Interview with Thomas Hou, new Research in the Mathematical Sciences co-Editor in Chief

I recently had the chance to talk with Tom Hou of the California Institute of Technology, who just joined Research in the Mathematical Sciences as a co-Editor in Chief.


Thomas Hou recently joined Research in the Mathematical Sciences as a co-Editor in Chief for applied mathematics. Professor Hou is the Charles Lee Powell Professor of Applied and Computational Mathematics at the California Institute of Technology. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Professor Hou by email, to learn more about what he hopes we can accomplish together with Research in the Mathematical Sciences.

What are your ambitions for the applied mathematics section of the Research in the Mathematical Sciences (RMS)?

Thomas Hou
Thomas Hou

Currently there are many mathematics journals; but only a few of them are excellent. In pure mathematics, there are several “prime journals” such as Annals of Mathematics, Inventiones, Acta Mathematica, and Journal of AMS. These prime journals publish papers of the highest quality and establish a gold standard for other journals and a hallmark of quality that others may follow and emulate. Yet, there is almost no “prime journal” in applied mathematics because applied mathematics is more diverse. Most applied journals tend to focus on a specific subfield in applied mathematics. The only exception is Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics (CPAM) of the Courant Institute. CPAM publishes outstanding articles in both pure and applied mathematics, and has a strong focus on Analysis, Partial Differential Equations, Applied and Computational Mathematics. These different areas complement each other very well. Having a focus on these interconnected research areas is what makes Courant Institute so unique.

Since RMS is an open access journal, if we can achieve the high quality level that we are aiming for, the potential impact of RMS would be enormous in the applied mathematics community.

My ambition for the applied mathematics section of RMS is to make it as strong as CPAM. CPAM has been very selective in its publications and has enforced a very high standard to make sure that they only publish the top quality papers. Only 10% of the submissions outside the Courant Institute will pass the initial screening of its editorial board and get sent out for review. Applied mathematicians (also for pure mathematicians but they have more options to publish such as Annals of Mathematics, etc.) consider it a great honor to publish a paper in CPAM. RMS aims to publish very high quality papers in both pure and applied mathematics, and we do not have the same restriction as CPAM to give priority to publish papers by the faculty of the Courant Institute. If we want to make RMS have quality comparable to CPAM in the applied mathematics section, it will have enormous impact in the mathematics community. Right now, we do have such a void to fill in applied mathematics journals.

What inspired you to join the journal?

I feel that I have the passion and responsibility to establish a prime journal in applied mathematics. By publishing in both pure and applied mathematics and emphasizing on their inter-connection, we are in an excellent position to make RMS a great success. Since RMS is an open access journal, if we can achieve the high quality level that we are aiming for, the potential impact of RMS would be enormous in the applied mathematics community. We need to take every step carefully to make sure that the broad applied mathematics community is aware of RMS and endorses the vision of this journal. Publishing a few very high quality papers will be crucial in the early stage, and reaching the community is another very essential component to publicize the journal to the applied math community from the very beginning.

What challenges do you see ahead for Research in the Mathematical Sciences?

There are several challenges ahead for RMS. We need to build a supporting community by a number of top pure and applied mathematicians and make them feel that this is part of their own effort. They need to have the sense of ownership of this journal, and should not treat it as just another “service” obligation without any passion. There are already a few prime pure mathematics journals. How do we convince other top pure mathematicians the need to establish another top pure math journal may require some effort? Ken has already done a great job in this regard and has been able to recruit some of top articles in his field. But we need to have a broader base of support from the mathematical community, not just in a subfield. As for the applied mathematics community, this challenge is even bigger since they have many choices to publish their best work. Their primary concern would be to reach out to the right readership community. If RMS is perceived as having more emphasis on pure mathematics or theoretical computer sciences, they may worry that the potential readers in his or her community may not read RMS. Then we will have difficulty in recruiting the very best papers from applied mathematics or statistical/data science area, which is having an increasing impact on other scientific areas. This is why it is so important for us to define a clear vision and recruit the right type of editorial board members to support our effort from the very beginning and promote the image and the vision of the journal to their own scientific community.

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