Mathematical Biology is Good for Mathematics

That statement seems absurd, almost laughable to many mathematicians who are used to thinking that “science” means physics and chemistry, while biology is just classification, necessary perhaps for training doctors, but not really deep, intellectual, or mathematical. We are in the midst of a biological revolution whose roots lie in the 19th and first half of the twentieth century. In the past twenty-five years the pace of this revolution has accelerated and it has created an enormous biological research community. The American Society for Nephrology has a membership that is comparable in size to the American Mathematical Society, and that’s just the kidney. The annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience attracts around 30,000 attendees which is again the approximate number of members of the AMS, and is huge when compared to the size of the Joint Mathematics Meetings (around 7,000). This growth has affected the balance of university research. For example, between September 2012 and May 2013, Duke University awarded 365 PhDs. Of these, 165 (45 percent) were in disciplines of the biological sciences like biochemistry, pharmacology, neurobiology, environmental studies, and so forth. By contrast, seventeen PhDs were awarded in chemistry, six in mathematics, nine in physics, and nine in statistics (for a total of 11 percent) and quite a few of those involved applications to biological problems. Similar numbers also hold at the Ohio State University. In the comparable period, OSU awarded 806 PhDs. Of these, 307 (38.3 percent) were in disciplines of the biological sciences. By contrast, twenty-one PhDs were awarded in chemistry, twenty-one in mathematics, twenty-four in physics, and sixteen in statistics (for a total of 10.2 percent). Today, most of science is biology.

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