Number theory, GCHQ, and kidneys

If you can get past the paywall you can read some of my thoughts on research funding in an article published on March 8 in the Times Higher Education Supplement .

If not, here is a “fair use” excerpt:

Mathematicians have been reluctant to recognise that if our work interests generous donors, it is often precisely because it is “useful” according to a definition that Hardy proposed near the beginning of the First World War: “its development tends to accentuate the existing inequalities in the distribution of wealth, or more directly promotes the destruction of human life”.

We will have to overcome this reluctance and draw uncomfortable conclusions. Wherever you turn as a mathematician, you’re going to be someone’s kidney: practically every potential source of research funds is tainted in some way.

(I’m afraid you’ll have to find a way to read the article if you want to know what that kidney is doing in that last paragraph.)


Unexpected followers

Although I haven’t written anything on this site in quite some time, it has recently attracted some unexpected attention, similar to that described here.  This post is merely a test.  There should be some interesting news next week.

CORRUPT DATA: Conference at Columbia April 13-14, 2017

The Center for Contemporary Critical Thought’s Digital Initiative presents a two-part conference series

Cambridge Analytica: Tracing Personal Data (from ethical lapses to its use in electoral campaigns)

Thursday, April 13, 2017 | 11:00am | East Gallery, Maison Francais

by Paul-Olivier Dehaye with Tamsin Shaw | Cathy O’Neil as respondant | moderated by Professor Michael Harris


Civil Society and Personal Data Use: necessary and salutary responses

Friday, April 14, 2017 | 12:00pm | Jerome Greene Hall 103

by Paul-Olivier Dehaye and Jerome Groetenbriel | moderated by Profesor Michael Harris | introduced by Professor Bernard E. Harcourt



AMS letter on the immigration ban

From the AMS website.  See also the letter dated January 31, signed by 164 organizations and universities.

AMS Board of Trustees Opposes Executive Order on Immigration
Monday January 30th 2017

Providence, RI: The members of the Board of Trustees of the American Mathematical Society wish to express their opposition to the Executive Order signed by President Trump that temporarily suspends immigration benefits to citizens of seven nations.

For many years, mathematical sciences in the USA have profited enormously from unfettered contact with colleagues from all over the world. The United States has been a destination of choice for international students who wish to study mathematics; the US annually hosts hundreds of conferences attracting global participation. Our nation’s position of leadership in mathematics depends critically upon open scientific borders. By threatening these borders, the Executive Order will do irreparable damage to the mathematical enterprise of the United States.

We urge our colleagues to support efforts to maintain the international collegiality, openness, and exchange that strengthens the vitality of the mathematics community, to the benefit of everyone.

We have all signed the online petition of academics opposing the ban. We encourage our colleagues to consider joining us in signing it and in asking the Administration to rescind the Executive Order.

Robert Bryant, President of the AMS
Kenneth Ribet, President-Elect of the AMS
Ruth Charney
Ralph Cohen
Jane Hawkins
Bryna Kra
Robert Lazarsfeld
Zbigniew Nitecki
Joseph Silverman
Karen Vogtmann

UPDATE: The online petition is experiencing a delay in accepting emails and displaying new names. [1/31/17]

Contacts: Mike Breen and Annette Emerson
Public Awareness Officers
American Mathematical Society
201 Charles Street
Providence, RI 02904
Email the Public Awareness Office


Founded in 1888 to further mathematical research and scholarship, today the American Mathematical Society fulfills its mission through programs and services that promote mathematical research and its uses, strengthen mathematical education, and foster awareness and appreciation of mathematics and its connections to other disciplines and to everyday life.

Scientists March on Washington

The website was created on January 21.  The story seems to have broken just this morning in the Washington Post, and it is gradually being picked up by other media.  No date has yet been set, but the movement is growing literally as I type, to judge by this snippet from the Post’s article:

In short order, the march had a Facebook page (which currently has more than 200 more than 48,000 more than 150,000 members), a Twitter handle, a website, two co-chairs, Berman and science writer and public health researcher Caroline Weinberg, and a Google form through which interested researchers could sign up to help.

Sen. Al Franken to address Atlanta Joint Mathematics Mtg


The AMS Committee on Science Policy (CSP) will be hosting a panel discussion at next month’s Joint Mathematics Meeting in Atlanta.  Karen Saxe, who worked for Senator Al Franken as the 2013-2014 AMS/AAAS Science and Technology Policy Congressional Fellow, invited the Minnesota Senator (and former Saturday Night Live cast member) to speak to the panel, and he obliged by sending a video to be played at the meeting.  Here is the full CSP panel program:

AMS Committee on Science Policy Panel Discussion 

Friday, January 6, 2:30 pm — 4:00 pm

Place:              Atlanta Marriott Marquise, Atrium Level, Room A704   

Title:                “Grassroots Advocacy for Mathematics and Science Policy”

Organizers:      Jeffrey Hakim, American University ( )
Douglas Mupasiri, University of Northern Iowa ( )
Scott Wolpert, University of Maryland ( )

Moderator:      Karen Saxe (, Director, AMS Washington Office

Panelists:         Catherine Paolucci, Office of Senator Al Franken (

Douglas Mupasiri, University of Northern Iowa (

Scott Wolpert, University of Maryland (

Description:     The AMS Committee on Science Policy has organized this panel to discuss ways to engage with elected officials in addressing policy issues of concern to the mathematics community, including research funding and education.  Panelists will discuss the importance of grassroots advocacy and building relationships with legislators to further goals.

The video is about three minutes long, and those of you who cannot attend will be able to watch it at the AMS website — details to be supplied later.   In the meantime, if you’re wondering what “Grassroots advocacy for mathematics” looks like, Karen directed me to this blog post about a recent (Capitol) Hill Visit by a Villanova student delegation, organized by the Association for Women in Mathematics.

Speaking of Washington, I found the following quotation from Nietzsche’s Transvaluation of all Values in the chapter on Sade and Nietzsche of Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment:

The weak and unsuccessful must perish; this is the first proposition of our philanthropy.  And they should even be helped on their way.

Also this quotation from Sade’s Justine:

How in truth can  you require that he who has been endowed by nature with an eminent capacity for crime… should have to obey the same law that calls all to virtue or to moderation?

If these sentiments remind you of individuals, living or dead, who have been mentioned in the news recently, you will be relieved to see that, more than one month after national elections, the officials entrusted with the business of the Republic appear not to be guided by Sadist ethics.