In Thomas' Calculus, he presents ''Nicole Oresme's Theorem'': $$ \sum_{n=1}^\infty {n\over 2^{n-1}}=4. $$ My first reaction was "who is this person?''. As it turns out, he was a Frenchman from the $14^{\rm th}$ century (!) who produced an astounding number of deep results. In addition to the previously mentioned result concerning infinite series, he proved results for geometric sums and was the first person first to show that the Harmonic series is divergent. In addition to this, he anticipated results of Galileo, Descartes (the idea of analytical space), and Cantor (cardinality) (see the above link and here.

I'm astonished, and perhaps should be ashamed, that I had not known of him before.

So, my question is: who are some other people who have lapsed into obscurity but deserve to be remembered?


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    $\begingroup$ The list truly indeed contains thousands of mathematicians, but of course if we knew the entire list then we would know about them. One example of someone whose level of fame seems less than what he deserves is Per Enflo. $\endgroup$ – Ragib Zaman Nov 12 '11 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Ragib: Doesn't the mere size of the Wikipedia page you link to indicate the contrary? To the best of my knowledge he's also the only mathematician who has ever earned a goose for his work! $\endgroup$ – t.b. Nov 12 '11 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ @t.b. The article could have been written by a few people who have happened to notice and enjoy his work. Perhaps this only demonstrates my naivety, but I certainly hadn't ever heard of him until a few weeks ago, and even though I don't know the details of the works of all the famous contemporary mathematicians, I usually have at least heard their names before. $\endgroup$ – Ragib Zaman Nov 12 '11 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ I can't remember any forgotten mathematicians. $\endgroup$ – Graphth Nov 12 '11 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Ragib: I’ve known Enflo’s name for years, though I couldn’t have told you much about him or his work. (And not just because he’s at Kent State, which is less than an hour from here!) I’ve also known about Oresme, but I’m interested in medieval history. On the other hand, I’d not have recognized Terry Tao’s name a few months ago: he’s well outside my areas of interest, and he came along after I ceased to be active mathematically. I’d be very hesitant to judge obscurity or fame on the basis of my own knowledge, or that of the average mathematician. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Nov 12 '11 at 13:22

There is the Stigler's law of eponymy which says that "No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer." So, there are lots of mathematicians who have lapsed into obscurity.

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    $\begingroup$ I have also heard things like "Theorems are named after the first person to discover them after Euler". $\endgroup$ – Ragib Zaman Nov 12 '11 at 12:20
  • $\begingroup$ @RagibZaman: That might be true! :) $\endgroup$ – Karatug Ozan Bircan Nov 12 '11 at 12:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Ragib: Or Gauss. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Nov 12 '11 at 13:53

Joseph Raphson developed what is probably the most important algorithm in applied mathematics.

Today, most people know it only as "Newton's Method."

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    $\begingroup$ I've usually seen the name "Newton–Raphson iteration" rather than "Newton's method", for what it's worth. $\endgroup$ – ShreevatsaR Nov 12 '11 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ I personally make sure to use "Newton-Raphson" every single time I talk about the algorithm... $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Nov 12 '11 at 13:53

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