Date: Oct. 16, 1997
Contacts: Barbara J. Rice, Deputy Director
Sean McLaughlin, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; Internet <>


Publication Announcement

Nation Leads the World in Math Research,
But Trends Cast Shadow on Future

To maintain U.S. leadership in science and technology, policy-makers need reliable information on the status of research fields when making their decisions regarding funding levels. A study that compared accomplishments in U.S. mathematics research with other countries has concluded that this field is thriving and pre-eminent in the world, but concerns about the future are emerging.

The study was conducted by a panel of prominent U.S. and foreign mathematics researchers and users of that research in industry and related fields. It operated under the auspices of the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy -- a joint committee of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine.

The nation's lead in mathematical research is demonstrated by the numerous achievements of U.S. mathematicians in the field and in scientific, engineering, medical, and industrial applications, the panel found. For example, panel members looked systematically on a worldwide basis at subfields to identify individuals whose research is at the cutting edge and driving the subfield. In almost all cases, a majority of these researchers were from the United States.

The panel also identified the key factors that allowed the United States to gain and maintain this position: the strength and contributions of the research universities, the funding of mathematical research by the U.S. government, and the nation's ability in the last 60 years to attract foreign talent.

But this position of eminence is vulnerable, the panel concluded. Because of improving conditions for mathematicians abroad and restrictive U.S. regulations, the United States might not be able to continue to rely on foreign talent. In addition, widespread financial pressures have forced research universities to reduce the size of their graduate programs and the number of permanent faculty. Enrollment of full-time Ph.D. students in mathematics has steadily decreased since reaching a high in 1992. Since 1989 the number of academic positions available to new Ph.D.s has fallen by one-third, and future government funding for academic mathematics is uncertain. However, employment of mathematicians by industry is increasing.

This report is the first in a series of experimental studies to examine U.S. research in a number of fields. Similar analyses are under way for the fields of materials science and engineering, and immunology. The panels were asked to present findings and conclusions, but not make recommendations. The study series grew from the concept that policy decisions would be better informed by comparative international assessments, so that the United States could position itself among the world leaders in all major fields of science by quickly applying and capitalizing on scientific advances wherever they occur. Moreover, clear leadership would need to be maintained in fields that are tied to national objectives, capture the imagination of society, or that have multiplicative effects on other scientific advances. This approach was first recommended in the committee's 1993 report Science, Technology, and the Federal Government: National Goals for a New Era and was reiterated in the 1995 Academy report Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology.

Limited copies of International Benchmarking of U.S. Mathematics Research are available free from the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy; tel. (202) 334-2424. Reporters may obtain copies from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

Development of this report was supported by the National Research Council and the Sloan Foundation. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine are private, non-profit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.


Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy

International Benchmarking of U.S. Research Fields:
Mathematics Panel