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IMU-Net 48: July 2011

A Bimonthly Email Newsletter from the International Mathematical Union
Editor: Mireille Chaleyat-Maurel, University Paris Descartes, Paris, France


As a newly elected member-at-large of the IMU executive committee, I have been asked to write a few editorial words in this IMU newsletter, and I am honoured to have the opportunity to express the following few thoughts to this audience.

Our time as mathematicians is spent teaching (for most of us) or tutoring, in personal research, including reviewing colleagues' papers as referees or editors, and working for the community (university administration, editorial work, committees etc.). Most of the latter can properly be done only by mathematicians themselves, since it is essential in such activity to really understand what is going on. We all need to participate in a significant way in this kind of work if we want our community to function on a sound basis.

Reading in some depth our colleagues' papers is an essential way to fuel our own research. Personally I often found it more efficient than attending talks or conferences. Many of us remember that when we grew up as scientists, preparing our Master or PhD theses, the effort of fighting our way through a tough paper (the author of which we often met for the first time only some years later) turned out later to be one of the key moments of our early scientific careers.

Tension between our academic world and its funding bodies is certainly not new. But in the past few years a more and more widespread "rational" managerial approach to academic science, based on short-term «efficiency», «impact» or «delivery», has also tendedto drag us away from the rigor that is at the cores of our scientific identities. Nowadays funding bodies function with a multiplicity of evaluation committees (I was once asked to sit on a committee that evaluates evaluation agencies!); we have to write (and then read and evaluate) grant-proposals with pre-formatted, imposed, superficial frames that seem so badly adapted to mathematics.

This trend is complemented by the serious lack of recognition by our own academic world of the difficult, time-consuming, anonymous refereeing of papers (editors can testify how difficult it sometimes is to find a good referee for a paper). Is there any longer enough time, will and incentive to spend carefully reading other mathematicians' works?

In general, I believe that it is important that our community stays firm and united across geographic and thematic (applied vs. non-applied) borders, to defend the specific aspects of our discipline that we cherish. Acting together we have a hope of persuading technocratic or political structures (that claim they only want to help us to improve and that they are of good will) to change how they treat mathematics and mathematicians and to avoid setting up the numerous, rigid frames and rules that significantly harm the freedom, originality and creativity which have been characteristic of so many of the great mathematical ideas in the past, including those that have had lasting positive "impact" inside and outside of our discipline.

Wendelin Werner
Member of IMU Executive Committee

IMU on the Web

The Working Group on Journal Rankings (WG-JRP) held a workshop at ICIAM 2011, Vancouver on 21 July 2011 5:10-6:50pm to inform the applied mathematics community about the issues it is charged with considering, the evidence it has gathered on these matters and to seek feedback on its recommendation. The report that the Working Group provided to IMU and ICIAM was circulated to all ICIAM registered delegates on the prior evening through a PDF link in the daily bulletin and in hard-copy at the workshop. The workshop heard short presentations from Nalini Joshi, Doug Arnold, Peter J. Olver (replacing Stefan Mueller) and Tao Tang, followed by open discussion from the floor. At the conclusion of the discussion, the President and Secretary of the IMU and President and Incoming President of ICIAM made some comments.

Many of the responses expressed concerns:
(i) How journals within the same field could be ranked when experts within the field were in dispute about their relative value;
(ii) Possible changed behaviour in the mathematical community, which may lead to an inundation of submissions for journals at the top of the ranking;
(iii) The degree of commitment of time and resources to the activity;
(iv) Whether or not a rating system may lead to barriers for younger mathematicians (a younger commentator at the session thought it wouldn't) or possible obstructions for journals in languages other than English.
Preferences were also stated for a simpler system of endorsement or non-endorsement of journals.

Positive statements were also made:
(i) An expert rating system could help the situation in a small country;
(ii) The need for the mathematical community to take the leadership on journals because the current alternative was untenable.

The WG-JRP report has been discussed electronically by the Executive Committee of IMU and by the ICIAM Board on 23 July 2011. There will be a follow-up on this in a special edition of the IMU-Newsletter.


ICIAM is the International Council of Industrial and Applied Mathematics. It has applied to become a member of ICSU, the International Council of Science, which groups all international scientific unions. Its application was successful and ICIAM is now a scientific associate member of ICSU. IMU welcomes future collaboration with ICIAM on ICSU dossiers, in particular all those that concern the preparations for the coming United Conference on Sustainability in Rio in June 2012. ICIAM holds an international congress every four year. ICIAM 2011, the International Congress of Industrial and Applied Mathematics took place in Vancouver on July 18-22 2011 with 2700 participants, 27 plenary speakers, 4 prize speakers, 2 public lectures, 17 thematic minisymposia, 460 contributed minisymposia, three industrial minisymposia, a memorial symposium for Jerrold Marsden and an embedded meeting celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Association for Women in Mathematics. Ingrid Daubechies, President of the IMU gave the SIAM John von Neumann Lecture.
During the ICIAM congress a meeting took place discussing the issue of the ranking of journals (see the item in "IMU on the Web"). The working group jointly nominated by IMU and ICIAM had previously finished its report suggesting a procedure to produce a ranking of journals.

Capacity & Networking Project (CANP) of ICMI

The Capacity & Networking Project (CANP) of ICMI is moving ahead. It consists of an ongoing series of programs in a different developing country each year. The first program will be in Mali in September, 2011, supported by UNESCO Bamako. The second will be in Costa Rica, Central America in 2012. The third will be in Cambodia, SE Asia in 2013 to build on existing developing initiatives in Cambodia and Nepal. Each program will have, at its center, a two-week workshop of about forty participants, half from the host country and half from regional neighbors. It is primarily aimed at mathematics teacher educators, but will also include mathematicians, researchers, policy-makers, and key teachers. Each Workshop will have associated outreach activities such as public lectures, satellite workshops for students, or exhibitions reaching out to a broad audience. The coordination of the Workshop will be undertaken by a group of eight with equal participation by mathematicians and mathematics educators from the region and from the international IMU/ICMI/ICIAM community. Program coordinators will be appointed by ICMI in consultation with IMU and ICIAM. ICMI will fundraise for Asia and Latin America workshops (ongoing). Mali program is headed by Michele Artigue, program and fundraising are being finalized.

MPE 2013

After having been endorsed by IMU and ICMI, MPE 2013 has been endorsed by ICIAM at its Board meeting. A competition of virtual modules on the theme of MPE will take place in the fall of 2013. Many institutes in mathematical sciences around the world are planning activities in the theme in 2013, and calls for proposals related to MPE 2013 are posted on the website.

Shaw Prize

The Shaw Prize in Mathematical Sciences 2011 goes to Demetrios Christodoulou and Richard Hamilton for their highly innovative works in nonlinear partial differential equations in Lorentzian and Riemannian geometry and their applications to general relativity and topology. The Shaw Prize Award Presentation Ceremony will be held on 28 September 2011.

Smale Prize

The Society for the Foundations of Computational Mathematics awarded the first Smale Prize to Professor Snorre Christiansen at its FoCM'11 meeting in Budapest on July 14, 2011, for his contributions to computational mathematics of partial differential equations. The Smale Prize recognizes major achievements in furthering the understanding of the connections between mathematics and computation. The prize is awarded to a researcher having received a doctoral degree within the 10 years prior to the award.

Passing away of Daniel Quillen

Daniel Quillen, a former Fields medallist in 1978 and an exceptionally creative mathematician passed away:

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