I'm writing to call on the American Mathematical Society to elaborate on its ethical stance regarding collaborations between mathematicians and military/security agencies like the NSA. Mathematics is too large and too influential for mathematicians to avoid the ethical questions about its uses, and the health of the mathematical community requires that we face these questions head-on together.
I am therefore asking the AMS to address the following questions and concerns:
- A 1987 AMS referendum passed a motion requiring the AMS to "direct their efforts toward increasing the fraction of non-military funding for mathematics research as well as towards increasing total research support." (See p. 554, April 1988 AMS Notices.) Is this still in effect? How has this been honored over the past 30 years? For instance, how has the ratio of, say, NSF funding for mathematics research to DoD funding changed over that time in response to AMS efforts?
- The recent email from the AMS president to concerned community members should be widely publicized, not only to AMS members (since the AMS effectively speaks on behalf of non-member mathematicians), perhaps in a prominent place on the AMS website or in the AMS Notices. The message should be expanded to include explanation of whether changes to the NSA/AMS relationship (e.g. the 2016 discontinuation of the Mathematics Review Panels) were informed by ethical considerations or discussions in the math community, e.g. the 2014-2015 series of Notices columns entitled "Mathematicians discuss the Snowden Revelations".
- I ask that the AMS also elaborate on its relationship with research institutes/think tanks like the Institute for Defense Analyses.
- How committed is the AMS to "welcoming any potential employer of mathematicians to engage with our community", as mentioned in its recent response? Is any attention paid to the larger social effects of those employers' activities? For example, would the AMS offer a recruitment booth to a company known to engage in unethical labor practices affecting its non-mathematician employees?
- I call on the AMS to articulate an ethical stance on the relationship between the mathematics community and intelligence agencies. This stance should be historically-informed and should account for the actual geopolitical role of these agencies. This should be the result of some sort of consensus process and could perhaps take the form of a "position statement" alongside the existing ones that can be found here: https://www.ams.org/government/dc-collaborations.