The relief of the paranoid October 16, 2008Posted by dorigo in personal, physics, politics, science.
Tags: CDF, spokespersons election
Autumn is settling in, and it is election time again. No, I am not talking about the Obama-McCain match, which -although exciting- has little to do with my job. I am talking about the election of the next CDF spokesperson. The experiment has two spokespersons, and every year at about this time all eligible voters -those listed in the default author list- vote to change one of them.
The election proceeds as follows. Initially CDF authors may, if they so desire, send to the election committee a nomination for their favourite candidate -typically, a person they would be happy to see elected, whom they feel would represent them well, and whom they trust for the task of speaking on behalf of the scientific collaboration, organizing the experiment, keeping contacts with the lab director, the press, etcetera. Then, nominees are asked by the election committee whether they agree to run. And finally, a vote is cast: each voter is asked to list in decreasing order of appreciation the available candidates. The one who gets the largest number of first choices wins. In case of a tie, a complicated method is used to determine the winner; that is a detail that I believe was never necessary in past elections -typically, there is a clear winner. Or so I think!
I have spoken in the past about the fact that CDF is a incomplete democracy, because the above electoral system is flawed. The flaw is simple: the results of the election are not distributed! There is an election committee who determines the winner, and announces him or her to the collaboration. The number of votes obtained by each candidate remains known only to the election committee, their friends, and their relatives.
Instead of delving into that matter again, today I am going to explain why I felt defamed this week. It so happened that I received an e-mail from the election committee, announcing that I had been nominated to run for spokesperson, and would I please let them know whether I was available ?
I am no trying to be modest here if I say I immediately recognized that my nomination had been an hoax. It could not be otherwise: I stand no chance of being elected, given my past history in CDF. Many colleagues still look at me with suspicion because of at least two different issues.
One is the way I handled my charge as a member of the review committee which was charged with deciding on the publication of a few controversial papers. In two words, I interpreted my mandate literally (“get convinced whether an analysis is worth publishing, and if so push for its approval”). By acting as a reviewer-promoter in a slightly overzealous way, exposing the idiocy of the arguments supported by full professors who wanted to trash the analysis at the meetings when the approval was discussed, I earned a few enemies.
The other issue which still disturbs some of my colleagues is my activity as a blogger, which arises jealousy, fear, and causes discrimination. My most faithful readers know about this, so let me leave that aside here.
Having become convinced there was somebody in CDF who wanted to laugh at my back, I asked the election committee if they would please disclose to me the name of the offender. They politely declined, invoking a unwritten rule (“it is a tradition to keep that information undisclosed”). I insisted, claiming that the disclosure was not going to perturb the election since I was declining the nomination offer anyway, and that I would treat the information confidentially: to no avail. I was frustrated, and angry. I felt I was being defamed, and that the offender was secured anonymity through a non-existent, baroque, anti-democratic rule.
Then, this morning the sun shone on me again. I happened to have a chance to talk with a person -let me use the pseudonym Mr(s) X- for a totally unrelated issue, and then I mentioned to X my frustration for not getting to know the name of the moron who had nominated me. And X candidly replied: “I did!”.
That really left me speechless. X had not nominated me to defame me: (s)he meant it!
Now, it so happens that this person has been a spokesperson of CDF him(her)self; that (s)he is a very influential, brilliant, and accomplished physicist, and a veteran of our experiment; that (s)he is a person I highly admire (no, I am not giving the name away: these things apply in some degree to almost all our present and past spokespersons!).
X went on to assure me it had of course not been an hoax: (s)he thought I would be the right person for the job, since I know the physics, I have the experience, and I have no fear of saying what I think. I was dumbfounded, and I was not even able to thank X for his(her) words enough. I could only mutter I was honored to hear that, that it was a relief to hear I had not been defamed after all, and that unfortunately I had been forced to decline the nomination, for family issues and for a dozen other good reasons.
So: have I been paranoid in thinking that my nomination to spokesperson of CDF had been an hoax ? I think I haven’t, given that CDF has always been a snake pit. Hell, there’s even a meeting room with that name in our main building at the lab… Or maybe I erred because I underestimate the way others perceive me as a scientist. Oh well, whatever: X made my day today!