Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dagstuhl Seminar Panel: Science, Policy, the Press, and Politics

Rop Gonggrijp and I proposed a panel session we ran on the first afternoon at the recent e-voting Dagstuhl seminar on the relationship between science and policy, the press, and politics. The other people on the panel, besides Rop and I, were J. Alex Halderman, Dan Wallach, and a member of the German press that was attending this event, Richard Sietmann. The main point of the panel was to emphasize to the audience that scientific work in this area cannot be divorced from politics and we also offered many war stories and advice on interacting with government, vendors, and the media. My main recommendation was that every scientist that is doing research that has potential media interest should read "A Scientist's Guide to Talking with the Media" by Richard Hayes and Daniel Grossman. I have found this book invaluable. It has informed my interactions with not only the media, but also with the general public, and even other experts. Clearly communicating the core of complex ideas, like those inherent in the "hot" topics of e-voting or applied formal methods, is critical. It is an added bonus when you can combine the disciplines, as convincing computer scientists of the use and utility of modern applied formal methods is just as hard as educating government ministers of the dangers of currently available commercial e-voting computers, but for entirely different reasons. I am encouraged by young researcher/activists like Alex and Dan. The world needs more activist scientists. These Ph.D. students and young not-yet-tenured professors are very brave to grab the e-voting bull by the horns, and I'm proud of them for that. Perhaps the generational apathy of the past 20 years can, in some small way, be counteracted by the all-consuming passion of the modern hacker/scientist? I know I'll keep making a fuss.

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