In older papers, one sometimes finds references to sources of funding directly linked to or overseen by military agencies. For example, I have memories of seeing acknowledgments to DARPA funding in a pure mathematics article - much to my surprise, as it didn't seem to have any relevant applications. (However I haven't been able to track down said paper in my personal collection, nor indeed any which contain said references; this might suggest that such support was rare even in the past.)

In more recent papers - at least those I encounter - such attributions are conspicuously absent. Instead those written at American institutions overwhelmingly thank NSF grants for their support.

Question. Is my impression accurate? Namely, did the US military fund pure research with little real-world upshot in the past; and has it become more reticent in recent years? If yes, when and for what reason did this shift occur?

  • I would be interested in a historical explanation just as much as a personal account.
  • To be sure it is only natural that the defense sector still has a keen interest in certain parts of mathematics, say cryptography or data science. I am specifically interested in (past and present) support for projects where the payoffs seem far-fetched.
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    $\begingroup$ This has certainly also happened more recently: cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2014/april/… compmath.wordpress.com/about/… $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2022 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ See ams.org/notices/200001/comm-dod.pdf from 2000 and math.columbia.edu/~warner/misc/Karp1987.pdf from 1987. See shub.ccny.cuny.edu/articles/… for some history. $\endgroup$
    – aorq
    Aug 12, 2022 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ Is the question about military money or specifically about US military money? It seems centered on US issues (as you know, MO is an international forum). $\endgroup$
    – YCor
    Aug 15, 2022 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ I guess it very much depends on the field; quantum computing still attracts substantial DOD/DARPA funding, including work on quantum algorithms that one could classify as applied math; in a different field, computer proof-checking, here is one large DOD grant from last last year: sandiego.edu/news/detail.php?_focus=80219 $\endgroup$ Aug 15, 2022 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for all the comments; I fixed the typo and am still reading through the linked documents. To clarify: I narrowed the question to the US because I feared that a general question would be too vast in scope. (I would be happy to broaden it, but perhaps it would then also need to be changed to a big-list?) $\endgroup$
    – Leo Moos
    Aug 15, 2022 at 14:23


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