Mathematical Biology in the News

Denise Kirschner

The importance of public relations for mathematical biology (MB) needs no debate. In recent years, key work by many groups on host and epidemic dynamics for diseases such as HIV and TB has kept MB in the limelight. However, the umbrella of MB goes much beyond that of infectious diseases. Initiatives all over the country ranging from the government (the NIH) to academia to industry all point to the need for integrative science. This poses a challenge to theoreticians to not only carry out the best possible research they can, but to defend the need for, and results of that research. These issues and much more are explored in two recent articles, one in The Chronicle of Higher Education (April 16, 1999) entitled The Science of Uncertainty. Among other things, this article refers to a conference titled "How Much Can We Rely on Mathematical Modeling?" which will be held next month, sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Academy of Engineering. After holding a workshop on "managing uncertainty" with the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy last year, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics is about to issue a report on the topic of uncertainty in models that will include discussion of what kinds of research are needed.

The second item appeared in a special section of the April 2, 1999 Science entitled, Complex Systems. This issue includes articles on exciting topics in complexity, including one by an ex-president of SMB, Dr. Leah Edelstein-Keshet. Of interest is the title of the first article within the Complex Systems issue of Science; namely, Beyond Reductionism, by Gallagher and Appenzeller. With more and more data being generated at the molecular level in biology, an integrative approach becomes both more feasible and more pressing. Mathematical Biology offers such an approach to any discipline. The importance of this aspect of modeling, together with its many other attributes, should now be exploited.

SMB members are welcome to join these public discussions on the values and limitations of mathematical modeling. Please also send us references to other news items featuring mathematical biology, whenever you find anything of interest.

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