February 23: Applied math

Prof. Brezis's warnings on the negligence of math in shcools and education generally are correct and should be heeded.

letters to the editor 88 (photo credit: )
letters to the editor 88
(photo credit: )
Applied math Sir, - We owe a debt of gratitude to Prof. Haim Brezis for drawing our attention to the danger that may face us if Israel does not seriously address the future of applied mathematics and physics in its educational program. The brilliant practical solution he outlines in "A 'Manhattan Project' for Israeli science" (February 18) - the establishment of a top-rate specialist school on the campus of Mikveh Yisrael - does not seem to have earned the academic and government support it deserves. As Brezis points out so clearly, a reservoir of trained personnel in these subjects would not only enhance national prestige but could be of major importance for security and defense. The relative cost of his project is modest. Re Brezis's analysis of Israel's situation, two observations: Firstly, applied mathematics has broadened considerably in the past few decades and is not confined to mechanics or engineering; it now extends, for example, to biology and economics. Yisrael Aumann, recently awarded a Nobel prize in economics, can legitimately be described as an applied mathematician. Secondly, I would claim that Israel has produced physicists in the category of potential Nobel laureates. As two examples I suggest the late Yuval Ne'eman and Haim Harari. But both undertook heavy administrative loads whilst at the height of their creative powers, the former becoming president of Tel Aviv University and the latter of the Weizmann Institute. It is impossible to combine highest-quality research with such onerous responsibilities. But they felt that the upbuilding of these important institutions warranted the sacrifice of their own personal careers. CYRIL DOMB F.R.S. Professor Emeritus, Physics Bar-Ilan University Ramat Gan Wrong facts Sir, - The influence of Israel and the Zionists as quoted by your reader from France is fantasy ("The Zionists created UNRWA," Letters, February 20). In December 1948, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194, which called for the repatriation of the Palestinian refugees and compensation for those who chose not to return. Where was the influence of Israel and the Zionists then? This resolution also called for the refugees' economic and social rehabilitation. Resolution 302, establishing UNRWA, came a year later. Regarding Palestinian refugees, Arab delegations at the relevant conferences and debates argued that Palestinian refugees were different. The Lebanese representative said that in all other cases, refugees resulted from actions taken contrary to the principles of the UN, whereas the existence of the Palestinian refugees was the direct result of a decision taken by the UN, with full knowledge of the consequences. The Saudi representative argued Palestinian refugees should have a separate and special status, otherwise they would become submerged and be relegated to a position of minor importance. The French (I note this for your French reader) were among the many other delegations that agreed the problems of the Palestinian refugees were completely different from those of the refugees in Europe. In the end it was Arab political goals and the belief of almost all the states that Palestinian refugees were indeed different from Europe's refugees - and not Zionist influence - that carried the day. Your reader's facts are wrong. Regarding her conclusion and using her logic, one might counter: The UN accepted Israel as a member state, so let Israel get on with building the Jewish state. HAROLD JACOBSON Jerusalem