A New Unified Mathematical Society

 
 
 
 

Articles

The following articles contain matters that others will wish to respond to, and some of these responses may be found in the discussion forum section of this web site.

Frameworks Study Initiative – Personal Views

Updated from November 2006 Article

Over the last couple of years the Newsletter and Mathematics Today have tried to keep members informed about the ongoing formal discussions between the LMS and IMA. The Frameworks Study Initiative (FSI), as it was called prior to publication of its report, offered an overview of the issues concerning closer links between the two Societies and set out several possible models for their convergence. After due consideration, Councils of both Societies endorsed the setting up of a Joint Planning Group (JPG) to ‘prepare detailed plans for a route to unification of the IMA and LMS, based on the lines of the inverted Y- framework described in the FSI Report (April 2005).’ The JPG developed the plans which address the ‘core’ issues (vision and mission of the new body; constitution; membership) and reported back to Councils in November 2006. Subsequent ‘fleshing-out’ of details on matters such as support for research, financial structure and publishing were completed in March 2008. The JPG submitted its final report to Councils in June 2008.

Many members may have had only a tangential interest in the FSI report, and in the present Next Steps Initiative, and may worry that the process is proceeding without enough discussion or consultation. It is very important that the members of both Societies feel that issues are debated openly, and that reservations and anxieties are addressed fully.

Stephen Huggett (University of Plymouth) writes:

The LMS and the IMA should of course work together: anything else would be folly. In our responses to various government consultations, and in our interactions with funding or research councils, we have been doing just that.

But I do not think that the two societies should merge. They are quite different, because they come from quite distinct communities. Our successful collaboration on some things should not blind us to that.

The LMS is very good at its learned society work. Its publishing is of extremely high quality, and its grants schemes give crucial support to mathematics research which is simply not available elsewhere. These schemes have high success rates and little bureaucracy, for small but useful amounts of money. They have focused particularly, but not exclusively, on research into mathematics itself. I don't think anybody doubts the value of interdisciplinary research: the benefits both ways, especially for example in physics or computer science, are enormous. But there are those who appear not to value the heart of our subject, academic mathematics.

It is very clear that LMS members regard these two activities, publishing and grant giving, as of the highest importance. How would a merger treat them? Nobody knows for how long the current business model in publications will work, but the most important aspect here is reputation: any change of name or image could do irreparable harm. Our grant schemes have also been under pressure, even before any merger. Ten years ago the LMS spent a little more on grants than on administration. Now it spends more than twice as much on administration as on grants. A merger would surely not help mathematicians to resist this slide into bureaucracy.

Also, a merged society would have a far wider membership, and in general the former IMA members will have different priorities. The current focus of our grant schemes is bound to shift, regardless of proposals to safeguard it. Once lost, it is hard to see how this would ever be regained.

Some of our increased administration has arisen because we do more lobbying and responding to consultations. It is clearly necessary to do what we can, here, but we should be realistic about what can be achieved in this way. The ‘single voices’ in physics and chemistry have not been able to halt the collapse of science education.

It is even more clear that when we agree with other societies (such as the IMA and the RSS) we should work with them. But why merge? It is argued that a ‘single voice’ would be more effective. I am not convinced: we would be reducing the number of mathematical voices by one, not to one.

The current strengths of the LMS are highly valued by our community, and must be protected. Undoubtedly the same can be said for the IMA and its community (there are not very many people in both). This is as it should be: the two societies should continue to do what they do best, and collaborate on areas of shared interest.

David Abrahams (University of Manchester) writes:

I have been fortunate in being involved with both LMS and IMA over the last few years and have observed at Council level the activities and goals of these organisations. It was David Crighton who invited me to become involved with IMA, skilfully arguing that practising mathematicians outside academe need a professional society to help maintain standards, and by corollary the academic community can benefit from this link by having an input on many important external issues, such as the training and qualification of mathematics school teachers. He also believed passionately that mathematics is severely hampered by not having a single voice; despite his many roles, David did not feel that he had a mandate from the broader mathematics community. Tragically, illness prevented David Crighton from becoming President of LMS, but his efforts did help to create the Council for the Mathematical Sciences (CMS). This umbrella grouping aims to unite the community in its lobbying efforts, but most would agree that it is a stop-gap measure for IMA/LMS activities in this direction.

Apart from the professional side of the IMA, I have found its activities to be remarkably similar to those of the LMS. Its core focus is to support and enhance the (applied) mathematics community. It does this through a variety of activities, including the publication of six journals (which, like LMS, provides a substantial income for the Society), conference organization, BAMC support and a modest grant scheme. Both societies also expend much of the energies of their Officers and administration on mathematics education, careers, mathematics promotion and lobbying of one form or another. The LMS and IMA have made a good start in ensuring that these activities produce outputs that are consistent; however, replication could be avoided and significant economies of scale obtained if they combined.

The key anxiety for all LMS members is surely that a merger may result in the loss of the services, traditions and status of this remarkable Society. I, and many others, believe that unification will actually strengthen the core activities of LMS; the existing societies cannot, in their present forms, adequately deal with the many issues, pressures and constraints facing the academic community. These include significant changes in charity law, uncertainty in journals subscriptions and revenue, full economic costing (FEC) of academic time etc. It is a valuable exercise to look at the mergers of other academic societies, to see what the benefits or disadvantages are likely to be. Perhaps the best to study is the Institute of Physics, which came into being in 1960 (Royal Charter 1970) from the Physical Society (founded 1874) and the Institute of Physics (founded 1921). It is a highly successful organisation, attracting very high membership percentages from both inside and outside academe. British universities are unique in being populated by a very diverse range of mathematicians; we need a London Mathematical Society that caters for all their interests and needs, and that aims to be successful in attracting every mathematician to membership.

November 2006