Why is math research important?

14 Feb

I’ve been trying to post a comment on this article from MathBabe, with zero success. The comments seem to just disappear, so I am trying this as an alternative way to say my piece. This is what I wanted to say:

Why not start by establishing the value of research in general. Others have gone down this path for example:




From there the argument is over how important maths is to health of the whole research community. The second paper lists benefits of a healthy research community, including ‘increasing stock of useful knowledge’ and ‘forming networks’. Arguably a healthy maths research community is vital for these outcomes to occur across all research communities.

Another way of putting it is that the research community is a community of communities, and all the member communities suffer if one of their number is lessened in some way; maths is a place where many of the member communities meet, so if the maths research community is lessened, the effect will be especially great.


As I’ve already described, I’m worried about the oncoming MOOC revolution and its effect on math research. To say it plainly, I think there will be major cuts in professional math jobs starting very soon, and I’ve even started to discourage young people from their plans to become math professors.

I’d like to start up a conversation – with the public, but starting in the mathematical community – about mathematics research funding and why it’s important.

I’d like to argue for math research as a public good which deserves to be publicly funded. But although I’m sure that we need to make that case, the more I think about it the less sure I am how to make that case. I’d like your help.

So remember, we’re making the case that continuing math research is a good idea for our society, and we should put up some money towards it…

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