June 2012

Today I found the new issue of the “Mitteilungen der DMV” in my mailbox. Here, DMV does not stand for Department of Motor Vehicles but for Deutsche Mathematiker-Vereinigung which is somehow the German counterpart of the AMS. The Mitteilungen were accompanied by paper ballot with which all members of the DMV can vote for or against a change of the name of the DMV. More precisely, the members are asked if they support the change of

  • Deutsche Mathematiker-Vereinigung


  • Deutsche Mathematische Vereinigung.

You may wonder what the difference is: In English the former would read like “German Mathematicians Association” (probably a better translation would be “Association of German Mathematicians”) and the latter would read like “German Mathematical Association”. Sounds like a small change but there has been quite some discussion already.

I am a strong supporter of the name change. I followed the discussion a bit (mostly through the Mitteilungen themself) and found all arguments against the change ridiculous.

  • The most common argument was that the change is not needed and will damage the “brand” DMV. However, I am pretty sure that the term “Deutsche Mathematiker-Vereinigung” is not well-known outside the DMV. Moreover, DMV would still serve as acronym after a change. Why I think that the change would be helpful, honest and reasonable will become clear in a minute.
  • To understand the second most common argument against the change you need to know that a “Mathematiker” is a male person working in mathematics; a female would be a “Mathematikerin”. Some people object the change and say: The term “Mathematiker” in the title already includes all female members (as it is used to be common practice in Germany). The point here is, that the main reason for the change is not to include females in the name. The main reason is that the title should reflect that the DMV is not an association for the mathematicians (may they me male or female) but an association for mathematics. Hence, it welcomes members which would not consider themselves as mathematicians (could be pupils, students, teachers, politicians,…). Put differently, the main purpose of the DMV is not to be a lobby for mathematicians but to serve the science of mathematics as a whole and on all levels from elementary school to cutting edge research.
  • There are also “grammatical” objections to the proposed name “Deutsche Mathematische Vereinigung”. One goes like: “Kann eine Vereinigung mathematisch sein?” (“Can an association be mathematical?”) You can read this objection is some length here. My first response is: Why not? We call so many things “mathematical”: there are mathematical institutes all over the place, other mathematical societies, mathematical sciences, Mathematische Annalen, mathematical optimization and so forth. The DMV even asked the Duden editorial office and they responded that, from a grammatical point of view, nothing is wrong with “Deutsche Mathematische Vereinigung”. This shows that there is no grammatical issue here but probably a semantic one. The objection goes further in saying that the “mathematische” in “Deutsche Mathematische Vereinigung” would refer to “Vereinigung”, i.e. “mathematical” refers to “association”, and hence, it would refer to the process of associating. And this process can, certainly, not be done in a mathematical way. Well, first associating is something that is done frequently in mathematics and in mathematical ways. Moreover, the same remark should apply to “Deutsche”: If it is deemed appropriate the one can associate in a German way that there should be a mathematical way to do so.

In the article “Pro/Contra Umbenennung der DMV” you can find arguments by Hans Christoph Grunau for the change and by Wolfram Koepf against it.

Now I am going to make my cross for the change and hope that it will take place… What do you think? What are you going to do?

Today is the 100th birthday of a famous mathematician. Part of his fame comes from his work on mathematical biology, namely his ideas about patter formation in biological systems (such as the stripes of a zebra). One interesting result he obtained was that such patterns can be formed by diffusion processes which are usually known to be “smoothing” and hence, destroying patterns. But when two diffusion processes are coupled, they may be able to form patterns. The mathematician wrote just one paper on this topic but this is considered seminal in this field; it is the work The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis and the author is Alan Turing. Happy birthday! (Reading through the links, you’ll find, that Alan Turing has made some more valuable contributions to mathematics and computer science but I just wanted to highlight this one which is usually not the first one that is associated with him.)

Have you heard of Boris’s Law of Blogging? No? I also tried to stick to it from the beginning (although I do not know this guy named Boris) because wordpress does recommend a similar thing when you start a blog. Well, I did not always succeed to stick to it and now it’s almost three weeks since my last post. I thought about writing about advice to mathematicians at the beginning of their career. Don’t worry, I am not going to write about my own case, basically because it is not special and I do not have special advice to share. However, I benefited from advice by others and here is a short list:

Edit: Some days after finishing this post I remembered another great advice. I hope that the author does not mind if I share. It’s from the Iserles rules of academic happiness and it is “It is always easier to apologize than to ask for permission.”