APPENDIX 43
Memorandum submitted by the Council for
the Mathematical Sciences
Thank you for inviting the Institute of Mathematics
and its Applications, London Mathematical Society and The Royal
Statistical Society to make a late submission for the forthcoming
White Paper on Science and Innovation Strategy. Since none of
the three societies were involved in the consultation for the
previous White Paper, it would seem to be more appropriate that
our submission look to the future and consider the strategic concerns
of mathematics, its interactions with other areas of science and
technology, and its potential contributions to wealth creation
and the quality of life.
The applications of mathematics have undergone
a tremendous growth over the past decade. Mathematical ideas,
methods and techniques now pervade nearly all other scientific
disciplines and engineering, and underpin many developments which
are essential for the nation's economic wellbeing and for improvements
in the quality of life. Diverse examples of this key underpinning
role include:
(a) the use of statistics in the understanding
and control of epidemics, the management of risk and the use of
stochastic methods in finance;
(b) the secure transfer of information using
cryptography, managing the increase of internet traffic and the
use of mathematics in software design and verification;
(c) the modelling, analysis and hence interpretation
of complex biological data sets, such as arise from the Human
Genome Project;
(d) the new mathematical techniques being
used in Engineering and Materials Science in problems ranging
from the design of smart materials to the use of virtual reality
in simulating complex physical processes.
The UK has an excellent history of mathematical
scholarship and British mathematical research is still amongst
the best in the world. One would expect that any strategy for
science would wish to optimise the benefits from mathematics and
its applications. It is vital to appreciate and understand the
tension between socalled "blue skies" mathematical
research and applications. Some applications, such as in computing
and modelling, are reasonably predictable; others are not so easily
foreseen—such as the use of number theory in cryptography
and the use of topology in understanding defects in crystals.
In order to flourish, most scientific disciplines require their
own internal goals. Despite the immense importance of its applications,
mathematics will not flourish in a purely service role. Continuing
support is therefore needed both for "blue skies" mathematical
research as well as for more applied kinds of research.
The two principal problems that are most likely
to inhibit the realising of the potential benefits of mathematics
in the UK are:
(a) The lack of appreciation by the public
and policymakers of the depth, importance and diversity of the
application of mathematics. In consequence the British mathematics
community currently suffers from rather low morale. Here we should
mention that we are greatly concerned about the current low funding
base for mathematics in the EPSRC, although we do note with pleasure
the recent increases in funding and the joint initiatives with
other research councils, both of which recognise the need for
improvement.
(b) The nation will need an increasingly
mathematically skilled and trained work force to compete on the
international stage. One aspect of this problem is well illustrated
by the current difficulty in recruiting well qualified Ph.D students.
Also the high demand for students with mathematics doctorates
is causing immense difficulties in maintaining the academic base
in mathematics that is essential to train the next generation
of mathematicians and continue the current level of research.
25 July 2000
