Pullback in U.S. Science Funding Puts New Projects at Risk

March 9, 2001

Talk of the Society
Thomas Manteuffel and James Crowley

We begin this column with news of dark clouds on the horizon for science funding in the U.S. Although the President's budget for 2002 is not yet official, several sources have indicated that science and engineering will not fare well. Among others, a Wall Street Journal article (February 16, 2001, page 2), headlined "Bush, Seeking to Make Room for Tax Cuts, Tightens Budgets for Science Agencies," reported that the Administration was considering limiting the NSF increase to 1%. When adjusted for inflation, this small increment represents a loss in buying power and would limit NSF's ability to add new starts, initiatives, or program enhancements. This is particularly untimely for our community, since NSF, anticipating an increase of almost 14%, had proposed a major initiative to increase funding for the mathematical sciences in 2002 (SIAM News, December 2000). The initiative, long overdue, would have been a start at bringing the mathematical sciences up to par funding-wise with other disciplines.

We find this turn of events particularly frustrating at a time when demands for results and opportunities for research have never been higher in our discipline. (See, for example, Opportunities for the Mathematical Sciences, just published by NSF, based on a workshop held there in June 2000.)

NSF is not alone in this situation. The picture for other agencies that fund science and engineering is equally cloudy. We realize that the Administration must balance many competing priorities, and that science is a very small piece of the overall puzzle. However, dwindling resources make it even more important for SIAM, both as an organization and through individual members, to communicate the importance of our discipline to those who are setting the priorities.

On a brighter note, we see evidence everywhere that applied mathematics and computational science continue to be dynamic scientific areas, with strong growth in new application areas. SIAM has grown and changed with the discipline, as is evident in our three new activity groups. Two of the new groups, in the Life Sciences and in Imaging Science, will hold their first conferences in September in Boston (see http://www.siam.org/meetings/is01/ for Imaging and http://www.siam.org/meetings/ls01/ for Life Sciences). Both conferences have exciting agendas and lists of invited speakers that can be found on the Web.

The first set of officers for an activity group are appointed by the SIAM president, and subsequent officers are elected by the group's membership. The initial set of officers for Life Sciences is: John Guckenheimer (chair), Alan Perelson (vice chair), and Clyde Martin (secretary). Gerhard Ritter is the appointed chair for the SIAM Activity Group on Imaging Science, whose other officers are Bob Plemmons (vice chair), Dave Wilson (program director), and Bernard Mair (secretary).

At their September conferences, both of these groups will hold business meetings to chart future directions and to draw up slates of candidates for election. This is an important opportunity for interested members to express their views on the groups' plans. SIAM members with an interest in these areas are encouraged to join and take an active role in the activity groups.

The third new activity group, in Computational Science and Engineering, was approved recently by the SIAM Council and Board. The group's charter can be found at http://www.siam.org/activity/cse/. Steve Ashby has been appointed chair, with Jim Glimm as vice chair and Lori Freitag as secretary/treasurer.

Each of the new groups represents new emphases for applied mathematics, as well as for SIAM. This is not to say that the research areas are entirely new-SIAM has been publishing research in applied mathematics and the life sciences since its inception. Rather, the emergence of an activity group suggests growth of activity among applied mathematicians and computational scientists to the point that focused conferences and newsletters make sense.

One of our ongoing goals is to ensure that all of our activity groups are healthy and provide a valuable service to their members. We encourage members to submit suggestions about activity groups (either existing or proposed) to the executive director ([email protected]). The activity group chairs will meet in July 2001, during the annual meeting in San Diego. Discussion at that meeting should give us ideas about things we might do better to serve the members of our activity groups.

As the activity groups grow in number, we need to ensure that our discipline does not simply fragment into a collection of small groups. There is much to be gained by sharing information across the spectrum of the SIAM membership, from dynamical systems to optimization to computational science. The SIAM annual meeting plays a vital role in this regard as the one event a year organized to appeal to the entire community. Because the annual meeting is such an important aspect of what we do as a society and profession, and because of concern that the increasing number of smaller meetings might draw energy away from the annual meeting, vice president for programs Barbara Keyfitz has formed a committee to look at the annual meeting and suggest improvements. Comments from the membership are welcome.

The program for the 2001 Annual Meeting is taking shape (see http://www.siam.org/meetings/an01/). Themes (or areas of emphasis) include numerical methods and analysis for PDEs, multi-scale problems, mathematical biology, networks and the Internet, and quantification of uncertainty in modeling and simulation. Of note is a special emphasis on electromagnetics and acoustics, bringing together the applied mathematics, computational, and EM communities for a set of special focus sessions. The program promises to be a terrific one, and San Diego is always a good location.

Two other future meetings merit a brief mention here. The SIAM-EMS meeting in Berlin in September (see http://www.zib.de/amcw01/) is a first for SIAM-a joint conference outside North America. The title of the conference, "Applied Mathematics in a Changing World," is intended to highlight emerging areas of application, such as medicine and biotechnology, environmental science, materials and nanoscale technology, communications and traffic, speech and imaging, and finance.

The major conference for SIAM in 2002 will be the Fiftieth Anniversary Meeting. Margaret Wright and Marty Golubitsky, the chairs of the organizing committee, intend to make this a special meeting for all SIAM members. Their goal is not only to celebrate fifty years of applied and computational mathematics, but more importantly to look forward to the future of our field. Planning has begun, but Marty and Margaret welcome your suggestions.

Finally, we note that April is Mathematics Awareness Month. The Joint Policy Board for Mathematics is responsible for assembling materials, including a poster and theme essay. This year's theme is "Mathematics and the Ocean." SIAM member Chris Jones chaired the committee that developed the materials.

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