Cédric Villani, the maths genius running for the Paris mayor's office in 2020 local elections, has reacted angrily to rumours circulating on social media about his mental health, following a television interview in which he was asked if he had autism. He says he has nothing to hide.
Earlier this week, a journalist from the daily French news and entertainment television program “Quotidien” asked the mathematician and member of the ruling Republic on the Move (LaRem) party if he was personally affected by autism.
Villani replied: “I don't know, I have never been tested, and I've never felt the need to be tested for it, what would it change anyway? I have been whole-hearted in all my battles, driven by sincerity, without any wish to hide anything.
"If there is one thing that drives me mad," Villani continued, "it's rumours that I have something to conceal, that I am insincere."
In recent months Villani has been increasingly targeted by internet trolls who have suggested he is suffering from some sort of autism disorder.
Cross-spectrum rush to condemn journalist
Critics from across the political spectrum rushed to condemn this week's interview as "indecent", "brutal" and "unworthy".
But Villani has himself defended the reporter, saying that he preferred direct questions to nasty rumours and vicious insinuations, emphasising that a straight query about autism should not be seen as an attempt at stigmatisation.
"If the TV programme helps to contribute to reasonable debate, so much the better," he added.
Villani was praised by many for his straight-up response to the question, notably by his mayoral rival from within his own LaRem party, Benjamin Griveaux, who described his reaction as "excellent, full of elegance and humanity".
Danièle Langloys, president of the association Autisme France, said Villani had “responded to the question very well, in a very intelligent manner. This is really good for the general perception of autism in France.
“Those who wanted to try to trap him in some way and invalidate him by spreading these rumours have clearly failed.”
Aside from his work as a member of the French parliament, Villani has carried out several consultancy missions for President Emmanuel Macron's centrist government, including the creation of a national strategy plan for research into artificial intelligence.
In 2010, he was awarded the prestigious Fields Medal, an award often referred to as the Nobel Prize of mathematics.