Monday, 7 July 2008

Politics and science: linear motor or linear collider ?

I had the story of a former research minister talking to a scientist who had given a talk on HEP projects who said half serious, half joking... :
-- You know,... I am glad I attended your talk, I learned a lot ... I didn't know the difference between a linear motor and a linear collider !

This is a good illustration of the difficult path linking science and politics to convey the right messages and of how deep is the gap between both communities.
Should we blame the politicians for not learning fast enough the important topics under their responsibility ? should we blame the scientists for under or overselling their projects ? or should we blame the social organization that put untrained or unprepared people on the decision makers seats and provide no established and trusty framework for articulate and in depth discussion about the goals, consequences and risks of science and research?

Obviously, my prejudice goes to the third option and the goal of this blog is to find new ways to organize the society so that the dialog between politics and science becomes more productive.

Today let's be optimistic and see a few recent examples of the willingness of politicians to be more involved, closer to science and scientists and of scientists ready to meet their expectations.

See for example: Annette Schavan the current German research minister who, with a PhD in Theology, was bold and sensible enough to say:

"I want the discussion between science and politics to be intensified. More and more, scientific knowledge is absolutely necessary for responsible decision-ma
king. Therefore, I find it important to have one institution that is the contact for political leaders and that can also bring issues to the attention of politicians that they haven't yet considered." This institution is the Leopoldina: Germany's National Science Academy

Or Margaret Beckett, the British foreign secretary who started an important talk on "Science and globalization"by the following words:
"Parliamentary Links Day is the most high profile and in many ways the most important science-related event in the Parliamentary calendar. I am acutely aware how vital it is to deepen the dialogue between, on the one hand, Members of both Houses and, on the other, the leading scientists and engineers in the country."

In Japan a group of 55 LDP Diet members headed by KaoruYosano, former Chief Cabinet has been formed back in 2006 in support for the ILC.
More recently, under the same guidance, a forum for the promotion of advanced accelerator technology and science was setup gathering the executive officers of leading Japanese companies, important dignitaries, and a physics Nobel Prize laureate, Prof. Masatoshi Koshiba.

Scientists want also to talk to the politicians. In the US, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world better known as the publisher of Science, contributes to the annual Congressional Visits Day in an effort to promote federal support of research and development:
"The event is designed to encourage scientists and other research professionals to develop ongoing contact with politicians. "The overall goal is to talk about research and development, and how they are important for competitiveness and innovation," said Joanne PadrĂ³n Carney, director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology, and Congress and an organizer of the activities."

But scientists wants also to embark in the political arena stating that the best way to talk to the politician is to become a politician. The Scientists and Engineers of America (SEA) is very active on promoting science in the political arena as reported in Nature (reminding us that Margaret Thatcher has been a chemist):
"On 10 May, SEA held a workshop in Washington DC to tell scientists what it takes to run for public office — and how to go about it. Around 75 scientists, science teachers, science-policy experts and other interested parties gathered on the campus of Georgetown University to explore the transition from scientist to politician. Some were aspiring politicians. Others hoped to contribute to the inner workings of political campaigns. All of them learned how difficult it is to translate a scientific career into a leadership role in politics."
From SEA see also: Innovation & the election 2008 and the results of the pool (1000 responses).
ScienceDebate presents the 14 questions the candidates for president should answer about science and america's future or the 7 Congressional Questions and candidates' responses hosted at SEA.

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