President’s Report

September 21, 2009


SIAM’s smooth functioning is a result of the cooperation of volunteers from the membership, working with members of the staff, writes SIAM president Doug Arnold. Case in point: Carlos Castillo-Chavez, a driving force behind the annual Diversity Day programs, shown in Denver with SIAM conference director Connie Young, whose competence and imperturbability made a very-last-minute change in the location of the conference all but unnoticeable to attendees.

Talk of the Society
Doug Arnold

As I wrote this column at the end of June, I had just completed the first six months of my two-year term as SIAM president, along with a report to the SIAM Council and Board of Trustees for their meetings at the SIAM Annual Meeting in mid-July. It seemed to be a good opportunity to report also to you, the membership of SIAM. There are more than 12,000 of you, and many may be interested in some of the things I've learned in my six months in office about how SIAM operates.

SIAM has as its mission to advance research in and application of mathematics and computational science, foster communication among relevant mathematicians, engineers, and scientists, build community, and support our next generation. It accomplishes these goals through a wide variety of activities and programs, prominent among which are:

SIAM functions through the cooperation of volunteers from the membership and a dedicated professional staff working out of the Philadelphia headquarters. On the volunteer side, a vice president (appointed by the president) oversees operations in each of the areas listed above. The current VPs are Tim Kelley, for publications; Ilse Ipsen, for programs; Peter Turner, for education; Jeff Saltzman, for industry; and Reinhard Laubenbacher, for science policy. We also have an elected VP-at-large, David Keyes, who oversees the prize program and the activity groups. Each of these officers works with a group of staff in the SIAM office. The person responsible for the day-to-day operations of SIAM is Jim Crowley, who has held the post of executive director for fifteen years. I work closely with Jim in fulfilling my role, which is to oversee the professional and, particularly, the scientific affairs of SIAM. Both of us report to the Board of Trustees, which bears responsibility for the management of SIAM, and are guided by the Council, which formulates and monitors scientific policies. Hence my report mentioned earlier (Jim submits one as well). A wide variety of standing and ad hoc committees, consisting of member volunteers, carry forward the work.

An area that seems likely to engage a lot of my attention during my term in office is SIAM's journal program. SIAM publishes 13 disciplinary journals, together with SIAM Review and a journal in applied probability in translation from the Russian. The journals are very important to SIAM financially: Subscriptions are easily the largest source of revenue to the society. However, I believe that the value of the journals to the scientific community goes far beyond financial considerations. High-quality, professionally produced, widely distributed, well-recognized peer-review journals are essential to the progress of mathematics and to the careers of many mathematicians. No scholarly publication can be perfect, but both in reputation and in objective surveys, SIAM journals consistently rate near the top, even as their prices and publication times are kept reasonable. My concerns in this area arise not from the way SIAM produces its journals, but rather from a slew of troubling recent incidents in the world of scholarly publishing. These include cases of plagiarism of our articles, deliberate manipulation of citation statistics, pay-to-publish journals masquerading as peer-reviewed, and a variety of other scandalous practices. I will discuss this further in a future column.

SIAM depends on the involvement of its members and the commitment of its volunteers, Pictured here, enjoying the lively reception that followed Andrew Lo's Community Lecture in Denver, is a small sample of active volunteering members: Andy Wathen, co-chair (with Lori Freitag-Diachin) of the organizing committee for the 2009 SIAM Annual Meeting, and Ekkehard Sachs, a member of the SIAM book series Advances in Design and Control and faculty adviser to the SIAM student chapter at the University of Trier . . .

Anna Tsao, a longtime member of the SIAM Board of Trustees and the Committee on Science Policy, and SIAM VP-at-large David Keyes . . .

Jeff Saltzman, SIAM vice president for industry, and David Brown, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Another priority of my presidency is the role of SIAM on the world stage. Although headquartered in the U.S., SIAM is an international organization. More than 30% of SIAM members live and work outside the U.S., including---to name one prominent example---Iain Duff, who chairs the Board of Trustees. SIAM cooperates with many international organizations, and has held several conferences abroad in each of the past few years. In the mid-1980s, then SIAM president Gene Golub was a leader in bringing together representatives of three European societies and SIAM to found ICIAM (which, depending on the context, stands for either the International Council, or the International Congress, on Industrial and Applied Mathematics). The four societies co-sponsored the first ICIAM in Paris in 1987. Four years later SIAM hosted the second in Washington, DC. In the years since, ICIAM the council has grown to include 36 member societies, and ICIAM the congress has grown in stature to be one of the most important meetings in mathematics. We are joining our Canadian neighbors to host the next congress, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2011.

In some areas of the world, including East Asia and the United Kingdom and
Republic of Ireland, active SIAM sections are among the most important professional organizations for applied and computational mathematicians. In other regions, SIAM has formal reciprocity agreements with national applied math societies; I have signed such agreements with the Japanese Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (JSIAM), the Italian Società Italiana di Matematica Applicata e Industriale (SIMAI), and the French Société de Mathématiques Appliquées et Industrielles (SMAI). I am currently working with some of the leading applied mathematicians in China to try to build SIAM's membership and activity level there. SIAM now has a Chinese-language Web site where Chinese mathematicians can become members, using the local currency and banking system.

Returning to the U.S., SIAM maintains a Washington presence, in which the Committee on Science Policy is an important player. Each year the committee spends four days in Washington, meeting with politicians, government staffers and functionaries, representatives from funding agencies, and others. Between meetings, we are frequently engaged in political matters that connect with mathematics. For example, we regularly submit congressional testimony on such matters as the NSF and DOE budgets, and we recently corresponded with the administrations of those agencies concerning the spending of stimulus funds.

SIAM's VP for science policy, whose position was created in the past year, oversees this aspect of our activities. He is aided in this by staff from the government relations firm Lewis–Burke Associates, which is under contract to act as our eyes and ears, and occasionally mouth, in the capital. Since I first became involved with SIAM's science policy operations in 2001 they have grown tremendously in sophistication and stature, and they certainly provide one of the most effective voices for mathematics in the political arena.

To close, I want to stress that SIAM is your society. It depends on and welcomes the involvement of its members and the commitment of its volunteers. We work hard to hear many points of view and to build community across a diverse profession. In SIAM elections, all positions---officers, Board, and Council---are contested. Please do vote in the election this fall. We also seek your input for future elections: Nominees for elected office are chosen by a committee, but we encourage you to suggest nominees for consideration by the committee, as well as people to serve on committees (including yourself!); the recently added "suggestions" link at www.siam.org simplifies the process.

Selected highlights of the 2009 SIAM Annual Meeting appear here and elsewhere in this issue; look for more in upcoming issues of SIAM News.


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