The recently released 2010 International Review of Mathematical Sciences for the UK has a timely quote for the Canadian statistical and mathematical communities to consider (see page 10):
"A longstanding practice has been to divide the mathematical sciences into categories that are, by implication, close to disjoint. Two of the most common distinctions are drawn between ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ mathematics, and between ‘mathematics’ and ‘statistics’. These and other categories can be useful to convey real differences in style, culture and methodology, but, in the panel’s view, they have produced an increasingly negative effect when the mathematical sciences are considered in the overall context of science and engineering, by stressing divisions rather than unifying principles. Furthermore, such distinctions can create unnecessary barriers and tensions within the mathematical sciences community by absorbing energy that might be expended more productively."
Yesterday, a majority of the Evaluation Group (1508) which adjudicated the 2011 NSERC Discovery Grants competition posted a public letter to NSERC President Suzanne Fortier. This letter finally provides some official insights into the 2011 competition that I publicly requested on April 11. The letter also validates the concerns expressed by the public statement by the Math NSERC Liaison Committee from April 26 which has (so far) been signed by:
- 325 Canadian math/stats scientists
- 35 Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada
- 26 Canada Research Chairs
- A Killam Research Fellow
- Another Killam Research Fellow
- Past President of the American Mathematical Society
Yesterday’s letter clarifies the responsibilities of the Evaluation Group, its Executive Committee, and NSERC staff in evaluating the proposals and assigning dollar amounts. We now know that the Executive Committee was allowed to give different dollar amounts to proposals with equal merit. Stats proposals were given more money than math proposals despite being evaluated as having equal merit. We also know that proposals evaluated in 2010 were given substantially larger money amounts than equal merit proposals in 2011. These outcomes are unfair. The 2011 aftermath provides an opportunity for NSERC to evaluate and improve the new evaluation system used for adjudicating the Discovery Grants competition.
The statisticians on the Evaluation Group did not sign yesterday’s public letter to the NSERC President.
The unequal treatment of statistics and mathematics during the 2011 competition has provoked a rift between these two communities of Canadian researchers. These two communities were forced to merge by NSERC, against the wishes of the statistics community, in 2009. Although the statisticians on the Evaluation Group did not sign yesterday’s statement, three notable signatories to the public statement by the Math NSERC Liaison Committee are prominent statisticians:
- President of the Statistical Society of Canada
- Chair of the Research Committee of the Statistical Society of Canada
- Chair of the Long Range Plan for the merger of math and stats.
Now is the time for mathematicians and statisticians to collaborate to improve the system for distributing federal investments in research. Let’s work together to avoid being divided and conquered.