Peter Krautzberger · on the web

state of foundational research

I was catching up on some fun google-reader reading today but found with a depressing combination of content.

To be

The title of this post is taken from this math.SE question which boils down to:

Is it true? Is it mostly a dead field filled with quacks and not much going on?

The question was answered very kindly by Carl but there was also a comment with a link to another question on math.SE:

What are the issues in modern set theory?

which received a vibrant answer by Joel.

You should go and read it. It will make you feel all fuzzy in warm inside about studying set theory.

Or not to be

But then I continue reading.

And find mathbabe discussing an idea put forth by Harvard physicist Abraham Loeb in Nature to have ratings agencies for scientific theories.

And I find Tim Gowers discussing that last year's scare is now reality -- EPSRC has essentially cancelled pure math postdoc fellowships. (This was and is an embarrassment and failure of the leaders of the UK math community, really. How could the major grant agency make such major policy changes without anyone noticing?)

And then I start to remember other posts.

And I remember Nassif Ghoussoub foreseeing the massive future cuts in foundational research in Canada.

And I remember James Colliander analyzing the same drift.

And I remember Frank Morgan's post that might foreshadow a change at the NSF much akin to the change at EPRSC.

That is the question

How can we survive in such a climate?


On the one hand, Loeb's idea for rating agencies seems mostly designed to identify "weak" fields and to eliminate those. On the other hand, his article opens with

Too many young physicists embark on projects without knowing the risks.

So while rating agencies would be stupid, I do like the idea to improve transparency for students. Is anybody thinking about that at all? Do we have transparent statistics about the number of research mathematicians, their fields, their activity etc? Do we have any idea about the number of future open positions in mathematics, their fields etc?