I know this isn't a scientific journal and you lot don't give a stuff about references, but here's where this little tale originated:
New Scientist, issue 2743, 16th January 2010, page 20. 'A UN for science' by Lorna Casselton. She is the Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society. Did you know this scientific institution now has its own foreign secretary? It was news to me.
I've been qualified as a scientist since my B.Sc. in 1981. Then the PhD, the apprenticeships (we call them post-docs), lectureships and finally my own lab. I have never heard of the InterAcademy Panel on International Issues. Have you?
To be fair, they formed in 1993 so they weren't around when I was young and gullible and still believed science knew best in all things.
It all looks harmless enough but scientists are not politicians. We tend to work with logic and we tend to think that the results of rigorous research, being True, will naturally be accepted as-is by everyone else. We are shocked when research is spun and twisted to suit an agenda but we then think 'oh, they must have misunderstood'. Most of us anyway.
Some of us have become cynics, and some scientists are crooks. Surprised? Scientists are human beings and any group of humans contains a few dodgy ones.
Here's the IAP strategic plan. Does the term 'strategic plan' ring any bells? It's not the sort of wording scientists tend to use. Science is more 'Push the button and see what happens'. Do you think scientists are running this thing? Scientists hate all administrative functions, they just get in the way of dabbling in things we don't understand, tampering with the fabric of life and unleashing forces we can't control. Timesheets? We fill out a year's worth in an afternoon and send off one a week. Really. We do. I certainly did and I wasn't alone. That's why the timesheets perfectly match what we're supposed to be doing. Well, I don't have those any more and I'm very pleased about it. It was a very tedious afternoon, once a year.
Scientists don't do politics and we don't like having to be managers. We are tyrants in our own little domains. If a technician screws up, we'll show them once more. If they screw up again they'll get a bollocking. If they persistently screw up we'll 'promote' them to someone else's department if we can't sack them. Where our research is concerned, we are merciless. If anyone came into my lab and messed around, I'd use something I once used on a HND class. A tube of water. Hold it up and say 'How much anthrax is in this tube? Who's going to distract me so much that I end up dropping it?' Nowadays, of course, such pleasurable activities are denied lecturers by those who have taken over the management of science. And the management of the IAP. Who might that be? Here's a clue from that strategy document:
Move as expeditiously as possible in selecting and appointing a IAP Executive Director, cognizant of the operational restraints associated with its relationship with UNESCO.
Who talks like that? Yes, it's the Righteous. Scientists care nothing for 'executive directors' or 'operational restraints'. We ignore such nonsensical ideas. From the New Scientist article :
The organisation's ambition is to become the most influential voice for the world's scientists amid the clamour of politicians and lobby groups.
We Know Best. The aim of the organisation is to influence policy. To tell those elected representatives what to do. The scientists, for the most part, have the best of intentions but they are not running the show. They are not directly advising governments. They are not the ones insisting that more women enter science in the name of equality, whether they like it or not. It's all filtered through a managerial level, a Righteous level, that has an agenda so alien to science that scientists have trouble even seeing it.
Scientists are seen as 'clever people who know stuff' and we are. Getting a PhD is not easy. You have to be pretty intelligent to start with - but intelligence is not the same thing a streetwise, not at all. That's why you get scientists recommending reverse-osmosis purification for drinking water with no concern as to the running costs. These people would not drink from a stream without a full spectrographic analysis, BOD, COD, total bacterial counts and heavy metal content while in fact, all you need to be sure of is that you're not downstream of sheep or cattle. Real life rarely troubles modern science.
I recall one meeting at a place I worked in the past, about an upcoming open day. One of those present - an astoundingly brilliant man - was not happy that we were 'dumbing down' exhibits. The people will surely understand, was his argument. He could not grasp that many adults are illiterate and even those who were pretty intelligent hadn't studied this area of research and needed it put in simple terms. It did not occur to him that the things that were obvious to him would not be obvious to others who hadn't spent their lives - or even a moment - studying it.
Organisations like this are not run by scientists because scientists do not run organisations. We run labs. Scientists are easily swayed by someone saying 'I'll do all that admin stuff, you just do research'. It takes a long time for the scientist to realise that most of the 'admin stuff' isn't necessary at all. Most never do, because to be honest, we're not paying it any attention most of the time.
So the Righteous now run science and it's not science that advises policy, but Righteous morality.
Since 1993, science has been corrupted and politicised to the point where it is now barely recognisable. Scientists didn't do it. Scientists, on the whole, didn't notice it happening and many still haven't, even though the roots of it were obvious when I was an undergraduate.
Remember that idea of 'promoting' a useless technician to be someone else's problem? We do that with scientists too. They didn't get to be lab managers because they were good at managing, they got the job because they were bloody useless in the lab. Back then, it didn't matter who the manager was because we all ignored them anyway. It was their job to make sure the autoclave worked and the store was stocked and we all had our correct allocation of funding but 'doing what they ordered' was simply not going to happen. Those managers were lackeys.
It's different now. The useless have risen to higher positions and have started demanding respect and power. Respect they have not earned and power they should not be allowed.
Science brought this on itself by a lack of logical thinking. Moving the useless and spiteful into management positions seemed sensible at the time - we didn't want to do them ourselves - but now the scum is floating on the surface and suffocating everything underneath.
Corruption is rife, as it is everywhere the Righteous take control. Lies and spin and agendas and 'strategic plans' and 'mission statements' fill the world of science and I am delighted to operate independently of it now. Oh, I could make much more money if I played their game but I make enough and I have a lot of fun needling them. Mission statement? What the hell sort of science has a mission statement? It's something MacDonald's might have but science is not a franchise.
Science is broken and as a retiring ex-boss once said 'We used to chase knowledge, now we chase money." It's true. When I left the mainstream, getting grants was far more important than discovering or inventing anything. The grants were awarded on the latest 'Big Agenda Thing' and still are. I am more free as a self-employed scientist working for industry than I ever was working under public funding. Now, I can say 'No, it won't work'.
Righteous, you have broken my favourite toy. You have turned science into a carnival show. You have set up 'wimmin' and 'cheeldren' games as you have in politics and you play to the moneylending Pharmers who now invade our temple of logic and reproducibility.
The total wreckage and rebuilding of science is the only way out now. We have to start again.