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BRIEF #3: Online Community for Black Mathematicians

March 23, 2000

Black Mathematicians Form Online Community

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- For African Americans who are studying to be -- or already are -- mathematicians, there's no strength in numbers.

Only about one-quarter of 1 percent of all mathematicians in the United States are black, says Scott Williams, a professor of mathematics at the University of Buffalo. But black mathematicians are finding community in a unique Web site, Mathematicians of the African Diaspora, www.math.buffalo/edu/mad, created and maintained by Williams.

Williams, who created the site in 1997, says that the site has had more than 200,000 hits. "I created the site after I came across a Web site about black scientists. The list of mathematicians was woefully poor ... two were listed." Williams wrote to the site's creators, pointing out that he personally knew more than 40 African or African-American mathematicians, but when they simply added his name to the list, Williams decided to start his own site.

"This is also my response to the NAACP Image Awards," he added. "They give out awards to musicians, athletes, and ignore the sciences. That supports the general public's approach on how they view African Americans. ... This is my own version of the NAACP Image Awards."

The site profiles close to 300 black mathematicians from around the world and includes articles about famous or innovative mathematicians, including David Blackwell, the first African American named to the National Academy of Sciences in 1965 and, according to Williams, still the only black mathematician in the Academy.

Williams' research site has also uncovered some little-known facts. For one thing, African-American mathematicians are prolific. "There have been estimates that about 1 percent of all math Ph.D.s in the U.S. publish more than five papers in their lifetime," he said. "It turns out that while less than 1 percent of all mathematicians are black, a high percentage of them -- around 15 percent -- publish more than five papers of mathematics research."

The response to the Web site, Williams said, has been overwhelming. In fact, he had to obtain a dedicated mailbox just to deal with the messages generated by the site. "On a busy week, I can receive between 20 and 50 messages from students, and that doesn't include the ones I get from their teachers," he said.

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Contact:

Scott Williams, Ph.D., professor of mathematics, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Buffalo, Buffalo, N.Y., 716-836-8948; web site: www.math.buffalo.edu/mad.html.

Background:

National Institutes of Health, Black Scientists Association, Thomas Houze, President, 301-496-3027, web site: www.nih.gov/science/blacksci/ The organization and its web site offer resources and online discussion opportunities for minority scientists and researchers.

The Faces of Science: African Americans in the Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, La., 225-388-2530, web site: www.lib.lsu.edu/chem/display/faces.html Web site features biographies of past and contemporary African-American scientists, engineers and mathematicians; statistics on minority representation in the science and engineering professions; links; and commentary on diversity in science and math education.