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“Attempts to link scientific activities to political and societal issues”: Boycotts, politics, and the creation of the International Mathematical Union.

In their statement issued February 26, 2021, in response to the arrests and detention of Russian mathematicians, and specifically to Azat Miftakhov’s sentence to six years in a penal colony, the IMU Executive Committee asserted that their position has always been to “oppose all boycotts of scientific events and all attempts to link scientific activities to political and societal issues.”  

In his recent lecture to the Sociedade Brasileira de Lógica, historian of mathematics Michael Barany calls this “a phenomenally historically ignorant statement.”  “To the contrary,” he continues, “the International Congresses and the International Mathematical Union directly came from and function as attempts to link science and politics.”  Barany’s talk, just over an hour long, reminds us of this history.

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