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April 30, 2021

The Just Mathematics Collective

Posted by Tom Leinster

I recently learned of the Just Mathematics Collective, an “international collective of mathematicians” whose “goal is to shift the global mathematics community towards justice”.

It’s an ambitious initiative. We’ve had lots of discussions on this blog about specific places where the practice of mathematics meets real-world problems: surveillance of activist organizations, ties with violent armed groups, quandaries over funding, and so on. But JMC is looking at the big picture, encompassing all these issues and more. And the approach is nuanced: for example, rather than being crudely against the financial sector, it calls for a “reevaluation” of the relationship that we mathematicians have with it, also recognizing its potential for good.

Right now there’s a statement you can sign on the mathematical community’s ties with the NSA — the US National Security Agency, one of the world’s largest employers of mathematicians. You’ll probably find some familiar names on the list of signatories, including John Baez’s and mine.

Let me add that the NSA statement isn’t a short and snappy petition-style letter; the PDF version is ten pages. I don’t think this should put anyone off. Personally, I enjoyed reading it, found the arguments compelling, and agree with almost everything there. But I don’t think anyone should be deterred from signing if there are minor points they disagree with. No two human beings ever agree 100% about everything; I’m not sure I even agree 100% with myself. There must be about a dozen campaigning organizations to which I give my support in one way or another, and I’m sure I have small differences of opinion with all of them (except maybe the Sumatran Orangutan Society? I don’t recall ever disagreeing with them). But the crucial question is: what will help to push the world in a better direction, expressing your support or not?

One last thing: I’ve got a heap of work to do at the moment, my energy is low after a long semester of teaching online, and moderating conversations on topics like this can be quite time-consuming, so I’m leaving comments off.

Posted at April 30, 2021 9:53 PM UTC

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