Future of the LMS

I have just posted on the Save the LMS blog. I will repeat it here. A little bit of back story. Towards the end of last year the leaderships of the London Mathematical Society (LMS) and the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) announced they would be merging to form a unified mathematics society. This was the first that I had heard (as an LMS member), but I will admit that I often do not follow these things closely.  This year a movement formed within the LMS to vote against the merger, eventually being sucessful at a second SGM, you can read notes on the meeting here and here.

Now for my thoughts on what happened and what needs to happen:

I am a younger mathematician and a proud member of the LMS.  My initial feeling on hearing of the merger was a slight sadness at the loss of tradition, with an acceptance that things sometimes have to change. Perhaps at this moment mathematics might be better served by a single organisation. To close something that has survived a long time, however, requires a higher level of argument. One should be convinced that it will never be of use. Not that it is the preferred tactical option, in the current situation. Though many good arguments were made for the merger they did not convince me to this high standard and so I voted against.

At this stage the debate was still quite reasonable. Through the referendum and the two meetings however something has gone horribly wrong.  I am going to be blunt. One of the key points in this debate is how best to present mathematics to government. If we try to do that with the blinkered and unsubtle approaches that appeared in some of this debate we are in trouble.

It is true that mathematics needs representation, but we should think about why that is. Is it because we want to keep nice cushy jobs playing with puzzles?  Or is it because we feel that mathematics is of value to society and humanity? If it is the second then we should be careful about changing. Especially to accommodate what we think outside voices might want. Instead we should have faith in the value of what we have, but get as many voices as possible selling it. I wrote in the IMA’s Mathematics Today about the responsibility mathematicians have to take our skills into wider science.  There are currently far many more exciting opportunities for mathematics than there are dangers.

This goes beyond talking to academics in other departments, however. Below all the hype of the internet it is slowly changing the way we communicate.  Nobody knows exactly how this will work out, but it is likely to lead to wider participation. This decentralisation of information will reduce the importance of central voices talking to the “right” people. We need to be careful not to be fighting the old battles. The more people who know the importance of mathematics the better. To achieve this we do not need one unified big voice, we need one million small voices.