UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board to strengthen connection between science and policyI learned about this news story because Fabiola Gianotti, the former spokeswoman for the ATLAS collaboration at CERN (who led the discovery of the Higgs boson), is one of the 26 folks who were appointed – one of the 3-4 "real top scientists" in the board.
Otherwise I must say that the selection underscores the world organization's political and ideological distortion of the scientific process. You would expect that if scientists are advising the world organization, they should be representative of the scientific community, kind of.
However, you don't need to look too carefully if you want to see how the members of the board were actually being identified.
First of all, either 14/26 or 13/26 of the members are female. Nothing against that but this – clearly politically correct – proportion has nothing to do with the actual composition of the scientific community which is vastly different, closer to 1/6 than to 1/2.
Second, the nationality of the members is extremely far from the distribution quantifying where science (and most of science) is actually being developed at the beginning of the 21st century. Just look at the homelands of the 26 members:
South Africa, U.S., Barbados, Philippines, Australia, Oman, Ethiopia, Russia, Italy, China, Germany, Bulgaria, Argentina, Hungary, Japan, Korea, Brazil, India, U.S., Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, France, Kenya, Israel, Malaysia, Egypt.Well, this distribution may reflect the number of votes that countries have in the UN but as a collection of representatives of the world science, it is just silly. The U.S. will have two people in the board; one of them is female and one of them is an (Asian) Indian American. But the actual percentage of science that is being advanced in the U.S. is closer to 1/2 than to 1/13.
Israel has one representative, thankfully, a Nobel prize winner. However, Israel's contributions to science are much closer to 1/4 than to 1/26. I could go on for a while.
The same discrepancies appear in the opposite direction. For example, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Barbados each have a member in the board. But the actual contribution of each of these countries to science is vastly smaller than 1/100 (and probably smaller than 1/10,000), much less than 1/26 indicated by the distribution.
The disciplines of the scientists are heavily distorted, too. About 1/2 of the members are involved or marginally involved with various types of environmental, ecological, climatic, "sustainable", or biodiversity activism. This gives a huge overrepresentation to this class of folks whose net contribution to science is safely lower than 1/10, much less than 1/2 indicated by the composition of the board. Similarly, tons of scientific disciplines, even those that are critical for the interface of science and policy – for example, nuclear energy and even fossil fuel-based energy (those two things cover a majority of energy used in the world) – are completely absent in the board.
One could find many other benchmarks in which the board is vastly non-representative of the scientific community. The inclusion of some particular folks, especially Rajendra Pachauri, in the new board is literally offensive and shameful.
I wanted to expose some details about one particular board of this kind to clarify how silly it is to think that similar political organizations boasting "science" in their names have very little to do with science as such. Similar boards are being appointed by politicians or according to political or ideological criteria and the members are cherry-picked so that it is guaranteed that the board will send messages that the politicians who constructed such boards want to hear from the beginning.
Even if the individual members of such boards are doing science honestly, according to their best beliefs and knowledge – and it's clearly the case of a rather small portion of the board, anyway – and even if there are several top scientists in the board, the overall message of the board as a group of people is guaranteed to distort what science has actually found and even what the scientific community thinks as a whole (and those are two different things, too).
Similar criticisms apply to most of similar political organizations unfortunately including the National Academies of Sciences. Scientists have various opinions about various things and if the "creator" of a board is given enough freedom to cherry-pick, he or she may produce a seemingly representative board that will not be representative of science at all.
That's why sensible people don't pay pretty much any attention to various statements and memos published by similar boards and politically constructed organizations and institutions.
It's unfortunate that so many people fail to be sensible or they don't care about science. Why isn't science treated at least with the same dignity as e.g. soccer? Imagine the UN would construct a similar politically correct world soccer league, claiming that it represents soccer in the world. Victoria Pilsen, our locally formidable team (which sold its key player for EUR 4 million months ago and things don't look too bright since then), would get the same vote as Bayern Munich and some much weaker teams would be represented, too.
But is Pilsen playing the same soccer as Munich? We learned the answer last night on the huge Bavarian stadium.
The Pilsner goalie was spectacular. This may sound like a bold statement given the fact that Pilsen got spanked 5-to-0 (pretty much the same score as 6-to-1 in an analogous match of the 1971-72 season). However, a key to the understanding of my claim is that Munich beat Pilsen 35-to-1 in shots on the goal, it had 706 complete passes (vs our 154), and 76% possession. Everyone, including hardcore Pilsen's fans (who shouted that Pilsen wouldn't be satisfied with a tie, of course! And who liked the sausages and beer in our Germanic brotherly land), understands this difference between the best team in the world and the best or second best team in an average soccer nation (and between teams in subpar soccer nations).
Why can't people appreciate the analogous differences in science? Why are they always ready to sacrifice science so unscrupulously to the altar of the political correctness?