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News from the National Academies
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
        Phillip A. Griffiths (1) (committee chair)
        Institute for Advanced Study
        Princeton, N.J.

        Bruce M. Alberts (1) (ex officio)
        President, National Academy of Sciences
        Washington, D.C.

        William F. Brinkman (1)
        Vice President, Physical Sciences Research
        AT&T Bell Laboratories
        Lucent Technologies
        Murray Hill, N.J.

        Peter Diamond (1)
        Professor of Economics
        Massachusetts Institute of Technology

        Gerald P. Dinneen (3)
        Vice President, Science and Technology
        Honeywell Inc. (retired)
        Edina, Minn.

        Mildred S. Dresselhaus (1,3)
        Institute Professor of Electrical Engineering and Physics
        Massachusetts Institute of Technology

        James J. Duderstadt (3)
        President Emeritus and University Professor of Science and Engineering
        University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

        Marye Anne Fox (1)
        Vice President for Research
        University of Texas, Austin

        Ralph E. Gomory (1,3)
        Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
        New York City

        Ruby P. Hearn (2)
        Vice President
        The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
        Princeton, N.J.

        Marian E. Koshland (1)
        Professor of Immunology, Department of
        Molecular and Cell Biology
        University of California, Berkeley

        Phillip W. Majerus (1,2)
        Professor of Medicine, Biochemistry, and Molecular Biophysics; and
        Director, Division of Hematology-Oncology
        Washington University School of Medicine
        St. Louis

        Kenneth I. Shine (2) (ex officio)
        President, Institute of Medicine
        Washington, D.C.

        Morris Tanenbaum (3)
        Vice President, National Academy of Engineering
        Washington, D.C.

        William Julius Wilson (1)
        Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy
        John F. Kennedy School of Government
        Harvard University
        Cambridge, Mass.

        William A. Wulf (3) (ex officio)
        President, National Academy of Engineering
        Washington, D.C.

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

        Peter D. Lax (1) (panel chair)
        Professor of Mathematics and
        Director, Courant Laboratory
        New York University, New York City

        Michael F. Atiyah (4)
        Master, Trinity College
        Cambridge, England

        Spencer J. Bloch (1)
        Professor, Department of Mathematics
        University of Chicago

        Joseph B. Keller (1)
        Professor, Departments of Mathematics and
        Mechanical Engineering
        Stanford University
        Palo Alto, Calif.

        Jacques-Louis Lions (4)
        President, French Academy of Sciences and
        Professor, College de France

        Yuri I. Manin
        Director, Max Planck Institute für Mathematik
        Bonn, Germany

        Rudolph A. Marcus (1)
        A.A. Noyes Professor of Chemistry
        California Institute of Technology

        Gary C. McDonald
        Head, Operations Research Department
        GM Research and Development Center
        Warren, Mich.

        Cathleen S. Morawetz (1)
        Professor Emeritus
        Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences
        New York University
        New York City

        Peter Sarnak
        Chair, Department of Mathematics
        Princeton University
        Princeton, N.J.

        I.M. Singer (1)
        Institute Professor
        Massachusetts Institute of Technology

        Margaret H. Wright (3)
        Distinguished Member of Technical Staff
        Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies
        Murray Hill, N.J.


        Deborah Stine, Study Director
        (1) Member, National Academy of Sciences
        (2) Member, Institute of Medicine
        (3) Member, National Academy Engineering
        (4) Foreign Associate, National Academy of Sciences