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Remember Enoch Opeyemi Who Claimed to have Solved the Riemann Hypothesis?

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi Two years ago, a certain Dr. Enoch Opeyemi who teaches mathematics at the Federa...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Two years ago, a certain Dr. Enoch Opeyemi who teaches mathematics at the Federal University in Oye-Ekiti suckered the Nigerian and British media into believing that he had solved the 156-year-old Riemann Hypothesis and would earn the $1 million prize for this "feat" from the US-based Clay Mathematics Institute.

In my November 21, 2015 column titled, “'Mathematical' Enoch Opeyemi and the Making of Another Nigerian Intellectual 419er,” I pointed out that Opeyemi’s claims didn’t stand up to scrutiny. “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,” I wrote.

Certain credulous Nigerians attacked me for this. The more reasonable ones among them said since the Clay Mathematics Institute said it would reward any claim to have solved the hypothesis only if such a claim is published in a reputable mathematical journal and remains unchallenged in the mathematical scholarly community for two years, I should wait two years before pronouncing Opeyemi a delusional scammer.

Well, I have waited two years. I checked the website of the Clay Mathematics Institute, and the Riemann Hypothesis that Opeyemi claimed to have solved two years ago is still listed as “unsolved.” So, clearly, Opeyemi fooled the Nigerian and British media who in turn fooled the world. Some of us who saw through the chicanery and pointed it out were called cynical, negative, hypercritical, and even accused of being jealous of a high-achieving Nigerian scholar.

When Opeyemi’s claims invited a critical mass of scrutiny from sundry scholars and commentators, he chose to grant a TV interview to a popular Nigerian pastor by the name of Sunday Adelaja. During the interview, Opeyemi made even more ridiculous claims that, frankly, call his very sanity into question.

A Yale University PhD student in mathematics, for instance, was particularly clinical in tearing Opeyemi’s claims to shreds. In his attempt to undermine the Yale University PhD student during the TV interview, Opeyemi said PhD students don't publish in scholarly outlets until they have defended their doctoral dissertations, and that his challenger wasn’t worthy of any attention.

It takes unusual ignorance for a person who supposedly has a PhD to make that kind of outrageously fallacious claim. In many PhD programs in the US students are not allowed to graduate until they have published in well-regarded academic journals. This is especially true of the hard sciences.

It also turned out that Opeyemi plagiarized a paper on the Riemann Hypothesis and uploaded it onto his page. (It isn’t clear if it was the plagiarized paper he presented as his “solution” to the Riemann Hypothesis). When Adelaja asked him about this, his defense was that the plagiarized paper on his page was uploaded by someone who hacked into his account! But the plagiarized paper had been on his page months before he attracted attention to himself through his false, ridiculous claims.

I am dredging up this issue for two related reasons. One, we tend to be amnesic, and because we’re amnesic we continually fall victim to the same cheap scam tactics. To rejig the memories of people who forgot about this issue, here is an abridged version of my November 21, 2015 column:

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 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…

 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….

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.  

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