Saturday, 5 December 2009

Science and politics in bad climate

Nuclear waste, GMO, environment disasters and now climate change, every time science meets societal issues, every time science enters in the political arena, science is questioned beyond reason. Opponents to the widely accepted baseline are put forward by the media, the lobbies or by the political agenda. A few of them get the same media coverage than the thousand mainliners. After all this artificially noise, the popular conclusion is often "You see !! scientists do not agree" and the door is now wide open to arbitrary decisions.

Don't take me wrong I am not saying that science should not be questioned or criticised, that is the essence, the backbone of research. Any theory, any experiment, any numbers, any uncertainties are discussed extensively, put on trial, cross-checked before a consensus arises. This is the everyday concern of the scientists.

But with the "Climategate", the limits of "bienséance" against science have been outrageously overpassed. Once again the ugly face of scientifico-political politics takes the front page, once again scientific research is dragged along in the mud by lobbies and political activists, once again the true value of the scientific methodology and ethics is dumped into the black hole of ignorance and credulity.

"Climategate" reveals some of the means climate change deniers are using to attempt, a few days before the Copenhagen summit, to jeopardize years of efforts made by a large scientific community to study a complex and highly societal issue (see "On science and politics"Asymptotia Blog). On all this frenzy, little is said about the scandalous act of stealing private communications, throwing them in the face of the public with no context and using them to make up a case of scientific misconduct and trickery. This is an act of trumpery against humanity.

Climate change studies are like all scientific research: a glimpse into reality. But this is the best understanding one has of our world. Only sustained and systematic research will bring sturdier assessments, not political activism and e-mail robbery.

To fight against the manipulation of science, science and the society must meet, often, more often than currently done. The Copenhagen summit is a rare platform where research, politics, industry and the society gather and everything should be done to establish serene and objective discussions so as to strengthen the brittle links between these various communities. Let's hope intelligence will prevail and that these efforts will not be wasted by malicious and greedy arguments.
(BTW: On a more modest level, ASEPS, the first Summit on Physics "Physics towards Science Innovations" (March 2010) is meant to be another of these uncommon occasions.)

Monday, 22 June 2009

ASEPS: Physics at the Top

ASEPS 2010 is the first ASia-Europe Physics Summit in a series meant to reinforce the cooperation in research between the European and Asian countries. On many aspects, the scientific links between the two regions are weaker than those represented by the two other sides of the triangle formed by Europe, America and Asia.

... A balanced partnership between Europe, Asia and America is a crucial aspect of any world-wide endeavor in the field of science and technology. The Summit will deal with programs addressing either issues in fundamental physics or physics research playing a significant role in other fields (i.e. biology, chemistry, earth, space sciences …) ...

The opposite figure (Journal du CNRS, April 2009) shows the sharing of the world internet bandwidth. These are striking numbers, symbolic of deeper imbalance in term of researcher exchange, co-developed patents, joint programs or infrastructures.

The summit targets a second challenging goal: gathering 3 communities which rarely mix: scientists, policy and decision makers and industry leaders:

... The active participation of researchers, decision makers from funding agencies, research organisation and government as well as industry leaders of the European and Asian countries is necessary for the success of this initiative. ...

The kickoff meeting will be held at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, July 24, 2009.

You may contact for more info.
Being part of the organising committee, I am welcoming, on this blog, discussions on this challenging project.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The top-10 research projects

Research investments in crisis times.

The economic crisis has both dramatic and surprising consequences. The credit crunch is curbing the industrial activity, deglobalization and protectionism are surfacing, the euro is challenged, public deficits and unemployment rates are surging ...
But, interestingly enough, most of the stimuli plans injecting trillions of dollars in the economies include provisions to boost R&D as research and innovation are seen by the politicians as one of the few available lifelines.
The stimuli plan breadcrumbs (2-3%) devoted to R&D are quiet substantial when seen from the research community (for example: 21 B$ in the US). They amount to doubling the yearly budget of some research organizations.
So, in this credit crunch times, research ends up with a lot of money to spend, which is, at first sight, good. But when the immediate needs are covered, the main question becomes: what to do with and how to spend this bonanza in a year or so.
We, researchers, have always said that long term and sustained investments in research were more efficient than changing policies and short term vision, even if large support are temporarily given, but here we are.
Hiring researchers/engineers/post-docs for one year would make no sense, neither would buying expensive equipments on which neither manpower nor maintenance could be secured. Moreover it would not serve the stimulus plan goal to save the money for covering long term research. Then what ?

One possible way would be to get more international and to jump start a couple of world-wide large scale research projects relying on the international sharing of the long term running costs.
This would imply a reshuffling of the current investment plans and projected budget spendings, but it would be worth the effort. As a side effect, it would make basic research more global.

But which projects ? what are, today, the top-10 science projects that could benefit to the world from this unplanned large support. Let me propose here a few selection criteria (you may comment).
The project should be:
  • Of great scientific importance
  • Internationally accepted as such
  • Technologically ready, but
  • Advanced enough (not to be obsolete once built)
  • Serving a large community (optionally larger than the initiator field)
I can see a few examples in particle/accelerator physics, nuclear physics, astrophysics, space, nanotechnology, life science, computing... but I do not want to bias your comments.

Let's have a short survey:

What is your favorite, most needed project ?
(see status of the survey after submitting)

RoadMaps and long term planning:
Many long term R&D forecasts have been prepared these last years in science, in general, and in some more particular fields (energy, health, particle physics, astroparticle,..). Each plan has often been made at the country level or, in the best case, at the regional level (EU), but none have been discussed at the international level.
A compilation of the various plans may help fore coming discussions:

If you have been involved in such a roadmap discussions or, simply, if you happen to have read such a document, just fill the following form.