This Mathematical Month - January: A Brief Look at Past Events and Episodes in the Mathematical Community
Monthly postings of vignettes on people, publications, and mathematics to inform and entertain.
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January 1975: The AMS Council passed a resolution to begin an experiment in which papers submitted to the Proceedings of the AMS would be subject to blind refereeing, meaning that authors' names would not be revealed to referees. The resolution was brought forward because some mathematicians' experiences had led them to believe that papers by authors from lesser-known institutions and papers by female authors had received unfair treatment in the referring process. The Council resolution called for the blind-refereeing experiment to be evaluated after two years. At its April 1977 meeting, the Council received a statement from the Proceedings editorial board, saying that "Blind refereeing was a completely uncontrolled experiment and there is no way to evaluate it." The editors felt that it was not their responsibility to remove all evidence of authorship of papers, such as in bibliographies or introductions. "We would be happy to drop [blind refereeing] but not at the expense of dissension with the Society," the editors wrote. After some discussion, the Council decided to continue the experiment, but two years later voted that the Proceedings should revert to normal refereeing. Authors desiring blind refereeing of their papers still have the option of submitting a "blind" copy of a manuscript.
January 1996: MathSciNet, the internet version of Mathematical Reviews® (MR), came online. MathSciNet provides access to the MR database of reviews and bibliographic information for the mathematical sciences literature and has become an indispensable tool for mathematicians all over the world. Because of its accessibility, searchability, and ease of use, MathSciNet has come to be used in ways that the old paper MR never was. These new uses have in turn inspired improvements in the MR database: For example, MR now routinely adds for each paper entered into the database the full list of references appearing in the paper, together with links from the references to the MR reviews. A forward-looking consortium pricing scheme has brought MathSciNet access to many institutions that in the past were hard pressed to afford the paper subscription. Visit the MathSciNet web page for more details.
January 1991: The AMS Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize was awarded for the first time, to Dusa McDuff of SUNY Stony Brook. This prize was established through a gift from Joan Birman, a mathematician at Barnard College, in memory of her sister, Ruth Lyttle Satter. Satter earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics and then joined the research staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories during World War II. After raising a family, she received a Ph.D. in botany at the age of 43 from the University of Connecticut at Storrs, where she later became a faculty member. Her research on the biological clocks in plants earned her recognition in the U.S. and abroad. The $5,000 Satter Prize honors her commitment to research and to encouraging women in science. Many were touched by McDuff's remarks upon receiving the prize (her remarks appeared in the prize announcement in the March 1991 issue of the AMS Notices ). A list of Satter Prizewinners is on the AMS web site.
January 1988: The AMS held a referendum on five motions related to funding of research in the mathematical sciences. During the 1980s, controversy simmered over the funding of mathematical sciences research by agencies of the Department of Defense. The horrors of the Vietnam War and the threat of nuclear catastrophes during the Cold War were clearly on the minds of Society members who opposed military funding for mathematics. In addition, many were wary of the recently proposed Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), commonly known as "Star Wars." Broadly speaking, the five motions of the referendum opposed military funding of mathematics and the SDI (their text can be found in the Notices, November 1987, page 1014). A large proportion of the membership had an interest in these issues: 7000 referendum ballots were received, a much larger number than in a typical AMS election. The motions passed by a wide margin.
January 1988: The first issue of Journal of the AMS appeared. The AMS began the journal in its centennial year, with the idea of making it an elite journal. Indeed JAMS quickly established itself as one of the top journals in mathematics. In 2002, JAMS was the leading mathematics journal as measured by citation "impact factor". The rapidity with which JAMS became a highly successful journal can be traced to the founding editorial board, which consisted of Michael Artin, H. Blaine Lawson, Jr., Richard Melrose, Wilfried Schmid, and Robert E. Tarjan.
January 1983: Julia Robinson begins her two-year term as president of the AMS, the first woman to hold this office. Robinson, who was a professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, was best known for her work on Hilbert's Tenth Problem: Is there an effective way to determine whether a Diophantine equation is solvable? Together with Martin Davis and Hilary Putnam, she proved a result crucial to the solution of the problem, which was completed by the Russian mathematician Juri Matijasevich in 1970. In 1980 she presented the AMS Colloquium Lectures, discussing computability, Hilbert's Tenth Problem, and other topics. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1976, the first woman member in the mathematics section. In 1983, she received a "genius" fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation. In 1985, Robinson died of leukemia at the age of 65. [For more information on Julia Robinson, see the biographies section of the MacTutor Web site.]
January 1982: The AMS Council approved removing some text from election instructions that might have made AMS elections vulnerable to a voting paradox. The paradox was described in the article "The AMS Nomination Procedure is Vulnerable to `Truncation of Preferences'," by Steven J. Brams, which appeared in the February 1982 issue of the Notices of the AMS. The sentence in the instructions to the voters for the AMS Nominating Committee said: "[t]here is a no tactical advantage to be gained by marking few candidates." Brams' article used mathematical analysis of voting procedures to exhibit examples showing how a coalition could in fact make practical use of "truncation" as a tactic to influence the election. The AMS Executive Committee decided that the sentence should be removed from AMS election ballots. Brams, a professor of politics at New York University, has become well known for his use of mathematics to analyze voting and fair-division problems. With co-authors Michael Jones and Christian Klamler, Brams wrote an article called "Better Ways to Cut a Cake", which appeared in the December 2006 issue of the Notices of the AMS.
January 1981: The AMS Council discussed the case of Tatyana Velikanova, a mathematician and Soviet dissident who had just been imprisoned for her work as editor of a samizdat human rights publication. The Association for Women in Mathematics had also discussed her case and sent a letter of protest to the president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. The Council requested that the AMS President, who at the time was Andrew Gleason, also write a letter of protest. According to an obituary that appeared on October 17, 2002, in the New York Times Velikanova "helped found the Initiative Group for the Defense of Human Rights in the U.S.S.R., and became the backbone of the Chronicle of Current Events, a samizdat news bulletin, after the arrest of its founder, Natalya Gorbanevskaya. The chronicle was the main uncensored source of information about the dissident movement around the Soviet Union during the rule of Leonid I. Brezhnev." Velikanova was arrested in 1979 on charges of "anti-Soviet propaganda" and received a 9-year sentence. After serving four years under harsh conditions, she was allowed to return to Moscow during the reforms that led to the fall of the Soviet Union. "In her final years, she lived out of the public eye, teaching math and Russian language and literature at a Moscow school until just months before her death," the obituary says. She died on September 19, 2002.
January 1981: The AMS Notices published an informational item titled "Jewish Authors in Mat. Sbornik". This item grew out of intensive discussions in the AMS Council and in the Executive Committee and Board of Trustees about what appeared to be systematic discrimination against Jewish authors in the journal Mat. Sbornik, which was published in the Soviet Union. In August 1979, the Council had received reports that the journal was discriminating against Jewish authors and found evidence in "the apparent very sharp decline in the number of articles by Jewish authors which took place beginning about 1975," the Notices item states. Some of this evidence appeared in a table showing that the percentages of Jewish authors of Mat. Sbornik papers published in 1972, 1973, and 1974 were 39 percent, 25 percent, and 29 percent, respectively, and that those percentages dwindled to the single digits starting in 1975. Peter Lax, then President of the AMS, wrote twice to the Soviet Academy of Sciences seeking an explanation but received no reply.
January 1978: Donald Knuth presented the Gibbs Lecture entitled "Mathematical Typography." This lecture announced the creation of TeX, the revolutionary composition system for mathematical text now widely used by mathematicians all over the world. Knuth put the software in the public domain so that it would be easy for others to create software packages based on TeX. The result was rapid and wide adoption of TeX as the standard basis for electronic typesetting in mathematics. Not only did TeX offer mathematicians a powerful and flexible means for typesetting their own papers, it also ushered in a new era of sharing of mathematical literature electronically. Electronic journals and preprint servers, as well as much of traditional paper publishing of mathematics, are almost universally based on TeX. The written version of his lecture appeared in the Bulletin of the AMS (1979, no. 2, pages 337--372). In a review in Mathematical Reviews®, Richard S. Palais wrote that this paper "is destined to become a classic reference in the subject of its title."
January 1862: Eliakim Hastings Moore was born on the 26th of that month. He was a major figure in the development of mathematics research in the United States. He received a bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1883 from Yale University and continued to study there for his doctorate, which he earned in 1885, under the direction of H. A. Newton. Newton encouraged Moore to spend some time in Europe, because the level of mathematics research was much higher there than in the United States. Following this advice, Moore spent time in Göttingen and also at the University of Berlin, where he attended lectures by Kronecker and Weierstrass. Moore then returned to the United States eager to continue his research pursuits. In 1891, William Rainey Harper became president of the University of Chicago and set about building the university's research capacity. One of his key appointments was to make Moore head of the mathematics department. Moore then hired two outstanding German mathematicians, Oskar Bolza and Heinrich Maschke. Together, these three mathematicians greatly raised the research profile of the University of Chicago, which soon became the premier center for mathematics research in the United States. Moore had 31 PhD students, including G. D. Birkhoff, Leonard Dickson, Derek Lehmer, R. L. Moore, Oswald Veblen, and Anna Pell Wheeler. In connection with the 1893 World's Fair, which was held in Chicago, Moore helped to organize an international congress in mathematics, which turned out to be a significant event in the development of mathematics in the United States. He was very active in the early years of the New York Mathematical Society and was a force behind its transformation into the national organization, the American Mathematical Society. Moore served as AMS Vice-President from 1898 to 1900, President from 1901 to 1902, and Colloquium Lecturer in 1906. He was an editor of the Transactions of the American Mathematical Society from 1899 to 1907. Read more about the life of E. H. Moore in the MacTutor biography.
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