Monday, 19 January 2015

Uniting people, fighting obscurantism

The defence of basic human rights has gathered, in response to an horrendous terrorism act, millions of people in French streets and in the world in an unprecedented unison. It was both moving and reassuring to see when big causes are at stake people get united.
Altruistic endeavours, although to a lesser extent, can also unit people and bring them together, all involved in a common enterprise regardless of their country, race, religion or culture. Such ventures aren't so many: humanitarian aids, fighting hunger and poverty, providing universal education and, probably, expanding knowledge.

Knowledge of the most fundamental mechanisms related to life, to the environment and to the universe is certainly the most important asset of humanity. It is a common heritage that has been accumulated since the dusk of civilization, a growing treasure passed from generation to generation. Pure knowledge is the seed of disruptive civilization changes often for the better and sometime for the worst. It all relies on people i.e. political decisions. But pure knowledge is a marker of humanity evolution.

Human beings are social animals and research is a social endeavour. Planned future fundamental research projects definitely adopt and develop this social and encompassing dimension pushing it from the regional to the world level. They must get people from all horizons united behind the same goal.  It is much more than technology or complex mathematics, it is creative thinking in a multicultural society.

Without distorting the original message given by these demonstrations, let's hope that more value will be put on culture and science to help fighting hatred, xenophobia and obscurantism.

and Pencils.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Sustainable colliders: the Green-ILC project

Energy for innovation, innovation in energy

Sustainable Energies on the top powering ILC underground.
The Green-ILC project addresses the energy consumption of ILC, the International Linear Collider expected to be hosted by Japan. As a first step toward "sustainable colliders", its is aiming at increasing the power efficiency and at introducing renewable energies in the operation of this large scale research infrastructure. An innovative organization structure is proposed housing in the same "ILC Energy Center" a high energy branch dedicated to the construction and running of the collider and a sustainable energy research branch covering all energy R&D issues and using the ILC as a reference. Both branches would have their own budgets.

Energy consumption is coming to the front due to the rise in energy price and to higher power requirements needed to reach the precision, intensity or energy frontiers.
ILC is certainly the less power hungry of the current collider projects/proposals, but still with its estimated 164 MW power figure, it slightly overpasses the current LHC consumption. CERN with the LHC running in 2011 before a 2 years shutdown for a 'rehab' of the superconducting magnets amounted to 1.3 TWh including LHC pre-injectors and additional beam facilities. This is the equivalent of 50% of the electricity consumption of the Geneva canton housing half a million residents.
No doubt, Japan has the capacity to power ILC, but still the electricity cost may very well end up as the double of the LHC electricity bill, specially in 10-20 years from now.
Higher energy projects like CLIC at CERN or preliminary estimates for the FCC (Future Circular Colliders: ee or pp) or the Chinese CEPC-SppS projects multiply the ILC estimates by factor 2 or maybe even 4 which may become a serious roadblock.
Therefore the future of high-energy physics strongly relates to how HEP will address this energy challenge and how it will proceed toward sustainable colliders.

Sustainability is actually based on two pillars: efficiency and energy renewability. The required R&D should then focus on energy efficiency for all basic accelerator sub-modules like RF (klystrons,..), cryocoolers, magnets, ... but also on how to recover and recycle equipment heat wastes (more than 80% of the consumed electricity) as well as those produced in the beam dumps.

The intake of renewable energy in a mix with the grid basic supply is the next step. It will be progressively implemented in a way adapted to ILC requirements (24/7, short and long shutdowns, ...). In the long term this should reduce the overall running cost and give, through the access to multiple energy sources, a better operational flexibility.

All renewable sources will be considered: wind, sun, sea, geothermal or biomass but a lot of efforts will be dedicated to the energy storage issues.  For example liquid nitrogen (LN2) often used as a primary coolant for cryogenics system can also be used for energy storage. Produced on site by wind mills equipped with air compressors/liquifiers, it could be stored to supply cryocoolers 24/7. Surplus would produce electricity, on demand, when vaporized, by the heat wastes in a high pressure turbine.
HEP would therefore focus on its core business: "Energy" and more particularly on how to transform low-energy particles (eV) high entropy energies to high-energy particles (TeV) low entropy beams. Accelerators are actually power converters.
ESS, energy managment project (see also the report)

The Green-ILC project as well as other initiatives at the ESS, CLIC and others are meant to be merged in a more global endeavor beyond projects and frontiers, as the energy consumption challenge is quite universal.
The first joint meeting actually started, at the last LCWS2014 (International workshop on future Linear Colliders) in Belgrade (Oct. 2014) and at  HF2014 (55th ICFA Advanced Beam Dynamics Workshop on High Luminosity Circular e+e- Colliders – Higgs Factory). A common session was organized and 5 talks were presented. (see here and here (Thursday Oct 9 at 18:) as well as the summary talks (here and here).

Meeting this energy challenge can have substantial impacts on the society. Often when basic research meets technological difficulties, innovation is at the corner. The daunting management of documentation at CERN sparkled the World-Wide-Web; filtering micro black hole fussy signals gave birth to algorithms which are at core of WIFI transmission; the annoying synchrotron radiations hampering the reach to higher electron energies ended up being a major tool to analyze materials and biological samples,  and the list is long. With more than 30,000 accelerators in industry and hospitals, no doubt that energy efficiency will reduce the price tag for products and medical treatments.

But what is even more important is that the gathering of multidisciplinary expertise from high-energy physics, energy R&D and industry in an international and open research framework may provide the best way to boost innovation in energy and may give light to new disruptive energy technologies.
This is what the "ILC Energy Center", at the heart of a "global science city" as discussed in Japan, could modestly initiate and contribute to.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

ILC in Japan: launch window open ... but time is running..

The ILC (International Linear Collider) project seems to be on its way to the launch pad.

After the showing up of a Higgs-like boson at CERN LHC Jul. 4th, the completion Dec. 15th of the TDRs (technical studies), the Japanese community proposal to host the machine in a first ever and true world-wide laboratory and the ruling party change in Japan Dec. 16th, all lights are green.

However, the final liftoff may never happen, if the international HEP community does not act pro-actively and coherently to back up this major fundamental research endeavor.
It is the responsibility of each of us supporting the ILC scientific case with the international committees and funding agencies to come up with a sound and balanced project and partnership.
A window of opportunity is now open, that may not last long, ... no time to waste, let's not replay the TESLA or, more recently, the SuperB  unfortunate scenario.

The CERN LHC has discovered a new Higgs-like boson and, so has set the energy scale for a e+e- precision machine, very much like the discovery of the Z and W at SPS collider led to the two energy phases of LEP.
The proton-proton physics is complex in part due to the compositeness of the proton and the recent uncertainty on the mass is an illustration of these difficulties.
Probably the most important way to identify "new Physics" beyond the Standard Model is the precise measurement of the Higgs couplings which will not reach, at LHC, the minimum 5%  required. In fact, 1-3% precision is needed to actually study or push further the limits of the new physics domain, only accessible to the ILC. LHC may unveil new resonances that again would set further goals for a precision machine. LHC and ILC are therefore complementary in the quest for new physics. As a first stage, ILC could very well start at the Higgs production energy, namely around 250 GeV and one could benefit from having both colliders operational at the same time.

The Japan scientific community, as a whole, pleads for the construction of the ILC in Japan. A group of industry leaders (AAA) together with scientists has been formed years ago to support the project and to work on its implementation. A bi-partisan federation of Diet members led by a formed prime minister from LDP has taken a strong position to support the project. The Japan Policy Council, a government independent but influential  think-tank, has recommended to build the ILC in the hope to open the regions to international cooperation and to build global cities.

Technically the project is ripe. On Saturday December 15th, in Tokyo, the GDE officially did present their conclusions in the form of technical proposals (for the accelerator and the detectors) to the head of the ILCSC. "Only" the costing was not included, in part because of its dependence on the site location. Two sites are proposed in Japan. The selection will be done soon and, it is expected that both sites will, in some way, benefit from the project.

With the new election last Sunday putting back in power the LDP after a 3 years ruling of the DPJ, the odds for an endorsement of the ILC in Japan by the government has been raised to a new level.

However, in high-energy physics, we have already experienced false hopes, Isabelle and SSC in the US, TESLA in Germany more than 10 years ago and very recently the cancellation of SuperB in Italy at least, as it was designed. Most of these failures can be traced back, in part, to a too weak commitment of non-host potential contributing countries. For example the Italian government was ready to invest 250 ME in the SuperB project, but the financial complement supposed to come from an international partnership to the total cost of 1 BE was not secured.

The Japanese proposal would be to shoulder 50% of the 500 GeV project budget with a 250 GeV first stage being ~ 30% cheaper.With the current LHC program and its upgrades and extensions on top of a serious financial crisis, the ends will not easily meet in Europe. Other Asian and American countries have similar and also specific constraints and issues which will impact the whole project. This is why the international research community involvement is most important, in particular, to steer the project to foreign partners acceptable and affordable waters and to demonstrate that knowledge research cooperation should prevail over other issues for a better future (see also in Nature).
The international ILC community is building up, see here or here in addition to the many contributors to the R&D and design phases. All efforts should be made to attract to the field more researchers, to strengthen, in each country, the policy and decision makers ILC awareness and to organize an international platform involving scientists, political and industry leaders to progress toward a global acceptance. 

Beyond fundamental research, the ILC in Japan, possibly in a new global city, is a multidimensional project that will draw international cooperation to new heights, much beyond today practice. It will address social, cultural, political, environmental, energy or governance issues.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Pour une "Recherche Normale"

Une recherche normale ? Quoi ! Mais la recherche c’est tout sauf la normalité, c’est la passion, l’imagination, la plongée dans l’inconnu, le refus du statu quo, la prise de risques. On ne programme pas les découvertes. Il n’y a pas de cahier des charges pour changer la société.
En 1900, Robert Portes, le chef de projet de la compagnie Mendeleïev-Stoney (MS) finissait ainsi la réunion de travail hebdomadaire :

« Bon alors résumons nous, d’abord on découvre l’électron, puis on en fait la théorie, oui mais, faut faire simple, hein!, on résume ça en deux formules, pas plus !, ensuite on les injecte dans des transistors, Oui parce que, avec des lampes, on n’ira pas loin, bon ! Finalement on miniaturise tout ca et on met un ordinateur dans chaque foyer !!!! Ouah, trop cool !!! Bon, aller, au travail … Ah j’oubliai, on demande aussi au CERN d’inventer le WEB… Oouai ca pourrait aider !!»

La recherche pour améliorer la société ? Ha oui ! Et elle le fait, mais la bombe atomique, apothéose de tous les progrès scientifiques appliqués à l’ « Art Militaire » au cours des temps, les dommages irréparables fait à la terre, notre seul esquif dans l’Univers, par le cycle du pétrole, le manque de maitrise de l’énergie nucléaire, la déforestation massive, l’élevage intensif, la pèche industrielle, ca aussi c’est la recherche ! ou son trop peu ?

La recherche et l’innovation pour sauver l’économie ? Ah ca, on l’a entendu durant la campagne présidentielle: « la recherche et l’innovation pour la croissance, pour sortir de la crise » !!! Bien sur, c’est une solution qui marche: créer des besoins, pour les satisfaire ensuite, mais l’effet sur l’emploi ? Les ordinateurs qui ont détruit des millions de jobs dans le monde., les postes de dactylo… de quoi ? Ah, si, celles qui tapaient sur des « machine à écrire », sur quoi ?… bon.. laisse tomber…, de postes de comptable remplacés par les feuilles Excel, les robots industriels à la place des ouvriers, la rapidité et la facilité des transports bases du profit des délocalisations…. La liste est longue …

Alors quoi ! … la recherche c’est quoi ? C’est pourquoi, ? La recherche est-elle mauvaise, finalement ? Qui veut encore de la recherche ?
Mais tout le monde !  Elle n’est ni bonne ni mauvaise, elle est, simplement, ce qu’on en fait. Le désir de connaissance est ancré dans le cerveau, la recherche est le propre de l’homme. Il n’existe, ne se réalise que dans sa vision du futur, le présent est trop court, le passé trop tard. Et cette vision du futur c’est quoi ? plus de confort pour les riches, plus de pain pour les pauvres, plus d’égalité, plus de respect, plus d’harmonie pour tous … peut-être … peut-être la recherche y contribuera-t-elle, nul ne le sait. Les applications seront-elles pour un futur radieux ou pour l’apocalypse ? Ça dépend de la société, de l’éducation, de l’information et de nos moyens, nous citoyens, d’influer sur la politique et l’économie, pas de la recherche seule. Mais sans elle, il n’y aura rien a decider.

Alors, alors devant l’inconnu, devant l’incapacité à prévoir ce qui ne peut l’être !, que faire ? …Simplement, une recherche normale c.à.d. une recherche qui reçoit des financements récurrents suffisants, un recrutement de qualité sans à-coup, une recherche sans priorités tonitruantes, mais une recherche ouverte et coopérative, une recherche respectée et communicante, une recherche internationale,  lieu de toutes les diversités du savoir, avec des grands équipements, quand ils sont nécessaires, une recherche ambitieuse de la seule soif de connaissance. Un peu comme ca se passait avant, avant sa trop grande instrumentalisation, avant, quand le CNRS a été créé, par exemple,  par des visionnaires comme Fréderic Joliot-Curie au sortir de la guerre, une recherche comme dans « La recherche passionnément » écrit par son fils Pierre Joliot (à gauche de F. Hollande sur la photo) présenté à notre Président normal le jour même de son investiture, Une recherche qui malgré nos espoirs, nos besoins, nos aspirations laisse le temps au temps, car c’est lui qui décide.

Une recherche normale, c’est, aussi, une recherche indépendante, libre et publique et qui en rend compte à la société. Une recherche qui est un recours quand les abus et les excès des uns, les croyances et les mystifications des autres jouent avec la naïveté du peuple. Les chercheurs ne sont pas dans une tour d’ivoire, ils sont au cœur même de la société, là, oui là, dans le métro à coté de vous, au feu rouge dans sa Twingo. Ils sont comme nous, normaux, ils sont les premiers à vouloir valoriser leurs travaux et, en cela, ils sont à la source de l’essentiel de l’innovation industrielle. Ils sont comme nous, sauf quand, au détour d’une question, comme dans « Transformers 4», ils se transfigurent, vous communiquent un peu de la passion qui les anime et vous emmène dans le monde fantastique du savoir et de l’espoir.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Fukushima: Scientists and Society

A revised version of a "Sciences et Avenir" column (in French)
"A new Science order: Science for the people"  

GE Fukushima reac
Nuclear energy, oil supply, shale gas extraction, climate change, nanotechnology, cell phone radiation, drug safety, GMOs, food poisoning and even financial products, are some of the subjects, highly topical and of strong technical imprint, that have invaded our daily concerns. They disrupt the whole economy and transform in depth the society. But what control over these new technologies can the society exercise? Which means and opposition forces may the society put in action? Faut-il imaginer une nouvelle organisation de nos démocraties pour valoriser l'avance des connaissances en respectant les citoyens et en sauvegardant le futur de l'humanité? Should a new organization of our democracies be designed to promote the new discovery applications yet preserving citizen freedom and expectations and safeguarding the future of humanity?Quel doit être le rôle des scientifiques, entre savoir et pouvoir, science et conscience, profit et pr What should be the role of scientists in this framework, between knowledge and power, science and conscience, profit and progress? 
The Fukushima Dai-Ichi tragedy should encourage this realization so that scientists, politicians, industry leaders and citizens engage in a sincere discussion and design the prospects for a safer, healthier and more serene world.
La tragédie de Fukushima, au delà du souci immédiat d'éviter le pire et de protéger les travailleurs et la population du danger effroyable d'un deuxième Hiroshima-Nagasaki [1] , ne doit pas rester sans suite. The Fukushima tragedy, beyond immediate concerns to avoid the worst and protect nuclear-power workers and the people of the terrible danger of a second Hiroshima-Nagasaki [1], must not remain unanswered. Everybody agrees and topics to address are numerous: need for nuclear energy, reliability of the technologies, hazardous industry governance, prevention and crisis management, etc. Cependant, dépassant largement le nucléaire, il faut aborder le sujet central à l'ensemble de ces questionnements, celui du rôle de la science et des scientifiques dans la société et des contrôles et protections qui doivent être mis en plaHowever, far beyond the nuclear energy issue itself, one needs to address a central theme common to all new technologies reaching the society, namely: what is the role of science and of scientists in society and what are the checks and safeguards that must be implemented together with the implementation of new technologies or new processes.
De nombreuses voix de scientifiques s'étaient élevées contre les risques nucléaires dans un pays qui recense 40% des tremblements de terre du monde. Many scientists had raised serious concerns about the nuclear danger in a country that registers 40% of the world earthquakes. Elles n'ont pas été écThey were not listened to.Dans une région qui avait connu en 1896 un tsunami de 38,2 mètres, était-il raisonnable, était-il « scientifiquement correct », de construire la centrale de Fukushima Daiichi au bord de l'océan? In a region that had experienced in 1896 a tsunami  with waves up to 38.2 meters, was it reasonable, was it "scientifically sensible" to build a power plant on the oceanfront? N'était-il pas criminel de « soudoyer » et de tromper la population locale pour faire accepter, à sa porte, des réacteurs simplement protégés par des digues de 5,7Was it not criminal to "bribe" and deceive local people to accept, on their doorstep, nuclear reactors only protected by 5.7 m dikes? Qui prit ces décisions ? Who took these decisions? obviously the decision makers:Ceux dont c'est le rôle, le gouvernement et les industriels, certainement pas les scientifiques. the government, the industry ?, certainly not scientists. Because simply they were not really involved.
'Tremblement de terre nucléaire" Nuclear Earthquake
En 2006, la sécurité des centrales avait été réévaluée par une commission nommée par le gouvernement. In 2006, the nuclear plant safety had been reviewed by a commission appointed by the government. Devant l'augmentation des risques sismiques depuis leur construction, un de ses membres, Katsuhiko Ishibashi, professeur à l'Université de Kobe, avait demandé des mesures complémentaires pour donner un avis circonstancié. Given the increased seismic risk since the reactor construction, one of its members, Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a professor at Kobe University, had asked for additional  studies to give a serious and detailed opinion. Sa demande ayant été refusée, sa seule arme fut de démissionner de cette commission qu'il qualifia de « manipulée et non scientifique » et rien ne vint s'opposer à la volonté du gouvernement et des opérateurs de poursuivre sans modification l'exploitation des centrales. His request was denied, the only way to express himself was to resign from a commission he described as "manipulated and unscientific" and nothing came to oppose the will of the decision makers to continue, without modification, the plant operations. Il avait pourtant décrit avec précision l'enchaînement fatal qui fut observé: tremblement de terre, tsunami, accident nucléaire et avait même inventé le terme de « tremblement de terre nucléaire » (genpatsu-shinsai) pour cet effet domino. Yet he had accurately described the fatal sequence which was observed a few years later, on 11th March  2011: a big earthquake followed by a tsunami triggering then a nuclear accident. He had even coined the term "nuclear earthquake” (Genpatsu-Shinsai) for this domino effect.
Le scientifique a dit la vérité … "The scientist told the truth, he should be executed…" [2] Ce cas n'est pas unique, dans beaucoup de domaines et singulièrement dans ceux liés aux avancées scientifiques, il ya eu des lanceurs d'alerte («whistleblower », souffleur de sifflet, disent littéralement les anglo-saxons).
This case is not unique. In many areas and particularly in those related to scientific advances, there have been whistle blowers. Mais, que peut un seul expert quand d'énormes intérêts sont en jeu? But what can one expert do when huge interests are at stake? Les puissants lobbies partisans, religieux ou industriels auront tôt fait de rendre inaudible ce gêneur. The powerful activist, religious or industrial lobbies will quickly make this intruder voice-less. Ils en ont les moyens.They can afford it. Discrédité, son avenir professionnel sera compromis, ses moyens réduits et il ne pourra plus porter la contradiction.Discredited, his professional future will be compromised, his support will be drastically reduced and, therefore, he will no longer be able to bear the contradiction.
S'il « survit », si un comité de scientifiques se forme, si des pétitions sont signées, alors un groupe contradictoire de pseudo-experts sera créé. If he "survives", if a committee of scientists is formed, if petitions are signed, then an adversarial group of pseudo-experts will be created. Fortement financé, il jettera le doute dans l'esprit du public libérant ainsi les politiques des contraintes que la science imposait. Heavily financed, it will cast doubt [3] in the public awareness freeing the politics and decision makers of the constraints that science imposes. Certains media joueront le jeu biaisé de la soi-disant polémique en organisant un débat entre deux représentants de chaque « camp », accréditant ainsi d'avantage l'idée que « les scientifiques sont partagés sur le sujet ». Some media will play the biased game of artificial controversy by hosting debates between an equal number of representatives of each side, further supporting the idea that "scientists are divided on the subject". Ils s'appuieront sur des figures médiatiques qui n'ont de scientifique que leur titre acquis dans leur prime jeunesse, mais certainement ni les connaissances, ni les méthodes, ni la rigueur. They will rely on science media figures, not necessarily expert on the specific issue, but who nevertheless express themselves without neither the scientific methods nor the rigor they should have exercised. C'est ce schéma que l'on a vu se développer dans le combat entre darwinisme et créationnisme, autour du réchauffement global, sur les OGM, la téléphonie mobile, … It is this very pattern that we saw being developed in the battle between Darwinism and creationism, about global warming, GMO safety or mobile phones radiations, ...
Mais après tout, pourquoi s'alarmer, disent certains ? But after all, why be alarmed, some says? L'humanité n'at-elle pas évolué, de la préhistoire à l'ère numérique, comme un bolide fou entre indéniables progrès et nouveaux moyens de destructions, constatent-ils. Has’nt Mankind evolved from prehistoric times to the digital age, like a meteor between undeniable progresses and new means of destruction.Finalement, selon eux, tout n'est pas si terrible, l'humanité ne s'en est pas trop mal tirée … des Tchernobyls, des Fukushimas, il y en a eu et il y en aura d'autres, c'est encore supportable. Finally, they say, all is not so horrendous, humanity did not do too badly ... like Chernobyls or Fukushimas, there have been and there will be others, it is still bearable. C'est dommage pour les populations, mais voyez-vous ! It's a problem for people living there, but you see, il n'ya pas d'alternative, sans énergie pas de croissance, sans croissance point de salut. there is no alternative, no growth without energy, without growth, no salvation!
C'est cynique, injurieux même pour les victimes, mais c'est l'état d'esprit de certains, si l'on en juge par les déclarations de représentants de l'IAEA [2] , organisme sensé contrôler l'utilisation pacifique du nucléaire. It is cynical, even insulting to the victims, but this is the mindset of some, at least if we judge by the statements of representatives of the IAEA [4] , an organization supposed to control the peaceful use nuclear technology.
Ou bien sommes-nous arrivés à un point de rupture , une singularité disent les scientifiques, un point de non retour, un point où la puissance de l'homme et de son savoir peut détruire la planète, un point ou les risques mal maitrisés dépassent largement les bénéfices attendus? Or, have we come to a breaking point, scientists say a singularity, a point of no return, a point where the power of man and his knowledge can destroy the planet, a point where poorly controlled risks largely exceed the expected benefits?
En fait, ce point nous l'avons déjà dépassé depuis que l'armement nucléaire existe. In fact, this stage we have already passed since the nuclear armament exists. Car avec la dissuasion nucléaire, il s'agissait bien de promettre l'apocalypse à toute velléité de domination, la destruction de la planète comme règlement des conflits. As with nuclear deterrence, Apocalypse is promised to any attempts of domination, the destruction of the planet as a recipe for conflict resolution. L'humanité est passée près, très près de sa disparition, une simple erreur humaine, une provocation, un manque de sang-froid d'un de nos dirigeants et le pas pouvait être franchi. Humanity has come close, very close to its disappearance, a simple human error, a provocation, a lack of composure of one of our leaders and the step could have been crossed.
Alors que faut-il faire ? Knowledge is power to choose
Arrêter la recherche, disent d'autres ! Stop research! say others. Finalement, ne serait-ce pas là la solution puisqu'elle peut nous embarquer vers d'autres périls, encore plus grands que ceux que l'on connaît ? Finally would this not be the solution, since research can embark us to other and unforeseen dangers, even greater than what we know? Il faudrait nous contenter d'améliorer ce que l'on connaît et corriger les « petits » défauts de nos technologies, soutiennent-ils. We should just improve what we have today! and correct the "small" defects of our technologies, they argue. C'est ce qu'on aurait pu être tenté de faire, il ya un siècle, en continuant à développer la chandelle alors qu'on découvrait l'électron et l'électricité. This is what we might have been tempted to do a century ago, namely continuing to develop the candle technology when J.J. Thomson and others were discovering the electron and electricity. Si par faiblesse on s'engageait dans cette voie, un nouveau siècle d'obscurantisme s'ouvrirait, un retour en arrière fatal serait amorcé qui ne ferait que rendre la situation actuelle encore plus difficile à relever. If society had this weakness, a new century of darkness would open, a fatal step backwards would be initiated which would make the current situation definitively even more difficult to overcome.C'est en fait de plus de recherche dont on a besoin, d'une meilleure connaissance des risques et des possibles implications. What we need actually is not less but more research. We need a better understanding of the risks and of all possible consequences. We need finding new solutions to old problems or alternative technologies. Savoir c'est pouvoir choisir. Knowledge is power to choose.
Alors, que faire ?So what? Comment éviter ce retour en arrière et son cortège de croyances obscurantistes et l'explosion incontrôlée d'un savoir dévoyé ? How to avoid going backwards with its procession of obscurantist beliefs but still staying away from the uncontrolled explosion of misguided new knowledge applications? Comment bannir les applications néfastes et promouvoir celles qui font progresser l'humanité vers plus de sécurité, plus d'égalité, plus de confort pour tous ? How to banish harmful applications and promote those leading humanity toward greater security, more equality and more comfort for all? C'est une question récurrente, mais nous, scientifiques, seuls n'avons pas la réponse; elle réside d'abord dans une prise de conscience de la société dans son ensemble , une société qui actuellement confine le scientifique dans une tour d'ivoire et ne voit en lui, au mieux, qu'un découvreur de possibles, qu'un accumulateur de connaissances, qu'un « agitateur d'idées ». This is a recurring question since ages which has never been solved properly, because we scientists, alone, have not the answer. It lies primarily in raising the awareness of society as a whole, a society that currently confines the scientist in its ivory tower and sees him, at best, as a discoverer of possibles, as an accumulator of knowledge or as an intellectual agitator.
Si la société au cours de son histoire a évolué vers plus de démocratie, plus d'implication du peuple dans les grands choix politiques, elle ne s'est pas dotée de véritables instruments d'évaluation, de contrôle et d'information adaptés à l'évolution des connaissances. If the society during its recent history has moved towards greater democracy, greater people involvement in the major policy choices, it did not adopt adequate instruments of assessment, of control and of nformation dissemination tailored to the rapid evolution of knowledge. Entre la recherche et ses applications, entre les stratégies politico-industrielles, nationales ou supranationales et les besoins réels de la société, en un mot, entre la science et la société, un chaînon est resté manquant, celui d'un jugement scientifique des risques et des bénéfices des nouvelles technologies et d'un contrôle permanent de leur mise en œuvre. Between research and application, between political and industrial strategies (national or supranational) and the real needs of the society, in short, between science and society, remains a missing link: the evaluation of the new technologies risk/benefit values and the constant monitoring of their implementation. Pire, la nature ayant horreur du vide, la place a été prise par des comités ad-hoc, des agences complices et par certains scientifiques, notamment ceux dont une grande part des financements provient du privé. Worse, since nature abhors vacuum, the room has been filled by ad hoc committees/councils, complicit agencies and scientific gurus, particularly those with a large share of funding coming from private sources.
Pour un nouvel ordre de la science dans la société For a new order of science in society
Mais dans leur grande majorité les scientifiques en France et ailleurs sont d'abord des citoyens et nos institutions publiques ont su, malgré les difficultés, préserver l'indépendance essentielle à toute recherche de qualité. But the vast majority of scientists are, before all, citizens and our public institutions have managed, despite difficulties, to preserve the independence essential to any high quality research.
Dans ce cadre, je ne doute pas que cette prise de conscience que l'on ne peut pas décréter, se cristallise et que des initiatives soient prises avec les scientifiques, les politiques, les médias et les citoyens, en France et au niveau international, pour qu'un dialogue s'installe et que l'on parvienne à proposer une nouvelle organisation de la société qui permette à la fois de mener une recherche performante et libératrice, de développer une opinion publique éclairée par une éducation et une information adaptée et d'inscrire la réalité scientifique dans l'ensemble des projets sociétaux pour que les échecs de la modernité ne se banalisent pas. In this context, I have no doubt that this global awareness that can not be decreed, will crystallize and that initiatives will be taken by scientists, politicians, media and education leaders and citizens at the local and international level to settle for a dialogue and to strive to propose a new science aware organization of the society. Its charter would be to conduct an enabling and liberating knowledge-driven research, to develop an informed public opinion through education and tailored information, to put in place risk preventive actions and to register scientific reality in all societal projects for the failures of modernity not to become commonplace.
A revised version of a "Sciences et Avenir" column (in French)
Denis Per--------------------------
[1] Les deux événements ne sont pas comparables sur de nombreux aspects. [1] The two events are not comparable in many aspects. Simply in terms of released radioactive materials, the Fukushima accident reached ~ 20-40% of the Chernobyl explosion itself valued at 200 times the amount of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined polution (WHO). Pour l'instant, les éjections de Fukushima représentent donc environ 20 fois celle de HN. For now, Fukushima material releases represent at least 40 times that of HN (see New York Times).
[2] « Même s'il y avait un accident de ce type tous les ans, je considérerais le nucléaire comme une source d'énergie intéressante », déclara ainsi Morris Rosen, directeur de la sureté nucléaire de l'AIEA (Le Monde du 28 août 1986). [2] Adaptation (pastiche) of “La verite" (The truth) by G. Beart, French singer
[3] See the techniques to spread ignorance described in the “Merchand of doubts” by Naomi Oreskes and related discussion about "agnotology": science of ignorance.
[4] "Even if there were an accident of this type every year, I would still consider nuclear power as a valuable source of energy," said Morris Rosen, director of the IAEA Nuclear Safety (Le Monde August 28, 1986). 

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

UK Scientists in Parliament fog

Claude Monet from the series "houses of Parliament".

Education of the Members of the Parliaments.
Following the recent election, the United Kingdom parliament is undergoing a major representative replacement with the coming to power of a conservative/liberal democrat coalition.
How much knowledge these new comers have on research and technology related issues is a legitimate concerns to the UK scientists. The way science will be assessed and supported in the coming years is at stake.
This made the headline of a recent Nature editorial Vol 465, 135:
Scientists' turn to win votes
"This parliament will be filled with fresh faces, and it now falls on the scientific community to begin the important and urgent work of educating these new Members of Parliament (MPs) on scientific issues."

This comment goes beyond UK research, researchers and politics. All scientists in the world are facing similar concerns and it is part of the scientific and political communities duty to engage in a thorough dialog.
Communication channels have been created along the years, but today more and better is needed. The high impact science has on people life, especially when related to health, environmental or energy issues, the fast-paced scientific progress and the increasing complexity of scientific matters call for new communication tools and new discussion platforms.

Educate the scientists, too.

But more importantly, the dialog should be bi-directional, if I dare the pleonasm. Scientists must also be educated by policy makers. Although as citizen, scientists have a fair knowledge of the political and societal situation, they need to get more insight and global views on many issues like the genuine societal needs and expectations, the people knowledge on and reactions to scientific issues, the economic and financial implications, the legal and administrative issues and barriers, the national policy and strategies, the international framework, ...

Existing communication channels

Most of the Parliaments in Europe have an office or a bureau in charge of informing the parliament about science and technology.
For example, in the UK, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) or in France the "Office Parlementaire d´Evaluation des Choix Scientifiques et Technologiques" (OPECST (eng)) fulfill this role. They are actually regrouped at the European level on EPTA, the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment.

Science Academies have also a similar mission.
The Royal Society (UK Science Academy) sees also its role as "Influencing Policy".
"The Royal Society has a long track record of providing scientific advice to policy makers. Its earliest report, on the state of Britain’s forests, was published in 1664."
The press, the communicators, the NGO or the associations are also sources of information and requests for actions.

All these channels are important and should be strengthened by more researchers' involvement.
But they only partially deliver the precise, open and unbiased information the scientific community owes our representatives and more is needed.

Possible lines of actions:
  • Improving MPs general scientific culture, independently of the parliament specific agenda. As reported in the Nature editorial only 10% UK MPs have scientific background. Introductory talks on the way research gets done, on basic reasoning logic, on uncertainty and statistical evidence, on the international cooperation dimension of research and on the main issues of the various science fields should be given to all MPs. Research organizations and institutions should get involved in contributing to this basic information on a regular basis.
  • Providing open and possibly contradictory presentations. Science is not a frozen ensemble of truths, it is a living body which only gets better through the interplay of observation and critical interpretation. So, at any given moment, uncertainties exist. Even if it may be seen counter productive when trying to provide convincing arguments, the limits of knowledge and therefore the need for more research should be clearly stressed.
  • Avoiding lobbying for specific projects or science fields. This is maybe illusive due to the high competition researchers are facing, but scientific credibility depends on fairness.
  • Getting true research-makers involved, not only communicators or established committee aficionados. In particular, young researchers should come to the front and communicate their enthusiasm.
  • Getting coordinated. It is time for scientists, at the European level (at first) , to coordinate their outreach efforts, specially towards the national assemblies. Research endeavors are international nowadays, approaches to policy makers should reflect this fact.
Implementing platforms for dialog

MPs' very busy agenda may not allow the implementation of all the items of this wish list.
New communication tools should be invented to both cover the national and EU needs
  • Specific web sites aggregating societal issues and scientific background for policy-makers,
  • regular scientific updates like a weekly "5 minutes science news" to the parliament, one yearly event with a "Science in parliament day" in the national and the EU parliaments
  • Grouped MPs laboratory visits in Europe,
  • ...
What else ???

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Policy makers ! get the scientists on board !

In this blog dedicated to scientific research in the global world, the need for scientists to be part of the full decision making process from beginning to end is repeatedly advocated. Often one refers to decision making on scientific issues, but the involvement of scientists is even more critical when one gets to major societal and political issues.
In the 2010 May issue of Scientific American Jeffrey D. Sachs director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University stresses this point on "Flying Blind in Policy Reforms", from health-care to the Afghanistan war...
He concludes as follows:
"In our governance systems today, the intrinsic complexity of the challenges easily outpaces the gut instincts and amateurism of the existing government machinery. I would not presume or recommend that decisions be left to the purported experts, who often represent special interests or have their own biases or narrow views. Still, a systematic vetting of policy options, with recognized experts and the public commenting and debating, will vastly improve on our current policy performance, in which we often fly blind or hand the controls over to narrow interests and viewpoints."