CDF just elected its new co-Spokesperson, which will stay in charge for the next two years (for 2005 together with Young-Kee Kim, which was elected last year). The winner is Rob Roser (left, with an appropriate hat ;-), a longtime fellow collaborator, who served CDF in several important roles in the past. I will not say more about him, other than he was not my first choice in the list of candidates.
The election of a new co-Spokesperson in CDF happens every year. From a list of candidates, nominated by their fellow collaborators, a first informal poll among the participating institutions allows a more restricted list to be formed. It is this latter list which is submitted to the vote of all members of the collaboration.
The final candidates - this year there were four - present themselves in a "town meeting", when they state what their priorities are, what they want to do as a Spokesperson, why they accepted the candidacy, those sorts of things. After that, the poll opens.
Every collaborator (be it a grad student, a researcher, a Nobel prize winner if there was one) can submit to the Election Committee a list of the candidates in order of preference. After the poll is closed, a suitably complicated algorithm selects the winner based on the number of times he was first, second, third, or n-th in the list. Don't ask me the details, I refused to learn them - it should not matter much.
The whole thing seems pretty much a rather democratic process. But there is a catch: the results are not divulgated! The election committee, which is formed by three members nominated by the executive board, just announces the winner, that is all.
I fought several battles in CDF. Some I won, and some I lost. They all took a toll on me, both in terms of time they took to be fought, and in terms of friends and enemies I made in the process. I was tempted to fight this one too, but have just decided that my time is not worth the effort this once: convincing my fellow collaborators that the flaw mentioned above is indeed enormous. What appears as a democratic process cannot in fact be called as such.
Leaving aside any suspicion for the election committee itself, or whomever vigilates over it, since the suspect is beyond the reach of my mean thinking, there however remain quite a few objections to not making public the outcome.
- I voted. I want to know how many votes my favourite candidate got. He convinced me to vote for him, but I need to know how strong he really is. Next time he can run again, and I need that input to form a new decision, or to help him in his campaign.
- My favorite candidate was not elected. Was the winner elected by a narrow margin, by a large margin ? I need to know how my colleagues voted. I might find out that my ideas on the candidates is not shared by my colleagues: it is something important to know. Hey, they might be right!
- How many votes were submitted ? This crucially important datum is not broadcast any more than the others. We are a collaboration of about 700 scientists. Did 600 vote ? 200 ? I do not even get to know that! Not even if I did not vote myself.
- Did a candidate get one vote ? That would be pretty mean to divulgate, but hey, wasn't it mean to elect G.W.Bush in 2000 by such a ridiculously narrow margin that the real outcome will never be known in earnest ? Democracy is not for the faint of heart. We need to know if a candidate got only the vote of his parents. He would spare us his boring town meeting speech next time.
I really believe that the choice of not making the detailed results public was made in good faith, albeit unwittingly. But I am a little ashamed of the failed democracy in my experiment. As I said, I pretty much would like to fight for it, but, as a colleague (one who ran for co-Spokesperson this year, and was not elected) taught me once, "you have to pick your battles". That's right. I cannot fight them all... Not if I am a researcher rather than a politician.
CDF: an experiment in democracy. Put together ~1000 intelligent human beings, let them elect their leaders and create their own bylaws. Will they evolve toward a happy island of people with flowers in their head, or a jungle of backstabbing lobbyists ? I am a democrat, but sometimes I envy collaborations where there is a undisputable leader, who will take all decisions, for good or for bad. In a few cases, they end up with a great person to lead them!
I am proud to be in CDF, a beautiful, very successful experiment, full of amazing people, endowed with great knowledge and intelligence - hehm, we do have some average Joes ;-). That is why I ache for these small flaws. But I am no idealist, and I know other experiments have theirs....