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IMU-Net 45: January 2011

A Bimonthly Email Newsletter from the International Mathematical Union

Editor: Mireille Chaleyat-Maurel, University Paris Descartes, Paris, France

Editorial

This is the start of a new 4-year cycle in the life of IMU. As always, it will culminate with the next ICM, to be held in 2014 in Seoul, Korea. It is with great pleasure that I can announce here that the Chair of the Program Committee for ICM-2014 has been appointed: Carlos Kenig, of the University of Chicago, has accepted to serve the IMU in this function. Together with the EC, he will now put together the rest of the Program Committee, so that they can start their work on the next ICM.

In a few days, several members of the EC, including myself, will travel to Berlin, to witness the official opening of the permanent IMU Secretariat. We will also hold a meeting of the CDC, the Commission for Developing Countries, which is a very important component of IMU's activities. As part of a sabbatical leave during which I wanted to be of service to the community, I spent the last 3 months of 2010 in Madagascar, and this brought home to me how much support from the IMU can mean to the mathematical communities in developing countries. Now is an especially important time: as the use of wide-band internet is becoming possible in more and more geographic regions, mathematical communities that found themselves isolated from the rest of the mathematical world suddenly can access all the resources and knowledge available on the internet, and it can make a world of difference.

The following story illustrates this very well. During my stay in Madagascar, two students at the university in Antananarivo, the capital, defended their Ph.D. thesis, and I was invited to be part of their committee. Their advisor had done his research work in France, but had found it virtually impossible, in the absence of journals, to keep up with the developments in his field, and had gradually abandoned research after his return to Madagascar. Until, just a few years ago, two young students came to see him, asking to work with him. He tried sending them away -- "It was not possible to be sure certain problems were still open," he told them; "in isolation, as they were, they couldn't find out what the present state was of the field; their only hope was in obtaining a fellowship to go abroad". But they found that they could download many papers from internet; as their advisor enthusiastically told me, their sheer persistence in showing him recent work, and questions raised in recent papers, made him realize that internet access could break through their isolation, and contact with a vibrant research community found on the internet re-ignited his enthusiasm for research, leading ultimately to several papers and the successful completion of two Ph.D. theses.

There is no reason why this should remain an isolated story. More than many other research communities, mathematicians make a large portion of their work freely accessible through the internet. Once small nuclei of motivated and eager young mathematicians form, who study these materials and carry them further, there is no limit to how far they can carry their mathematical development, regardless of how few books or journals their libraries hold, because, unlike researchers in many other sciences or in engineering, they do not require equipment or facilities that their country or their region may not yet be able to afford. IMU can play a vital role in helping ensure that young mathematicians everywhere can access the mathematical research world, in helping set up forums where they can be in touch with each other and with researchers in developed countries, in helping them develop their talents. The practical problems are formidable, of course, and the means of IMU are very limited. But the potential pay-off is huge, for the mathematics community as well as for the developing countries.

Like the previous IMU president, I believe IMU should be concerned with many other matters as well, including mathematics education. Another part of my sabbatical was devoted to helping develop materials for a campaign in Belgium, my home country, to make school children understand that mathematics is so much more than the formulaic aspects that they believe is its essence. Good mathematics teachers are a precious resource to the whole world, and educating, fostering and supporting them is incredibly important. I have been glad to learn of the fruitful collaboration between IMU and ICMI in recent years, and I look forward to working with ICMI on the many important issues concerning mathematics education that we are facing.

I am sure that the next 4 years will be challenging, but fortunately I will not have to face them alone. Even in the few weeks in which I have been in function, I have already amply witnessed the dedication and energy of my colleagues on the EC. I look forward to working with them all, on all the issues facing the IMU.

Ingrid Daubechies
President of the IMU

Committee on Electronic Information and Communication (CEIC)

It is an honor to have been asked by the IMU to serve as the next chair the CEIC. I should begin by thanking my predecessors, particularly John Ball, who first introduced me to the Committee's mission and convinced me to accept an invitation to join. I also must thank the members of past incarnations of CEIC for their dedication and hard work over the past decade plus. The revolution in electronic information and communication fomented by the internet continues to accelerate, making it an almost impossible challenge to formulate policies and initiatives that have any degree of permanence. Nevertheless, CEIC's charge to advise the IMU, and, by extension, the worldwide mathematics community as they navigate the electronic landscape is more critical than ever. Let me outline some of the key issues that will occupy the attention of the CEIC in the near term:

Best practices: the signal accomplishment of the last term is the "Best Practices for Journals" document (http://www.mathunion.org/fileadmin/CEIC/bestpractice/bpfinal.pdf), that was approved by the General Assembly at its Bangalore meeting in 2010. The committee will continue to actively promote this document, both within the mathematical community and its learned societies and publishers, as well as the broader scientific world.

Access to mathematics: a long running goal of the IMU is to make sure access to the latest mathematical research is available and affordable throughout the world. The CEIC must continue to develop new means of expanding access to electronic publications and preprints, software repositories, etc., particularly in countries with less developed infrastructure.

Web innovations: there has been a proliferation of new internet-based approaches to mathematics and research, including blogs, wikis, polymath collaborative projects, and so on. The CEIC needs to stay abreast of these developments, informing the IMU and the broader community. In this spirit, it will be worth revisiting of the current format of IMU-Net.

Use and abuse of metrics: the increasing reliance of administrators and funding agencies on impersonal metrics such as impact factors is a cause of great concern. Not only are all such metrics unreliable, there is increasing evidence of unscrupulous publishers, editors and authors actively manipulating metrics to their own advantage. See D. Arnold and K. Fowler, Nefarious Numbers, to appear in Notices Amer. Math. Soc., 58(3), 2011, (http://umn.edu/~arnold/papers/impact-factors.pdf.) The IMU General Assembly has approved the creation of a joint IMU/ICIAM Working Group to consider "whether or not a joint ICIAM/IMU method of ranking mathematical journals should be instituted, and what other possible options there may be for protecting against the inappropriate use of impact factors and similar manipulable indices for evaluating research".

Plagiarism: professional pressures have led to increasing incidents of plagiarism — of papers, material from books, and scientific ideas. The mathematical community (including its publishers) are only just waking up to how prevalent this has become. See D. Arnold, Integrity Under Attack: The State of Scholarly Publishing, SIAM News, 42 (10) (2009), (http://ima.umn.edu/~arnold/siam-columns/integrity-under-attack.pdf.) One of my own direct experiences with plagiarism is documented on my web site: (http://math.umn.edu/~olver/plag.html.) Preventing such misconduct will require a combination of widespread publicity, software, and, if necessary, legal remedies.

Predatory journals and conferences: new models of publication (open access, pay to publish, etc.) and dissemination have unfortunately spawned the appearance of predatory journals and conferences that are motivated by money and status, with science only serving as a facade. While most established researchers can distinguish between legitimate science and scam, neophytes and those not well connected to the scientific mainstream may well be led astray. Again, increased publicity will go a long ways to curbing such abuses.

Archives: an ongoing charge of the CEIC, which will now enter a new phase with the permanent head quartering of the IMU in Berlin, is to locate, preserve, and archive past material, including minutes, proceedings, videos, etc. Developing a secure system that makes public material readily available while ensuring that embargoed and confidential material is properly secured and preserved will require careful thought. Moreover, there is a pressing need to revamp and update the committee's own web pages.

Peter J. Olver
University of Minnesota

Commission for Developing Countries (IMU/CDC)

January 1 2011 marked the installation of IMU's newest commission, the Commission for Developing Countries (IMU/CDC). The commission will take over the work previously performed during the last three decades by the Commission for Development and Exchanges, as well as the work of the more recently formed Developing Countries Strategy Group. IMU/CDC holds its first meeting in Berlin on January 30 in conjunction with the official opening of the IMU permanent office, which takes place on February 1. After this first face-to-face meeting, IMU/CDC will conduct most of it business electronically.

Among the first tasks of IMU/CDC will be the convening of a one-day workshop on the implementation of the 'donors conference' resolution of the IMU General Assembly in Hyderabad last August. This resolution asks the IMU Executive Committee to explore the feasibility of convening a major Donors Conference with the purpose of dramatically increasing support for mathematics development among the emerging countries of the world. The feasibility study will be conducted by IMU/CDC, beginning with the aforementioned one-day workshop, which will be held on January 31. If the Donors Conference is decided to be feasible, then it will most likely be held as a satellite activity to ICM2014 in Seoul, Korea.

IMU/CDC membership, elected at the General Assembly in Hyderabad, is as follows:
José-Antonio de la Peña (Mexico), President
C. Herbert Clemens (US), Secretary(policy)
Srinivasan Kesavan (India, Secretary (grants)
Hoang Xuan Phu (Vietnam), Member (Asia)
Wandera Ogana (Kenya), Member (Africa)
Carlos Cabrelli (Argentina), Member (Latin America)
Ingrid Daubechies (US), IMU President (ex officio)

Additional, appointed by the IMU/EC, are:
Ragni Piene (Norway), Member-at-large
Angel Ruíz (Costa Rica), Member-at-large
Polly W. Sy (Philippines), Member-at-large

2011: An important year for ICSU

2011 will be an important year for ICSU (International Council for Science, www.icsu.org) due to the celebration of its 30th ICSU General Assembly, to be held in Rome (Italy) next September. IMU has increased its involvement in ICSU in the last years. An IMU delegation attended the previous ICSU General Assembly in Maputo (Mozambique) in 2008; another IMU delegation will represent the mathematical community in Rome this year.
On that occasion (and maybe for the first time) IMU put forward the nomination of a mathematician for the ICSU Executive Board, and even if the IMU candidate was not elected, IMU will insist in Rome that mathematics has a significant role to play in ICSU organization. We are convinced that IMU has many positive things to share with the ICSU family. Let me mention only a few but crucial issues.
ICSU is developing a Science Education Report in coordination with their members (unions and nations). ICMI has prepared (in collaboration with IMU) a detailed response to the Draft Report of the ICSU Ad Hoc Review Panel on Science Education, discussing the role of Mathematics in Education and as a tool for other sciences. The long experience and professionalism of ICMI (more that one century of history!) should be recognized and become a source of inspiration for ICSU.
Another relevant issue is the participation of IMU in the new ICSU project: Earth System Research for Sustainable Development. In response to ICSU's invitation, IMU has sent two nominations for its incoming Steering Committee. At the same time, IMU is increasing its collaboration with other unions. In particular, IMU has some preliminary contacts with the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr) that celebrates in 2013 the International Year of Crystallography. These contacts will be formalized in the coming months, especially in relation with the initiative "Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013", a project first launched by the North American Mathematical Sciences Institutes and now enlarged to the planet.
IMU has also played an active role in the discussion on the Review of ICSU Statute 5 “Principle of the Universality of Science??? proposed by the Committee on Freedom and Responsibility in the conduct of Science. IMU sent a detailed report by January 2011.
And, finally, IMU will participate in the Foresight Analysis that ICSU is conducting to explore the development of international science over the next 20 years, in coincidence with the centenary of ICSU in 2031. As a conclusion, IMU is continuing and increasing its activities in ICSU, trying to raise the profile of mathematics and to highlight the key role of mathematics in science and education.

Manuel de Leon,
Member of the Executive Committee of IMU
Correspondent for ICSU

Mathematics of Planet Earth (MPE 2013)

An invitation is sent to the world mathematical community including the institutes in mathematical sciences, the learned societies and the scientific journals to join this initiative and hold activities around the theme of Mathematics of Planet Earth in 2013 all over the world.

The kind of activities that will take place around Mathematics of Planet Earth in 2013:
• Thematic programs at research institutes in mathematical sciences
• Workshops
• Summer schools
• Activities for the public and the media
• Activities in schools and for teachers
• Special issues in scientific journals

Several institutes will organize part of their thematic programs on Mathematics of Planet Earth. It is hoped that many activities will be joint activities organized in partnership with more than one institute. A joint North American Scientific Committee has be formed, chaired by Christiane Rousseau.
Contact: Christiane Rousseau, rousseac@dms.umontreal.ca
 

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