The Radical Polymath Who Fought for Freedom

Obituary of Chandler Davis by Siobhan Roberts in The Nation

In July, Chandler Davis, an American Canadian mathematician and human rights defender, delivered welcoming remarks at a panel for the “Azat Miftakhov Days Against the War” in Ukraine from his hospital bed in Toronto, a vase of sunflowers by his side. 

The event was in support of the mathematician Azat Miftakhov, a 29-year-old graduate student from Moscow State University who has been detained in Russia since February 2019. It was co-organized by a committee of mathematicians, of which Davis was a founding member, who have lobbied for Miftakhov’s release. Davis noted that the panel was also there to advocate for others in prison for their beliefs, particularly Russians speaking out against war and “more generally in support of freedom of conscience and peace.”

“It means a lot to me to be opening this session, because I have a special bond to Azat Miftakhov,” he said. “Years ago, I was a political prisoner, too, not in Russia but in the USA. I was almost as young as Azat is now. Like Azat, I had a wife standing by me outside.”…

…Davis was always looking for ways to make silenced voices heard. He opposed the war in Vietnam and defended Palestinian rights against Israeli apartheid. He was part of what he described as a “band of rebels” within the mathematical community that helped establish the Association for Women in Mathematics and the National Association of Mathematicians for underrepresented minorities, and he was an original member of Science for the People, a movement of radical scientists.

Chandler’s words and his work will stay with us.

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