Today, Europe celebrates an exceptional event for mathematics. Our concern today is the exposure to scientists and to society at large of one of the most valuable heritages of human knowledge: mathematics. And this is happening not only at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, but also simultaneously in many other countries across Europe.
The fantastic idea to create Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013 (MPE2013), the support of the International Mathematical Union (IMU), and the involvement of UNESCO, together make possible the opening of this exciting event.
The inaugural fireworks will be followed by a tremendous number of activities organized in the framework of MPE2013 throughout the year. These include not only conferences, workshops, lectures, exhibitions, articles in journals and magazines, and books, but also contributions to blogs by fans of mathematics, posts on Facebook, tweets, and many other spontaneous contributions.
The European Mathematical Society (EMS) is very proud to count itself among the very many partners of MPE2013, and to have helped generate enthusiasm for the initiative through its more than 90 corporate members. Some long-term scientific programmes taking place in ERCOM Centres–the EMS network of mathematical research centres in Europe–are devoted to topics inspired by MPE2013. Others host specific activities of MPE2013, like schools or public lectures. The EMS is also contributing its experience and expertise through its committee Raising Public Awareness of Mathematics.
It is not the first time that UNESCO gives its explicit support to international endeavors to highlight the central importance of mathematical sciences and their applications. In the year 2000, UNESCO endorsed the IMU’s initiative World Mathematical Year 2000 (WMY2000). Under this banner, mathematicians across the planet contributed to increasing public awareness of mathematics, to showcasing mathematics as a key for progress and development, and to discussing the challenges of the new century.
The tremendous success of WMY2000 proved the capacity of the mathematical community to cooperate in large-scale initiatives of utmost importance for the development of its discipline. This might have produced surprise even within mathematical circles. In contrast with other scientific fields, mathematical organizational units are quite small, and the social attitude of mathematicians is sometimes misperceived as introverted.
Thirteen years later, and partly thanks to the beneficial results from WMY2000, the new initiative MPE2013 starts a long journey in a community with more scientific and social leverage than it enjoyed in the year 2000. Today, mathematicians are in an even better position to exhibit once more their capacity of coordination to reach objectives that require strong efforts. Thus, I am fully confident that this very ambitious project will be an undeniable success.
Why Mathematics of the Planet Earth?
By being the driving force behind modern science, mathematics is the natural partner in multidisciplinary teams devoted to exploring, approaching and tackling global issues, which often crucially require mathematical and computational thinking, and mathematical modelling.
Some of these complex issues consist of pressing problems for the planet, like natural disasters and catastrophes, financial crises, food security, pandemic diseases. Others are related to development and progress, like setting up the conditions to build inclusive innovative and secure societies, achieving cooperation among diverse communities, managing networks, preserving ecosystems, developing and enhancing vital communications.
The initiative MPE2013 was conceived with the objective of providing a world wide showcase for the contributions made by mathematical sciences to global problems. This objective is being enriched and complemented by other activities, less transparent to the wider public, consisting solely of knowledge generation, of building theories. There is a necessity to value and to highlight this crucial aspect of mathematical activity too. Let us recall Leonardo da Vinci’s statement: “Practice must always be built upon good theory.”
Public awareness of mathematics should not be confined to practical results of mathematical activity but also to striking theories, to the intricate mental process of mathematical creation and the conditions for its best development, to its value for human culture. Mathematics is all that.
I began this contribution to the blog by describing the MPE2013 initiative as an exposure of mathematics to the public. It is even more than this. MPE2013 is also a Manifesto on the commitment of mathematics to society.
Marta Sanz-Solé, President
European Mathematical Society