Origami meets math, science, and engineering

MSRI Director David Eisenbud, Erik Demaine, AMS Government Relations Director Karen Saxe, and AMS President-elect Jill Pipher.

This is the enticing title of the most recent Congressional briefing, sponsored jointly by the AMS and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute.

On May 22, Professor Erik Demaine of MIT (a MacArthur Fellow “genius”) wowed the audience with surprising – and a surprisingly wide range of – applications of computational origami in manufacturing, robotics, public safety, space technology, and medicine.

Ingestible robot, developed by the research team of Demaine’s MIT colleague Daniela Rus. See: news.mit.edu/2016/ingestible-origami-robot-0512

We saw life-saving car airbags that are folded based on origami. We saw very large telescopes that fold to fit on space stations and then expand for use once in space. We saw deployable origami bulletproof shields that police and other keepers of our public safety can use, for example, during mass shooting situations. We saw a tiny origami robot that unfolds itself from a swallowed capsule and has the potential to transform internal medicine.

The briefing took place in the Russell Senate Office Building in a room secured for us by Senator Charles Schumer’s staff; we appreciate very much their support. We were fortunate to have a strong show of AMS leadership in the room – President Ken Ribet travelled from California, President-elect Jill Pipher from Rhode Island, and Vice President Ken Ono from Georgia.

I kicked off the event welcoming everyone.  MSRI Director David Eisenbud followed with a few words about both the two sponsoring groups and the goal for our briefings. He then introduced Representative Jerry McNerney who spoke about the importance of federal funding for research.

Erik Demaine and Congressman (and mathematician) Jerry McNerney.

McNerney is a Ph.D. mathematician (the only one in the current Congress), strong supporter of Congressional funding for fundamental research in mathematics and science, and vocal advocate for evidence-based policy-making. He is also an AMS member! We are extremely grateful for his presence at this briefing. AMS President Ken Ribet then introduced Erik Demaine.

Professor Demaine forcefully articulated two key messages:

  • mathematics touches a truly wide variety of other scientific and engineering fields, and
  • it is not always straightforward to predict what types of fundamental research will ultimately lead to innovations that improve our national security and save lives.

It is, therefore, critical that the federal government fund research that may – at times – seem abstract and potentially even silly. Investing in computational origami and much of theoretical mathematics may seem, by nature, somewhat risky but the examples in our briefings show what can happen with sustained funding from federal agencies. Investment in basic research is critical for reasons of economic and national security, and global competitiveness. Much of the research in mathematics is carried out by faculty members working in academia; our research universities have been the envy of the world and must remain so.

The talk was timely in the sense that Congress is currently in the midst of appropriations conversations for FY2019 funding. On May 17, the House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year 2019 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill on a vote of 32-19. The bill includes $8.175 billion for the National Science Foundation for FY2019. After years of funding levels that have not kept pace with inflation, this proposed increase of over 5% is a welcome and much-needed step forward to effectively supporting an agency that is vital to our economy, national security, and global competitiveness. The Senate has not yet released its NSF funding proposal. The President has proposed $7.5 billion (a 4% decrease) but Congress usually does not follow the administration’s suggestions. The AMS, as part of a large coalition of science societies and universities, is asking for $8.45 billion. I will write soon about how these deliberations unfold.

Curved Crease Sculpture, Erik & Martin Demaine, Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2012.

MacArthur Fellow Erik Demaine has been instrumental in the development of the field of computational origami. He is also an acclaimed artist. His works have been shown at major museums, and his pieces are in the permanent collections of Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian Renwick Gallery and New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

This briefing was just one a series of such. Other recent briefings include one by David Donoho (Stanford) on compressed sensing and MRI technology, and by Shafi Goldwasser (Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing at the University of California, Berkeley) on cryptography.

Posted in AMS Washington office, Congress, Federal support for science, Mathematicians, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Take action today!!! Petition to protect graduate students has June 1 deadline

SCROLL DOWN TO READ ABOUT & LINK TO THE PETITION, or use this Direct Link to PETITION (described below)

Congress is currently working on a re-authorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). This law, first enacted in 1965, is the basic federal law intended to increase accessibility to higher education.

Specifically, it authorizes numerous federal aid programs that provide support to both individuals pursuing a post-secondary education and institutions of higher education. The HEA is organized into eight titles:

  • Title I, General Provisions;
  • Title II, Teacher Quality Enhancement;
  • Title III, Strengthening Institutions;
  • Title IV, Student Assistance;
  • Title V, Developing Institutions;
  • Title VI, International Education Programs;
  • Title VII, Graduate and Postsecondary Improvement Programs; and
  • Title VIII, Additional Programs.

The HEA was last comprehensively reauthorized in 2008, though it has been amended over the past decade. It really needs to be reauthorized.

So, where are we in the reauthorization process?

On December 12, 2017, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved — along party lines — the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform Act (PROSPER Act; H.R. 4508), which would provide for the comprehensive re-authorization of the HEA.

It is now up to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) to come up with their version of this bill.

Once the Senate introduces their version, the two versions need reconciled. When a final version is approved by both House and Senate, the President will be asked to sign into law.

What are some concerns about the PROSPER Act?

Higher education advocates are speaking out against the PROSPER Act. According to the American Council on Education (ACE): “While the bill includes several valuable proposals, these are greatly outweighed by multiple provisions that would be harmful to higher education, and particularly to low- and middle-income students.” ACE has a resource page with information about the bill along with links to contact House members on provisions of interest to undergraduates, graduate students, graduates and student loan borrowers, and higher education institutions.

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) has voiced its concerns about the bill. They are most concerned about elimination of

  • the in-school interest subsidy on undergraduate loans,
  • the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (SEOG), and
  • Graduate PLUS loans.

The first is the subsidy that ensures interest does not accrue on undergraduate loans while one is enrolled as a graduate student (I know I benefitted from this subsidy). Over 1.6 million low-income students benefit from SEOGs, and there is no proposed substitute for this grant aid. The elimination of PLUS loans would force more students to private market lending opportunities, which often offer less favorable terms and interest rates.

There are other provisions of the PROSPER Act that are harmful to education. Three examples:

  • The bill further erodes the Pell grant program by misguided investment strategy. Today a Pell Grant covers under 30 percent of a four-year public university degree while in 1980 it was 75 percent.
  • It eliminates TEACH grants that help students who agree to teach at schools that serve low-income families.
  • It also eliminates the 90/10 rule, which will enhance predatory behavior by for-profit schools. This rule contains a loophole that hurts veterans, but veteran groups have spoken out in favor of closing the loophole and not eliminating the rule altogether.

What can you do to voice your concerns?

  • Sign this petition. The American Physical Society (APS) is coordinating a petition opposing the bill and is asking those at colleges and universities across the country to sign on. The APS will deliver the petition to Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Patty Murray of Washington. They lead the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) that is drafting its version of the bill. The petition asks them to maintain the loans the House PROSPER Act would cut, and not to increase the financial burden on graduate students through its bill. They are collecting signatures until June 1, so there is still time to add your name to the list!
  • Write personal letters to key Senators. In addition to Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray, members of the HELP Committee are Senators Enzi, Burr, Isakson, Paul, Collins, Cassidy, Young, Hatch, Roberts, Murkowski, Scott, Sanders, Casey, Bennet, Baldwin, Murphy, Warren, Kaine, Hassan, Smith, and Jones. The Committee website gives links to their official websites which will, in turn, give you instructions on how to submit letters. If you live in one of their districts, write your Representative. If you do not live in one of their districts, write to the Chairman and Ranking Member.
  • Write an op ed. If you would like to write an op ed, feel free to reach out to me for advice. In any case, the op eds (read next paragraph) are good models, and check in with the AMS advice page on writing op eds. If you live in a HELP members’ state, an op ed is especially meamingful.

Graduate students have been articulating their concerns in op eds around the country. In the Knoxville News Sentinel, Masters student Justin Powell writes about how the bill would hurt students; Shua Sanchez, a first-generation Ph.D. student, adds to this in his opinion piece in the Spokesman Review, explaining how it would not only hurt graduate students but also would devastate scientific advancement.

These graduate students join political commentators in their opposition to the PROSPER Act – Mildred Garcia and Peter McPherson opine in The Hill, and Georgetown policy professor John Brooks in the New York Times.

While the deadline for the petition is June 1, there is plenty of time for letter-writing and op ed writing!

Posted in Advocacy, Graduate students, Higher Education | Tagged , | 1 Comment

My AMS internship in the Washington, DC office

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two consecutively posted pieces by the AMS Office of Government Relations AY2017-18 student interns. As you will read, Eliot is an undergraduate at the University of Maryland.

My name is Eliot Melder, and I have been an intern at the American Mathematical Society’s Office of Government Relations for the past six months as part of the University of Maryland Global Fellows in Washington, D.C. Science Diplomacy program. During my time with the AMS, I’ve had the chance to work on important projects and apply skills I’ve learned in my classes, as well as engage in the political process and travel to the hill several times to meet with key figures and attend briefings. This internship has been an incredible experience overall, and I’m grateful to both the AMS and the Fellows program for giving me this opportunity.

A little about me: I’m a sophomore at the University of Maryland, College Park studying computer science and math. I’m taking classes in algorithm design and automata theory, and I’m a TA for discrete mathematics. My ultimate goal is to go to grad school for automata theory or another branch of computer science theory.

After becoming the intern at the AMS Office of Government Relations in October, I was given my first major project, which was to provide an analysis of National Science Foundation funding by state, on both relative and per-capita scales. I was also tasked with determining which states would gain, retain, or lose eligibility for the NSF EPSCoR (https://www.nsf.gov/od/oia/programs/epscor/) assistance program if the eligibility criterion was shifted from percentage-based to per-capita-based. This project was motivated by the introduction of a bill in Congress known as the Smarter EPSCoR Act, which – if enacted – would apply this change.

My first instinct as a CS student was to write a program. So I did – I wrote a program to read through the award data, then computed the average funding per state and per capita and determined EPSCoR eligibility for each state based on these numbers. I determined which states would gain and lose eligibility if the system were to switch.

The EPSCoR project was my first real chance to apply my computer science skills to a real-world problem. I was able to apply principles of data collection and analysis from my courses, and produce results that had an impact on policy decisions.

My second large project was updating nine of the Coalition for National Science Funding’s “State Sheets” (https://cnsf.us/factsheets2017.cfm), which are two-page brief sheets showcasing NSF-funded research in each state and providing statistics about funding information. The sheets are updated yearly with new data. Updating the state sheets was a more relaxed and fun project, and I was able to see many examples of interesting research.

My final major project was to create a detailed breakdown, by agency, of federal government spending for mathematical research. Again, I had the chance to apply my computer science skills; I wrote a program to sift through lists of millions of recent grants published on spending.gov and pick out the mathematical ones based on the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) number assigned to each grant, as well as the description text. I then organized each grant by agency and produced a breakdown of mathematically related grants by agency. We discovered some enlightening results, including that the Federal Highway Administration awards many mathematically related grants.

The grant breakdown project was an excellent chance for me to apply the concepts I have learned this year in my classes at the University of Maryland. I have studied text pattern matching, Ruby scripting, and input processing this semester, and I was able to incorporate these ideas into my program for the project and discover useful information hidden in the data.

I have also had the chance to go to the Hill and attend briefings, meetings, and panels about policy issues on which the AMS is interested. Among the events I have been lucky enough to attend are a panel hosted by Scientific American and featuring Rep. Jerry McNerney, and a private briefing on cryptography for Senators Blumenthal, Nelson, Schumer and Shaheen. This internship has given me the chance to become more closely involved in politics than I ever thought possible, and I have had many valuable and amazing experiences throughout.

I am grateful to the AMS and the UMD Global Fellows program for giving me this opportunity. I have had a fantastic seven months working at the office, and I want to thank my coworkers here at the Office of Government Relations for making each workday great. I look forward to continuing my involvement with the AMS beyond the end of my internship in May, and using this experience as a starting point to achieve my mathematical goals in the future.

Posted in AMS Washington office, Higher Education, Internship | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The NSF is taking action against sexual harassment in science

Editor’s Note: This will be the first of two pieces by the AMS Office of Government Relations AY2017-18 student interns. Abby Quick is working on her M.A. in Mathematics at American University. She is recipient of the 2017 Hanna Miriam Sandler and Bella Sandler Scholarship Award.

As part of a growing movement in the scientific community—and society at large—the National Science Foundation (NSF) is taking action to combat sexual harassment in research environments. The agency is the primary funding source for fundamental science and engineering research in the United States, and thus has power to influence science culture by affecting policies and practices at institutions across the country. In a notice released February 8th, the agency announced they are taking the following steps:

  • proposing new reporting requirements for incidents of assault and harassment;
  • setting expectations that grantee organizations have clear standards of behavior and notification pathways for all personnel under a funded project; and
  • creating a web portal with resources to help institutions develop policies, procedures, and codes of conduct that promote a safe and equitable research environment.

Photo by Jeanne Theismann.

Under the proposed reporting policy, a new term and condition for awards would require organizations to report to the agency any findings that a Principal Investigator (PI), co-PI, or any other grant personnel violated the organization’s policies on sexual harassment, any other kind of harassment, or sexual assault. Awardees would also be required to report if they place a PI or co-PI on administrative leave relating to a harassment finding or investigation. The agency then has the authority to remove or replace the individual in question, or to suspend, terminate, or reduce funding.

The NSF has long had the authority to intervene, but they could only act when an incident was voluntarily reported; the new policy would make reporting a requirement. The web portal will give individuals the ability to report incidents or investigations directly to NSF in the event that an organization is not responding appropriately to a complaint.

In February, Rhonda Davis, head of the NSF’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), discussed the agency’s efforts at a hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, entitled “A Review of Sexual Harassment and Misconduct in Science.” She expressed the agency’s goal to “eliminate unsafe research environments that upset the whole balance of the science ecosystem, harm our scientists, and impede the very progress of science itself.”

Experts testifying on the issue of sexual harassment in the sciences before the Research and Technology Subcommittee of the House Science Committee. Left to right: Rhonda Davis, Kathryn Clancy, Kristina Larsen, and Christine McEntee. (Image credit: National Science Foundation)

Witnesses at the hearing discussed how the hierarchical nature of academic research can perpetuate a culture of abuse. The student-advisor paradigm, for example, means a student is often reliant on a single superior for support and career advancement. Therefore, if an advisor is not responsive to complaints of abuse or is him/herself the abuser, a student may have trouble finding a pathway to reporting or could face consequences that jeopardize his/her career. If the abuser is prominent in the research community or a big money-maker for the university, other faculty and administrators may also dismiss complaints, sweep them under the rug, or retaliate against victims.

At the hearing, Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL-3) expressed concern that the NSF’s new reporting requirements could “chill investigations of assault.” He wondered whether universities, out of fear of losing star researchers or compromising grant money, might be reluctant to report findings or even to initiate investigations in the first place, lest they find misconduct they would be required to report.

Ms. Davis explained that the agency’s new web portal allows anyone to report incidents and investigations directly to the NSF, whether it be a victim of abuse, a faculty member, a professional society, etc. She noted that the agency considered the possibility of this chilling effect, but they believe that, in the midst of this cultural movement to eradicate sexual harassment, a university’s decision to cover up abuses “could be at their own peril.”

The NSF is seeking public comment on the proposed reporting requirement through May 4th.



Posted in National Science Foundation, Sexual Harassment | Tagged | Leave a comment

Trump v. Hawaii, why should we care?

On the last day of oral arguments of the current term, April 25, the Supreme Court will examine President Trump’s third travel ban. Specifically, the justices will consider the validity of Presidential Proclamation 9645 (September 24, 2017), captioned “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats.” This ban is currently in effect, and revised two earlier bans.

This version of the ban places restrictions on those traveling to the United States who are nationals of one of seven countries: Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen.

The following chart (from the amicus brief discussed below) shows the breakdown of visitors from these countries:

# of Students # of Scholars Total
Chad 66 4 70
Iran 12,643 1,977 14,620
Libya 1,311 64 1,375
North Korea 8 0 8
Somalia 50 5 55
Syria 827 123 950
Venezuela 8,540 269 8,809
Yemen 658 17 675
TOTAL 24,103 2,459 26,562


The rules for the countries vary, but here are a few examples:

“The entry into the United States of nationals of Chad, as immigrants, and as nonimmigrants on business (B-1), tourist (B-2), and business/tourist (B-1/B-2) visas, is hereby suspended.”

“The entry into the United States of nationals of Iran as immigrants and as nonimmigrants is hereby suspended, except that entry by such nationals under valid student (F and M) and exchange visitor (J) visas is not suspended, although such individuals should be subject to enhanced screening and vetting requirements.”

“The entry into the United States of nationals of Syria as immigrants and nonimmigrants is hereby suspended.”

The Fact Sheet issued by the Department of Homeland Security is a handy place to learn more about the President’s three travel bans.

Those of us who care about higher education in this country should take careful note. A group of 33 higher education associations joined forces and recently submitted an amicus brief in the case to be heard on April 25.

Here are a few data highlights from their brief:

  • There are more than one million international students studying in the United States and they make up about 5.3% of all students in this country in higher education. All types of schools, everywhere in the country, host international students. The University of California, Los Angeles hosts about 12,000 international students. Private schools also have many international students: Rice University hosts over 1,600. And, two-year colleges are also welcome hosts: there are about 7,700 international students at Northern Virginia Community College.
  • In 2013, international students accounted for 39% of Ph.D. students in STEM fields and this is predicted to climb to 50% by 2020.
  • From fall 2016 to fall 2017 there was a decline in the number of international students and the National Science Foundation has noted a 2.2% drop in undergraduates and a 5.5% drop in graduate students. The highest declines are in applications from the Middle East.
  • Canada, Britain, France and Germany have all launched funding programs to recruit researchers from the United States. The most popular study destination choices by all applicants this year are: the US (48%), the UK (42%), Canada (34%), Australia (28%) and Germany (28%).

While the largest drop in new applications is from potential students from the Middle East, the amicus brief states that the President’s order “sends a clarion message of exclusion to millions around the globe that America’s doors are no longer open to foreign students, scholars, lecturers, and researchers.” The travel bans send an unwelcoming message and will deter students and scholars from all over the world – not only from the countries currently included in the ban – from travelling to and from the U.S.

The State Department issued 393,573 student visas (F-1s) in the year that ended on September 30, 2017. This is a decline of 17% from the previous year and about 40% below the 2015 peak. Part of this drop is due to a change for Chinese students – their visas are now good for 5 years instead of 1, meaning fewer visas are issued each year. But, still, if China is taken out of the mix, the one year decline from 2016 to 2017 is 13%.

In a previous post, I argued that mathematics and engineering are at risk of being hit especially hard by decreasing applications from abroad. And, further, that Master’s degree programs in mathematics might be especially hard hit.

The arguments in the amicus brief against the President’s order are not unfamiliar to us, and include:

  1. Colleges and universities rely on the global exchange of people and ideas to push forward the knowledge frontier. The U.S. must maintain its deep commitment to ensuring the free flow of ideas taking place in our classrooms and labs and at conferences around the world. The international community of scholars has been built over decades and policies such as this travel ban threaten its strength and could very well lead to slower progress addressing global challenges.
  2. International students and scholars strengthen our economy. It is estimated that international students contributed roughly $37 billion dollars to the U.S. economy during the 2016-17 academic year and created or supported 450,000 jobs during that period.
  3. Educating foreign-born students and collaboration with foreign-born scholars provide an “opportunity to promote the ideals that, together, make up the social, political, and cultural fabric of this country.” Academic visitors to the U.S. are exposed to our democratic principles and values, which are then transmitted around the world when the individuals return to their home countries.

Harvard graduate student Ziad Reslan wrote passionately about his fear and sorrow following one of the earlier travel bans; he also articulates what the U.S. has to lose by closing its doors to such students:

After spending a few years here, we go back home with affectionate knowledge of Americans and their culture. We serve as diplomats of American culture, as informal advisers, as cultural bridges. It will now be harder to sell the American dream of a nation blind to religion and creed back home. It will be harder still to defend U.S. foreign policy, when America bars citizens of the very countries its military has targeted.

It is not just isolated graduate students writing. Over 43,000 supporters including over 31,000 academics, 62 Nobel Laureates, and 146 winners of prestigious prizes such as the Fields Medal signed an online petition denouncing President Trump’s ban. [You are welcome to sign.]

In a previous case, (Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. 387, 2012), the Supreme Court justices have asserted that the “history of the United States is in part made of the stories, talents, and lasting contributions of those who crossed oceans and deserts to come here.” Let’s hope this sentiment is at the forefront of the justices’ minds on April 25.





Posted in Higher Education, Immigration, International science, Supreme Court | Tagged , | Leave a comment

We (probably) have a budget for 2018; what’s in it for the mathematical sciences?

It has been a (very) busy week, budget-wise! On Wednesday evening, the House introduced its (very) long 2,232-page omnibus spending bill. On Thursday, the House passed it and in the (very) early hours of this morning (Friday at roughly 12:30 a.m.) the Senate passed it.

Now what? Breaking news reports that President Trump is threatening to veto it while the White House indicates he will sign. Probably by the time you are reading this, we know if he did or didn’t sign. If he signs it today, we will avoid another government shutdown and end the FY2018 budget negotiations.

The National Science Foundation’s overall funding level was increased to \$7.767 billion (a 4% increase over FY2017), and the Research & Related Activities (R&RA) account was funded at \$6.334 billion (5.5% increase).  The Directorate of Education and Human Resources has its own budget line and this is increased to \$902 million (3.3% increase). We do not know yet how the R&RA funds will be distributed across NSF Directorates. To put this in a bit of perspective, the President had originally proposed an 11% cut to the NSF; Congress did not accept this and instead proposed a 2% cut. The February  Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 made new funds available and this ultimately led to the 4% increase.

While most federal funding for mathematics research comes from the NSF, over 30% comes from other agencies. The chart below (credit to Matt Hourihan, AAAS) shows that science overall received very good news with this budget.

The House summary notes that the bill increases “funding for research grants at the National Science Foundation (\$301M above FY17) to foster innovation, particularly in areas like advanced manufacturing, physics, mathematics, cybersecurity, neuroscience, and STEM education.” This appears to bode well for the mathematical sciences.

Congress does not decide how much each Directorate gets. The NSF determines the distribution of the R&RA funds between the disciplinary areas (this will include for the Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS), which sits inside the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS)). Once the President signs the budget into law, they will set to work; we might expect to know their plan in a few months (June?). It is, however, important to note that key players — including​ House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith — are interested in having a say about how the NSF allocates its funds among Directorate (in particular, there is an interest by some to move funds away from the Directorate of Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) and from the Geosciences Directorate (GEO)).

In the meantime, the NSF has released it FY2019 budget proposal. More on that in future posts.

Am I glad this week is over? (very)

Posted in Appropriations, Congress, Mathematicians, NSF, Science Policy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Act Today to Help Ensure Adequate Federal Funding for Math Research!

This post is a “call to action” and if you are going to act, you need to do so asap (ideally by March 12)! I hope the following explains what I am asking you to do, and also how you can easily do this (perhaps skip ahead to the 3 steps “What exactly do you do?”, then return and read the red text).

The American Mathematical Society’s priority for Congressional appropriations is for robust and sustained National Science Foundation (NSF) funding. The total amount we are requesting for FY2019 is $8.45 billion; this is the same amount as the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF). CNSF is an alliance of over 130 science related organizations committed to increasing the national investment in science.

To arrive at this funding amount, we are using $8 billion as a base funding level, which is the CNSF community target funding level for FY2018.  As we have done in previous years, we are using the guiding principle found in both the “Restoring the Foundation” report (American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 2014), and in Innovation: An American Imperative,” which calls for four-percent real growth (which is four-percent plus inflation).

As you probably know, the NSF is an independent agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; and to secure the national defense.” Flat funding, as the President requests, will inhibit our national competitiveness and continue to jeopardize America’s role as an innovation leader.

Representatives G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and David McKinley (R-WV) have teamed-up again this year and are writing the FY19 NSF “Dear Colleague Letter.” This letter will be sent to Representatives John Culberson and Jose Serrano, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Appropriations subcommittee, and key decision-makers in this process to allocate funds to the NSF.

The deadline for sign-on is Wednesday, March 14, 2018 at 1:00 p.m. Members of Congress interested in signing on to the FY19 NSF Dear Colleague Letter should contact Dennis Sills in Representative Butterfield’s office at dennis.sills@mail.house.gov or Christopher Buki in Representative McKinley’s office at Christopher.buki@mail.house.gov

The level of support for the National Science Foundation is a key factor by which the nation’s commitment to science can be measured and as such makes the annual appropriations process a high priority for the AMS Office of Government Relations. Approximately 64% of total federal support for academic research in mathematics comes from the NSF (making math one of the most NSF-dependent fields).

What exactly do you do?

Step 1. Find your Representative(s): https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

Step 2. Go to your Representative’s website to see how to send a letter to them.

Step 3. Take the text that appears above in red and edit to craft a letter to your Representative in the House (if you live and work in different districts, hit both). At the least, add in a sentence or two at the beginning saying your name, your institution, and point out the fact that you are a mathematician (if you are an AMS member, mention that too). If you have or have recently benefitted from NSF funding, I encourage you to add a bit about it. Alternatively, if your department has benefitted in some broad way (e.g. as an REU site), add a sentence or two about the program and its importance to training the next generation of mathematicians. At the end, thank your Rep for his/her attention and consideration.

If you would like, you could add this example to your letter: At the most recent AMS/MSRI Congressional briefing in December, we highlighted NSF-funded mathematical research that improves cybersecurity. At our June 2017 briefing, we highlighted NSF-funded mathematical research that has brought revolutionary changes to MRI technology, saving lives and money. You can read about these, and other Congressional briefings on mathematics here: http://www.ams.org/government/outreach/CongressBriefingAMSMSRIdec2017

Feel free to email me (kxs@ams.org) if you have questions, or want help.

Posted in Advocacy, Appropriations, Congress, NSF | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Mathematicians are at work in the federal government; you too?

Are you wondering what you might do after you receive your PhD or finish a post-doctoral appointment? Are you post-tenure and thinking that you might want to explore science policy work? There are opportunities for mathematicians to come give federal policy work a try. If you are (in any way) suspicious, read on – you will learn about a handful of mathematicians and their current experiences learning about and helping shape federal policies that affect our work lives. The work is fascinating, and we need you!

Last September 26, 2016-17 AMS Congressional Fellow Catherine Paolucci wrote a great guest post (in this blog) about her year in Washington, working in the U.S. Senate (she also wrote about this in the February 2018 Notices). The Congressional fellowship runs September of a given year through August of the next year.

The AMS-sponsored fellow is just one of about 300 PhD scientists serving in the federal government each year, as part of the large Science & Technology Policy Fellowship program run by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Our under-representation should change!


The first class of AAAS fellows was in 1973 and consisted of seven scientists hosted by the American Physical Society, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineering. Today, the AAAS partners with several dozen professional associations – including the AMS – and places nearly 300 fellows each year in all branches of the federal government. Each year, roughly 30-35 fellows are sponsored by one of the AMS’s sister associations to work in Congress, one fellow can be placed in the Judicial Branch, and the remaining 250 or so work in the Executive Branch. Hosting offices covet their fellows. Executive Branch fellows work in many, many agencies and not just ones mathematicians might think of like the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense.

Over the past several years, only one or two mathematicians work (per year) as Executive Branch fellows. This should change! It is a great experience, and the AAAS would love more applications from mathematical scientists. The great news is that the current fellows class (2017-18) includes (at least) triple the usual number of mathematicians. The rest of this post will tell you a bit about them, and – I hope – will encourage you to apply for this fellowship. It is common advice – here on the ground – to encourage scientists to apply simultaneously to the AMS and to the AAAS.

I asked the current math fellows to answer a few questions. Their answers should give you the (correct) understanding that the fellowship can be successful at any stage of your career, and allow you a glimpse of their own reflections on how the experience is transforming their careers. You will see that their research areas vary quite a bit and may seem unrelated to the work they are doing (that is typical, btw).

Meet Tyler, Margaret, Kyle, Jessica, and Chris (reverse alphabetical order)

Your name?
Tyler Kloefkorn

Your placement?
National Science Foundation
Directorate of Computer & Information Science & Engineering
Division of Information and Intelligent Systems

Your PhD area?
Non-commutative algebra and combinatorial topology. Currently, I do work in homological algebra and finite element exterior calculus.

Where were you before this?
From August 2014 to July 2017, I was a teaching postdoctoral fellow at the University of Arizona, Department of Mathematics. I received my PhD from the University of Oregon in 2014 and was advised by Professor Brad Shelton.

How is this experience re-shaping your ideas about your own future?
This experience has certainly re-shaped how I value mathematics and mathematical thinking. Trained as an algebraist and coming out of graduate school, I was not aware of how mathematics fits into the greater science community. While I continue to think about projects in abstract algebra, I now look for ways to apply my analytical skills to a variety of research and real-world problems. I am able to incorporate mathematics into science and science policy. In particular, I routinely use linear algebra and statistics to better understand problems or articulate solutions. 

I would like to return to academia after completing my fellowship. Accordingly, this experience will re-shape how I approach my research, teaching, and mentoring. As a professor, I will look to incorporate this new perspective of science and science policy into my daily activities. For example, now with a greater awareness of careers and education opportunities in science, I know that I can be a better mentor/adviser for my students.

Why do you think this is a good or worthwhile experience for other PhD mathematicians?
I’m still a little new to this experience, but thus far I think there are several valuable features of the AAAS STP Fellowship at the NSF.

First, a Fellow at the NSF can learn first-hand how the NSF promotes and supports basic research in science. For example, I have been fortunate to learn about the BIGDATA Program with Program Directors Sylvia Spengler and Chaitanya Baru. I have contributed to solicitations for proposals, workshops, program analyses, and other coordination activities. Later this year, I will provide support for the program’s merit review process. I value this experience because I have a better understanding of how researchers build significant research portfolios and how NSF activities impact research and higher education in the US.

Second, Fellows at the NSF have opportunities to 1) see how mathematics is integral to science and science policy and 2) incorporate successful educational and research activities from the greater science community into the mathematics community. I see the value of collaborating with academic communities outside of mathematics; that is, I am a believer in interdisciplinary science. When I go outside of the world of mathematics at the NSF, I learn about computer programming, data-related activities, and useful educational tools/techniques. The freedom to explore these subjects makes the fellowship feel like a true academic setting, which I truly enjoy. 

Your name?
Margaret Callahan

Sen Amy Klobuchar (MN)

Your placement?
I work in the office of U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of the great state of Minnesota! I work on issues pertaining to education/STEM education, workforce development, and public health.

Your PhD area?
I received my PhD in applied mathematics from Case Western Reserve University in 2016. My doctoral research focused on the development of a novel Bayesian statistical approach for estimating unknown parameters of multi-scale models, focusing on biomedical applications, such as HIV infection dynamics.

Where were you before this?
Prior to beginning my fellowship, I was a Visiting Assistant Professor at Emory University.

How is this experience re-shaping your ideas about your own future?
I left graduate school with little clarity regarding what I wanted my career to be. I knew that I was passionate about STEM education, but I was interested in a career outside of academia; although the value of academic research and its capacity to address societal issues is undeniable, I wanted to work on projects with a more tangible and immediate impact. My experience as an AMS Congressional Fellow has opened my eyes to the myriad roles that scientists can play in the policy making process. It has helped me see that there is a place for me outside of academia where I can pursue my passion for STEM education, explore the intersection of science and policy, and leverage my background in science, education, and outreach to influence the policy making process in a positive way.

Why do you think this is a good or worthwhile experience for other PhD mathematicians?
This experience has given me, as a mathematician, the chance to advocate for science and to bring my own sense of scientific rigor to policy making process. It has provided me with the opportunity to work creatively and collaboratively on problems that are challenging, complex, and have an immediate impact on the people of this country. It has helped me to expand and broaden my professional network, as well as develop and strengthen my skills in communicating to a wide variety of audiences. This fellowship has allowed me to see how my work and perspective is valued by lawmakers, and realize the importance of ensuring that scientists and mathematicians have a voice in important policy conversations.

Your name?
Kyle Novak

Your placement?
The Global Development Lab in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).  Here, I help to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies through better use of science, technology, and innovation.

 Your PhD area?
Applied mathematics. I researched numerical methods for PDES of mathematical physics.

Where were you before this?
I served over twenty years active duty as an Air Force mathematician, most recently at the Pentagon.

How is this experience re-shaping your ideas about your own future?
For me, the AAAS S&T Fellowship is a chance to see first-hand how policy is made and implemented​. Being in Washington, D.C., a short walk from Capitol Hill, federal innovation hubs, and some of the best think tanks in the country, with a diverse network of fellow scientists, allows me to shape my career and create impact as a mathematician in ways I otherwise couldn’t.

Why do you think this is a good or worthwhile experience for other PhD mathematicians?
Many mathematicians don’t follow traditional academic career paths.  The AAAS Fellowship is an opportunity for mathematicians to provide valuable insights to guiding federal policy. In a field like international development, mathematicians can advise on things like blockchain algorithms used in digital finance, differential privacy in responsible data use, machine learning in food security, and systems modeling of adaptive decision-making and learning under uncertainty.

Your name?
Jessica M. Libertini

Your placement?
(Get ready for layers and layers of bureaucracy!)
Department of Defense
Office of the Secretary of Defense
Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment
International Cooperation
International Armaments Cooperation

Your PhD area?
My PhD, granted in 2008, was at the intersection of physiological mathematical modeling, numerical methods for PDEs, inverse problems, and contrast-enhanced medical imaging.

Since my PhD, I have largely pivoted into the field of STEM education, with roughly 75% of my efforts and publications now in that area, although I maintain roughly 25% of my active research portfolio in the area mathematical modeling of complex systems, such as food systems.

Where were you before this?
I was (and still am!) a tenure-track professor at Virginia Military Institute in the Department of Applied Mathematics. Before entering academia, I spent 9 years as an engineer and analyst in the defense industry at General Dynamics.  As an academic, I served on the faculties at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the University of Rhode Island, and I held a National Research Council Davies Postdoctoral Fellowship jointly appointed to West Point and the U.S. Army Research Labs.

How is this experience re-shaping your ideas about your own future?
Wow – great question!  I actually didn’t apply for the sake of advancing or changing my own career, but rather to be more well-rounded for the sake of inspiring the next generation, namely my own students, to consider very important non-traditional STEM careers, particularly in government.  When I read about the goals of the fellowship (the idea that we, as scientifically trained people, could provide an alternative and enlightening view to offices as they shape or implement policy), I thought, well that sounds cool, but I am only one person!  (This is the same realization that drove me to hang up my own super-hero cape working missile defense so that I could help train the next generation to do more to protect the world than I ever could on my own.)  So, here I am, soaking it all in with the expectation that I will return to VMI to prepare my applied mathematics and engineering students to consider a similar path – perhaps not as future fellows (only a handful of my students go on to graduate school) but as civil servants or as persons otherwise engaged in policy issues.  This experience has underscored the importance of having the voice of a scientifically minded person involved in the shaping and execution of policy, and therefore I want to make sure my students realize this non-traditional option exists for them as they begin to think about life after graduation.

Why do you think this is a good or worthwhile experience for other PhD mathematicians?
Hmm…  Initially I thought this would be a tough question for me to answer, because I don’t really self-identify as “mathematician”  –  I am so far out on the pure/applied spectrum that I am a closer fit to an engineer.  However, I think that this experience has been incredibly rewarding for me – not only will I bring back a wealth of experiences to inspire my students, but it also has been a very enriching way to spend a year of leave.  The access and connections as well as the breadth of opportunities I have had as a fellow are unparalleled to anything I have experienced before.  Just as a small sample of examples: within a month of my arrival, I was a guest of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation at the Grand Challenges Conference where I made a connection with an African educator who is interested in partnering with the US on our national math modeling education initiative (headed by SIAM – Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics); a month later, I organized and attended my first of several high-level international engagements between international senior officials and the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (now Acquisition and Sustainment); throughout the fellowship, I have been a guest at a wide variety of private networking functions including Australia’s Science Defence Ball, held at their embassy; and just recently, about halfway through my fellowship, I attended the Singapore Air Show where I had the honor of watching the aerial display at the side of a former fighter pilot, now Air Force general, as he reminisced about his younger years in the air and shared his in depth knowledge about the capabilities of the various aircraft in the display.  If a PhD mathematician wants to get exposure and access to this whole other world of policy, this is an excellent opportunity.

Anything else you want to share?
I think it is important for prospective fellows to know that every office is different – different hiring mechanisms based on placement office (which can be a challenge due to the delay in having information for those fellows trying to go on leave or sabbatical), different funding amounts for travel (and different expectations on how those funds are used), and different opportunities and experiences.  However, one thing that placements have in common is that you have the opportunity to make the experience what you want – and not only within the placement office, but also within your role as a fellow through Affinity Groups and other events.

Your name?
Chris Leary

Your placement?
USAID, in the Bureau for Global Health’s Data Analytic Hub.


Your PhD area?
I got my degree in set theory, wrote my dissertation on some ideals associated with some large cardinals.

Where were you before this?
SUNY Geneseo where I am a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor (on the faculty since 1992)

How is this experience re-shaping your ideas about your own future?
I’m much more aware of how my quantitative skills can be applied in the public sphere. Understanding how applied mathematics and statistics can be actually used outside of the academy (as opposed to my standard textbook/lab view that I had earlier) will help me be a better advocate for my students in the future.

Why do you think this is a good or worthwhile experience for other PhD mathematicians?
The Fellowship has broadened my view of both mathematics and the workings of government entities. It allowed me to serve my country and society in a way that is entirely different from my usual teaching role, and has broadened my understanding of the opportunities available to mathematicians at all levels. I can honestly say to students who are interested in, e.g., development issues, that there is a substantive role for quantitatively trained individuals to play in that area.

 The chance to live in DC is a bonus, at least in my opinion. The camaraderie among the Fellows is strong, and that makes the transition here a little easier than it would have been otherwise. The AMS Office of Government Relations, based in DC, has been very welcoming and supportive, welcoming the AAAS Fellows into the community of mathematicians in DC.




Posted in Broadening particpation in STEM, Fellowships, Graduate students, Jobs, Mathematicians | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Science under fire in the U.S.A.

Sadly, this topic keeps begging me to write about it; you can consider this a continuation of sorts of my August 28, 2017 and December 1, 2017 posts.

Brace yourself, this post is longer than usual and (I hope not too) rambling.

A recent Nature article (Vol 553, January 2018, page 132) about a Research!America survey (nationwide, 1005 adults surveyed), reveals that “[a]lthough 82% of respondents thought that scientists were trustworthy, 81% could not name a living scientist and 67% could not name a research institution. About half of respondents said they believed that great science will continue under US President Donald Trump’s administration.”

Hmmm. Not sure I agree. On what do I base my lack of confidence, you ask?

First, a Congressional update. Scientists with eyes on Congress are currently focused on funding. The federal fiscal calendar runs October 1 through September 30. We are 1/3 of the way through FY2018 and Congress has not passed any of the 12 appropriations bills it is supposed to pass each year. If these bills are not passed in Congress, either the government shuts down or Congress passes a “continuing resolution” (a “CR” is the name for a piece of legislation that keeps money flowing when Congress fails to do its job and pass regular spending bills). We’re currently living CR to CR. The figure below gives an overview of the four CRs that have occurred this cycle; the current one expires on tomorrow and while the Senate just today passed a bipartisan two-year funding bill, it is not clear that this will be enacted in time to avoid a shutdown.

The last time that Congress passed every one of the regular bills on time avoiding either a CR or a government shutdown was 1997. And you think four CRs sounds bad? In 2001, there were a remarkable TWENTY-ONE CRs! But, to be fair, Congress has only managed to proceed in the way it is supposed to four times in the past forty years. The very short weekend shutdown in January didn’t have much effect on scientific work, but a longer one could, as detailed in this National Geographic article. During a shutdown, the National Science Foundation, for example, does not issue grant payments. Shutdowns also affect the internal workings of the NSF; during the three day shutdown in January, ten merit review panels had to be rescheduled (according to NSF Director France Córdova testifying at a recent Senate hearing).

Most federal funding for mathematics research comes from the NSF and this money is allocated as part of just one of the regular spending bills referred to in the preceding paragraph. While the three still need reconciled, let me remind you that the President proposes an 11% cut to the NSF, while the Senate supports a 2% cut and the House flat funding. President Trump’s proposed FY2019 budget is expected to come out on February 12 and we have reason to believe that, once again, his proposed cuts to non-defense agencies (including the NSF) will be significant.

Second, what about scientific knowledge and advice in the Executive Branch? Another Research!America survey shows that the Majority Of Americans think that candidates for Congress should have a basic understanding of scientific issues and, further, that these candidates should have a science advisor. I conjecture, if I may, that most Americans would further agree that the President him or herself should also get good science advice, from good science advisors. So, what about that?

The President typically gets science advice from the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP). But, this office is (still) understaffed. President Trump has not yet appointed an OSTP director, who would coordinate scientific programs across government and presumably also serve as the president’s science advisor. It remains unclear whether Trump intends to fill this position, even with groups of Senators urging him to make these appointments. You can track the OSTP Director and other executive branch appointments with the Washington Post.

A recent report’s title — Abandoning Science Advice: One Year in, the Trump Administration Is Sidelining Science Advisory Committees — issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists is most informative on this topic. It contains many chilling tidbits. For example, advisory committees for the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy and Department of Interior shrunk in size and met less often in 2017 than at any time in the past 20 years. Such advisory committees have historically included both public- and private-sector scientists, but the balance of representation has also changed during the Trump administration; after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned its grant recipients from advisory roles, its proportion of industry advisors rose from 6% to 23%.

Finally, let’s review our federal investment in science and compare it to that of other countries. I’ve previously written about how the U.S. compares to other countries in terms of our investment in science. The just-released NSF biennial Science & Engineering Indicators report for 2018 shows that overall research spending in China has increased by about 18% per year since 2000 while in the U.S., the annual increase during the same period has been only 4%.

Our position as a world leader was a focus of the Senate hearing referred to earlier in this piece. The U.S. has been a magnet for students from all over the world seeking a top education. But, more and more we are at the least alienating and at the worst actively not permitting foreign students to study here. In its latest annual survey, the Council of Graduate Schools asserts that policies, such as the travel ban and “extreme vetting,” “might have created significant damage to the reputation of the United States as the preferred destination for those who pursue advanced studies.” According to the survey, applications from prospective international students were down by 3% in fall 2017. The table below — showing total international graduate enrollment by field of study for Fall 2017 — indicates that mathematics and engineering are at risk of being hit especially hard by decreasing applications from abroad. Our Master’s degree programs in mathematics might be especially hard hit.

If we want to remain a world leader, educating the next generation of scientist must remain a top priority.

As Eric Lander argues in the Boston Globe, the U.S. is at a turning point and may well “yield its position as the world’s leader in science and technology.” He points out that President Trump has tweeted about 4,700 times since taking office and neither “science” nor “technology” have made even one appearance. While this might just seem silly, to stoop so low to even refer to our president’s tweets, is this telling? So, if tweets are silly, how about the State of the Union address? From the text submitted for the record, we find the word “science” once and “technology” zero times. And, for the record, “education” has two mentions. His mention of science was toward the end of the speech, when he told us that “Americans fill the world with art and music. They push the bounds of science and discovery.” His first mention of education was when he was telling us of one of his special guest’s plans to save for his children’s’ education and the second was in the context of immigration, that those “who meet education and work requirements, and show good moral character, will be able to become full citizens of the United States.” Neither of these is really about education.

Who cares if we lead? Lander’s piece makes a good argument that being a global leader is important.

Closing remarks. All this neglect and structural loss is leading to a sense of fatigue within certain sectors of the research community, at science agencies, and in Congress.

I always try to think of the bright side…..wait for it (I’m thinking) ……perhaps we will see more scientists galvanized to take a shot at a Congressional seat themselves; could this help that Majority Of Americans (mentioned earlier in this piece) sleep better?


Posted in Advocacy, Appropriations, Congress, Federal support for science, International science, NSF, Science Policy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The AMS & Gerrymandering

Photo credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography

The 2018 Joint Mathematics Meetings were fantastic. One of my favorite talks was — surprise, surprise — the fabulous Saturday afternoon MAA-AMS-SIAM Gerald and Judith Porter Public Lecture, given by Tufts University professor Moon Duchin on Political Geometry: Voting Districts, “Compactness,” and Ideas About Fairness. The audience of – apparently – 953 was enthusiastically engaged. Duchin’s talk focused on the legislative history of redistricting and introduced the mathematical methods and quantitative approaches used to gerrymander and simultaneously to detect gerrymandering.

Her talk was quite timely. The math community is becoming increasingly active in the redistricting process and in court cases challenging particular maps as partisan gerrymanders. Cases under court consideration in which arguments rely on quantitative assessments of partisanship include the Wisconsin case currently in consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court, the North Carolina case just decided, and the Pennsylvania case also just decided. The last one is interesting because, and I believe (if you know otherwise please write me!) it is the first in which mathematical scientists have served as witnesses for both sides.

Photo credit: Corey Lowenstein/The News & Observer, via Associated Press

Professor Duchin spoke about one general approach for detecting partisan gerrymandering that is making its way into legal decisions (e.g., see the discussion on page 91 of the joint decision handed down in North Carolina in the two cases Common Cause v. Rucho, No. 1:16-CV-1026, and League v. Rucho, No. 1:16-CV-1164). The general outline of this approach is to produce — using, for example and as done for the NC case, a Markov chain Monte Carlo method — a large “ensemble” of possible districting plans that comport with traditional principles such as equal population, contiguity, compactness, and simultaneously comply with the Voting Rights Act. After that, we compute some metric(s) that measures partisan outcomes for each of the plans in the ensemble. Finally, one can decide if the proposed plan is an “outlier.” In other words, answer the question: “where does the proposed districting plan lie, in the histogram of the metric, amongst all plans in the ensemble?” A proposed plan is considered to have partisan bias when its value of the fairness measure is highly unusual compared to values for the alternative plans.

On the Tuesday before the Joint Meetings, the AMS Council met and was presented with a statement on gerrymandering; the AMS Committee on Science Policy brought the statement to the Council with a recommendation to endorse. The statement was written by a small team of experts drawn from the membership of the AMS together with colleagues from the American Statistical Association.

I am pleased that the AMS Council voted to endorse this statement, which positions mathematics and statistics in the national conversation on redistricting. In response to the passage of the statement, AMS President Ken Ribet noted

Our community is poised to play a central role in ongoing discussions about methods for creating voting districts and the evaluation of existing and proposed district maps. It has been a pleasure for me to observe the recent explosion in interest in this topic among colleagues and students. I anticipate that the new statement by the ASA and AMS Council will lead to increasing transparency in the evaluation of districting methods.

Every state will begin redistricting as soon as the 2020 Census data are available. We aim to get those charged with drawing maps to incorporate the expertise of AMS and ASA members, with the ultimate goal that every single state has a map that is NOT an outlier in terms of the partisan make-up of the Congressional delegation it elects to the U.S. House of Representatives. Mathematicians and statisticians will be able to do this: immediately after 2020 Census data becomes available, the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group (a Boston-based team led by Moon Duchin) will publicly release a large ensemble of maps for the districted races in each state so that proposed districting plans can be evaluated against a range of viable alternatives.”

While more and more court cases include mathematical and statistical arguments in their proceedings, we have yet to see our expertise brought in adequately in the early, map-drawing stages of the process. The tide may be turning, I know of a few mathematical scientists who have served on citizens’ redistricting committees and as consultants to map-drawers, and Pennsylvania’s Governor has just enlisted the help of a mathematician to draw new maps.

What can you do?

  1. Learn more!
    1. Attend one of the regional Geometry of Gerrymandering workshops,
    2. Look at the great resources by academic research teams, including those posted by:
      1. Tufts’ Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group,
      2. Duke’s Quantifying gerrymandering group,
      3. Princeton’s Gerrymander Project.
    3. Explore legal resources shared by the Brennan Center for Justice.
    4. Sign-up for the National Academies’ May 8th webinar on redistricting featuring Duke University’s Jonathan Mattingly and yours truly.
    5. Play with some of the free redistricting software you find via a Google search (e.g., at the Public Mapping project).
    6. Get yourself a beer, ovaltine, or your drink of choice, sit in a comfy place and try your hand at the Redistricting Game (fun with teens if you have some hanging around your home or classroom).
  2. Share what you know!
    1. Write an Op-Ed [1] for your local paper about the role of mathematics in redistricting (feel free to contact me for specific ideas tailored to your state: kxs@ams.org).
    2. Get involved with a local civic group (e.g., League of Women Voters) and offer to give a public talk on redistricting.
    3. If you have kids in school (or even if you don’t) volunteer at the local high school to give a talk on redistricting (contact a math, civics, or AP government teacher, and if you do this I can assure you that the Redistricting Game mentioned above is a big hit).

Have fun!



[1] Incidentally, I intend to write a post soon on writing op eds; stay tuned!

Posted in Congress, Mathematicians, Redistricting | Tagged , | Leave a comment