Homeland Security Issues Top Agendas for SIAM Policymakers

December 13, 2001


On a day of good news for both the National Science Foundation and the mathematical sciences, NSF director Rita Colwell met with SIAM president Thomas Manteuffel (left) and executive director James Crowley. Invited to give a keynote address at SIAM's 50th-anniversary meeting next summer, Colwell tentatively accepted. Maybe she'll explain the hardhats. . . .

Talk of the Society
Thomas Manteuffel and James Crowley

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For SIAM's current leadership, early November was an active time in Washington. The Joint Policy Board for Mathematics met on November 5, followed later in the week by full-day meetings of the SIAM Committee on Science Policy (CSP) and the National Research Council's Board on Mathematical Sciences. JPBM, an umbrella organization for the American Mathematical Society, the Mathematical Association of America, and SIAM, discusses and coordinates science policy and other issues of common interest. BMS does independent studies for government agencies in the area of the mathematical sciences.

An important topic of discussion at each of these meetings was homeland security, counterterrorism measures, and what our community can contribute to the efforts. In the course of the week, we heard about plans for several workshops being organized to identify potential contributions from science in general, and mathematics in particular. One such workshop is scheduled for the end of November at Los Alamos National Laboratory; BMS hopes to conduct a study and issue a report on the subject in the spring. SIAM's CSP resolved to develop a short white paper that outlines ways in which computational and applied mathematicians can contribute to this cause, drawing on the results of workshops and the expertise of SIAM members.

These are all important steps. It is at times like this that we should step forward as a community to contribute to society's needs. A significant block of federal funding is likely to be allocated for these issues in the next few years. Identifying the most effective contributions our community can make is one way in which SIAM can help policymakers distribute the funds wisely, and should open up new areas of research across the breadth of the mathematical sciences.

At the same time, SIAM should continue to remind policymakers that it is the technological and scientific infrastructure, and long-term basic research in particular, that lead to economic strength and security. This is not a time to cut funding for basic and applied research; rather, it is a time that demonstrates more clearly than ever why research, basic and applied, is so very important. Cuts in research funding now would diminish the future quality of life in unforeseeable ways.

With an agenda that never ranged too far from national security research needs, SIAM's science policy committee met in Washington in November. Shown here are (from left) Tony Chan (now dean of physical sciences at UCLA), SIAM Washington representative Mel Ciment, Steve Ashby (chair of the new SIAM Activity Group on CSE), SIAM vice president for publications Mac Hyman, and SIAM past-president Gil Strang, who chairs the science policy committee.

Another topic on the CSP agenda was computational science and engineering (CSE), the broad interdisciplinary area that cuts across the mathematical sciences, computer science, and many other fields of science and engineering. The Directorate for Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering (CISE) at the National Science Foundation is holding a workshop on the status and future of CSE in Salt Lake City, December 3 and 4. Many SIAM members were involved in the organization or were asked to attend. SIAM is evaluating ways in which we can best respond to this growing field. Although it is clearly not the focus of our entire membership, CSE is increasingly important within SIAM---we have a new activity group in CSE, which is currently planning SIAM's second meeting in this field (scheduled for San Diego in February 2003).

Worth mentioning here is an issue raised in the BMS discussions: the role of statistics in relation to SIAM activities. SIAM has members who consider themselves statisticians, and we value our relationships with the American Statistical Association and other statistical societies. Even so, we don't always recognize statistics explicitly in our discussions of computational science and applied mathematics.

The boundaries between traditional areas of applied mathematics and statistics are likely to blur as interest intensifies in such topics as quantifying uncertainty in PDE computations subject to inaccurate initial data and parameters, and in problems arising in financial mathematics. And with the growing emphasis on mathematics and computing in the analysis and extraction of information from large data sets, combined contributions from mathematics and statistics will grow in importance.

Between all these meetings in Washington, we took the opportunity, along with our Washington representative Mel Ciment, to visit NSF director Rita Colwell. Coming as it did the day after the House/Senate Conference Committee's release of the final FY 2002 budget figures for NSF, the meeting was a very happy one. While many budgets were cut or remained flat, NSF is to receive an 8.4% increase. Within that budget, it appears that funding for the Division of Mathematical Sciences will increase by as much as $30 million, from $121 million to $151 million, an increase of more than 24%. We thanked Colwell for her recognition that funding for mathematics has lagged behind that for other disciplines, her support for the large increase for mathematics, and her confidence in the mathematics community.

In our discussions Colwell reiterated her intention-expressed publicly several times---to double or triple NSF's funding for the mathematical sciences in the coming years. We certainly wish her success in this endeavor and are ready to help in whatever way we can. A final note: We invited Colwell to attend SIAM's 50th-anniversary meeting in Philadelphia next July and to give a keynote address. She tentatively accepted our invitation.

The increased funding for the mathematical sciences is the result of much hard work by many people, especially DMS director Philippe Tondeur. His constant enthusiasm, untiring efforts, and political acuity were central to the successful effort to secure the increase for mathematics. Also an important source of support for the mathematical sciences has been Bob Eisenstein, who heads the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences---within which DMS resides.

On a final happy note, JPBM's activities include the annual awarding of a prize for outstanding communication of the content and spirit of mathematical research to nonmathematical audiences. This year the award will go to Helaman Ferguson, for his beautiful mathematically grounded sculptures. The prize will be presented at SIAM's 50th-anniversary meeting, where we hope to have some of this extraordinary artist's work on display. Another reason to join us for the celebration!


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