Opinion 33: We need Leaner, Livelier, and more Forward-Looking American Math Society

By Doron Zeilberger

Written: Jan. 26, 1999

These remarks probably apply also to MAA and SIAM, but I will focus on the AMS.

Even the AMS officials (Fossum and Jaffe) admit that the AMS has too many committees, that do more harm than good, and cost lots of money. So my first suggestion is get rid of as many committees as possible!

A big white elephant is Math Reviews. In the Notices it was written that Jane Kister, Exec. editor of Math Reviews, is in charge of 70 people! What a waste! It is also a waste to have `reviews', usually two years after the appearance of the article, and hence four years after it was written. Have you looked lately in MR (or its electronic counterpart, MarhSciNet?). With few exceptions, the `reviews' do not add anything to what the author's abstract would. So my suggestion is: Get rid of the paper version of Math Reviews, and confine MathSciNet to titles/abstracts, submitted and supplied by authors, and for a limited time, by journals. Eventually this should be done all automatically, like in the XXX archives, cutting the staff from 70 to, say, 3 or 4 system administrators.

My next suggestion is discontinue the Bulletin, or at the very least, make it only electronic, and at the very very least, do not send it to members, most of whom, I am sure, do not even open it. Once Haynes Miller became the editor of Research Reports, they have become much more boring and specialized (and by an amazing coincidence, very close to Miller's narrow research interests). The book reviews are somewhat useful (even though they also can use some spicing up), but could go to the AMS on-line bookstore, where they would be more useful.

So much for making the AMS leaner. An even more important issue is liveliness! The current editors of the Notices and Monthly are (probably, I have never met them) not as exciting individuals as possible. I am sure that they are very able mathematicians, and competent administrators, but they lack the vision of a truly outstanding global editor. Or else how would you explain that the Notices and the Monthly are more boring than they used to be. Luckily, the quality of the articles are almost constant, and seem to be (almost) editor-invariant, but who knows what exciting articles they rejected?

Now near-perfect editors do exist, e.g. the current Intelligencer editor Chandler Davis, former Monthly editor Herb Wilf, and former Bulletin editor Roger Howe. The AMS and MAA should do its best to find such people. One possibility is to have an electronic campaign, where people nominate themselves, or others, put writing samples, and agendas on the web, and let AMS members (and non-members!) vote directly!

But perhaps the most important issue, is being open-minded to all different kinds of views, especially future trends. It is my impression (judging from my interaction with him, and corroborated by his suppression of Lang's point of view (see Lang's acceptance of the 1999 Steele prize for exposition)) that Knapp is too zealot in preserving the party-line, and deliberately keeps away dissidence in the name of `peace'. Just like the tobacco industry, the AMS apparachniks think that they have too much to lose in their paper empire, and while they do, reluctantly, go electronic, unfortunately, they bring with them the old paper mentality. I have already talked about it elsewhere, but I am always shocked anew to realize that the AMS has NEW pay-electronic journals (perhaps not surprisingly, Knapp is an editor of one of them!)

How to implement my suggestions? First, try to the extent feasible, to partially boycott AMS journals, especially the new electronic pay ones. Look into cancelling your library's subscription of Math Reviews and replace it by the more reliable Zentralblatt. Stop reviewing for Math Reviews! Whenever there is a choice, submit to a free electronic journal. Have all your articles in the XXX archives, and I am sure that you will find other ways to make that grand old lady get ready for the next millennium.

Added 2/17/99: Good news! I just got the Jan. 1999 issue of the Bulletin, and found out that there is a new chief editor, Donald G. Saari, who is a very well-rounded and EXCITING mathematician. So, after a long fallow period, the Bulletin will pick up again.

Added 1/14/00: The Monthly has really picked up. See the Jan. 2000 issue.

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