The report carries a mixed message. The U.S. mathematics community
holds a dominant position in the world, but several adverse trends are
undermining it. A few are beyond the immediate control of the United
States or any other country, affecting mathematics adversely everywhere.
Others are peculiar to the United States. Some, such as weak K-12
mathematics education in the United States, are problem areas beyond the
scope of this assessment, primarily because they are not very sensitive
to National Science Foundation resource allocation policies. Others,
however, can be significantly affected by NSF policies.
If we wake up to discover that we have allowed the dominant position
of U.S. mathematics to erode, we will pay a heavy price in foregone
progress in technology, science, and economic productivity. Only if
policy-makers, legislators, and the mathematics community understand
this danger alike can they act effectively to avoid it. At least two
actions are clearly urgent: a) providing more resources for mathematics
and b) using resources in more effective ways.
How objective is a report that makes such a straight forward demand
for more resources? The exceptional quality of the panel members alone
should remove all concern about parochialism, but it should also be noted
that none is supported by the NSF, although one receives support from the
Department of Defense. Most are internationally distinguished foreign
mathematicians with no potential claim on NSF funding. The panel also
includes some "stake holders," i.e., mathematicians and a
scientist working in industry, finance, and another university science
discipline. They have helped widen the panels concerns beyond the
narrow interests of the pure mathematics community. Notwithstanding the
inherently ambiguous nature of the task given the panel, the report has
a strong claim to objectivity.
As the chairman and the most thoroughly non-mathematician on the
panel, I want to express a word of gratitude to Dr. Donald Lewis,
director of the Division of Mathematical Sciences, NSF, for his
intellectual guidance and assistance throughout the assessment process.
William E. Odom
Lieutenant General, USA, Retired