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  Key Questions: Public Support of Mathematics


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Mathematics is Vital to the Health and Prosperity of the Nation

Mathematics is vital to the national interest. Strong mathematical capability on a national scale is essential for industrial and technological leadership.

Mathematics is an enabler for other disciplines. Virtually all other technology benefits directly from the extension of mathematical knowledge.

Mathematical competence is a workplace necessity. Mathematical requirements will increase dramatically for occupations in the information age.

Mathematics enriches our knowledge and technology through continuing improvements and unexpected breakthroughs.

    Many important advances in technology apply techniques developed in one branch of mathematics to problems from another branch. The interdisciplinary impact of mathematics can be both substantial and unexpected. Appropriate examples are the application of chaos theory to economic modeling and markets, image reconstruction techniques to medicine and seismology, and group theory to nuclear physics.

Investments in mathematics provide a high rate of return.

    Although many technical fields rely to an extraordinary extent on analytical or computational techniques, they typically commit only a tiny portion of their resources to the support and advancement of these underlying disciplines. Further, the critical supporting role of mathematics is often completely unknown to the user community. For example, HDTV is dependent upon the accuracy and efficiency of data compression algorithms developed in coding theory.

Budgets for mathematics projects are labor-intensive.

    Support for projects in mathematics generally includes relatively modest sums for computing equipment and software compared to laboratory science fields such as physics and biology. For this reason, the true contribution of mathematics is far greater than its relatively modest funding. But limited capital requirements also mean that budget cuts in mathematics affect personnel more than in other disciplines.

The growth and health of mathematics should be a national priority.

    Mathematics has a substantial impact on economic growth and development. Because mathematical knowledge is built steadily on a foundation of previous results, steady progress requires reliable, continuing funding for the mathematical infrastructure.


Excerpt from Leon H. Seitelman, LSeitelman@aol.com, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft "A New Paradigm for Mathematics: Publicity or Perish, " Notices of the AMS, Oct. 1996, p. 1157.


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