Apparently the NSF is considering changing the name of the DMS (Division of Mathematical Sciences) to DMSS (Division of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.) There is some unease — surely at least partially related to the recent decision by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the NSF’s rough British analogue, to restrict their math postdoctoral program to cover applied probability and statistics only. I can attest from personal experience that pure mathematicians are very excited about the rise of data science — but also concerned about it choking out K-theory and functional analysis and geometric group theory and etc and etc.

Here’s the letter from Eric Friedlander, current AMS president:

October 10, 2011

Dear Colleagues,

I write to encourage discussion and comments among members of the AMS about the proposal under consideration by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that NSF’s Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) be renamed the Division of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. At the request of the NSF, I attach a letter from DMS Division Director Sastry Pantula advocating this name change; I also attach a particularly cogent response from a member of the AMS leadership.

Please send your views and comments to

dmsname@ams.org

(The process to summarize comments is described below.)

Many of us strongly oppose this name change. Such a name change could create an unnecessary and unfortunate divide in the mathematical sciences community. We question whether this portends a shift within DMS away from support of basic research toward mission-oriented research. This could bring the less mathematical aspects of Statistics into the same funding pool as basic research in Mathematical Sciences, thereby negatively impacting resources available for basic research in the Mathematical Sciences, including basic research in Statistics.

While waiting for NSF approval to consult the broad mathematical community, I have discussed this personally with many mathematical scientists, including the leadership of the AMS. The responses I have received have been near-unanimous in their opposition to such a name change. It is significant that three previous DMS Division Directors Peter March, William Rundell, and Philippe Tondeur have written to express their opposition to this name change.

Permit me to give some reasons why such a name change is much more important than “just a name.”

1.) The mission of the NSF is to fund basic research. Much of

mission-oriented Statistics is funded by other federal agencies,

hospitals, industry, etc. This name change suggests a move within

DMS to relax its focus on basic research.

2.) The suggestion of “new resources to all core programs” is far

different from any commitment to seek new resources to support the

basic research of these programs.

3.) The current name (Division of Mathematical Sciences) was crafted to

be inclusive. The inclusiveness of DMS has resulted in increased

funding for many programs including Statistics. The Mathematical

Sciences should work together, emphasizing commonality and presenting

the best case for the importance of the Mathematical Sciences.

4.) Statistics is only one of 10 programs supported by DMS. In 2010, of

the 2978 proposals submitted to DMS core programs, 242 were submitted

to the Statistics program. It is natural to ask why Statistics

appears to be uniquely selected by DMS for special emphasis.

5.) The analysis of big data is indeed important, and the Mathematical

Sciences will play an important role in developing fundamental concepts

and approaches to manage the “data deluge” and extract useful content.

That said, National Science Foundation support of the Mathematical

Sciences should energetically embrace basic research in all aspects

of the Mathematical Sciences to advance fundamental knowledge and

initiate unexpected revolutionary applications.

I encourage you to send your views and comments to

dmsname@ams.org

Our plan is to have a small AMS committee review comments received, prepare a summary of comments (names of responders would be suppressed), give this summary to the NSF, and post this summary on the AMS web page. We are asked to provide the NSF with an initial summary by mid-December, so please respond by December 1 if possible. We also expect to have one or more forums at the Joint Mathematics Meeting in Boston in early January at which this name change will be discussed with NSF leaders.

best,

Eric

Eric M. Friedlander

(President, AMS)

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