ECM2016 — your chance to influence the programme


Just before I start this post, let me say that I do still intend to write a couple of follow-up posts to my previous one about journal prices. But I’ve been busy with a number of other things, so it may still take a little while.

This post is about the next European Congress of Mathematics, which takes place in Berlin in just over two years’ time. I have agreed to chair the scientific committee, which is responsible for choosing approximately 10 plenary speakers and approximately 30 invited lecturers, the latter to speak in four or five parallel sessions.

The ECM is less secretive than the ICM when it comes to drawing up its scientific programme. In particular, the names of the committee members were made public some time ago, and you can read them here.

I am all in favour of as much openness as possible, so I am very pleased that this is the way that the European Mathematical Society operates. But what is the maximum reasonable level of openness in this case? Clearly, public discussion of the merits of different candidates is completely out of order, but I think anything else goes. In particular, and this is the main point of the post, I would very much welcome suggestions for potential speakers. If you know of a mathematician who is European (and for these purposes Europe includes certain not obviously European countries such as Russia and Israel), has done exciting work (ideally recently), and will not already be speaking about that work at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Seoul, then we would like to hear about it. Our main aim is that the congress should be rewarding for its participants, so we will take some account of people’s ability to give a good talk. This applies in particular to plenary speakers.

I shall moderate all comments on this post. If you suggest a possible speaker, I will not publish your comment, but will note the suggestion. More general comments are also welcome and will be published, assuming that they are the kinds of comments I would normally allow.

[In parentheses, let me say what my comment policy now is. The volume of spam I get on this blog has reached a level where I have decided to implement a feature that WordPress allows, where if you have never had a comment accepted, then your comment will automatically be moderated. I try to check the moderation queue quite frequently. If you have had a comment accepted in the past, then your comments will appear as normal.

I am very reluctant to delete comments, but I do delete obvious spam, and I also delete any comment that tries to use this blog as a form of self-promotion (such as using a comment to draw attention to the author’s proof of the Riemann hypothesis, or to the author’s fascinating blog, etc. etc.). I sometimes delete pingbacks as well — it depends whether I think readers of my blog might conceivably be interested in the post from which the pingback originates.]

Going back to the European Congress, if you would prefer to make your suggestion by getting in contact directly with a committee member, then that is obviously fine too. The list of committee members includes email addresses.

However you make your suggestions, it would be very helpful if you could give not just a name but a brief reason for the suggestion: what the work is that you think should be recognised, and why it is important.

The main other thing I am happy to be open about is the stage that the committee has reached in its deliberations, and the plans for how it will carry out its work. Right now, we are at the stage of trying to put together a longlist of possible speakers. I have asked the other committee members to suggest to me at least six potential speakers each, of whom at least six should be broadly in their area. I hope that will give us enough candidates to make it possible to achieve a reasonable subject balance. We will of course also strive for other forms of balance, such as gender and geographical balance, to the extent that we can. Once we have a decent-sized longlist, we will cut it down to the right sort of size.

We are aiming to produce a near-complete list of speakers by around November. This is rather a long time in advance of the Congress itself, which worried me a bit, but I have permission from the EMS to leave open a few slots so that if somebody does something spectacular after November, then we will have the option of inviting them to speak.

21 Responses to “ECM2016 — your chance to influence the programme”

  1. Luca Aceto Says:

    Does the European Congress of Mathematics plan to have sessions devoted to theoretical computer science? The ICM has a session on mathematical foundations of CS and I believe that it would be good to showcase some of the top class work done by European theoretical computer scientists at ECM.

    If you like this suggestion, I can ask the council of the European Association for Theoretical Computer Science to propose some speakers.

    • gowers Says:

      Unlike the ICM, the ECM is not divided into sections. I’ll need to check what the policy is about theoretical computer science, but if (as I suspect) it turns out to be up to me, then my attitude would be that as long as the theoretical computer science contains substantial theorems, then it’s fine. In other words, I think of the congress as being for mathematics, but I also think of a lot of theoretical computer science as mathematics.

    • gowers Says:

      Just spotted that John Hastad was a plenary speaker in 2004.

  2. someone Says:

    In general it would be good to have somewhere the list of previous speakers. I assume that repetitions are to be avoided, but past invited speakers could become plenary speakers. Right?

  3. Felipe Voloch Says:

    What’s an European? Someone who resides in Europe, someone who was born in Europe or something else?

    • gowers Says:

      Good question. Some useful precedents are Christopher Hacon (born in England, educated in Italy, works in the US) who was a plenary speaker in 2012, Igor Rodinianski (born Ukraine, works in the US) who was an invited speaker in 2012. There are several more examples like these.

      On the other hand, after a brief search I can’t find anyone who is from outside Europe but works (or worked at the time) in Europe, so I’m guessing that they don’t qualify. But that needs checking further. (For a moment I thought that Artur Avila, who was an invited speaker in 2008, might be an example, but then I saw that he has French nationality as well as Brazilian.)

    • Artur Says:

      I am indeed an example, in 2008 I only had Brazilian nationality (I was naturalized French in July 2013). The criterion, as I understand it, is that you can either be a citizen of an European country (according to the EMS definition) or work in one.

    • gowers Says:

      Thanks — that’s very useful information.

  4. Gerhard Paseman Says:

    I think you are doing it in the right order: start from a position of openess, and then start closing when you see what trouble it gets you. Crowdsourcing a list of speakers is reasonable when you keep the list to yourself (and appropriate committee). It may turn out to be the same way for topics, in spite of your call for being open. I can see political difficulties arising even in compiling an open list of approved subjects. (Compiling an open list of potential subjects may be less problematic, but still require moderation on your part.)

    One thing I am curious about: will you make the list of registered participants available in advance to registered participants? I am hoping this year’s ICM will do that, following past Congresses (hint, hint).

  5. Hugh Says:

    “. . . and for these purposes Europe includes certain not obviously European countries such as Russia and Israel . . .”

    Could you please clarify why an Israeli mathematician is considered European (“for these purposes”) but an Indian mathematician, for example, is not?

    Thank you.

    • gowers Says:

      Another good question. I don’t know the answer, or rather, I can give an answer but it just pushes the question to a different place. That answer is that the European Mathematical Society is, and has always been, for mathematicians from certain countries and not others, with Russia and Israel included but India not, and the Congress is for countries within the scope of the EMS. Here is a list of national member societies. I’ve had a look at the statutes of the EMS (available on their website) but I have not managed to find a definition of “Europe” there. I’ve also looked at articles about the history of the society, but they also take the definition for granted.

      So all I can say at this point is that the question is really about the EMS itself and not the Congress.

    • gowers Says:

      I’ve just found a more complete list of member societies, which includes Turkey for example (which wasn’t on the list from Wikipedia).

  6. wilsonofgordon Says:

    I modestly suggest that you should check if any Hungarian mathematician has done some amazing things on combinatorics.

  7. Bill Says:

    I don’t see a problem with collecting names of potential speakers (and advertising) via your blog but I also don’t see how it increases openness. I think this only creates an impression of openness, otherwise there is no real difference with how these committees usually operate. Letting us know the stage of deliberations does not really affect the final outcome.

    • gowers Says:

      Perhaps “openness” wasn’t quite the right word, though I did say “as much openness as possible”, and I think that explaining roughly how we will go about the job and giving the names of the committee members is about as open as it is possible to be, at least if one takes the attitude, as I do, that a public discussion of the relative merits of different potential speakers is not on.

      So I agree that it’s not a huge difference, but I think the difference between operating entirely in secret and consulting the wider mathematical community is non-zero. Perhaps one could say that the boundary between the committee and the rest of the world is open in the sense that messages can go in, even if they can’t go out. With the ICM there is no communication at all, except with people specifically asked by the committee for their views.

  8. quasihumanist Says:

    One thing you could consider for openness is to make public a preliminary list of speakers and solicit comments, to be made privately to the committee, before the list is made final.

    Of course this only works if the mathematical community does the decent thing and refrains from starting a public discussion of the merits of the speakers during the comment period, and also refrains from wildly speculating on reasons for any uninvitation.

  9. Ursula Martin Says:

    Thank you for doing this. It will be interesting to see if doing it this way produces a more diverse field to choose from in terms of country, subdiscipline, career stage or gender, than alternative means.

  10. Nalini Joshi Says:

    Tim, thanks for doing this. I think it is a great initiative because it may help to counteract the self-selection problem.

    I hope that it will lead to the selection of speakers who are mathematicians of high calibre, but not necessarily already very visible. I would love to see more female speakers and speakers who are doing important work that happens to fall between the cracks of recognised fields.

  11. gustavo Says:

    is the outcome known?

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