It’s time to (somewhat belatedly) roll over the previous thread on writing the first paper from the Polymath8 project, as this thread is overflowing with comments.  We are getting near the end of writing this large (173 pages!) paper, establishing a bound of 4,680 on the gap between primes, with only a few sections left to thoroughly proofread (and the last section should probably be removed, with appropriate changes elsewhere, in view of the more recent progress by Maynard).  As before, one can access the working copy of the paper at this subdirectory, as well as the rest of the directory, and the plan is to submit the paper to Algebra and Number theory (and the arXiv) once there is consensus to do so.  Even before this paper was submitted, it already has had some impact; Andrew Granville’s exposition of the bounded gaps between primes story for the Bulletin of the AMS follows several of the Polymath8 arguments in deriving the result.

After this paper is done, there is interest in continuing onwards with other Polymath8 – related topics, and perhaps it is time to start planning for them.  First of all, we have an invitation from  the Newsletter of the European Mathematical Society to discuss our experiences and impressions with the project.  I think it would be interesting to collect some impressions or thoughts (both positive and negative)  from people who were highly active in the research and/or writing aspects of the project, as well as from more casual participants who were following the progress more quietly.  This project seemed to attract a bit more attention than most other polymath projects (with the possible exception of the very first project, Polymath1).  I think there are several reasons for this; the project builds upon a recent breakthrough (Zhang’s paper) that attracted an impressive amount of attention and publicity; the objective is quite easy to describe, when compared against other mathematical research objectives; and one could summarise the current state of progress by a single natural number H, which implied by infinite descent that the project was guaranteed to terminate at some point, but also made it possible to set up a “scoreboard” that could be quickly and easily updated.  From the research side, another appealing feature of the project was that – in the early stages of the project, at least – it was quite easy to grab a new world record by means of making a small observation, which made it fit very well with the polymath spirit (in which the emphasis is on lots of small contributions by many people, rather than a few big contributions by a small number of people).  Indeed, when the project first arose spontaneously as a blog post of Scott Morrrison over at the Secret Blogging Seminar, I was initially hesitant to get involved, but soon found the “game” of shaving a few thousands or so off of H to be rather fun and addictive, and with a much greater sense of instant gratification than traditional research projects, which often take months before a satisfactory conclusion is reached.  Anyway, I would welcome other thoughts or impressions on the projects in the comments below (I think that the pace of comments regarding proofreading of the paper has slowed down enough that this post can accommodate both types of comments comfortably.)

Then of course there is the “Polymath 8b” project in which we build upon the recent breakthroughs of James Maynard, which have simplified the route to bounded gaps between primes considerably, bypassing the need for any Elliott-Halberstam type distribution results beyond the Bombieri-Vinogradov theorem.  James has kindly shown me an advance copy of the preprint, which should be available on the arXiv in a matter of days; it looks like he has made a modest improvement to the previously announced results, improving k_0 a bit to 105 (which then improves H to the nice round number of 600).  He also has a companion result on bounding gaps p_{n+m}-p_n between non-consecutive primes for any m (not just m=1), with a bound of the shape H_m := \lim \inf_{n \to \infty} p_{n+m}-p_n \ll m^3 e^{4m}, which is in fact the first time that the finiteness of this limit inferior has been demonstrated.  I plan to discuss these results (from a slightly different perspective than Maynard) in a subsequent blog post kicking off the Polymath8b project, once Maynard’s paper has been uploaded.  It should be possible to shave the value of H = H_1 down further (or to get better bounds for H_m for larger m), both unconditionally and under assumptions such as the Elliott-Halberstam conjecture, either by performing more numerical or theoretical optimisation on the variational problem Maynard is faced with, and also by using the improved distributional estimates provided by our existing paper; again, I plan to discuss these issues in a subsequent post. ( James, by the way, has expressed interest in participating in this project, which should be very helpful.)