One month after more than 100 academics, including six Nobel laureates, wrote to the British prime minister to complain about cuts to chemistry by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), today’s Guardian reports that the mathematicians of the UK have followed suit by writing their own letter to David Cameron. The letter is signed by 25 senior mathematicians, including four winners of the Fields Medal, a former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, a former president of the Royal Society, the director of the IAS in Princeton, and several “Sirs”.
The alarm bells rang first in July via a hilarious and must-read blog post by Tim Gowers, where he “let EPSRC speak for itself” by simply quoting from their website. The storyline wasn’t funny though, and it felt too close to home for comfort. “Micromanagement of the research enterprise, lack of consultation with the academic community, picking winners and losers in the marketplace of ideas, commissioning then ignoring the findings of international panels, not to mention the grand statements and the bureaucratic jargon used to announce it all …”
Wary Canadian researchers weren’t sure yet whether it is a déjà-vu story or is it still a soon-to-be-seen scenario on this side of the Atlantic. But the campaign of the UK mathematicians was just starting …
There were letters, including one from Margaret Wright on behalf of the International Review panel to David Delpy, Chief Executive of EPSRC, another from Frank Kelly of the Council for Mathematical Sciences to the Prime Minister, and another by Young Researchers in Mathematics also to David Cameron. Press coverage such as in the Guardian above but also in Nature. Serious briefing material to the Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee, and even parliamentary hearings conducted by that same committee to question David Delpy on EPSRC’s policy of “Shaping Capability”, as well as David Willetts (Minister for Universities and Science).
A silver lining may be that whatever our colleagues in the UK are doing now might soon become a blueprint for what should be done under similar circumstances in Canada and elsewhere. I may be dreaming but in any case, the letter says all the things that we cannot repeat enough.
“Mathematics is a bedrock on which reside science, engineering and technology, finance and economics, the study of weather and the environment, and much of the modern economy.”
It says what even morons should know by now.
“Businesses in the fastest growing sectors, from Google to medical imaging to financial services, are desperate to employ mathematicians. As technology advances, mathematics will become yet more important to our economy.”
And as if they were answering Madame Fortier’s letter, they write that “business applications of mathematics, often come from the most surprising and unpredictable sources. Internet security and bank transactions, for example, depend on a wide range of mathematics including number theory, and mobile phones rely on mathematical analysis, combinatorial algorithms and statistics.”
What about the following so … “à-propos”, “Unfortunately, this is a trend that the bureaucrats at EPSRC have not spotted, partly because they refuse to consult mathematicians.”