In what sense did Christopher Columbus discover America? Obviously he wasn’t the first human to step foot on the New World. Columbus wasn’t even the first European. Norwegian explorer Leif Erikson seems to have arrived 500 years before Columbus. But as Stephen Mills famously stated,
There have been other people before Columbus, but when Columbus discovered the New World, it stayed discovered.
The same principle could be used to resolve debates about priorities in mathematical discoveries.There is some debate over whether John Tukey or Carl Gauss discovered the Fast Fourier Transform (FFT). But there is no doubt that after Tukey discovered it, the FFT stayed discovered. The algorithm is now used in digital signal processing applications everywhere.
Gauss and Tukey were both brilliant mathematicians. Tukey, however, also had an aptitude for creating memorable names. For example, you may have heard of “software,” a term he coined.