NSF “Division of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences”?

I have heard that the NSF is considering changing the name of the Division of Mathematical Sciences to the Division of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.

Update 12 October 2012. Today AMS President Eric Friedlander sent the following email to AMS members, IMS President Ruth Williams sent the succeeding email to IMS members, and SIAM President Nick Trefethen sent the third email to SIAM members.

Update 17 October 2012. Today MAA President Paul Zorn sent the final email below to MAA members.

October 10, 2011

Dear Colleagues,

I write to encourage discussion and comments among members of the AMS about the proposal under consideration by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that NSF’s Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) be renamed the Division of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.  At the request of the NSF, I attach a letter from DMS Division Director Sastry Pantula advocating this name change; I also attach a particularly cogent response from a member of the AMS leadership.

Please send your views and comments to


(The process to summarize comments is described below.)

Many of us strongly oppose this name change.  Such a name change could create an unnecessary and unfortunate divide in the mathematical sciences community.  We question whether this portends a shift within DMS away from support of basic research toward mission-oriented research.  This could bring the less mathematical aspects of Statistics into the same funding pool as basic research in Mathematical Sciences, thereby negatively impacting resources available for basic research in the Mathematical Sciences, including basic research in Statistics.

While waiting for NSF approval to consult the broad mathematical community, I have discussed this personally  with many mathematical scientists, including the leadership of the AMS.  The responses I have received have been near-unanimous in their opposition to such a name change.  It is significant that three previous DMS Division Directors Peter March, William Rundell, and Philippe Tondeur have written to express their opposition to this name change.

Permit me to give some reasons why such a name change is much more important than “just a name.”

1.)  The mission of the NSF is to fund basic research.  Much ofmission-oriented Statistics is funded by other federal agencies, hospitals, industry, etc.  This name change suggests a move within DMS to relax its focus on basic research.

2.)  The suggestion of “new resources to all core programs” is far different from any commitment to seek new resources to support the basic research of these programs.

3.)  The current name (Division of Mathematical Sciences) was crafted to be inclusive.  The inclusiveness of DMS has resulted in increased  funding for many programs including Statistics.  The Mathematical Sciences should work together, emphasizing commonality and presenting the best case for the importance of the Mathematical Sciences.

4.)  Statistics is only one of 10 programs supported by DMS.  In 2010, of the 2978 proposals submitted to DMS core programs, 242 were submitted to the Statistics program.  It is natural to ask why Statistics appears to be uniquely selected by DMS for special emphasis.

5.)  The analysis of big data is indeed important, and the Mathematical Sciences will play an important role in developing fundamental concepts and approaches to manage the “data deluge” and extract useful content. That said, National Science Foundation support of the Mathematical Sciences should energetically embrace basic research in all aspects of the Mathematical Sciences to advance fundamental knowledge and initiate unexpected revolutionary applications.

I encourage you to send your views and comments to


Our plan is to have a small AMS committee review comments received, prepare a summary of comments (names of responders would be suppressed), give this summary to the NSF, and post this summary on the AMS web page.  We are asked to provide the NSF with an initial summary by mid-December, so please respond by December 1 if possible.  We also expect to have one or more forums at the Joint Mathematics Meeting in Boston in early January at which this name change will be discussed with NSF leaders.



Eric M. Friedlander
(President, AMS)

[Click here for a better image of the following letter from DMS Division Director Sastry Pantula advocating this name change—fm.]

Member input from a volunteer leader of the AMS 

Dear Colleagues,

There are two phrases that I find particularly troublesome in Director Pantula’s letter:

(The name) Division of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences recognizes explicitly the two major disciplines served by the division.

The question of whether the DMS serves two major disciplines is far from clear to me.

The progression and the culture of statistics do not justify its being viewed as one of the mathematical sciences.

I will grant that statistics is a large field, not all of it being mathematical. However one of statistics’ components is mathematical statistics, and it is this component that falls under the purview of DMS.

Let me make a comparison with a smaller, but very active, field that I know something about. Cryptography and data security, as a whole, is not a “mathematical science”. Neither is it a field of engineering, nor of computer science. But it has parts that are clearly part of each of these fields. So presumably DMS funds research in “mathematical cryptography”, but it does not fund research into hardware implementations of cryptosystems. Similarly, DMS presumably funds research in the mathematical aspects of statistics, but does not fund research in the parts that (paraphrasing Director Pantula) are “not part of the mathematical sciences.”

So based on Director Pantula’s letter, I see the name change as an attempt to change DMS from a division that supports mathematical research (in statistics and in other areas) to a division that has two quite separate directions, one being mathematics, the other being statistics as broadly construed, which includes non-mathematical parts of statistics.

This seems to be a major policy change, so as others have said, the discussion and possible implementation of such a policy change should precede any name change.

October 10, 2011


From: “Ruth Williams – IMS President”

Date: October 12, 2011 6:59:47 PM EDT

Subject: IMS Message About a Proposed NSF DMS Name Change

Dear IMS Members:

I am writing concerning an important matter that is likely to be of particular interest to our US-based membership, and that may also be of interest to other IMS members.

The Director of the Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) at the US National Science Foundation (NSF), Dr. Sastry Pantula, has proposed changing the name of the Division to the Division of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. I have posted a letter from Dr. Pantula, which includes his explanation of the proposal and rationale for it. The letter is addressed to a subcommittee of NSF’s Mathematical and Physical Sciences Advisory Committee (MPSAC), which has asked various professional societies to collect and provide them with feedback on the proposal. You can view this letter here: http://imstat.org/pantulaletter10_6_11.pdf

After learning of this proposal a few weeks ago, and while waiting for a statement from the DMS Director to accompany a call for comment from our membership-at-large, the IMS Presidents (current, past and elect) have already received comments from some members who have heard about the proposal. It is apparent from these comments that there is a variety of opinions amongst our membership, involving a range of levels of support or concern.

To gain a good impression of the views of all interested members, and in order to provide the requested feedback to the NSF MPSAC, I am writing to encourage your discussion and commentary on the proposal.

Please submit your views and comments on or before November 30, 2011, to dmsnamechange@imstat.org

It is planned to have a small committee of former IMS Presidents to review the comments received and to prepare a summary of the comments.

This summary will be forwarded to the NSF MPSAC and posted on the IMS page. The summary will not reveal the identities of respondents.

However, it will be helpful to the committee if, in writing a comment, members indicate their role as an NSF DMS stakeholder.

The IMS looks forward to receiving your input on this important topic.

Yours sincerely,

Ruth Williams
Institute of Mathematical Statistics

From: “SIAM President” <dmsnamechange@siam.org>
Subject: Comments sought on proposed DMS name change
Date: Wed, 12 Oct 2011 15:47:20 -0400

To SIAM members:

The director of the Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) at NSF has proposed that the division be renamed the Division of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. We, and the NSF, seek your views on this proposed name change. These will be summarized, without identifying the senders, and forwarded to the NSF, in particular to Ed Seidel, Assistant NSF Director for Mathematical and Physical Sciences, who intends to decide on the matter in January.

Briefly, the primary arguments that have been put forward in favor of the change are: The proposed name would put the Division in a better position to vie for new resources in this era of big data and to collaborate with other divisions. The progression and the culture of statistics do not justify its being viewed as one of the mathematical sciences.  The name change will signal more inclusiveness of the growing field of statistics.  A fuller statement of these arguments can be found in a letter from Dr. Pantula available at http://www.siam.org/dmsnamechange/pantula-letter.pdf

Others, including the three prior directors of DMS, have argued against the change.  Briefly, the primary arguments that have been made against the change are: The name change suggests that statistics is not a mathematical science and implies diminished relevance of the mathematical sciences to data. This violates common usage and the inclusive view of the mathematical sciences successfully advocated by DMS for many years.  The proposed name is preferential to one sub-area, and will provoke discord in the community. Some feel it may portend a realignment of resources that hasn’t been discussed or justified.


Email headers will be removed from comments before they are transmitted.
** Thus, senders’ identities will not be known unless they choose to identify themselves in the message body. **

Nevertheless, we feel that comments will be most useful if the identity of the sender and his or her role as a DMS stakeholder is included in the message.

Thank you.

Nick Trefethen, SIAM President
Doug Arnold, SIAM Past-President


Date: Mon, 17 Oct 2011 12:00:37 -0400 (EDT)
From: Mathematical Association of America <maahq@maa.org>

As you may have heard, discussion is underway at the National Science Foundation and in our communities about the possibility of renaming the Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS); the new name would be the  Division of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences (MSS).  Ed Seidel, Assistant NSF Director for Mathematical and Physical Sciences, intends to make a decision on the matter next January.

To inform the decision and assure that community voices are heard, the MAA and the NSF invite members’ views on this proposed change.  (Other societies are inviting their own members to comment.) A forum on this name change, involving NSF leaders, is expected at the January 2012 Joint Mathematics Meeting in Boston.

Background on and arguments in favor of the proposed change are summarized in a letter, available at http://www.siam.org/dmsnamechange/pantula-letter.pdf from DMS Director Sastry Pantula. Dr. Pantula writes, for instance, that the name change would better “position the Division for the future, in light of the very clearly established trends toward scientific discovery increasingly dependent on the collection and interpretation of (massive) data and quantitative information.” For more details and further discussion, see Dr. Pantula’s letter.

Colleagues who argue against the proposed change express their own concerns.   Some assert that the proposed name change suggests both that statistics is not itself a mathematical science and that the relevance of the mathematical sciences to data has diminished.  Others worry that a name change might portend a realignment of resources that should first be discussed and justified.

Clearly, views differ.  The point of this invitation is not to advocate but to invite MAA members’ own views and comments.

A small MAA committee will review and summarize members’ comments; a digest (without identifying individual senders’ names) of views will be forwarded to the NSF in mid-December.


Thanks for your attention.

Paul Zorn, MAA President


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  2. Mary Beth Ruskai:

    From: “Ruskai, Mary Beth”
    Date: Sat, 15 Oct 2011 14:26:30 +0000

    NSF already has a program on (applied) statistics in another
    division, namely,

    Methodology, Measurement, and Statistics (MMS)
    Social & Economic Sciences (SES)

    Moreover, many of the areas mentioned in Dr. Pantula’s
    letter, such as “data mining” and “analyzing, communicating,
    and storing information” are already supported through
    programs in computer science (CISE) and engineering (EECS).

    And there are, no doubt, many grants doing statistics-related
    research supported by other programs.

    So what is really being proposed here?

    It seems neither realistic nor desirable to move of all these
    programs and associated funding into what is now DMS.
    That would be viewed as a potential power grab which would
    be detrimental to most of mathematics.

    One might argue that instead of including DMS as a single
    division under MPS, one should have a section of NSF on
    “Mathematical Sciences” which would include divisions on
    “statistics”, “pure mathematics”, “applied mathematics”,
    “information theory” etc. However, this would require a
    major re-organization of NSF; not just a name change.

    Why does Dr. Pantula

    … expect the new resources to benefit all core programs, and do not
    envision reducing funding for core areas of mathematics and statistics.

    At best, this seems a proposal which will leave other areas
    of mathematics at level funding, while reducing their visibility
    and proportion of funding within DMS.

    As a mathematical physicist, I have often had joint funding with
    programs in physics and my recent work in quantum information
    theory is now funded entirely by CCF instead of mathematics.
    There is a growth in interdisciplinary work in mathematical biology.
    No mention is made in Dr. Pantula’s letter of the fact that most
    funding for work in the highly mathematical area of information
    theory is outside of DMS. Why not bring that into the fold??

    There are many reasons for increased funding of mathematics
    research, particularly interdisciplinary areas. What I see is a
    statistician trying to increasing funding for statistics without
    looking at the broader picture involving many other areas of

    Finally, I have to ask why, as someone who has been PI on some type
    of grant at least partially supported by DMS from 1987-2011 received
    a letter about the suggested name change from the President of
    the AMS, instead of a “Dear Colleague” letter from Dr. Pantula.


    Beth Ruskai

    former member of AMS Council
    former editor of AMS Notices
    former member of various AMS committees including CoProf


    Mary Beth Ruskai marybeth.ruskai@tufts.edu
    46 Lansdowne Rd.
    Arlington, MA 02474 USA 781 646 9377

    cell: 617 331 0786 No voicemail yet, but can receive text

    Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, University of Massachusetts Lowell

    Research Professor, Tufts University


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