Some Famous People with Finite Erdös Numbers

Many famous people have small Erdös numbers. Wikipedia has a list of people by Erdös number, with links to their pages.

The lists presented here give upper bounds on the Erdös numbers of some famous scientists and mathematicians, including many Nobel laureates. Further details, including the paths that establish some of these numbers and many other people, can be found in Famous Trail to Paul Erdös by Rodrigo De Castro and Jerrold W. Grossman, available here in preprint form. It appears (somewhat abbreviated) in The Mathematical Intelligencer: vol. 21, no. 3 (Summer 1999), 51–63, and (in Spanish and updated) in the journal of the Colombian Academy of Sciences (Revista de la Academia Colombiana de Ciencias Exactas, Fisicas y Naturales, vol. 23, no. 89 (December, 1999), 563–582). Some of the data shown here comes from Chris Fields’ Erdős number page.

In addition, we have listed on a separate page the collaboration paths from Erdös to most of the winners of the Fields Medal, the Nevanlinna Prize, the Abel Prize, the Wolf Prize in Mathematics, and the Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement, as well as a few others.

Perhaps the most famous contemporary mathematician, Andrew Wiles, was too old to receive a Fields Medal (but was given a special tribute at the 1998 International Congress of Mathematicians). He has an Erdös number of at most 3, via Erdös to ANDREW ODLYZKO to Chris M. Skinner.

And surely the most famous contemporary "computer personality" with a small Erdös number is William H. (Bill) Gates, who published with Christos H. Papadimitriou in 1979, who published with Xiao Tie Deng, who published with Erdös coauthor PAVOL HELL, giving Gates Erdös number at most 4.

A prolific biologist, Eugene V. Koonin, at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, has an Erdös number of 2, through Laszlo A. Szekely. This gives many biologists small finite Erdös numbers, as well. (Another link to the biological sciences community is geneticist Eric Lander, who has Erdös number 2, via Dan Kleitman.) Indeed, it is probably possible to connect almost everyone who has published in the biological sciences to Erdös. With a couple of hours work on the Web, Grossman was able to establish an upper bound of 9 for the Erdös number of his brother, a practicing physician, who was a coauthor on a biology paper resulting from a summer internship. As Margaret Wilson at the University of California points out, the same is probably true for the fields of linguistics (via Noam Chomsky) and psychology (via Jean Piaget).

Here is a message from another biologist, Bruce Kristal, who has Erdös number 2 and lots of coauthors, which may provide useful hints for other searchers in this area: “I recently published with D Frank Hsu (Erdös number 1), and I am writing to briefly point out some potential implications of this that Frank and I found very interesting. Specifically, I am a biologist who works across several areas. Because of this, I have published with, among others, major figures in research on AIDS, aging, neurologic injury and neurodegeneration, and nutritional epidemiology. I believe that one of the neuroscientists I have published with, M. F. Beal, is among the most highly cited in this area. In the last area, nutritional epidemiology, I am on one (position) paper with many of the world leaders, including Walter Willett. Walt has over 1000 publications and was recently named as the most highly cited biomedical researcher in the last decade. Likewise, Frank is a computer scientist with ties in both mathematics and information retrieval as well as some biology citations. I mention these because Frank and I have discussed, among other issues, whether I may serve as a ‘weak link’ of sufficient breadth to impact the overall network structure both within biology and between biology and these other areas of math and computer science. Koonin is clearly more prolific than I am, but our fields may be sufficiently different to complement.” Interested people can contact him directly.

Chris Fields has an interesting paper in the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics discussing collaboration in the Human Genome Project, which gives small Erdös numbers to many biologists. For pre-prints of other papers describing co-authorship paths from Nobel laureates to Erdős, see Chris Fields’ Erdős number page. Dr. Fields provided many entries for Nobel laureates listed on this page.

For other links in the neuroscience area (and clinical medicine), see Jonathan Victor’s Erdös number page. For a nice discussion of Erdös numbers in physics, see Barbecue Joe Marasco’s Erdös number page. The philosophers' web shows influential relationships in that field.

A person on the Erdös2 list, Kenneth Hodges, turned from mathematics to a totally different field. He was Associate Professor of English at the University of Oklahoma and has at least two English literature collaborators, whose Erdös numbers are therefore 3. Similarly, John Cameron Urschel, a professional football player with the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League (before his retirement), who majored in mathematics at Penn State, has Erdös number 4; he is currently working on his PhD in mathematics. In an earlier era, Frank Beall Ryan, a professional football player with the Cleveland Browns and other teams, has a PhD in mathematics and boasts an Erdös number of 3. On the other hand, the unabomber, Theodore John Kaczynski, who published six research papers in mathematics, including several in prestigious journals of the American Mathematical Society, has no coauthors and therefore no finite Erdös number.

Another link into the humanities goes through Roger Herz-Fischler, who has Erdös number 2. He has joint publications with geographer HelenJane Armstrong, classicist Lenard Curchin, and French literature and art history scholar Eliane Herz-Fischler.

Felipe Voloch found what seems to be the oldest mathematicican known to have a finite Erdös number, Richard Dedekind (1831–1916). His number is at most 7, via this path: H. Weber – W. Jacobsthal – R. Fuchs – L.Hopf – A. Einstein – E. Straus – P. Erdös. Some of these collaborations might not meet the usual standard for mathematical research, however (education-oriented works or handbooks). On the other hand, there is a clear path of length 4 to David Hilbert (1862–1943), via R. Courant – K. Friedrichs – H. N. Shapiro – P. Erdös; and a path of length 3 to Georg Frobenius (1849–1917), via I. Schur – G. Szegö – P. Erdös.

Lou Scheffer contributed the following comment: “If you count Supreme Court opinions as joint research, then President Taft has a finite Erdös number. I personally think Supreme Court opinions should count. It only reaches the supreme court if the matter in question is not settled, so it’s research. And it’s definitely joint research, since they argue and they write up the results in a publically available joint publication. Whether they concur or dissent is irrelevant, I think, since they are still doing joint research on the same problem, with the same publication. So here is at least one chain leading to the Supreme Court. I found these with Google Scholar. A. E. Roth is the Nobel prize winner in economics with an Erdös number of 3. It crosses into the legal domain with Posner, Erdös number 4: A. E. Roth – R. A. Posner – L. Epstein – J. L. Spaeth – A. L. Kalleberg – B. F. Reskin – D. J. Merritt – R. B. Ginsburg, giving Ginsburg a number of at most 10. Once you reach the Supreme Court, the chain goes to President Taft, who was a Supreme Court justice after being President, via (Google case law search): R. B. Ginsburg – W. Rehnquist – W. O. Douglas – Harlan Stone – William Howard Taft, giving Taft a number of at most 14. Since Supreme Court justices often serve a long time, and overlap with many colleagues, I suspect they all have finite numbers. Without detailed checking, this probably leads to the earliest born justice, William Cushing, born March 1, 1732, having a finite Erdös number. Since joint publications were otherwise uncommon at that time, he is the oldest person I’ve seen suggested for this.”

We would like to acknowledge and thank the dozens of other people, too numerous to mention by name, who have written in with suggestions, additions, and corrections to these lists. We would appreciate further help from anybody with relevant information.

It would have been nice to find an Erdös number for the great twentieth century mathematician, philosopher, and activist Bertrand Russell. However, he collaborated very little, as did his coauthor Alfred North Whitehead. Thus we can’t find a path using research articles. However, Sachi Sri Kantha points out the following, which also would give small Erdös numbers to several other prominent scientists: "Both Russell and Albert Einstein have impeccable credentials as mathematicians; equally impeccable are their credentials as anti-establishment peace activists against militarism and warfare. They authored the Russell-Einstein Manifesto of 1955, which was the last public document authored by Einstein, before his death. Though it is not a mathematical paper. this Russell-Einstein Manifesto is a valid collaboration of two peace activist scientists, given the tenor of McCarthy era. It is also counted as one of Russell’s publication [source: A Bibliography of Bertrand Russell, vol.II, Serial Publications 1890-1990, by K.Blackwell and H.Ruja, Routledge, London, 1994, pp.194-196]. The specific title is TEXTS OF SCIENTISTS’ APPEAL FOR ABOLITION OF WAR, New York Times, 10 July 1955, p.25. This was the original citation, and it had been reproduced umpteen times in other journals, magazines and newspapers. The worth of this Russell-Einstein Manifesto was that according to the citation in the bibliography: ‘The entire Rusell-Einstein manifesto with Russell’s prefatory remarks. The other signatories, besides Einstein, were Max Born, P.W.Bridgman, L.Infeld, F.Joliot-Curie, Linus Pauling, H.J.Muller, C.F.Powell, J.Rotblat and Hideko Yukawa.’ Among these, at the time of its release, all except Einstein’s collaborator Infeld and Rotblat were Nobelists in science. Later in 1995, Rotblat received the Nobel Peace Prize. Thus other Nobelists like Bridgman (physics 1946), Joliot-Curie (chemistry, 1935), H.J.Muller (medicine, 1946), Powell (physics, 1950), Rotblat (peace, 1995) and Yukawa (physics, 1949), all of whom have not been included in your current list of Erdos Number Nobelists, receive an Erdos Number of 3, courtesy of Einstein. Since Russell was also the only mathematician who received the Nobel literature prize, this Russell-Einstein Manifesto of 1955 is also indicative of his eminent stature as a literateur."

Here is another interesting story, suggesting that Peter Lax should have a non-integer Erdös number. It comes from Istvan Hargittai.

"Abel-laureate Peter Lax is listed with Erdös number 3. I would like to suggest to correct this because Peter Lax, in fact, has a unique Erdös number of one and a half! Peter and I recorded three in-depth conversations during the past few years in Budapest and in New York. A composite version, translated into Hungarian, has appeared in Hungarian in November 2007 in the magazine of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, called Magyar Tudomany. The original English-language version of the composite is awaiting publication in The Mathematical Intelligencer. Among many other topics, we talked about Paul Erdös, and Peter’s Erdös number also came up in the conversation. How did Lax figure out that his Erdös number was 1.5? Lax never wrote a paper with Erdös, but Peter’s first paper was on a conjecture of Erdös. That was in 1944. Even before that, a paper in 1943, by Erdös, which appeared in The Annals of Mathematics (volume 44, pages 643-646), had a footnote, which said, ‘This proof is due to Mr. P. Lax. Oral communication.’ This footnote accounts for Lax’s Erdos number of 1.5. (At this time, Peter was 17 years old.)"

Here is a path to the famous mathematician Laplace, found by Leonid Yanushevich:

1. Paul Erdos to Ernst Gabor Straus

Erdös, P.; Straus, E. G. On linear independence of sequences in a Banach space. Pacific J. Math. 3, (1953). 689–694

2. Ernst Gabor Straus to Albert Einstein

Einstein, Albert; Straus, Ernst G. The influence of the expansion of space on the gravitation fields surrounding the individual stars. Rev. Modern Phys. 17, (1945). 120–124

3. Albert Einstein to Paul Ehrenfest

A. Einstein, P. Ehrenfest, Zur Quantentheorie des Strahlungsgleichgewichts Zeitschrift für Physik 19: 301–306 (1923)

4. Paul Ehrenfest to Heike Kamerlingh Onnes

P. Ehrenfest, H. Kamerlingh Onnes, Vereinfachte Ableitung der kombinatorischen Formel, welche der Planckschen Strahlungstheorie zugrunde liegt Annalen der Physik 351: 1021–1024 (1915)

5. Heike Kamerlingh Onnes to Antoine Henri Becquerel

Becquerel, H. & Becquerel, J. & H. Kamerlingh Onnes, On phosphorescence at very low temperature, in: KNAW, Proceedings, 12, 1909-1910, Amsterdam, 1910, pp. 76–88

6. Antoine Henri Becquerel to A. Edmond Becquerel

"Institut de France. Mémoire sur la température de l’air à la surface du sol et de la terre jusqu’à trente-six mètres de profondeur, ainsi que sur la température de deux sols, l’un dénudé, l’autre couvert de gazon, pendant l’année 1882", Paris: impr. de Firmin-Didot, 1883

7. A. Edmond Becquerel to Antoine Cesar Becquerel

Réduction élecfrochimique du cobalt, du nickel, de l’or, de l’argent et du platine; par MM. Becquerel et Ed. Becquerel [Comptes rendus Academie des sciences, vol. 55, p. 18; 1862]

8. Antoine Cesar Becquerel to Jean-Baptiste Biot

Sur la nature de la radiation émanée de l’étincelle électrique, qui excite la phosphorescence à distance; par MM. Biot et Becquerel. [Comptes rendus Academie des sciences, vol. 8, p. 223; 1839]

9. Jean-Baptiste Biot to Francois Arago

Mémoire sur les affinités des corps pour la lumière, et particulièrement sur les forces réfringentes des différens gaz, par MM. Biot et Arago (1806) [ Memoires de l’Institut 7: 301–85]

10. Francois Arago to Gaspard de Prony

Exposé des recherches faites par ordre de l’Académie royale des Sciences, pour déterminer les forces élastiques de la vapeur d’eau à de hautes températures. [Annales de chimie et de physique, vol. 43, p. 78; 1830]

11. Gaspard de Prony to Louis Bernard Guyton de Morveau

Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau and Marie Riche de Prony, “Rapport sur un appareil établi à la Monnaie pour faire consumer la fumée des machines (Institut, 16 janvier 1809),” in Annales de chimie 69 (1809), 189–203

12. Louis Bernard Guyton de Morveau to Jean Darcet

Rapport sur les couleurs pour la porcelaine du citoyen Dihl. Darcet, Guyton et Fourcroy, Annales de chimie, vol. 25 [p.83; 1797]

13. Jean Darcet to Antoine Lavoisier

Franklin, B., Lavoisier, A., et al. (1784), Rapport des commissaires chargés par le Roi de l’examen du magnétisme animal

[Republished later in 2002: Report of the commissioners charged by the King with the examination of animal magnetism, 1784. Benjamin Franklin, Majault, Le Roy, Sallin, Jean-Sylvain Bailly, D’Arcet, de Bory, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, Antoine Lavoisier. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis 11/2002; 50(4):332–63.]

14. Antoine Lavoisier to Pierre-Simon Laplace

"Mémoire sur la chaleur," Mémoires de l’Académie des sciences (1780), pp. 355–408

This page was last updated on September 16, 2020.