Some people have asked me to clarify the meaning of my previous blog post, the Lie of “it’s just math”. I sort of regret that my post suggested a strict rule for dealing with military funding. I said that I don’t intend on collaborating with DoD funded mathematicians and I meant it. However, there is a lot of room for interpretation in the meaning of “collaborate” and the meaning of “DoD funded”. For example, are short conversations at a conference considered collaborations? If a mathematician has ten funding sources for their research group and one of them is the department of defense are they DoD funded? These are questions that I would like to decide on an individual basis and not based on a hard and fast rule.
There are lots of considerations I have to make personally. I am looking for a job and taking the strictest interpretation will significantly reduce my options. To be honest this topic gives me a lot of anxiety, based on the worry that I’ll be ostracized from the applied category theory community completely. I suppose that I need to offer some clarification.
I am not interested in “canceling” anyone or cutting anyone off. However, I do not want to work on DoD funded projects or contribute to projects funded by the DoD when I can help it. If a mathematician is employed by the DoD entirely then I probably don’t want to collaborate with them on much. If a mathematician has DoD funding as one of many sources, then I am happy to help with their non-DoD funded projects, as long as there isn’t overlap with a DoD funded one.
If I was a senior mathematician in charge of a large DoD grant, I’m not sure what I would do and I don’t think I have all the answers. Quitting a DoD funded project might mean laying some people off and many contracts cannot be broken without significant penalty. These senior mathematicians have hard choices to make and I don’t want to make light of them. I am still starting out, so I believe that I have the ability to not be in their position if I reject DoD funding from the very beginning. I am not advocating that these senior mathematicians do anything drastic. However I do hope to convince them to move away from these grants in the future.
I consider myself to be a conscientious objector, i.e. an “individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion”. Like many other conscientious objectors, my choice is motivated by conscience and religion. As a proud Jew I believe in tikkun olam, and I don’t think I can be at peace with myself unless I work to make peace in the world. I also see in the military industrial complex the same ideologies and behaviors which almost led to the extinction of the Jewish people. Even if we all are just cogs in a large bureaucracy, we can’t be absolved of responsibility.