Mathematicians and scientists as public figures: Living in Ivory Towers?

In the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008, The Financial Times demanded that "mathematicians must get out of their ivory towers".[1] However, have they ever really been there? Is the profession of a mathematician incompatible with that of a politician, as Timothy Gowers suggests?[2] Does interest in mathematics or science need to exclude involvement in the public sphere, including politics?

In the history of science, there are several prominent examples of scientists who got heavily involved in politics. This was the case of Anton Pannekoek, a prominent astronomer and a socialist theorist. Albert Einstein's involvement in the Frauenglass affair in the McCarthy era is also quite well known. An example par excellence is Dirk Jan Struik (1894-2000), who was not only involved in politics, but also sought to challenge the view of mathematics as something that gets created in an ivory tower.[3]


[1] Gillian Tett, Financial Times, April 15, 2010.

[2] Timothy Gowers, "If politicians were mathematicians

[3] Henk J. M. Bos. 2002. "Out of the Ivory Tower: The Significance of Dirk Jan Struik as Historian of Mathematics", Historia Mathematica 29: 363-368.

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