Well, not really:
Researchers in England may have finally settled the centuries-old debate over who gets credit for the creation of calculus.
For years, English scientist Isaac Newton and German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz both claimed credit for inventing the mathematical system sometime around the end of the seventeenth century.
Now, a team from the universities of Manchester and Exeter says it knows where the true credit lies — and it's with someone else completely.
The "Kerala school," a little-known group of scholars and mathematicians in fourteenth century India, identified the "infinite series" — one of the basic components of calculus — around 1350.
OK, let's back up. The Kerala School discovered the infinite series expansion for trigometric functions and for representing the value of pi. That is not calculus, which a comprehensive system for differentiating and integrating functions.
Calculus is based on breaking a problem down into a infinite number of slices and then combining them together to form the answer. But having an example for an infinite series representation for a function is not the same as calculus. Calculus builds on infinite series theory, but that's just the starting point. There is a long way to go from an infinite series to a full theory of calculus.
But the real issue, of course, is slapping down the evils of Western cultural imperialism!
Dr. George Gheverghese Joseph, a member of the research team, says the findings should not diminish Newton or Gottfried, but rather exalt the non-European thinkers whose contributions are often ignored.
He argues that imperialist attitudes are to blame for suppressing the true story behind the discovery of calculus.
"There were many reasons why the contribution of the Kerala school has not been acknowledged," he said. "A prime reason is neglect of scientific ideas emanating from the Non-European world, a legacy of European colonialism and beyond."
OK, the problem is with the word "contribution". I put it to you that the Kerala School contributed nothing. They might have invented something quite remarkable and advanced, but for various reasons, the inventions and discoveries were never contributed to the body of human knowledge until much, much later, well after these concepts were old hat, mathematically speaking.
Dr Joseph admits as much:
However, he concedes there are other factors also in play.
"There is also little knowledge of the medieval form of the local language of Kerala, Malayalam, in which some of most seminal texts, such as the Yuktibhasa, from much of the documentation of this remarkable mathematics is written," he admits.
I have a version of a proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, less than six lines long, written on a yellow sticky I have attached to my cubicle wall. But since it is written using the same symbol structure as found on the Phaistos Disc, it doesn't amount to much of a contribution.
In other words, it doesn't count if no one has ever heard of it.
Give the Kerala team credit for coming up with the Taylor expansion for trigonometric functions. But don't blame European civilization for not recognizing their contribution. Geography, language, and technology conspired to keep them separate and unconnected. They might as well have been on Mars.
Now some people suggest that Newton indeed stole the ideas from the Kerala School:
And there is strong circumstantial evidence that Indians passed on their discoveries to mathematically savvy Jesuit missionaries who visited India during the 15th century. That knowledge, the researchers argue, may have been passed on to Newton.
May have? But then again, maybe not. Not much to hang your hat on. But that doesn't matter to some people.
Don't be in such a rush to tear down Western civilization that you'd miss the difference between a series function and full-blown calculus. Worse, don't be aware of the difference, but then hope no reporter will know what you're talking about and so get away with the absurd leap of equating a handful of series functions with an entire branch of mathematics.
Giving the credit for calculus to the Kerala? It's like someone inventing a brick, and then giving him credit for creating cathedrals and skyscrapers.
But then there are people who are all too happy to do exactly that, and too many reporters who won't question these assertions or look for professionals to critique the claims who enable this sort of thing.