In a Time of Uncertainty, a Difficult Decision

October 13, 2001

Talk of the Society
Thomas Manteuffel and James Crowley

The tragic events of September 11 have touched all of our lives. This is a time of great anguish and uncertainty. It is our belief, however, that if we allow these events to drastically alter our behavior, then we have allowed the terrorists a greater victory.

It was this belief that fueled our resolve to continue with the two SIAM meetings planned for September 22-26, 2001, in Boston---the First SIAM Conference on Imaging Science and the First SIAM Conference on Life Sciences. In the end, though, we were compelled to postpone these meetings until next spring. The conferences have been rescheduled for March 4-6, 2002 (imaging), and March 6-8, 2002 (life sciences), at the original location and, to the extent possible, with the original programs.

Postponement was a difficult decision, one that we put off until the last possible moment. Both conferences were eagerly anticipated. Each was to be the first conference of a new activity group. Both had exciting lists of invited speakers, and there was a lot of enthusiasm within the SIAM community for these emerging areas of applied mathematics research. After the events of September 11, with air travel slow to resume normal operation, we received a lot of e-mail expressing concerns about safety and encouraging postponement; we also started to receive large numbers of cancellations. Many people were stranded in distant cities, in some cases outside the U.S. When it became clear that fewer than half of the invited speakers would be able to attend the meeting, and with general attendance quite unpredictable, we decided that postponement was the right action to take.

Please understand that it is our intention to run the conferences at the newly scheduled times, with increased vigor and enthusiasm. Our main goal is to ensure that we can run high-quality meetings that serve our members and the scientific communities they represent. Each of these communities---imaging science and the life sciences---is an important and growing component of SIAM.

There is another point to consider. Most of the early cancellations, although by no means all, came from people outside the U.S. Just as applied mathematics is an international enterprise, SIAM is an international organization. One need only look at membership statistics or at our lists of editorial board members to realize this point. To hold a conference without the participation of our members from outside the U.S. would be a mistake.

We recognize our international members as an important component of the SIAM membership and are always seeking ways to better serve our international members. Toward that end, and on a brighter note, we conclude with a brief report on the first SIAM/EMS conference, which was held in Berlin, September 2-6. It was a very well organized meeting that attracted more than 400 attendees. Titled "Applied Mathematics in our Changing World," the meeting featured a series of excellent plenary talks that demonstrated the impact of applied mathematics on important scientific problems, like climate modeling, gene sequencing, blood flow, and traffic patterns.

The Berlin meeting was a joint effort of the European Mathematical Society and SIAM, and while attendance from the U.S. was not large, there was a very strong SIAM presence: European SIAM members. This was our first opportunity to serve our European members through a conference, and we hope that other opportunities will follow. Special thanks are due to Peter Deuflhard (director of ZIB), Rolf Jeltsch (EMS president), and the rest of the organizing committee for an excellent job.


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