The Society of Mathematics 2

This post is a response by Alexandre Borovik to my previous post. The following words then are Sasha’s:

Dear David,

I joined the AMR. In my view, its areas of activities are sufficiently clearly defined [on its homepage]:

The AMR has several initiatives under development. These include:

  • AMR colloquia, lectures and workshops, exploring new ways to present research
  • Updates and reviews of new research
  • Reviews of classic influential papers
  • Discussions of open problems
  • Video expositions of mathematical research
  • AMR journals and publications leveraging new technological opportunities
  • Interviews of mathematicians
  • Developing new ideas for the flourishing of the international mathematical research community

Indeed they do not explain why they wish to focus on these particular activities, but I think I can understand the reasoning.

I joined the AMR because I believe that the AMR wants to protect mathematics while avoiding political pressures – any political pressure limits freedom. Mathematics as a cultural system is fragile enough to deserve protection. The AMR is organisation of mathematicians for protection and free development of mathematics, for maintaining academic traditions and standards of mathematical research – this is why “Reviews of classic influential papers” is a very valuable proposed line of work. I hope that the AMR will find ways for preventing the slow death of peer review in mathematics or for replacing it with something different – this is why “AMR journals and publications leveraging new technological opportunities” is another very important activity. The need for “Discussions of open problems” does not need explanation, but perhaps “Interviews of mathematicians” deserve a few words – mathematics are done by mathematicians, who are all very different and not interchangeable – something that is becoming increasingly difficult to explain to Human Resources people in universities. Personal points of view on history and future development of mathematics are really important – for example, as food for thought for young mathematicians at early stages of their academic career.

You say: “I do not know why a new organization would be needed when we already have the London Mathematical Society (founded 1865) …”

I was a Trustee and a member of Council of the LMS (London Mathematical Society) for 12 years, and this is why I joined the AMR. Now it is mostly forgotten that the LMS was set up in 1865 by pure mathematicians led by Augustus De Morgan with the aim to protect pure mathematics at the time when mathematics in Britain was dominated by applied stuff. Now mathematics in UK again goes through a period of systematic strangulation of pure mathematics. Another issue: the managerialist takeover, which is now complete in most British universities, comes close to completion in learned societies, and not only mathematical. I heard complaints about the new managerialist culture from colleagues in the AMS as well.

This is happening at the background of weaponisation of mathematics, including weaponisation of pure mathematics. Recently I had an interesting chat with a young colleague who is developing algorithms for information sharing and assignment of targets within a swarm of drones, autonomous from human operators, but interconnected. Exciting stuff – but unfortunately this is about the new generation of weapons for large scale – but selective – slaughter of people while minimising collateral damage to property. An ideal weapon for local proxy wars, and for that reason, I bet, ethnic/racial/religious characteristics of humans will be included in criteria for selecting them as targets.

The political environment of mathematics is becoming messy and dangerous and requires a very careful discussion. It is not time now for cheap slogans. It is the new breed of managers in academia who love cheap slogans – because they cannot do anything else.

I think that the AMR has a chance to be a generator of new ideas and ways for “flourishing of the international mathematical research community”. From my experience in universities and in the LMS neither universities, nor traditional learned societies, nor corporate academic publishers are able to offer anything.

Perhaps I already told you about the three TV serials which captured some aspect of Zeitgeist: American “Lost”, French “Les Revenants,” and British “Life on Mars”– they all were about people who were already dead, but still did not know that. In my last years at may University, I felt that I was inside of a film of this kind.

This is why the AMR appears to be avaluable attempt to save at least something. In the spirit of this photo from the WWII times:

Three men study the intact shelves of a bombed-out library with no roof

With best wishes – Sasha

One Trackback

  1. By The Society of Mathematics « Polytropy on July 20, 2022 at 11:20 am

    […] « Plato and Christianity The Society of Mathematics 2 » […]

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