What you missed over the summer: balancing openness in science with threats to security by foreign researchers


“… to the members of our international campus community, without hesitation and with heartfelt affirmation, let me say: We value you. We support you. We will always welcome you. This is a campus that is unafraid of inclusivity. We are compelled and defined by it. And that will never change.”

These are powerful words written by Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian over the summer.

Now is a good time to finally cover this topic, as many of you will have spent the summer traveling abroad to attend conferences, and collaborate with colleagues.​ I’ve been thinking to write about this important topic for many months. There has been a lot going on. Things may have changed by the time you read this. In any case, here we go.

Over the summer, there have been continuing developments that could affect foreign-born mathematicians and could affect how we all participate in the global scholarly community.

There have always been regulations on international research collaborations, and they tighten and loosen over time. Many scientists are fearful that we are entering a phase of intensified tightening, and worried about what this means for them and their students and colleagues. There is stepped-up interest by our government to identify and eliminate intellectual property theft, cyber-attacks, and espionage that result from foreign influence. Much of this interest is aimed at the Chinese. And, there are implications that extend outside the walls of science— according to Steven Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists, the “perceived Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property is one of the factors that led to imposition of U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports.” There are simultaneously evolving visa and immigration policies that limit the ability of foreign-born students and scientists to study and work in the U.S.

Over the summer,

You may have seen news headlines, including some scary ones.

On July 5: DeVos cracks down on foreign funding on U.S. campuses
On July 16: Diversity and international collaboration should not become casualties of anti-espionage policies
On August 9: U.S. universities confront a security storm in Congress
On August 30: No, I won’t start spying on my foreign-born students
On September 3: Chinese scientists came to the U.S. to pursue their dreams. Under tighter scrutiny, many are returning home

You may have heard that the Government is stepping up its scrutiny.

Some congressional members are driving ramped-up efforts to prevent foreign entities from taking unfair advantage of the U.S. research enterprise. Senator Grassley (Iowa) has been inquiring about foreign threats to taxpayer-funded research, using his position as the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee to pursue this line of investigation. In April, he sent a letter to National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France A. Córdova seeking information regarding the processes in place at NSF to detect and deter threats to NSF-supported research. His letter specifically mentions China’s threats to U.S. national security as well as its talent recruitment programs which he says (quoting a witness at a congressional hearing) are effectively “brain gain programs” that “encourage theft of intellectual property from U.S. institutions.” The NSF responded in a letter to Senator Grassley, dated April 26.

Also in Congress, bills have been introduced to protect intellectual property and protect against espionage. There are three bills of note:

  1. Protect Our Universities Act (1879)
  2. Securing American Science and Technology Act of 2019 (H.R.3038)
  3. Secure American Research Act of 2019 (S.2133)

The latter two are similar in their intent, though S.2133 has language that worries many university administrators. For example, it would create a registry which would list individuals who have failed to disclose foreign affiliations to their federal funding agencies. The first bill takes a more aggressive approach; specifically, it would require students from China, Iran, and Russia to undergo background checks before they can work on professors’ research projects that would be considered sensitive (as determined by the Department of Homeland Security).

Other bills have been introduced to remove barriers for STEM educated international students who want to work in the US after they complete PhDs, such as the Keep STEM Talent Act (S.1744).

Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier has now been at the helm of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) for several months. Before joining the administration, he was Vice President for Research and Regents’ Professor of Meteorology at the University of Oklahoma. He served two six-year terms on the National Science Board, the governing body of the NSF, including the last four years as Vice-Chairman, having been nominated by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and twice confirmed by the United States Senate. On September 16, he issued a letter to scientific societies, including the AMS. The letter describes OSTP’s concerns and planned actions for protecting the US research enterprise. One such activity is the formation (in May) of the Joint Committee on the Research Environment (JCORE). JCORE has four subcommittees — the Research Security subcommittee, which will focus on foreign-power interference in U.S. research, as well as subcommittees on Safe and Inclusive Research Environments; Research Rigor and Integrity; and Coordinating Administrative Requirements for Research.

Relatedly, the White House put out its annual budget priorities memorandum for research and development which specifically calls for needed “protection of our ideas and research outcomes.” We are, according to the memo, experiencing America’s Second Bold Era of Science and Technology but warns that “Unfortunately, this Second Bold Era also features new and extraordinary threats which must be confronted thoughtfully and effectively.” The memo does not discuss the benefits or importance or necessity of international collaboration for scientific advancement.

The NSF currently has hundreds of awards that involve international activities. The NSF is tightening policies, and the response to Grassley’s request outlines some of these. A revised draft of the NSF Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG) was published earlier this year and also includes some changes. One change is that “proposals that include funding to be provided to an international branch campus of a U.S. IHE,[1] must include in the project description, justification for why the project activities cannot be performed at the U.S. campus.” Another change is internal, and aims to standardize U.S. citizenship requirements and foreign government talent recruitment program participation restrictions for NSF employees. This would affect you if you are thinking to apply to be a rotator at the NSF. The NSF has commissioned a report (by the JASONs) to assess how universities can maintain openness, while being cautious about security. This report is expected to be completed by the end of the calendar year.

Finally, there have been delays in visa processing that are affecting international students and scholars. While stepped-up processing affects individuals from several countries, the target is clearly China. Christopher Ford, head of the State Department’s international security bureau, has said that new procedures are in place “to improve how we scrutinize the flow of students and researchers coming from China in order to weed out the occasional “bad apples” who travel abroad to acquire technology for Beijing’s military machine and repressive domestic security apparatus.” Congressional members from both parties are taking note and beginning to investigate. The American Institute of Physics has written more extensively on visa delays.

If you are specifically interested in the risks to academia as perceived by the FBI, you will find their 2018 report “China: The Risk to Academia” informative. It describes the risks and gives resources and training materials for protecting your university, as well as hints for how to “spot students or professors” who might be providing information to foreign adversaries (they may not even know they are providing the information). I know this sounds alarming and, to echo Steven Aftergood, reflect the current state of the US-China relationship. To try to balance our anxiety, it can be noted that the report starts with comforting remarks: “The vast majority of the 1.4 million international scholars on U.S. campuses pose no threat to their host institutions, classmates, or research fields. On the contrary, these international visitors represent valuable contributors to their campuses’ achievements…”

You may have wondered if we are the only country thinking about this, and how much of this is due to (real or perceived) xenophobia of our current administration and lawmakers.

The U.S. is not the only country ramping up scrutiny of foreign influence at universities. The Australian Minister for Education Dan Tehan announced the creation of a University Foreign Interference Taskforce to address concerns, arising at least in part due to reports of Chinese hacking of Australian university computer systems and allegations of universities unknowingly working with entities connected to China’s military. The Australian taskforce will have four working groups to address cybersecurity, intellectual property, foreign collaborations, and communications to raise awareness.

Russia has been issuing rather alarming-sounding rules for collaborations there, as described by the New York Times.

Some of you have told me about foreign mathematicians who have applied for J-1 visas to visit your university, who have had their visa applications rejected for failing the English proficiency test. You may have wondered if this is a new requirement unveiled by the Trump administration. In fact, it was 2015 when the State Department published regulations requiring that all J-1 Exchange Visitor applications include an English Proficiency Form. Most universities have a webpage, like this one at the University of Nebraska explaining this rule.

There are, in addition to those mentioned in the preceding section, new policies and plans for changes to existing policies being introduced. For example, in October of 2018, the administration proposed a plan to introduce a maximum period of authorized stay for student visas, replacing the current practice of issuing student visas for the duration of studies.

And, it is true, foreign scientists are being fired from academic positions for failing to disclose foreign funding. This includes two professors who were fired at Emory University; four of their postdocs were also fired, and told to leave the country within 30 days.

One can conjecture about why, from 2016 to 2017, the number of international undergraduates fell by 2.2% and the number of international graduate students in the US dropped by 5.5%. I shouldn’t give that sort of stat without more nuance and updated information. And, the story is more nuanced. The numbers vary by discipline, and by country. While overall foreign graduate student enrollment in all fields decreased, foreign graduate student enrollment in mathematics and statistics increased that year.  From a recent National Science Board report: “Although 2018 marked a second year of decline in the total number of foreign students studying in the United States, the decline was small (less than 1%), and more undergraduate and graduate students were studying S&E fields. Four countries—China, India, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia—account for more than half of foreign students in the United States. The number of Chinese S&E graduate students studying in the United States has continued to increase (by 11% over the last 2 years), whereas the number of Indian S&E graduate students sharply declined (by 22% over the last 2 years).”

You may have received a letter from your college or university president.

Carnegie Mellon President Farnam Jahanian wrote to his community in August: “As public concerns and political debates emerge about global engagement in higher education, we must ensure that our research ecosystem remains strong. This requires steadfast commitment to both the free flow of ideas and the safeguarding of our work as required by the national interest.”

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger wrote the August 30 opinion piece mentioned at the beginning of this post.

MIT President L. Rafael Reif has written to his community.

Inside Higher Ed published an opinion piece by Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities, and Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public Land-grant Universities calling for the need “to bolster the security of their research without sacrificing the openness and collaboration that serves as a keystone of their research enterprises” and calling on universities to form “a strong partnership with federal intelligence and security agencies.” While this piece addresses the new challenges straight on, it simultaneously calls for calm by pointing out that “America’s research universities have a strong track record of working with the government to secure classified or otherwise controlled information conducted on university campuses.”

University leaders are also voicing concerns specifically about the visa scrutiny discussed above. They are writing letters to elected officials; one such example is written by the Presidents of several New Jersey institutions to the New Jersey State Assembly.

You may have wondered what the situation is in mathematics, specifically, and what the AMS is doing on this front.

We all know that mathematics is a global enterprise. More than 50 percent of Ph.D. degrees awarded in 2015–16 in the U.S. went to non-U.S. citizens.[2] Almost 70 percent of AMS authors in our four primary journals reside outside the U.S.[3] Roughly 20 percent of AMS membership is international. The AMS cohosts an international math conference each year and supports other international meetings, including the International Congress of Mathematicians. The AMS supports policies that promote and strengthen international cooperation in mathematics research and education.

 The AMS joined 60 scientific societies on a letter to the White House (sent September 4) stating that our “organizations and members are witnessing an escalating concern among U.S. and international scientists that new policies and procedures under consideration to minimize security risks will have the unintended effect of harming the scientific enterprise.” The American Statistical Association (ASA) and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) also signed. The signatory societies ask that the Joint Committee on Research Environments (JCORE) consider a broad range of perspectives from the science and engineering community and for the opportunity to engage in the committee deliberations. (This committee was convened by Dr. Droegemeier and is described above). I have met Dr. Droegemeier and shared with him the demographics of the mathematics community, our reliance on foreign-born graduate students, and AMS support of the international research community. Dr. Droegemeier’s letter to societies—referred to above—responds to the September 4 letter from societies.

Additionally, the AMS joined dozens of other societies endorsing H.R.3038, discussed above.

Closing words

Temporary visa holders earn more than a third of the Ph.D.’s awarded by U.S. institutions in science and engineering. In mathematics, we are highly dependent on graduate students from China, India, South Korea, and Taiwan. This is consistent with overall trends in science and engineering, as the bar chart shows.

Source: The NSF 2017 Survey of Earned Doctorates (published December 2018): https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsf19301/report/who-earns-a-u-s-doctorate#report-citizenship

We must maintain openness in our universities.

We must keep the country attractive for all students and postdocs.

We must keep our nation attractive for immigration.

At the same time, we must increase STEM participation of all groups.

I’ll close with another great quote from Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian:

“As we embark upon a new academic year full of promise and opportunity, let us reaffirm our belief in the power of education to transcend social and economic divides. Let us take pride in knowing how much our work matters. And let us continue embracing the diversity that has always made, and continues to make, it all possible.”


[1] An IHE is an institute of higher education.

[2] From the Annual Survey of the Mathematical Sciences and for the period July 1, 2015–June 30, 2016: www.ams.org/profession/data/annual-survey/annual-survey

[3] During 2014–18, in four AMS journals: Journal of the AMS, Transactions of the AMS, Proceedings of the AMS, and Mathematics of Computation.


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Gerrymandering and math in the era of state reform

Editor’s note: Hope Johnson is a data scientist at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, where she is on a team developing OpenPrecincts, a database of precinct and electoral data to help citizens participate fully in redistricting. Hope graduated from Macalester College in 2019. The views expressed here are hers. 

Bug design courtesy of Lafayette College

We at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project (PGP) believe that extreme gerrymandering hampers democracy. In June of 2019, the Supreme Court failed to settle on a workable standard for partisan fairness in redistricting. In doing so, the court permitted politicians drawing election district maps to discriminate along party lines. To prevent this from happening, my team at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project are trying to bridge the gap between mathematics and the law to pursue the strongest route to reform: state-by-state.

States can take action to create fair, impartial, and transparent processes for redistricting. These actions include establishing an independent redistricting commission, creating voter initiatives, bringing court cases, and changing the state law. Given the variation in state politics and law, what works to create fair maps in one state may not be an effective strategy in the next. But in order for any strategy to prove effective, citizens must first be engaged around the issue of partisan gerrymandering! That’s where the data branch of PGP, OpenPrecincts, comes in.

As part of its broader mission to support fair districting using data, math, and law, my team established OpenPrecincts as a one-stop shop for any organization seeking data to achieve their representational goals.

Working closely with partner organizations, we collect data from many governmental sources. Then we validate the data, convert it to a usable format, integrate maps with voting and Census data, and make it freely available. Starting with highest-priority states, we are working towards creating a resource for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

Photo courtesy of Princeton Gerrymandering Project

In short, we aspire to make OpenPrecincts a key resource for citizen-driven redistricting reform. Public engagement sends a powerful message to legislators that citizens are paying attention to redistricting processes and outcomes. Data-sharing projects like the Public Mapping Project and  free software like Dave’s Redistricting and PlanScore help citizens draw their own maps. Using these tools, and integrating high quality data from OpenPrecincts, aids citizens in exposing uncompetitive and unfair district plans.

There are many possible ways to use granular, high-quality data to investigate gerrymandering. Perhaps the most basic way is to calculate simple summary statistics of electoral results over time within a given geographic unit. In areas where we worry about partisan gerrymandering, I sometimes notice that the vote share for one party hovers around 50% for a few years, and after redistricting the vote share in the same area shoots far above or below the 50% winning threshold. Although other factors might explain this pattern, it is a red flag for packing and/or cracking. Data visualization is an incredibly effective tool for spotlighting outliers like the one that I described above.

Calculating summary statistics is always my first step when exploring data, and there are formalized statistical tests to continue investigating. The widely-used student’s t-test, the difference between the mean and the median of the vote share for one party, and the divergence from proportional representation are all in the suite of tools to quantify partisan gerrymandering. The tests for partisan gerrymandering all come with their own advantages and disadvantages (as is the case for most statistical answers to political questions). At PGP, we always aim to contextualize quantitative results with local and historical information about voting.

Another, increasingly popular, method for quantifying gerrymandering uses sampling. Using Markov Chain Monte Carlo methodologies, various groups around the country have specialized in producing a vast number of possible districting plans and compare a contentious plan to the mass of sample plans. Comparing the outcome and competitiveness of the hypothetical plans and the actual districts is a great way of bringing mathematical rigor to questions about partisan gerrymandering.

In a working democracy, power lies with the people, but the practice of gerrymandering threatens that promise. Making use of statistical and mathematical tools, we can take a creative, and multi-faceted reform strategy to curb the practice of gerrymandering and make the redistricting process independent and nonpartisan. Ultimately there is a way to draw fair district lines in all fifty states, and math and data can help us take partisanship out of the process!


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Some fun and interesting summer reading: A brief history of the National Science Foundation

I blog regularly about annual appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF), and about NSF policies that might affect you. But, what is the NSF? When did it come to be? Why? What makes it different from all other federal agencies?

Read on. I will try not to get too weedy.

The NSF will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2020, and planning for celebratory activities is underway. It is important to recognize this anniversary, as the relationship between science and government is under some strain right now and the symbiotic relationship is old and to be cherished. In the best of times, legislators and other policymakers turn to and rely on scientists for vision, evidence and guidance on scientific matters, and, in turn, support scientists’ work.

NSF headquarters, Alexandria VA

The NSF is the major source of federal funding for mathematics research done at colleges and universities in the US. Overall, the NSF funds about 24% of all federally funded basic research done at colleges and universities (it is over 64% in the mathematical sciences). The Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health, and Department of Energy are other significant funders of mathematics research. Money (“appropriations”) for these agencies is allocated each year, and making the case for our country’s continued and strengthened investment in basic research is part of my job.

The NSF is only one of several Executive Branch agencies that funds scientific research. NSF is unique as it is the only agency of the federal government

  • devoted to supporting basic research and education across all scientific and engineering fields, without a mission guiding its choices of projects to fund, and
  • without any “in-house” labs.

In other words, the NSF program officers determine which proposals to fund based on potential, and there are no scientists employed doing research at the NSF.

Though the NSF is relatively young, the importance of investment in science has been recognized as long as our country has existed. On January 8, 1790, President Washington, in his first Annual Message to Congress (now the State of the Union address), asserted

“… there is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness.”

He spoke about several science-related topics in that address (e.g., establishing a standard for weights). At his request, Congress passed an act in 1790 that led to our current Patent and Trademark Office. This can be considered as the first congressional action on science policy.

Prior to the Civil War, public health, agriculture, and geography were of great concern. As just one example, Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition was commissioned by President Jefferson. In 1862, President Lincoln’s Morrill Act established the land-grant university system focusing on agricultural research. Military concerns rose in importance during the Civil War. Concerns about food safety, public health, and environmental conservation increased in the early 20th century.

In 1884, the Senate took up the question of how the federal government might interact with science (should they fund it, get advice from scientists, etc.). The “Allison Commission” (named for Senator William Boyd Allison of Iowa who led this examination) considered establishing a federal Department of Science (and a national university, which had also been suggested by Washington in that very first State of the Union address), but this agency did not come to be. This said, several science agencies were established between the Civil War and World War I. For example, the Weather Bureau (now called the National Weather Service) was signed into law by President Grant in 1870 and in 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Pure Food and Drug Act, establishing what we now call the Food and Drug Administration.

During the 1940s, the Senate continued to discuss the role of the federal government in science and vice versa. During this period, President Franklin Roosevelt commissioned a report by his science advisor Vannevar Bush. This now famous reportScience, the Endless Frontiergave a vision for how federal government and science and technology might interact and led directly to the NSF’s establishment. The report came out in 1945 and, after five more years of congressional visioning and compromise, the NSF was finally established in a law signed by President Truman on May 10, 1950. As an incidental note, President Truman gave a speech at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 1948 that discusses a proposed NSF, and he discussed the agency in State of the Union addresses; in contrast, imagine our current President giving speeches to large groups of scientists.

Ok, that was a very quick version of the complex and seriously interesting history of how the federal government supports science (e.g., the Morrill Act) and even quicker on how science supports the government (e.g., weather information used for military purposes). You can read more at the NSF’s great history page.

Fast forward.

Today, the NSF

  • has an annual budget of $8.1 billion (FY 2019);
  • distributes 93% of this money to researchers across the country;
  • supports “disciplinary” research through seven directorates;
  • supports further research through interdisciplinary programs, including the “Big Ideas”.

The NSF funds research in all 50 states, at about 2,000 academic and other private and public institutions across the US, supporting the research of 386,000 individuals. In 2018, the NSF received over 48,000 research proposals; the overall success rate was about 25% that year. It funds everything from oceanographic research vessels to the world’s largest and highest power magnet lab to the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation.

Another cool thing the agency does is to collect reams of data and publish the Science & Engineering Indicators. These reports give interesting statistics on education, research and development, the global marketplace, and public attitudes toward science. “The State of US Science and Engineering,” summarizing indicators, will be released on January 15, 2020. In the meantime, you can look at thematic reports (on a particular topic), examine state comparisons, and lots more. If you are into this sort of thing, you can spend a lot of time at this website; it is fascinating.

Of the roughly 2,100 employees, about 200 are rotators (there temporarily, typically on leave from an academic institution). The Director of the NSF, currently Dr. France Córdova, is appointed by the President and confirmed by the US Senate. March 18, 2020 will be Dr. Córdova’s last day of her six-year term; I am eagerly waiting to see who the next Director will be (super important for our community). The President also appoints the Deputy Director and the 24 members of the National Science Board (NSB); Senate confirmation is required for the Director and Deputy Director. The NSB meets regularly, and I attend open portions of their meetings.

Most mathematicians who work at the NSF work in the Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS). Some work in Education and Human Resources (EHR). You can spend a year or two at the NSF as a “rotator”.

Whether you are personally supported by an NSF grant, or ever have been, it is important for all of us in the mathematics community to recognize the non-partisan role this agency plays in advancing science in this country. Happy 70th NSF!






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Addressing Threats and Vulnerabilities in Critical Interconnected Systems: Common Principles in Disease Outbreaks, Internet Malware, and Bank Failures

Photo credit: Scavone Photography

On June 13, the AMS, together with MSRI hosted another in its series of biannual Congressional Briefings, with that title. Our presenter was Jon Kleinberg, the Tisch University Professor of Computer Science and Information Science at Cornell University. Introductory remarks were made by MSRI Director David Eisenbud, AMS President Jill Pipher, and me.

Dr. Kleinberg’s research focuses on issues at the interface of networks and information, with an emphasis on the social and information networks like the Web and other social media platforms.[1]

It was a great presentation. This is the fifth of these I’ve run and I am starting to feel guilty about saying they are each great. But, each one has been great. We’ve had

  • David Donoho talk about compressed sensing and MRI technology,
  • Shafi Goldwasser on cryptography and privacy,
  • Eric Demaine on the many practical applications of folding,
  • Rodolfo Torres on Fourier analysis and nanomaterials, and now
  • Jon Kleinberg on networks and highly connected systems.

Man, they’ve been good.

In the many months leading up to each briefing, David Eisenbud and I work with the speaker, developing their talk for this special audience, ensuring that it conveys content of interest and also the message we want lawmakers to hear–robust, dependable, and sustained federal investment in basic research in mathematical sciences pays off for American taxpayers and helps the nation remain a world leader in innovation. On the former, of course these speakers are all incredibly excellent communicators (one reason they are chosen) and some of them have already presented to Congress. We prep them on everything from who to expect in the room and what these people might be wearing, to avoid partisan topics in the Q & A period (in this case we thought discussion of the current measles outbreak could lead to vaccination discussions), and that “when we say ‘no formulas on your slides,’ we really mean it!” Jon Kleinberg’s very first slide (after the title slide) showed the Washington DC Metro Map. This really is a nice visualization and helped the audience feel at ease and assured them that–if they pay attention–they will be able to follow this talk (here is a big generalization: this is something we are not so good at in math, helping our listeners feel like we actually want them there).


Dr. Kleinberg was successful in showing how mathematicians and computer scientists think about abstract networks and how general approaches developed in graph theory can be used to approach problems in many areas of congressional concern. How do we identify the most critical nodes in a network? The most vulnerable edges? He talked about protecting our electric grid (a network we want to protect), and controlling the spread of disease (a network we want to disrupt).

One application that I think the audience really appreciated focused on using mathematical ideas to find early indications that (parts of) our large banking system may fail. He showed a nice slide illustrating that certain types of data only show an immediate threat, whereas a more heterogeneous collection of data shows fragility in the system earlier, and how the spread amplifies as the trouble spreads. Finding earlier signals could have prevented the great recession of a decade ago, or at least given forewarning and thus we could have worked to minimize its devastation.

He also discussed online social networks, and how information spreads over the internet; issues important in DC as we approach another election and examine the role social media played in our last presidential election.

If you are inspired to learn more, you can check out his book Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning About a Highly Connected World, which is based on an inter-disciplinary course that he teaches to undergraduates, requiring no formal prerequisites.

Representative Haley Stevens’s office secured the room for our briefing, and helped with logistics. We are very grateful for this assistance.

Photo credit: Scavone Photography

Our spring/summer briefings are fun because there are so many interns spending the summer working in Congress, and we usually have a pretty good show of them in the room. This one was no different and several of them asked great questions. Interns are normally college students (who are not math majors) and I feel good that they will go back to campus, having heard a great math talk, in Congress. I don’t think many college students (or many Americans more generally, if I have to be honest) think about the importance of mathematics in so many areas of concern for the health of our nation. I hope they go back to campus with a positive attitude about the beauty and power of mathematics.

Our next briefing will take place in December, and AMS President Jill Pipher will be our presenter. I’m excited already!


[1] His work has been supported by an NSF Career Award, an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, a Packard Foundation Fellowship, a Simons Investigator Award, a Sloan Foundation Fellowship, and grants from Facebook, Google, Yahoo, the MacArthur Foundation, the Army Research Office, and the NSF. He is a recipient of the Association of Computing Machinery’s Prize in Computing and the Nevanlinna Prize from the International Mathematical Union. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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AMS Primer on Open Access


Over the past several years, traditional models of journal publications have been scrutinized, and new models of “open access” publishing have been launched. The AMS has made changes to its family of journals, and has been active in policy discussions on this issue with government officials. I have been working with AMS Director of Publishing Robert Harington on this issue. Robert has written a very informative introduction to open access. Below appears the Introduction; you can read more (and also find a one-page summary of the AMS’s position on open access) at our website. These are both found at the bottom of our page on Office of Government Relations collaborations and position statements.


Open access (OA) refers to published scholarly content (such as journal research articles, and books) made openly available in online digital form. This content is free of charge at point of use, free of most copyright and licensing restrictions, and free of technical or other barriers to access (such as digital rights management or requirements to register to access).

Communicating and sharing discoveries is an essential part of the research process. Any author of a research paper wants it to be read, and the fewer restrictions placed on access to those papers means that more people may benefit from the research. In many ways, the OA movement is very much in line with the shared mission of researchers, scholarly societies, and publishers.

Journal publishing programs perform many services for researchers including peer review, communication, and career advancement. In society publishing programs, revenue from journal publishing directly supports the important work societies do on behalf of their scholarly communities.

How do we maximize the dissemination of knowledge while at the same time maintaining both a high level of quality and a sustainable financial future for our professional society, the AMS?

The OA movement can be traced to a letter from the year 2000, signed by around 34,000 researchers, demanding publishers make all content free after 6 months. The signatories of the letter said they would boycott any journals refusing to comply. In 2002, the accepted definition of OA was encapsulated in the Budapest Open Access Initiative declaration.

While the threatened boycott never materialized, an antagonistic tone was set, and this has marked much of the discussion around OA to the present day. There has been a lot of unproductive argument and invective, rather than efforts to find common ground. Unfortunately, advocacy for rationale discourse has floundered, leading societies such as the AMS to consider how to tread independently a path of balance and reason.

Click here to continue reading about open access categories; the benefits, risks and politics of the various models; and the AMS recommendations.

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What is Congress up to, vis-à-vis the NSF? Money and Demography


During the week of May 6, I attended two hearings in the House of Representatives, both of which had to do with the NSF. Congressional hearings are (usually) open to the public. Some are easy to get in to, some are very, very popular and hundreds of people wait in line and never get in. The latter did happen, for example, when I went to the confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos. At that one, there were two “over-flow rooms” which were also packed and in which one watched the proceedings on a tv. People had flown in from all over the country for her hearing, and some were protesting and getting dragged out of the building by Capitol police. This is typical for controversial confirmation hearings in the Senate.

That said, most are not that exciting or crowded. Usually the ones I attend are well-attended but not hard to get in to. Who the heck goes to these? My counterparts at other disciplinary science societies, staff from Congressional offices of members who are not on the committee, and media writers from journals like Science.

Roughly what it looks like from where I sit, in the committee’s hearing room. The people facing us are the members of Congress, witnesses who are testifying are at the table facing them. Incidentally, the paintings on the wall are of past committee chairs; all are white men, soon Eddie Bernice Johnson’s image will join. She is a black woman. Source: https://ciresblogs.colorado.edu/prometheus/2013/12/06/roger-pielke-jr-to-testify-at-us-house-science-committee-on-environment-hearing/

On May 8 I attended A Review of the National Science Foundation FY 2020 Budget Request, and on May 9 it was Achieving the Promise of a Diverse Workforce. At those links you can listen to the entirety of the hearings (if that’s your thing), or just choose to read statements made by the congressional members and the witnesses. For less effort, just keep reading. There are articles covering these online already and I will try to add to these in this blog, and not give a blow-by-blow of each hearing. Here is just one good account of the second hearing.

May 8 hearing: How much money should the NSF have to invest in research in FY2020?

How these hearings (generally) go is that the committee chair and the ranking member give opening statements, and these are followed by opening statements from each witness. After that, the congressional members in the room ask questions, in 5 minute installments, to the witnesses. The May 8 hearing came after President Trump released his own idea about how much money the NSF should get for FY2020, and before the House appropriators give their recommendation. Freshman Haley Stevens (representing Michigan’s 3rd district, and Chair of the Subcommittee on Research and Technology) opened with:

It worries me that this Administration does not truly understand the importance of scientific funding to our nation’s innovation goals. This proposal represents a vision for science that, if realized, would be disastrous for our nation’s long-term welfare, security, and competitiveness.

It is not a surprise to you, I bet, that President Trump proposes a massive cut to the NSF. The good news is that Congressional support for the NSF is, truly, bipartisan. In mathematics, about 64% of all research done at colleges and universities that is federally-funded, is in fact funded by the NSF. This system for supporting our work is relatively recent, as witness National Science Board Chair Diane Souvaine explained in her opening statement:

Before NSF was founded, S&E research was focused on using new discoveries to develop technologies used toward victory in World War II. In Science – the Endless Frontier, Vannevar Bush presented a vision for a new model, in which individuals with advanced degrees working at elite universities performed government-supported research. Since then, our national S&E ecosystem has changed and grown.

 While the President’s budget “is only a proposal” and Congress is prone to ignore it in their final appropriations, it can still hurt scientific progress. As House Science Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX, district 30) said about his proposed cut to the NSF:

A cut like that would keep us from funding excellent research and slow progress in critical areas of technology development. Unfortunately, this is a pattern we’ve seen from this White House over the past three budget cycles. To make matters worse, the recent shut down of much of our government for 35 days, including the National Science Foundation, resulted in delays for 2,000 grant applications. While that may seem minor to some, delays in grant funding derail academic careers, sometimes permanently. Increasingly, U.S. students and early career researchers are packing up for better opportunities abroad or leaving STEM altogether.

This hearing on the NSF budget for FY2020 was in the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. They oversee NSF policy, but do not get to decide how much money the NSF gets each year. That responsibility lies with the House Appropriations Committee and, in particular, with the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science. On May 16, the appropriators put out their proposal for NSF funding in FY2020. They propose \$8.64 billion.[1] Their summary of the bill says that “These funds will foster innovation and U.S. economic competitiveness, including funding for research on advanced manufacturing, physics, mathematics, cybersecurity, neuroscience, and STEM education.” So, we observe that they highlight mathematics (and a few other areas) out of all the many science fields supported by the NSF. Now we wait for the House to finalize this, for the Senate to come out and then finalize their number, for the two chambers to agree, and finally for President Trump to sign on.

Perhaps because the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology has oversight of NSF (but not budgetary power), attention during the hearing often turned to non-budgetary issues. One of the most interesting lines of questioning had to do with current concerns that NSF-funded research is used unfairly by foreign governments. The two witnesses explained the steps that the NSF has recently taken to address these concerns and protect research and researchers. For example,

  • individuals who rotate through the NSF each year, serving as program officers, must now be US citizens or have applied to become a US citizen;
  • the NSF is improving the quality of its monitoring, assessment, and auditing of research grant applicants’ disclosure forms; and
  • grant proposals must justify why an international branch of a US institution of higher education is the necessary site for a proposed research project (why not simply visit the domestic campus?).

The witnesses were quick to point out that it is their focus to keep the global science community open and cooperative, while balancing the (real or perceived) need for closer scrutiny of foreign influence.

May 9 hearing: Broadening participation in science: the STEM Opportunities Act

The second hearing provided the backdrop for Rep Johnson to reintroduce her STEM Opportunities Act. She has introduced this in the past, but this is the first time she has had a Republican co-sponsor (Rep Frank Lucas, Oklahoma district 3, who is the committee’s ranking member) and also the first time it has been introduced in a Democratically-controlled House.

The hearing focused on how to increase the number of women and minorities in STEM fields. Rep Johnson began by noting that there has not been a hearing of this committee focused on STEM participation since 2010, and by listing some of the well-known and troubling statistics about minority PhD attainment. The arguments for making STEM fields more inclusive include the argument that to stay globally competitive we need all minds, and that we are not using the minds of 50% of our population (an argument for getting more women into these fields).

NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, the first black woman to travel to space. (Source: NASA)

Witness Dr. Mae Jemison added with the observation that “The relative homogeneity of the leadership of the STEMM (the second “M” is for medicine) workforce and industries has far-reaching implications for the nation’s broader research and innovation agenda.” For example, how does the demographic make-up of the family of scientists skew the actual science that gets done? She continued, “For instance, issues related to car crash-test dummies are designed based on the “average” male, such that when a woman is involved in a car crash, she is 47% more likely to be seriously injured and 17% more likely to die, even when controlling for factors such as height, weight, seatbelt usage, and crash intensity.” Dr. Jemison was very impressive as a witness and is very impressive for her individual accomplishments: she is a doctor, she served in the Peace Corps, she speaks Russian, Japanese and Swahili. Oh, and did I mention that she is the first black woman to travel in space? In the early 1990s, she travelled on the space shuttle Endeavour on 126 orbits around the Earth. All five of the witnesses are impressive individuals.

There are many bills introduced that are aimed to broaden participation in STEM fields; the STEM Opportunities Act is the only one I know of that specifically addresses barriers for faculty at colleges and universities. There are many bits to this bill. If it were to become law, here are examples of what would happen:

  • The NSF would have to collect data from universities on the number of faculty members at different ranks by gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship status, age, and years since completion of doctoral degree.
  • The Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) would have to develop written guidance for institutions of higher education for conducting periodic climate surveys of STEM departments, with a particular focus on identifying cultural or institutional barriers to the recruitment, retention, or advancement of women, racial and ethnic minorities, and other groups historically underrepresented in STEM studies and careers.
  • The OSTP Director would also have to work with agencies (including the NSF) to get provisions in place for grantees who are caregivers (those who have caregiving responsibilities, including care for a newborn or newly adopted child and care for an immediate family member who is sick or disabled). This would include, for example, flexibility in timing for the initiation of approved research awards.

We have made progress with our efforts to achieve STEM faculties at colleges and universities that mirror the general public’s demography, but there is still so much to be done. I admire and thank the five witnesses for their hard and determined work over so many years. I truly appreciate Representatives Johnson and Lucas combined efforts on this front and for raising this issue to their colleagues.


[1] In FY2018, the NSF had \$8.1 billion; Trump proposes \$7.1, and the AMS supports \$9 billion for FY2020. https://www.ams.org/government/dc-testimony-2019

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President Trump issues his FY 2020 budget, what does it look like for the mathematical sciences, and what happens next?


On March 11 President Trump released his proposal, titled “A Budget for a Better America,” outlining how the government should make investments for the FY2020. As in his first two, his third annual budget includes massive cuts for science. In FY2019, the NSF received \$8.1 billion. There are areas connected to the mathematical sciences that are prioritized by the White House (and described on page 269 of the Analytic Perspective on Research and Development), including artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) continues to be the single biggest funder of research in the mathematical sciences done at colleges and universities. Jeff Mervis, of Science, writes “If adopted, the 2020 budget would be NSF’s smallest since 2013. NSF officials estimate that the foundation would make 1000 fewer new awards (the figure was 9000 in 2018) and that the success rate for grant applicants will dip by 1%, to 21%.”

For FY2020, the President has proposed a 12% decrease (to \$7.1 billion) from FY2019 for the NSF overall. The AMS is advocating for \$9 billion for the NSF; we have submitted written testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee describing our rationale for this amount. Most of the NSF’s budget goes directly to “Research and Related Activities” which, for FY2020, is budgeted at \$5.7 million (a 13% decrease from FY2019).

The NSF has the final say about how the \$5.7 will be distributed amongst the eight directorates but proposed cuts to those range from an increase of 4% (to Integrative Activities) to a cut of 20% (to Polar Programs).[1] Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) is marked for the second largest decrease, of 16%. For FY2019, MPS had one of the largest increases. Inside MPS, funds get distributed amongst seven disciplinary sciences and the Office of Multidisciplinary Activities. The Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) is slated for a 14.5% decrease; the only division in MPS doing better is Chemistry (with a more modest proposed cut of 13%).

DMS supports core research, and building the next generation of scientists by supporting early-career researchers. About 48% of the DMS funds go to new research grants each year, and the remaining funds support grants made in prior years and the infrastructure of the community of mathematical scientists. At the recent annual meeting of the AMS Committee on Science Policy, DMS Director Juan Meza reported that about 75% of DMS grants go to individual investigators, about 15% to the math institutes, and the remaining to infrastructure. The success rate for individual investigators proposals is now about 25%, and this is pretty uniform for early and later career proposers.

Working with other NSF divisions, DMS provides support for the Big Ideas, primarily for “Quantum Leap”, “Harnessing the Data Revolution”, and “Understanding the Rules of Life”. In addition, DMS partners with other NSF divisions, and with other agencies (e.g., NIH) and private foundations (e.g., Simons Foundation) to support a broad set of research areas. There are many concerning details about the President’s budget proposal for the NSF; in addition to the cuts discussed above, the Graduate Research Fellowship Program would support only 1600 new fellows, as compared to 2000 that NSF has been able to support in recent years.

Higher education is also under fire. For example, the TEACH Grant program would be diminished; this program helps students pay for college if they agree to teach in subjects–including in mathematics–that lack teachers. There would be a very large cut (over 55%) to the Federal Work Study program, which provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need. These, and other cuts to programs that assist with college tuition, would make a college education unavailable to even more Americans.

While I am (mostly) writing here about slashes to scientific research, and this certainly is a huge concern for our community, I am hyper-aware of my privileged position as a tenured academic mathematician. My heart truly goes out to the millions of kids living in poverty. Low-income kids will lose big, even without much left to lose. If the President’s budget were adopted, food stamps would be cut significantly and subsidies for housing would too. Public education would get less funding. Money now used for after-school programs for low-income students would be diverted to help support vouchers for private schools. There is less and less possibility that these kids will be showing up at college after (if) they complete high school. This outlook does NOT fit with the message to “Make America Great Again.”

The next step in the budget process is for Congress to respond to the President’s budget with their own version. And, ultimately, Congress and the White House must agree. Congress has begun this process but no numbers from either chamber are out yet about the NSF. The House has already indicated that it is not agreeing with the President on many of the cuts to higher education.

You can help by asking your Congressional delegation to ensure strong funding for the NSF — take action here: https://www.ams.org/government/getinvolved-dc#/

Despite knowing how the budget process is supposed to unfold, it has not done so in many years and this has resulted in us living with continuing resolution after continuing resolution, interspersed with government shutdowns. There are various proposals out there for changing the process altogether. Some reform is needed; we are stuck and this is hurting Americans and America.

It is interesting, even ironic, that the administration touts “America First” while failing to support the scientific research and investment in education that is necessary to make the US truly competitive. Other countries are making large, and increasing investments in basic research. Lest you think this criticism of slashing science is partisan, Senator Lamar Alexander, a senior Republican who holds positions of leadership in the Senate, said “I would tell President Trump and the Office of Management and Budget that science, research and innovation is what made America first, and I recommend that he add science research and innovation to his ‘America First’ agenda.”

Let’s end with some good news. Last year the President proposed similar cuts but Congress did not take his advice. Congress typically does not follow the President’s lead on the budget. Trump had proposed a cut to the NSF of 4% last year, but Congress in fact raised it, by about 4%.

[1] In this paragraph, percentage changes are from FY2018 to FY2020, as final numbers for the FY2019 distribution within NSF are not yet known.

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We are not doing so well

Editor’s note: This was updated on April 26. The original had a few errors. Thank you to Tom Barr at the AMS for help getting the correct numbers.

Ok, so that title doesn’t tell you much.

Two reports came out recently, both based on data collected by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES). Both interesting, one downright troubling.

This post falls into the category of “I think you should know this,” and I ask you to think about what you can do about the implications of the reports.

One is referred to as an “InfoBrief” and titled “Higher Education R&D Spending: Spending and Funding Sources Differ by State.” The other is a biennial report on “Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering.”

The InfoBrief

The InfoBrief shows–for each state–where funding originates for research and development (R&D) at colleges and universities. Data are from the Higher Education R&D Survey, from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics within the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Academic institutions depend on a variety of funding sources — including the federal government, state and local governments, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and institutions’ own funding. Table 1 shows the total contributions from these sources, and that there is great variety from state to state.


Funding sourcePercentage of R&D total funding from this sourceLowHigh
Federal government54%35% (ND)70% (CO)
State and local governments6%1% (VM)27% (ND)
Business6%1.7% (NV)12.1% (NC)
Non-profits6.4%5% (CA)35% (MA)
Institution25%9% (CO)46% (RI)

Sixty-six percent of funding from nonprofits supported R&D in the life sciences. State and local funds have largely been used to support life sciences (61%) and engineering (17%). Businesses funds have also largely been used to support life sciences (61%) and engineering (25%). And, institutional funding largely supports the broad fields of life sciences (54%) and engineering (13%).

In 2016, the federal government provided the majority of funding in life and physical sciences, engineering, computer sciences, geosciences, mathematics, and psychology.

Where does this (from all sources) investment go, by field?


FieldGets this % of investment (from all sources)
Life sciences57%
Physical sciences7%
Computer sciences3%
Mathematical sciences1%

Note that further funds went to multi-disciplinary work.

The Report

The report provides statistical information about the participation of the three groups of the title in science and engineering education and employment. NSF reporting on this topic is mandated by the Science and Engineering Equal Opportunities Act (Public Law 96-516). It includes data on the participation of women and minorities that are not favorable for the mathematical sciences.

Recently I was perusing the Annual Survey of the Mathematical Sciences. I was specifically looking to find out what percentage of tenured faculty–at a particular research university–I might expect to be female. Among tenured faculty in PhD-granting mathematics departments, about 14% were women; among tenured faculty in master’s and bachelor’s-granting math departments about 27% were women; among tenured faculty in stats/biostats, the percentage was about 24%. The school I was looking for is a university classified as “Math Private Small”; at this group of 28 departments just under 14% of the full-time tenured faculty are women. This is for 2016. Ugh.

In the back of my mind is the idea that we are doing worse in academia than in other employment sectors, and worse in mathematics than in other fields. Wishful thinking on my part; this report shows otherwise.

Figure 1

Of all science and engineering (S&E) degrees awarded in 2016, women earned about half of bachelor’s degrees, 44% of master’s degrees, and 41% of doctorate degrees, about the same as in 2006. Figure 1 shows that while more women are getting PhDs in mathematics and statistics than were twenty years ago, we are actually doing worse than we were a decade ago. At the bachelor’s degree level, it has been a slow decline.

Even for women who are “making it” in S&E professions, we see salary discrepancies. Among scientists and engineers working full time in 2017, women generally made less than men did. Overall, women’s median annual salary was \$66,000, whereas the median salary for men was \$90,000. In the mathematical sciences, it is \$70,000 and \$81,000, rosier but not exactly a fact of which we should be proud. According to the US Census Bureau, women’s median earnings as a percentage of men’s median earnings was 80.7% in 2017, which is worse than in the mathematical sciences.

What about with minorities? In 2016, underrepresented minority students received 22% of all S&E bachelor’s degrees and 9% of all S&E doctorate degrees. The share of S&E bachelor’s degrees awarded to Hispanics or Latinos has increased over the past 20 years. Over the past two decades, African Americans have seen increased shares of bachelor’s degrees in psychology, social sciences, and biological sciences, but their degree shares have declined slightly in the other fields. Important to us, the share of bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and statistics earned by African Americans declined from 7% to 4%. It is worth noting that the top US baccalaureate institutions of S&E recipients from various groups (2013-2017) are, in this order, Howard University, Spelman College, and Florida A&M University.

According to the Annual Survey, 39 African American men and 14 African American women received PhDs in the mathematical sciences during the period July 1, 2015-June 30, 2016 (the most recent year data are available). This means that African Americans earned roughly 2.7% of math PhDs during that time.

The primary purpose of the report is to serve as a statistical abstract with no endorsement of or recommendations about policies or programs. So what is to be done?

In an ideal world, the demographic of the mathematics community would be closer to that of the US as a whole. What it takes to work toward this will be institution dependent. I urge you to figure out what can be done at your own institution to move the needle, and work with your colleagues to take action. Even small achievements are successes. Awareness is a first step.





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Meet the AMS Committee on Science Policy

The AMS has five “policy” committees, which were established in 1993 to correspond to the five major areas in which the mission of the AMS is concentrated: Education, Meetings and Conferences, the Profession, Publications, and Science Policy. Each policy committee provides major direction for AMS activities in its area.

The Committee on Science Policy is one of the five. From the Committee website:

 The Committee on Science Policy serves as a forum for dialogue about matters of science policy involving representatives of the Society, government and other interested parties; interacts with Federal agencies and policymakers; provides advice to the Society on matters of broad science policy; conducts periodic reviews of Society activities in areas of science policy; and selects those elements of AMS meeting programs which bear directly on policy questions that are within the purview of the Committee.

I serve as the staff support for this committee. This means that I help set the agenda for the annual meeting, and give logistic and content support throughout the year for the committee’s work.

The Committee meets for two days each spring, in Washington DC, giving us the opportunity to interact with important players in the policy arena (including congressional staff, from agencies that oversee funding in the mathematical sciences, and from other professional societies with missions with overlap to that of the AMS).[1] Our meeting this year will take place very soon — on April 15 and 16. Typical committee business includes planning for a policy session at the next Joint Mathematics Meeting, visiting Congressional offices (those of CSP member’s Senators and Representatives as well as key committee staff), and discussing AMS policies, programs and activities related to the CSP charge. On occasion, CSP brings statements to the AMS Council; one such recent example is the Policy Statement on Drawing Voting Districts and Partisan Gerrymandering, which was adopted by the Council in 2018.

In addition to the business portion of the meeting, we are looking forward to hearing from a handful of speakers who keep us up to date on legislation and other policies currently under discussion that may impact mathematics, mathematicians, and our students:

Sara Barber is a PhD physicist and professional staff member on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and on the Subcommittee on Research and Technology.[2] Last year Sara gave a great presentation on the legislative outlook for science for 2018. At that time, her party was the minority party. Following the November election, the Democrats are in the majority and we look forward to hearing a revised version of their priorities for the coming year.

Rush Holt is Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He is a PhD physicist and was the U.S. Representative for New Jersey’s 12th congressional district from 1999 to 2015. This is the first time we will hear from him.

Kei Koizumi is the Senior Advisor for Science Policy at the AAAS. He joined AAAS in February 2017 after 8 years in the Obama White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Kei has been a regular visitor to our meetings, though has not been with us in a few years. He is a great resource on the federal investment in research.

Juan Meza holds a PhD in Computational and Applied Mathematics and is currently Director of the Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) at the National Science Foundation. The AMS CSP always has the opportunity to hear from DMS about opportunities.

James Ricci is the 2018-19 AMS Congressional Fellow and is serving in the office of Senator Amy Klobuchar. Each year the AMS sponsors one Congressional Fellow who spends a year working on the staff in a personal office or for a committee. The Fellow is a standing presenter at our annual committee meeting, telling about her or his work in Congress, and the experience overall in the program.

Francis Slakey, the Chief Government Affairs Officer at the American Physical Society (APS), holds a PhD in physics and, in 2009, became the first person to summit the highest mountain on every continent and surf every ocean. Francis will speak with us about how the APS Government Affairs Office does its work within the society, and linking the society to decision-makers in DC.

The AMS CSP includes several at-large members, and also some who serve on the committee by virtue of some other position they hold within the AMS. The current at-large members of the Committee are:

  • Terrence Blackman is the Dean of the School of Science, Health, and Technology at Medgar Evers College, CUNY. He has served as Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professor in the Mathematics Department at MIT. His research concerns aspects of the Jacquet-Langlands correspondence, andtouches on the areas of number theory, spectral theory, hyperbolic geometry, and algebra.
  • Jeffrey Brock is Professor of Mathematics and Dean of Science at Yale University. He recently moved from Brown University, where he chaired his department from 2013 to 2017. In 2016 he served as founding Director of Brown’s Data Science Initiative. His research focuses on low dimensional geometry and topology.
  • Edgar Fuller is Distinguished University Professor, Associate Director of the STEM Transformation Institute, and Coordinator of Undergraduate Mathematics Education at Florida International University. He recently spent almost two years as an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the US Department of Homeland Security.
  • Wolfgang Kliemann, Iowa State University, is Interim Associate Dean. He has served as department chair for the Department of Mathematics, Associate Dean for Research for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and as the university’s Associate Vice President for Research. His research focuses on stochastic and deterministic system theory.
  • Francis Su, Benediktsson-Karwa Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, is a Past President of the Mathematical Association of America. His research is in geometric combinatorics and applications to the social sciences.
  • Michael Vogelius, Board of Governors Professor at Rutgers University, is the current Chair of the committee. He recently served as Division Director of the Division of Mathematical Sciences at the NSF. His research interests lie in the areas of mathematical analysis, partial differential equations and numerical analysis.
  • Suzanne Weekes, is Professor of Mathematics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Her research work is in numerical methods for differential equations including applications to spatio-temporal composites and cancer growth. She is the recipient of the 2019 Humphreys Award for Mentoring from the Association for Women in Mathematics, co-directs the national PIC Math (Preparation for Industrial Careers in Mathematical Sciences) Program, and she is a founding co-director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute Undergraduate Program (MSRI-UP).

Additional members are:

  • Kasso Okoudjou, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a member of the AMS Council and represents the Council on the committee.
  • Jill Pipher, Brown University, is the AMS President and thus sits on the committee.
  • Kenneth Ribet, University of California, Berkeley, is the AMS Immediate Past President and thus sits on the committee.
  • Catherine Roberts, American Mathematical Society, is the is the AMS Executive Director and thus sits on the committee.
  • Carla Savage, North Carolina State University, is the AMS secretary and thus sits on the committee, as a non-voting member.
  • Joseph Silverman, Brown University, is on the AMS Board of Trustees and represents the board on the committee.
  • Katherine Stevenson, California State University, is the Chair of the Committee on Education and thus sits on the committee.
  • Anthony Várilly-Alvarado, Rice University, is a member of the AMS Council and represents the Council on the committee.

How can you get involved?


[1] CSP meetings are invite only and typically only speakers and committee members are present.

[2] Read more about this committee and why it is important to the mathematical sciences community: https://blogs.ams.org/capitalcurrents/2019/02/16/which-members-of-congress-have-a-say-over-the-nsf/

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Why care about the American Association for the Advancement of Science as an early-career mathematician?

Photo courtesy of author.

Editor’s note: Guest columnist Luis Sordo Vieira is a PhD mathematician and Postdoctoral Associate at The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, a SIAM Science Policy Fellow, and a member of AMS, SIAM, SMB, AACR, and AAAS. I had the pleasure of meeting Luis at the AAAS Annual Meeting in February, and I am so happy he has written this opinion piece about why early career mathematicians should be more engaged with the AAAS.

I received my PhD in 2017 in number theory where I was funded by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. I am now a postdoc working with Dr. Reinhard Laubenbacher on multiscale modeling of disease. I want to share what I see as an underused resource for early-career mathematicians, from the humble perspective of a Latino-American postdoc. That is, I want to share why I think the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the largest general scientific community, is a truly valuable resource for us and why we need to get more involved with the AAAS. I will attempt to break it up into three main sections—1. Science! The reason we all do what we do, 2. Networking, and 3. Advocacy.

To be clear, I write this as an individual citizen and I do not represent any company, institution, association, or entity as I write this. Hence, every nonsense statement is my own fault.

Robots built by high school students at AAAS Annual Meeting. Photo courtesy of author.

Science- I just attended my first AAAS annual meeting in Washington, DC. The AAAS annual meeting felt like the grown-up version of watching the magic school bus! I learned that NASA has a publicly available database of biological experiments done in space! I learned that we can now distribute entangled photons over 1200 kilometers by satellite (Yin et al.), and I learned about The Artificial Pancreas project, a device that delivers insulin to patients as-needed based on mathematical modeling. I heard about the wonderful work of Dr. Kristin Swanson—how she is using mathematical methods to study response in glioblastomas, the same type of cancer that took Senator John McCain’s life in 2018. I saw a talk by the first female CERN director, Dr. Fabiola Gianotti, who taught her audience about the discovery of the God Particle and the importance of international collaboration. I met a fantastic group of people that are interested in the role of science communication. I attended sessions on how to better communicate my research, a skill that surely will help me write better grants and papers. I even went to a session on how to improve my LinkedIn profile! And yes, employers actually do use LinkedIn, so if you don’t have one, make sure you get one. I got to see some robots in action, built by high school students! There were sessions on reproducibility and data-sharing, and even a session to bring your kids to learn science. The AAAS Annual meeting made the science world look bigger than ever.

During the Business Meeting of the Mathematical Section, I got to request scientific sessions I would like to see at the next AAAS meeting. I suggested two that are close to my heart: The Mathematics of Gerrymandering and Mathematics for Social Justice. Furthermore, AAAS offers several webinars, some of which are of direct interest to mathematicians. Their flagship publication, Science, is an incredible resource to learn about current policy issues as well as general science and career advice.

Lastly, I would argue that it is critical to see what sort of science you can contribute to that is interdisciplinary, and/or what sorts of positions are available applying your mathematical and analytical skills outside of traditional math departments.   Interestingly, the Annual Report of the AMS from 2015-2016 (Golbeck et al.) shows that out of the 1,746 new US PhD recipients for which employment is known, 1,449 are currently employed in the US, for which 495 (34%) of them end up in Business and Industry and 70 of them are in Government (5%). Thus, it is not at all unlikely that you will end up outside of a math department. The reality is that getting a tenure-track position at a research institution is becoming more difficult. Thus, attending the AAAS annual meeting and reading general science magazines, such as Science and Nature, will give insight into the kinds of positions that will use your skills. I truly believe that the training as a mathematician will allow you to work effectively in several different roles. However, you must not be passive, waiting for opportunities to happen. Be proactive, and expose yourself to the larger science community. I would be willing to argue that mathematics departments across the country should encourage their students to attend general scientific meetings. Not only will this benefit the students, but a mathematics community more connected with the larger scientific community will benefit the mathematics community itself.

Networking– Within three days at the AAAS annual meeting, I met Dr. Deborah Lockhart, the Deputy Assistant Director of the Assistant Director for Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the NSF, Dr. James Crowley, Executive Director at SIAM, Dr. Jennifer Pearl, the Director for the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship (if you don’t know about this program, take a break from this blog and go look at it!) and Dr. Karen Saxe, Director of The AMS Office of Government Relations. To be clear, when I say meet, I mean I had one-on-one conversations with them about what I want and need as a young mathematician. I even got the chance to personally thank Dr. France Cordova, Director of the NSF, for the service that the NSF provides graduate students through their Graduate Research Fellowship Program. I met several scientists working in diverse areas of science. As transdisciplinary collaborations are becoming increasingly valuable to funding organizations and science as a whole, this is a perk that is incredibly valuable for today’s science world. I also got the chance to meet several postdocs that now work in the federal government through the Science and Technology Policy Fellowship program. I was thoroughly impressed by the posts that these fellows now hold. I will give two examples, although I met several others. Dr. Anita Burgos works in the office of Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) and helps her draft legislation. Dr. Zulmarie Perez Horta is a Program Officer at the NIH. Both of these fantastic scientists now have an excellent background on how the federal government works, an outstanding understanding of the grant process, and an incredible ability to communicate. These are transferable skills for any job that you might want in the future.

White House science adviser Kelvin Droegemeier gave his inaugural public address at the 2019 AAAS Annual Meeting. Credit: AAAS, Robb Cohen Photography & Video.

Advocacy– Lastly, I wanted to talk about what I believe to be one of the most significant and important perks of the AAAS. We live in a world where facts are often confounded with opinions and feelings. We feel the pressure of existential problems for our generation—climate change, measles outbreaks, discriminatory usage of AI, etc. It is critical for scientists to stand up for what we believe. Through our training, we have the analytical expertise to dispel myths, to explain the difference between correlation and causation and to understand and explain p-hacking. We have the ability to literally create new math. Our training has led us to develop skills that can literally save the world. It is here that I ask for your help. The AAAS offers significant resources for science advocacy. Critically, AAAS has over 120,000 members, many of whom are actively participating in science advocacy. Not too long ago, I went to a talk by Dr. Jeff Hasty at UCSD on engineering genetic clocks through the principle of quorum sensing. Loosely speaking, quorum sensing is when a population reacts once a certain threshold of numbers of members is reached. To me, the principle of quorum sensing applies to science advocacy, and thus why the number of members of the AAAS is a significant resource. The AAAS offers several tangible resources on science advocacy, policy and communication. This includes several workshops for communication, a communications tool-kit, fellowships to participate in science policy at the federal level (one of these co-sponsored by the AMS), fellowships to advance the public knowledge of science, and a workshop for graduate students to learn about policy and advocacy. The AMS sponsors math graduate students and faculty for these fellowships and the Office of Government Relations website gives application and deadline information as well as about former fellows that their experiences.

Several extremely influential mathematicians came to me after the meeting and expressed how much they value my opinion. My voice was heard at the table, and yours should be heard too. You know what is best for your future, your training, and opportunities that will help you advance. I suggest all young mathematicians attempt to take an active role in the decision-making processes in our scientific societies. We know how we best receive information and process it (I get a lot of my information through the usage of social media, don’t you?). We know that not all of us want to pursue a traditional path in a mathematics department, and hence, we would like alternative training and skills that are readily transferable. Previous generations are willing to listen, and we are willing to speak. Will you join me?

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