian that he would get his $1 million reward from the Clay Mathematics Institute now that he had published his “proof” in a “reputable international journal.” Four years after, another deluded Nigerian “scientist” claims to have proved the same hypothesis for which Atovigba is still expecting his $1 million, and the media’s legendary amnesia ensures that these clowns continue to expose Nigeria and Nigerians to international ridicule. Incredible!
What is even more incredible is that a Nigerian BBC correspondent’s story on Opeyemi, inspired by Vanguard’s initial reporting (which was itself instigated by Opeyemi himself), has caused the British media to perpetrate Opeyemi’s misrepresentation. Now, the British media’s uncritical echoing of Opeyemi’s initial lie is invoked as evidence to lend credibility to his claims to a non-existent feat. It has become one labyrinthine network of tortuous, self-reinforcing falsehoods. Only Philip Emeagwali’s carefully packaged fraud outrivals this. So sad!