Because it's now very "sensitive" to ask soft-questions on MO, I prefer to take my care.

I would like ask "Why fund the research in pure mathematics?" on MO (in community-wiki mode),
with the tags: "soft-question", "career", "society".

Question: Is this question allowed on MO? Is it useful and clear ?

Content: The research in pure mathematics has (generally) no other choice that being funded by public organizations and universities, so that the money allocated to it (for new positions, new institutes, conferences...) depends on decisions of people with high responsibilities (generically politicians), who are (generally) unfamiliar with this research area.
Through this question, I would like to know and understand, on one hand, the main arguments of the politicians (or eq.) for deciding to allocate a particular proportion of their budget to the research in pure mathematics, and on the other hand, the main arguments of the mathematicians themselves.
I'm also interested in new (or not sufficiently developed publicly) arguments.
Remark: In order to be fair, the arguments in support or against (either some or more) fund the research in pure mathematics, are likewise requested (see this comment of Steven Landsburg).

I've posted this question on politics.se (as suggested by the answer of Bjørn):
Why fund the research in pure mathematics?

Remark: I hope there will have relevant and useful answers on politics.se (of course you can go answer, comment or improve the post there), else I will come back here for asking about a migration on MO.

Edit (15/07/14): See the new MO post How does one justify funding for mathematics research?
I note that this new post has 49 upvotes (0 downvote) and 31 favorites, so that this topic is very useful for the MO network. I note also that my post on politics.se was not relay before I did myself here, so that the users did not know its existence or just forget it. Conclusion: In what meta-MO was useful there?

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    $\begingroup$ Does the downvotes are against this post on meta or against the post I'm asking for on MO? In any case, why? $\endgroup$ Apr 6, 2014 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ I think it would be great if instead of downvoting questions on meta, more people wrote "No. [more characters to fulfill the silly character requirements]" as an answer. But it's more work, and it's not anonymous, so this is probably wishful thinking. $\endgroup$ Apr 6, 2014 at 22:57
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    $\begingroup$ If it were up to me, I would not have this question on MO; but that's because I don't see MO as a chatroom or forum for open-ended discussion $\endgroup$
    – Yemon Choi
    Apr 7, 2014 at 1:52
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    $\begingroup$ I think this question would be quite off topic and I would vote to close it. $\endgroup$ Apr 7, 2014 at 5:14
  • $\begingroup$ @YemonChoi: I see several solutions: 1. Post and keep this question open for a limited time (for example 1 month) on MO, or 2. Create a chat-room on this subject, or 3. Post this question on politics.sx, as suggested by Bjørn and in spite of Alex's comment. $\endgroup$ Apr 7, 2014 at 10:34
  • $\begingroup$ @StevenLandsburg: Nevertheless (after seeing your webpage) I think you could give relevant and useful answers to this question. $\endgroup$ Apr 7, 2014 at 10:54
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    $\begingroup$ I am in favor of having this question on MO. I occasionally find myself in the situation of needing to explain to somebody "important" why they should fund research in pure math. I would be happy to know more arguments I can present in such a situation. $\endgroup$ Apr 7, 2014 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ @YemonChoi What about using the chatroom? $\endgroup$ Apr 7, 2014 at 14:44
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    $\begingroup$ In addition to the fact that it's off topic, I'd also vote to close this as subjective and argumentative, because that it's wording takes it as a foregone conclusion that we should in fact fund research in pure mathematics. I'd also worry about commenters failing to distinguish between the questions "Should the amount of funding be greater than zero?" and "Should the amount of funding be greater than its current level?", which are quite separate questions and should not be jumbled together in one MO thread. $\endgroup$ Apr 7, 2014 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ @StevenLandsburg: would you object to a question that simply asked what kinds of arguments can be given in support of having (either some or more) public funding for research in pure math? Since pure math research is difficult for most people in congress to relate to, I think it would be beneficial if mathematicians could pool their ideas of how best to present our subject. One could argue that this type of thing belongs on a private blog, but the MO forum reaches more people and hence would likely get better answers. Is there a downside to this? $\endgroup$ Apr 8, 2014 at 8:24
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelZieve : I think a question on "what kinds of arguments can be given in support of having (either some or more) public funding research for math" would be exactly as on-topic and appropriate as a question on "what kinds of arguments can be given against having (either some or more) public funding for math". Personally, I'd consider either to be way off topic. Some might think the opposite. But if someone considered one of these more on-topic than the other, I'd say that person was being extremely (and highly inappropriately) subjective and argumentative. $\endgroup$ Apr 8, 2014 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelZieve: The question is now posted on politics.se (see here). According to the answers received, I would come back here for requesting a migration on MO. $\endgroup$ Apr 8, 2014 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ "In what meta-MO was useful there?" It delayed an essentially off-topic question being asked for a couple of month. ;-) $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Jul 15, 2014 at 16:37
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    $\begingroup$ maybe could fit on Academia? it would seem the same justifications are those of funding scientific research in general.... $\endgroup$
    – vzn
    Jul 31, 2014 at 5:31

1 Answer 1


http://politics.stackexchange.com may be a good place for this question

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure people who study politics are knowledgeable about the benefits of pure mathematics. $\endgroup$ Apr 7, 2014 at 3:17
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    $\begingroup$ If OP wants to find out how to access various political arguments for how research should be funded, he might get information here; for that it doesn't matter whether political science specialists know the benefits of mathematics. Presumably the politics differs from country to country. $\endgroup$
    – Todd Trimble Mod
    Apr 7, 2014 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ @ToddTrimble: your link is not available. $\endgroup$ Apr 7, 2014 at 11:26
  • $\begingroup$ No, by "here" I meant politics.SE. $\endgroup$
    – Todd Trimble Mod
    Apr 7, 2014 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ The question is now posted on politics.se (see here). $\endgroup$ Apr 8, 2014 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ @SamIam I don't see what is odd here. This answer is to a question of whether a certain other question would be on-topic on MO. So the answer does not redirect some question, it answers another question (the one asked). $\endgroup$ Apr 10, 2014 at 7:10
  • $\begingroup$ @TobiasKildetoft disregard everythin gI said. I though that this was in the Main mathematics SE. $\endgroup$ Apr 10, 2014 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexBecker: in a democracy, everyone is supposed to study politics. $\endgroup$
    – Joël
    Apr 15, 2014 at 3:05
  • $\begingroup$ The question seems to have an healthy live on politics.se, and I think that the best we could wish for it. It was really too "subjective and argumentative" for MO (which does not mean it was not interesting). $\endgroup$
    – Joël
    Apr 15, 2014 at 3:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Joel: if in fact the question is subjective or argumentative, then that is merely a matter of how it is phrased. It seems perfectly reasonable to ask what arguments can be given in support of funding research in pure math, especially in a forum for math research. I see some very "subjective and argumentative" things in the comments on this page, but I do not see how such a simple question can be viewed as such. Although there are some interesting answers at politics.se, still I'm certain that people at MO could give different types of arguments in support of mathematicians' livelihood. $\endgroup$ Apr 15, 2014 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelSieve: I think your underestimate how this issue (not the question itself) is divisive. Some mathematician I know think mathematics should not be funded at all: only people with a personal fortune, and thus truly disinterested, should do mathematics. Other thinks that math should be funded, but certainly not by private contributors, only by the state, while some others think exactly the contrary ("keep the government out of my maths"). Even among people who agrees that math should be founded, the most natural justifications may be more controversial that they seem at first glance... $\endgroup$
    – Joël
    Apr 15, 2014 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ ... Consider someone saying (as frequently happens): "my country should finance mathematics because it will give it a technological/economic/military edge in the international competition". I find this a problematic answer, as mathematicians from other countries cannot logically agree with that (if they do, it means they actually agree on something different). $\endgroup$
    – Joël
    Apr 15, 2014 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelZieve: There is now this new MO post How does one justify funding for mathematics research? $\endgroup$ Jul 17, 2014 at 12:53

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