Federal policies and our work at institutions of higher education

AMS President Ken Ribet has issued a statement about President Trump’s statement on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He’s joined leaders of other science organizations (e.g., AAAS, APS) in making such a statement, and I am glad he has done so. Most AMS members work in academia and DACA recipients are our students, typically working hard to achieve their goals and dreams of studying and contributing to the scientific enterprise, just like our other students. It is unarguable that American science is as strong as it is due to the nation’s mostly admirable history of welcoming immigrants to work alongside us in our labs, and in our classrooms. This current statement is in line with the AMS history of speaking up for immigrants, and efforts to protect a truly international scientific community.

Along these same lines of concern, Senators Tom Cotton (AR) and David Perdue (GA) have introduced their “RAISE Act” which would reduce legal immigration by half within 10 years. The RAISE Act introduces a “point system”, whereby the government would decide who has “high skills” and would take power away from universities in making hiring decisions. President Trump is supporting this bill, and it fits with another proposal that would affect academia — his promise to scrutinize the H-1B visa program. Additionally, the RAISE Act would eliminate visa preferences for extended family members, and decrease the number of refugees. While the higher education community is largely opposing this bill, it probably has little hope of becoming law.

I think we all know that the federal government has great oversight over K-12 education, but does it really have much influence over higher education? On the ground, at our universities and colleges, one might think that the states have much more influence over higher education. And that is probably true, at least for public institutions.

But, we have the federal government – and Presidents of past in particular – to thank for huge changes to the way higher education works in this country. Here goes, my “proof by example”. Or, maybe you prefer to think of this as “evidence-based” thinking.

First, think of Lincoln’s Morrill Act. Enacted in 1862, this law established the first of our terrific land-grant institutions. It provided each state with 30,000 acres of Federal land for each member of Congress from the state. The land was then sold by the states and the proceeds used to fund public colleges that focused on agriculture and the mechanical arts. The State Agricultural College in Iowa (now Iowa State University) was the first to be designated as a land grant college. Incidentally, it is not easy to get laws passed – the Morrill Act was first introduced in 1857, passed the Congress, but was vetoed by President Buchanan. At this time, Justin Smith Morrill was a Representative from Vermont and was one of the founders of the Republican Party.

Next, think of the GI Bill. Since 1944 it has enabled millions of veterans and their family members to attend college. It can be argued that this law set the precedent for today’s financial aid model and signals to all that lack of finances should not prevent Americans from attending college nor should it narrow the choice of schools that low-income students attend.

And, as a final example of legislation with a big impact on higher education in this country, we have the Truman Commission on Higher Education, which suggested the creation of a network of public colleges to serve local needs. A national network was established in the 1960s with the opening of 457 public community colleges, and the number has grown to over 1000 today. There is at least one community college within commuting distance of most of the U.S. population, and they educate a large proportion of minority, low-income, and first-generation college students. It might make sense that this vital part of our higher education landscape grew out of hopes of our only 20th century U.S. president who did not graduate from college.

Where are we now? There’s DACA; there’s the RAISE Act; there’s the Department of Education current scrutiny of Title IX which prohibits sex discrimination in education; there’s the administration’s reconsideration of “gainful employment” regulations which have been used to reign in predatory for-profit institutions from taking advantage of students; there’s the reinstatement of year-round Pell grants.

“Title IX”, in case you don’t know, refers to a portion of the Higher Education Amendments of 1927, a set of amendments to the original Higher Education Act. Signed into law by President Johnson in 1965, the HEA has been amended many times and Congress may further amend it at any point in time. Its two central purposes are to (1) strengthen the educational resources of our colleges and universities; and (2) provide direct financial assistance for students pursuing higher education.

Senator Lamar Alexander (TN) (chair of the Senate committee that covers education, a past president of the University of Tennessee, and a former U.S. Secretary of Education) has stated that his “top education priority this year is reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.” It was last scheduled for re-authorization in 2013 but that has yet to happen. I am looking forward to congressional work on this important legislation. With almost two-thirds of Republican and Republican-leaning voters saying (in a recent Pew study) that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country (mind you, also about 20% of Democrats agree), it is a very good time to re-affirm and re-articulate the federal commitment to higher education.

 

 

 

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More bad news for science in the U.S.

If you think my July 24 post about the outlook for science in the U.S. brought bad news, just wait, it gets worse.

NEWS FLASH
We really need to worry about the marginalization of science
in the present Administration

Probably not a surprising piece of news. Here are more reasons why we should be concerned, just in case you need convincing:

It can be – and is – argued that scientists have not been successful enough in telling Congressional offices powerful stories of how our federal investment in basic research pays off for American taxpayers. Senator Chris Coons (DE) recently wrote some advice for our community on this score. Part of my job, as Director of the AMS’s Washington Office, is to collect our stories and tell them. I can assure you that there are many great people, including from our sister disciplinary societies, in D.C. telling these stories with me, on behalf of all scientific areas. We work hard, but we can always do more, and do better. One area in which I feel we have not been very good is in helping legislators understand what “indirect” or “overhead” costs go to and why they are critical to supporting research. Because these critical funds are not well-understood and are perhaps under the radar (and perhaps because discussing them does not a sexy conversation make), they are under threat.

There are other alarming signals coming from the government, appearing as serious threats to science. One such signal is in the lack of science appointments made thus far. The White House has recently allowed the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s (OSTP) science division to empty completely of all staff, and the science adviser at the State Department recently resigned. President Trump has not filled the position of OSTP Director, or official science advisor, positions often held by one person (John Holdren held both under President Obama). President Obama’s OSTP had over 130 employees (to be fair, this was a large OSTP, compared with previous administrations), with nine in the science division who led on issues such as STEM education. Every post-World-War-II president except President Nixon has had scientists in the White House. According to a recent Nature article, only 12 people are working on science in the White House, and the Administration is being represented at senior staff meetings by Michael Kratsios who is Deputy Assistant to the President (OSTP), and a former chief of staff to venture capitalist Peter Thiel. Without a stronger working group, OSTP and science are being marginalized in the current Administration. Incidentally, Kratsios is also serving at least in some way as the public face for science in the White House; we were very pleased that he attended the United States of America Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO) awards ceremony held at the State Department in June. The AMS supports the USAMO and Executive Director Catherine Roberts, Committee on Science Policy Chair Scott Wolpert, AMS Congressional Fellow Catherine Paolucci, and I represented the AMS at the event. The chart below gives an overview of key science positions filled by recent administrations. The chart does not show retentions and – important to the math community – President Trump has retained President Obama’s NSF Director France Córdova.

Finally, don’t even get me started on threats to international cooperation in science (e.g., introduced legislation that would dramatically alter universities’ ability to hire who they want to hire), and support for STEM education. I plan to soon write about these topics.

In addition to this blog, I post regular items on the AMS Washington Office Government News page (and recently wrote there a little bit about the legislation mentioned in the preceding paragraph).

 

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Redistricting on my mind

My past few weeks have been filled with thoughts of redistricting – I gave a talk at MAA MathFest titled “Ready for redistricting 2020?” and, then, spent an exhilarating week at Tufts at the Geometry of Redistricting Workshop. This workshop was organized and hosted by the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group, a Boston-based team of mathematicians run by Moon Duchin of Tufts University. The team did an extraordinary, amazing, marvelous, phenomenal (your choice of superlative adjective) job of organizing the five-day event. The logistics were complicated. And, how great it was to be with dozens of experts, all interested in the topic, but bringing varied backgrounds and training with them. We were mathematicians, statisticians, computer scientists, and operations researchers; we were economists and political scientists; we were civil rights lawyers and legal experts on redistricting. We ranged in age, and we work in academia, at law firms, in the private sector, and for non-profits. [At left is Robert Cheetham, President and CEO of Azavea, talking about their product DistrictBuilder.]

The Tufts workshop is getting great coverage from media, including from Boston’s NPR news station WBUR and the New Yorker in an article by Dawn Chan.

As the workshop website says, the first three days were open to the public, and the last two were spent in specialized training (a teaching track, a computing track, and an expert witness training track). The public days were filled with morning lectures and afternoon deep delves into topics ranging from computational, to social, to mathematical, to legal.

The morning sessions the first three days were so popular that they were held at the historic Somerville Theater at nearby Davis Square. The theater opened in 1914 and, according to its website was “designed for stage shows, vaudeville, opera, and that new fad – motion pictures – the theatre was only one of the Hobbs Building attractions, which also included a basement café; bowling alley and billiards hall; ten ground floor storefronts; and the Hobbs Crystal Ballroom on the second floor.”  It was fun to see workshop participants in such a splendid space, enjoying popcorn and frozen thin mints (you know who you are!). And, Moon had to clear us out of there immediately after our talks were over at 12:45 so that we did not hold up the early matinee viewing of Dunkirk each day.

So, why were we brought together? First, the next round of redistricting will commence soon after the decennial census and subsequent reapportionment of Congress. Second, the Supreme Court has announced that it will consider whether or not Wisconsin’s congressional maps have been gerrymandered on partisan grounds. Both are BIG deals.

Advocates in Washington are concerned about the upcoming census – the President’s proposed FY18 budget includes a 2% increase in Census Bureau funding, considered “woefully inadequate” to enable the bureau to prepare for the 2020 census. Previous increases in the eighth year of the ten-year census cycle have ranged from 61 to 96%.

Why are Wisconsin maps under scrutiny? In 2012, Republicans won 60 out of 99 seats in the State Assembly while only receiving 48.6% of the statewide vote. In 2014 and 2016, Republicans extended their advantage. The Supreme Court has resisted setting a standard by which to decide that a partisan gerrymander is unconstitutional, but they may do that in this case. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has said that this is the most important case the court will hear next term. Indeed, if the Wisconsin map is found to be unconstitutional on the partisan argument, partisan map-drawers’ hands will be tied in the next round of redistricting following the 2020 census.

Of course, I wouldn’t be writing this if mathematics were not relevant and, indeed, redistricting uses a lot of math. Measures of compactness are by now considered traditional for detecting gerrymandering (though not agreed-upon nor well-understood); the newish efficiency gap is a central character in the Wisconsin drama; and computer simulations (to generate lots and lots of maps that could be used) are being used and developed, and may point the way to some future clarity for measuring partisan bias in the redistricting process.

 

 

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Recess in Washington; Congress winding down pre-recess budget negotiations

I’m headed off to the MAA’s MathFest and thought it a good time to give you an update on budget proceedings in Washington.

The month of August is traditionally a congressional recess, meaning that Representatives and Senators are in their home states and districts, spending much time with their constituents. You’ve probably read the news, that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing back the start of the month-long recess for his colleagues, so that Senators can have time to work on health care legislation and other pressing matters. August recess was codified in the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 and the last time the Senate delayed its recess was in 1994; then too the reason was to work on health care reform. The House is taking recess as planned; and we shall see what really happens Senate-side. Things seem a bit up in the air, to put it mildly.

In any case, you may well be reading this because you hope to hear how the appropriations process is unfolding this year. The last time I wrote about this the FY2017 budget process was not yet over, and President Trump had released his budget blueprint for FY2018. On May 23, the President’s full budget was released. (Both the blueprint and full budget are found at the White House budget page). This proposal is devastating for mathematics, and indeed for much of scientific research and discovery.

The President’s budget proposed an 11.2% cut to the NSF. If adopted, this funding will support approximately 8,000 new research grants, with an estimated funding rate of 19%. For comparison, in FY 2016, NSF funded 8,800 new research grants, with a funding rate of 21%. Rep. Bill Foster (IL 11) – the only physicist in Congress – issued a statement on the NSF’s reported cuts if the President’s FY2018 Budget Request takes effect, estimating that 13,000 researchers, professionals, and students could be affected by the proposed budget cuts.

The Administration is seeking deep cuts to science agencies as part of a broader decrease in non-defense spending. This would offset a proportional increase in defense spending to fund the Administration’s planned military and border security projects.

The President’s budget is simply a guide, and it has not been received warmly in Congress. The next step is for each of the House and Senate to come to their own budget proposals, and then for these to be reconciled. The House has finished their work; the Senate is just getting started. While the House bill is not as damaging to the scientific enterprise as the President’s – it proposes a 2% cut across the board – it still is not good news. The NSF’s main research account would be flat funded under the House bill. This would be the second year in a row without an increase for research and will compromise America’s leadership position in scientific discovery and innovation.

The Senate has yet to consider the part of the budget that includes funding for the NSF; this is expected to occur this week. The Senate has allocated 53.36 billion dollars for Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS), which is actually below the 53.94 billion approved by the House; not a good starting point. This CJS money must be divvied up amongst agencies including the NSF, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

As appropriations negotiations move from the House to the Senate, it is important to note that the House CJS bill is constrained by sequestration-level spending caps. With other countries increasing their levels of research investment (including a proposed doubling of investment in the EU), now is not the time for the United States to reduce its investment in research. The AMS has signed on to letters sent to key Senators urging them to work toward a budget agreement that removes the budget caps. Support for raising budget caps is bipartisan: the Tuesday Group Caucus, a centrist Republican group in the House, has sent a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan with concerns about the FY2018 budget process. The group wants to lift spending caps which would, in turn, allow spending levels for agencies like the NSF to be increased.  Indeed, Rep. John Culbertson (TX 7), chair of the CJS subcommittee that considers NSF budgets, has fought to protect the NSF and promised to increase its funding if the spending caps are raised. Rep. David Price (NC 4) has also spoken out on increasing the NSF budget.

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Over the weekend we lost a major force in mathematics. Maryam Mirzakhani died far too soon, at the age of 40. You no doubt know that she is the first and only woman ever to have been honored with a Fields medal. This morning my colleague posted a piece giving an overview of her mathematical contributions.

There have already been many pieces written about her, and there will be many more. I am not adding to that here, simply pointing you to Mathematical Reviews Executive Editor Ed Dunne’s piece on her work, in case you land here first.

 

 

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Making the Pool Bigger: Advocating for NSF and AMS

Editor’s Note: Lea Jenkins is in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Clemson University. She represented the AMS at the 23rd Annual Capitol Hill Exhibition of the Coalition for National Science Funding. Key to the mission of the AMS Washington Office are telling compelling stories of how our federal investment in basic science research pays off for American taxpayers and expanding the pool of AMS members who are in contact with their congressional representatives is an important piece of that. In the previous post on this blog you can read about another such example, as explained by David Donoho (Stanford) at a recent Congressional Briefing.

On May 16, 2017, I had the distinct privilege of traveling to our nation’s capital and lobbying my congressional delegation, on behalf of the American Mathematical Society (AMS), for increased funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF).  I arrived at Washington Reagan National Airport mid-morning, and shortly after my arrival at the hotel was met by Anita Benjamin, Assistant Director for the AMS Washington Office.  Anita had already scheduled meetings with legislative assistants in each of the offices for the South Carolina senators and in the office of my representative to the U.S. House.  The assistants who set aside their time to meet with us were friendly, engaged, and extremely professional.  The project I touted to advocate for the increase in NSF funding is rooted in efficient use of water resources in agricultural regions.  As agriculture is the #1 industry in SC, and all of us are concerned with the depletion of existing water resources, my project was well-tailored for the audience I had.  Over the past few years, as my colleague Kathleen Kavanagh and I have worked on our applied agriculture problem, I have often heard the comments similar to to “We would never have thought of using math in an agriculture problem”. I am thrilled to be able to make more people aware of the broad range of applications for which mathematics makes significant contributions.  I was especially thrilled to be able to make those in charge of voting on national budgets aware of the impact mathematics can have on society.

The main event of the trip was the reception hosted by the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), where over thirty researchers contributed poster presentations (http://www.cnsfweb.org).  I had the opportunity to visit many of the posters prior to the start of the reception and I was amazed at the variety of research projects being moved forward in the U.S.  Researchers were sponsored by professional societies and universities that are members of CNSF; these organizations are all dedicated to ensuring funding for general research becomes a priority for Congress.  I was pleased to discuss my work with (among others) Henry Warchall, senior advisor for the NSF Directorate for Mathematical Sciences; France Córdova, NSF Director; and Representative Jerry McNerney from California, the only mathematician in Congress.  Anita was responsible for getting fruit displays for my booth which all visitors were invited to enjoy!  The display also enforced the connection we wanted the representatives to make — that is, that NSF-sponsored research impacts our lives every day, often in ways no one suspects.

The time at the reception flew by, and my day in Washington was over well before I was ready.  I had no idea I would enjoy visiting the offices of my congressional delegation as much as I did.  I was awestruck being in the buildings that housed the offices of the Senators and Representatives and seeing the level of activity surrounding these offices on a daily basis.  I gained an appreciation for the staff supporting the work of the members of Congress; their schedules are packed, and they handle a variety of tasks that keep government functioning.

I also cannot say enough for the extraordinary efforts of Karen Saxe, AMS Associate Executive Director and Washington Office Director, and Anita Benjamin to organize my entire stay and ensure the trip was a success.  I was exhausted when I returned to my hotel room, but so willing to repeat the entire experience.  I strongly encourage those of you who have not done so personally contact your Congressional delegation to make their staff members aware of the gains we can make as a society with appropriate levels of funding.  Do not hesitate to make the trip to Washington if asked by one of the CNSF organizations.  I believe you will find it well worth the short amount of time asked of you.

 

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ICYMI – A great Congressional Briefing!

On Wednesday June 28 we held a Congressional Lunch Briefing in D.C. and it was a great success!

In the past, the AMS has held one Congressional Briefing each year, typically during the week or two following Thanksgiving. This was our first joint briefing in partnership with MSRI, and we look forward to continuing this partnership. We plan to hold two each year.

What is this beast – a “Congressional Lunch Briefing”? To give you a mental image, we had a room in the Russell Senate building with round tables and boxed lunches. The room was packed and in fact overflowing, and the atmosphere was friendly and welcoming. Attendees were from sister scientific societies, local universities, federal agencies, and included Congressional members and their staff.Nancy Pelosi I began by welcoming all in the room, then David Eisenbud (Director of MSRI) Schumergave some more opening remarks and introduced Representative Nancy Pelosi, who gave enthusiastic support for our work in the mathematical sciences. Then, David Eisenbud introduced our speaker David Donoho, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of Statistics at Stanford University. The session included an engaging Q&A period, and concluded with remarks from Senator Charles Schumer.

Professor David Donoho used his time to explain how federally funded mathematical research transitioned in just 10 years from ‘brainiac’ math journals to FDA approved medical devices. His Stanford patents on compressed sensing are licensed by both GE and DDSiemens in their new generation FDA-approved scanners. The improved technology will save lives, reach new demographic groups, and increase productivity in the use of healthcare resources.

The new technology is a game changer for medical care in at least three ways:

  1. It decreases cost, allowing health care providers to deliver the same service to more patients in the same amount of time.
  2. New populations can receive services. Children can now undergo MR imaging without sedation; they need to sit still for 1 minute rather than 10 minutes.
  3. It saves lives. Neurosurgeons can plan their surgeries and understand in advance what they will see three dimensionally inside someone’s head. Cardiologists can see in detail the motions of muscle tissue in the beating heart.

Tens of millions of MRI scans annually can soon be sped up dramatically; recent FDA approvals allow 8x speedups in 3D imaging and 16x speedups in dynamic heart imaging. Diagnostic imaging costs US$100 billion yearly and MR imaging makes up a big share of that.NSF folks

The United States has historically been held in high esteem for its investment in science and how it has improved lives and added efficiencies. Our nation cannot continue to be the world leader in scientific progress without increased and sustained support from Congress. Professor Donoho’s talk gave a great example of how our federal investment in basic science research pays off for American taxpayers.

Our next briefing will take place in late November or early December. If you live in the area and would like to be on our mailing list, contact Anita Benjamin at alb@ams.org

Photos by Scavone Photography

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Promoting Diversity in the Mathematical Sciences

The AMS recently endorsed two bills that are part of Senator Mazie Hirono’s (Hawai’i) plan to promote women and minorities pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professions and careers. Companion bills were introduced in the House of Representatives by Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX 30) and Carolyn Maloney (NY 12). One of the two bills, the STEM Opportunities Act, will be especially important to the AMS and its members as it provides universities and nonprofits with opportunities to receive competitive grants and recognition for mentoring women and minorities in STEM.

We are working with other Congressional offices on the language of similar bills that aim to remove barriers and increase opportunities for women, first-generation and other students in underrepresented communities.

Thus, it was timely that last week I had the privilege to participate in a meeting of stakeholders at the University of Nebraska. This was part of the NSF INCLUDES Women Achieving through Community Hubs in the U.S. (WATCH US) grant. This project seeks to increase and diversify the number of professional mathematicians in the United States by identifying and proliferating best practices and known mechanisms for increasing the success of women in mathematics graduate programs, particularly women from under-represented groups.

WATCH US leaders are Ruth Haas (Hawaii), Deanna Haunsperger (Carleton), Ami Radunskaya (Pomona), and Judy Walker (Nebraska).  Importantly, they brought in a great team of social science researchers, led by Trish Wonch Hill who, along with grant evaluator Mindy Anderson-Knott, is part of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Consortium (SBSRC) at Nebraska.

The research team collaborated with six successful conferences and programs who have collectively served more than 5,000 participants over the span of 20 years to collect data for their report. The six programs are:

  1. Carleton College Summer Mathematics Program for Women (SMP)
  2. Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics (NCUWM)
  3. The EDGE (Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education) Program
  4. Smith College Center for Women in Mathematics Post-baccalaureate Program (CWM)
  5. The Women and Mathematics Program (WAM) at the Institute for Advanced Study
  6. The Infinite Possibilities Conference (IPC)

These programs have targeted women in mathematics at different stages in their undergraduate and graduate education, with different strategies to building community, creating a sense of belonging, and promoting a growth mind set. Which elements of enrichment programs/conferences in mathematics are critical to success? Do programs work differently for women of color or for first generation women than for majority women?

Sadly for many of us, several of these programs have lost their federal funding and now face an uncertain future. The WATCH US workshop was part of the NSF INCLUDES program; the impetus behind NSF INCLUDES is that broadening participation in science and engineering is a national challenge that requires national solutions. The approach of NSF INCLUDES is to develop networks and partnerships that involve organizations and consortia from different sectors committed to a common agenda.

After identifying elements from the above six program that are most effective, prototypes will be implemented at several sites chosen to represent a diversity of constituencies and local support infrastructure. The group will solicit proposals for prototype events this fall. While we can see in the table that the number of US citizen female recipients of the PhD has stagnated, the right end of the graph shows that without these programs a significant decrease may instead have occurred (I know these visuals don’t match years, and of course the graph is telling a related but different story!).

The numbers in the table can also be compared to the percentages of women receiving PhDs in mathematics and statistics in Europe where, according to the recent She Figures report, 35% of PhD recipients in these fields are female. It is vital to our nation’s competitiveness that we confront our deficit.

Working toward a more diverse mathematics community is not new undertaking and in particular the directors and other leaders of the six programs above have worked tirelessly and helped many in significant ways. However, with funding to these programs uncertain; Title IX under scrutiny in the Department of Education, as well as in Congress and in the courts; and flatlining numbers of PhD’s going to women and individuals in underrepresented groups, it is important that those of us fighting this fight join forces with a shared endgame.

 

 

 

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Is there science in the House? Part II

In my last post, I gave a quick rundown of the members of Congress who hold advanced degrees, highlighting those in science. I’m sure I don’t need to convince you–particularly in the current political climate–how critically important it is for our community that math and science have many allies in Congress.

Senator Chris Coons (DE) gave this year’s William D. Carey Lecture at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Forum on Science and Technology Policy . Senator Coons gave a magnificent and truly rousing presentation on Defending Science and Catalyzing Progress: A Bipartisan Formula for the Future. The Carey lecturers are chosen for their commitment to “articulating public policy issues engendered by the application of science and technology.” And, Senator Gary Peters (MI) recently wrote on the importance of scientific research. Senator Peters, along with Senator Gardner (CO), sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee asking for a substantial increase in federal funding for science, research, and development at the National Science Foundation. Their request is consistent with the $8 billion NSF appropriation that the AMS is supporting for FY2018.

There are two recent pieces written by members of Congress that I want to draw your attention to in particular. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Representative Jerry McNerney (CA 9) are members that all AMS members should know about and–if this is the sort of thing you do–follow on social media. Many AMS members have felt under duress at the least and some have been directly affected by actions the Trump administration has taken. Senator Whitehouse and Representative McNerney are outspoken about the threats to science, and each has asked us to act, one as individuals, and one in concert with our university homes.

Rhode Island is a state high on the radar of mathematicians. Not only are AMS headquarters there, but one of the seven NSF-funded mathematical sciences research institutes is based at Brown University. The Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics (ICERM) brings mathematicians from all over the world to Rhode Island, for short workshops or semester-long programs.

The state’s Senator Sheldon Whitehouse recently published his view of actions our universities should take to battle current threats to the scientific enterprise. He starts by pointing out that American universities afford a home to much of this enterprise; a point not understood by all! And, with prescience, he articulates the role he feels universities should take in combatting the “science denial machinery” so much a part of our current Administration. His opinions on our Unprecedented and Unprincipled Adversary appeared in Inside Higher Ed during the period between the November election and the January inauguration of President Trump. Senator Whitehouse challenges universities to step up and take action.

And, as mentioned in the preceding blog post, there is, in fact, a Ph.D. mathematician serving in Congress. Representative Jerry McNerney has served in Congress for a decade. He recently expressed his views on The truth about the War on Science in The Hill (a newspaper and website that aim to offer non-partisan and objective comprehensive coverage of the capitol). He comments on the trend that has “emerged that dismisses science as irrelevant or false.” Representative McNerney asks us to step up as individuals, to challenge the “Trump administration’s crusade against science.”

This is, of course, not the first time these members important to our community have spoken up about science. Indeed, they are fully committed to scientific inquiry broadly and policy decisions based on scientific evidence and knowledge. Representative McNerney is an honored and active member of the math community–he has spoken on the House floor about twin primes, and he has attended the Joint Mathematics Meetings (most recently in 2014, and we hope he attends again in 2019, when it will be a short trip for him to make to Baltimore).

These are not the only Congressional members who speak out and write on behalf of science but when a mathematician in Congress and a Senator from our headquarters’ state write, we should pay attention!

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Is there science in the House? Part I

In November of 2016, not only did we elect a new president, but many House and Senate seats were filled, some with incumbents, some with so-called Freshman.

I always wonder about congressional members’ training and interests in science, so I started asking the question “How many congressional members have post-secondary degrees in a scientific field?” Well, this question is not as well-formed as one might hope. Am I asking for bachelor’s degrees? Does a medical degree count? What about engineering degrees? You get the point. So, I asked a new question, which was easier to answer (though still had some ambiguities to work through). The new question: “How many congressional members have a doctorate degree of any type, and in what fields?”

An important question would be: why would one care? My first answer is that I just find it plain interesting. Perhaps a better answer revolves around the abilities of lawmakers to pass effective legislation. Along these lines, Craig Volden (University of Virginia), Jonathan Wai (Duke University), and Alan E. Wiseman (Vanderbilt University) show, in a forthcoming paper, that Representatives with degrees from more elite institutions are more effective at lawmaking, especially in producing the most substantive and significant laws.

As it turns out, there are 22 members of the House of Representatives of this 115th Congress who hold a Ph.D., Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) or Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degree. They are:

Alma Adams (NC-12) – Art Education & Multicultural Education
Dave Brat (VA-7) – Economics
​Judy Chu (CA-27) – Clinical Psychology
Tom Cole (OK-4) – 19th Century British History
Henry Cuellar (TX-28) – Government
Danny Davis (IL-7) – Public Administration
Bill Foster (IL-11) – Physics
Virginia Foxx (NC-5) – Curriculum & Teaching/Higher Ed (Ed.D.)
Mike Gallagher (WI-8) – International Relations
Jody Hice (GA-10) – Ministry
Robin Kelly (IL-2) – Political Science
Derek Kilmer (WA-6) – Comparative Social Policy (DPhil, Oxford–Marshall Scholar)
Dan Lipinski (IL-3) – Political Science
David Loebsack (IA-2) – Political Science
Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) – Psychology
Jerry McNerney (CA-9) – Mathematics
Tim Murphy (PA-18) – Psychology
David Price (NC-4) – Political Science
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) – Education
Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-9) – Justice Studies
Dina Titus (NV-1) – Political Science
Robert Wittman (VA-1) – Public Policy & Administration

​Senate-side, there are only two holders of Ph.Ds.: Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth has a Ph.D. in Human Services, and Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse has a Ph.D. in American History.

Notably, there is one mathematician, and one physicist in Congress right now. Representative Bill Foster (IL-11) was

a high-energy physicist and particle accelerator designer at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab). Bill was a member of the team that discovered the top quark, the heaviest known form of matter. He also led the teams that designed and built several scientific facilities and detectors still in use today, including the Recycler Ring, the latest of Fermilab’s giant particle accelerators. When Bill first ran for Congress, his campaign was endorsed by 31 Nobel Prize Winners.[1]

Representative Jerry McNerney (CA-9) has a Ph.D. in mathematics, and worked for several years at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico. He is a very good friend to the math community, and has made appearances at the Joint Mathematics Meetings. Indeed,

McNerney returned from the 2014 Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore, for example, jazzed about headway mathematicians had made in settling a long-open question. Less than a month later, on February 11, McNerney took to the microphone in the House chamber. “Madam Speaker,” he said. “I would like to talk about twin prime numbers.”[2]

Of course, science has many supporters in Congress, and some of our allies have strong scientific backgrounds. For example, Representative Louise Slaughter (NY-5) has a Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology and a Master of Science degree in Public Health. And, a great supporter of science and STEM education on the Senate side is Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, who has an undergraduate degree in mathematics.

 

 

 

[1] http://foster.house.gov/about/full-biography

[2] http://mathcomm.org/math-by-the-minute-on-capitol-hill/

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