A Bimonthly Email Newsletter from the International Mathematical Union
Editor: Mireille Chaleyat-Maurel, University Paris Descartes, Paris, France
I am writing this as a new Member at Large of the Executive Committee, elected at the General Assembly in Bangalore, just before the ICM at Hy- derabad. I'd like to thank Mireille Chaleyat-Maurel for asking me to write this Editorial.
Though my term in the EC officially started in January, 2011, I became involved in IMU work during the ICM itself, after attending a joint meeting of the then serving EC, and the new members present. One of the important decisions at the GA in Bangalore was the vote to establish a Secretariat for the IMU at WIAS, Berlin. An immediate task before the EC was to prepare a Memorandum of Understanding between the IMU and the WIAS, which I helped draft. Since then, I have been involved in several IMU related matters, mostly through email discussion and (when needed) e-voting, and most recently through participation in the EC meeting at Perth, warmly hosted by continuing EC member Cheryl Praeger and the University of Western Australia, her home university.
The IMU is expected to play an important role in guiding the mathematical community (for instance, in responding to the inappropriate use of metrics in the evaluation of research), and I am glad to be part of that effort, along with other colleagues in the EC and in the community. As someone who has been living and working in India since 1983, I hope to bring that experience to the EC, to provide a suitable perspective, when that is relevant. Diversity is an important strength of the IMU, in my opinion, and acknowledges the possibility of pursuing a reasonable mathematical career without necessarily having to leave one's homeland. In the last Editorial, the newly elected President articulated a vision for the rapid development of mathematics in less endowed regions using internet resources, which I found quite inspiring, and I am pleased to be associated with the IMU efforts to make this possible.
Preparations for the ICM at Hyderabad began in earnest long ago, but the real momentum was perhaps in the 18 months or so before the Congress. I had a role in some of the extensive preparations, including membership of the Editorial Board for the Proceedings, which I found very fascinating, with the chance to read in advance copies of the texts of the lecturers in many different fields, which I may not have come across in the normal course of events. The ICM was a landmark event in the modern history of Indian mathematics, and we in India hope to see the excitement generated at the ICM carry us forward to a greater flowering of Indian mathematics in the coming years, as India itself undergoes many changes, moving us closer in some ways to the developed world. India seems to be shrugging off a colonial past, and as part of its efforts at upliftment, has started a number of new Institutions of learning, for which it is seeking qualified faculty. Thus, India is in the unusual position of having a large number of vacancies for academics in the mathematical sciences, and is seeking qualified people to fill them.
One hoped-for benefit of the ICM is to highlight the possible career options in mathematics to young Indians, and their guardians, so that more young people are motivated to take up mathematics, and related studies and careers. By showing the vigour and excitement of mathematics in the world today, we hope that the pursuit of mathematics as a viable and exciting career, and also as an important resource for those choosing other careers, is brought to the notice of more people in India. It is also planned to follow up the ICM with other activities meant to reinforce these messages.
I look forward to working for the next four years with my new colleagues on the IMU EC on the issues facing the IMU, and to learn from them, and others, about ways in which we in India can foster our own mathematical community.
Member at Large, IMU Executive Committee
A permanent secretariat for IMU
According to the decision of the 16th IMU General Assembly, Bangalore, India on August 16, 2010 the IMU has got a permanent secretariat. This happens for the first time in IMU's life, so far the secretariat always moved to the home of the IMU Secretary. The permanent secretariat is hosted by the Weierstrass Institute, Berlin, Germany. It started operation in January 2011. The official inauguration of the permanent IMU Secretariat took place on February 1. The IMU President Ingrid Daubechies together with the State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research G. Schuette and the State Secretary for Science and Research at the Berlin Senate K. Nevermann did the ribbon cutting in the premises of the IMU Secretariat in the presence of national and international guests and under the eyes of "the Prince of Mathematicians" C.F. Gauss (from his portrait, of course, that adorned the place). (See http://www.wias-berlin.de/imu/.) The secretarial staff is composed of five persons: the manager (S. Markwardt), the CDC/ICMI administrator (L. Koch), the IT administrator (H. Kalweit), the accountant (A. Orlowsky), and the archivist (B. Seeliger). Alexander Mielke from the Weierstrass Institute is the head of the IMU secretariat and responsible for coordinating issues on the part of the IMU Secretariat as well as the Weierstrass Institute. The administrative work of the IMU Secretariat includes supporting the activities of the IMU Executive Committee and IMU's subcommissions, maintaining the IMU Web page, administrating the IMU finances, and establishing and maintaining the IMU archive.
Thanks to the generous provision of resources and to the commitment of all staff the IMU Secretariat will be able to efficiently contribute to fostering the international cooperation of the mathematical community.
IMU Secretariat Manager
IMU on the Web: About The Future of Mathematical Journals
Recently I was invited to take part in a workshop on "The Future of Mathematical Journals" held at MSRI at the initiative of the American Mathematical Society and the London Mathematical Society. We all know that this question is of paramount importance for the development of our discipline. It has many aspects, some quite technical, some economical and some political. The point I stressed in my presentation at the workshop was the need to approach the problem using a systemic approach, as it is typically a question in which secondary effects can have, in the long run, the same impact as primary effects.
As we all know, mathematicians developed a usage of mathematical journals that is, in many respects, specific to them. Journals are supported by the community in the sense that submitting articles to journals is free, and referees evaluate articles also for free, although this work is sometimes extremely time consuming as it requires thorough checking of content. Also, because of the long term value of published articles, mathematicians care about the long term accessibility to mathematical literature.
This model has been recently under great pressure for several reasons, all connected to the new possibilities offered by internet to access information. The question of "free access" has become a central issue. It is not an easy one as it challenges the economical models on which journals have been based in the last decade. It can actually be a threat to learned society or academy-based publishers, who do not have the financial plasticity of larger publishing houses.
My main concern is related to the fact that, in recent years, mathematicians have been working under an increasing pressure, like many other members of the academic community, because of the squeeze of free time, the increasing role of funding coming through projects, as well as the pressure to publish, their performance being more and more rated on the basis of bibliographic data.
In my view this introduces a real threat on content. Indeed, mathematicians can devote less and less time to it because the pressure to publish quickly is building up, but also because a lot of time traditionally dedicated to evaluating the content of articles is taken away by the demand for evaluating projects, structures, career development, etc; in the last twenty years, these demands have grown considerably at the expense of genuinely reading articles. The risk is that more and more articles are read less carefully.
Another aspect of the threat comes from the mathematical community itself: in the constrained environment we live in, more and more published articles tend to be "almost" correct in the sense that the true experts in the field can determine how some proofs (or some statements) have to be modified (most often slightly) to make complete sense, and to achieve what they promise.
The existence of "grey areas" in publications poses a real threat to the development of the mathematical enterprise, since it may prevent newcomers, and I think typically of young mathematicians from communities that are being formed in emerging countries, from participating in the advancement of mathematics at the right level. This is both unfair and unhealthy for the discipline. As responsible members of a scientific community, we should not tolerate that such a situation develops, and fight against this tendency with determination.
A). PROGRAM STRUCTURE
The next International Congress of Mathematicians will take place in Seoul, Republic of Korea from August 13-21, 2014. The IMU President Ingrid Daubechies has appointed Carlos Kenig (Chicago, USA) as chair of the Program Committee (PC) and the IMU Executive Committee has chosen all other members of the PC. The Program Committee will meet in October, 2011 in order to define the program structure of ICM 2014. According to the PC/OC Guidelines, see http://www.mathunion.org/ICM/PC/PC-OC-Guidelines-070521.pdf,
the PC is responsible for the ICM structure but is advised to use the programs of previous ICMs as rough guidelines. Innovations, of course, are not ruled out, and some Adhering Organizations and individuals may have good ideas for changes to the program structure.
If you have suggestions on the program structure for the Program Committee, please contact Carlos Kenig via the following e-mail address:
before September 1, 2011 so that your suggestions can be considered by the ICM 2014 Program Committee.
B). PRE-REGISTRATION IS NOW AVAILABLE
Circular Letter 1
To all mathematicians interested in pre-registering for the ICM 2014:
The next International Congress of Mathematicians, ICM 2014, will be held at COEX Convention & Exhibition Center, Seoul, Korea, August 13-21, 2014 We stand ready to provide all possible support for a successful congress and hope you can come and enjoy this event. It is our pleasure to announce that the ICM 2014 Homepage has officially opened where you are welcome to pre-register for the congress.
Please visit our website where you will find simple instructions on how to pre-register.
Once you have pre-registered, you will be included in the ICM 2014 mailing list and will receive periodic ICM E-news for the next three years. Once you pre-register, you will be able to log into MyPage and modify your personal information or cancel your pre-registration.
For any questions about ICM 2014, please send an email to
If electronic communication is not available you may also write to
SEOUL ICM 2014 Secretariat
The Korea Science and Technology Center 204
635-4 Yeoksam-dong, Gangnam-gu
Seoul, 135-703, Korea
Hoping to see you in Seoul.
Chairman, ICM 2014 Organizing Committee
Abel Prize 2011
The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters has decided to award the Abel Prize for 2011 to John Milnor, Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Stony Brook University, New York "for pioneering discoveries in topology, geometry and algebra".
The President of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, Øyvind Østerud, announced the winner of this year's Abel Prize at the Academy in Oslo on 23 March.
John Milnor will receive the Abel Prize from His Majesty King Harald at an award ceremony in Oslo on 24 May.
The Abel Prize recognizes contributions of extraordinary depth and influence to the mathematical sciences and has been awarded annually since 2003. It carries a cash award of NOK 6,000,000 (close to EUR 750,000 or USD 1 mill.)
John Milnor's profound ideas and fundamental discoveries have largely shaped the mathematical landscape of the second half of the 20th century. All of Milnor's work display features of great research: profound insights, vivid imagination, striking surprises and supreme beauty. Milnor has also written tremendously influential books, which are widely considered to be models of fine mathematical writing.
Note that the Abel committee's citation and the prize winner's biography are available in the following languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Chinese and Arabic.