Wednesday, June 23, 2010


  Today is laundry day, so while my laundry is in the dryer, let me regale you with the tale of our day in Salzburg.  We were there primarily for a workshop at the Salzburg Global Seminar (, a program that organizes and convenes workshops and conferences and such regarding "issues of global concern."  Although my work at IIASA involves theoretical modeling of evolutionary processes, most of the participants in the YSSP are doing much more policy-oriented work, so this workshop was right up their alley.
  They are based in a schloss (an old palace/castle, like the one I'm working at in Laxenburg), Schloss Leopoldskron, on the south side of Salzburg.  I must say, I like the way Austria has chosen to repurpose some of these old palaces as homes for scientific institutions.  It gives science buildings that, as cathedrals do for religion, lend it an aesthetic and cultural weight.  We started out with a tour of the schloss.  First stop was a small chapel inside the schloss:

  As you can see, the plasterwork is just amazing, and that was true throughout the schloss.  Incredible craftsmanship.  Even in the stairwells:

  Now we went into one of the most famous rooms of the schloss, with mirrors and paintings ornately framed into the walls themselves.  A Hollywood recreation of this room can be seen in the movie The Sound of Music (more on that later).

  Onward to a vast dining room; my camera couldn't get a wide enough angle to capture the room, but these shots give you views of different parts of it:

  That last shot is actually the center of the ceiling.  The plasterwork on the walls, which you can only get a glimpse of in these photos, is rife with symbolism such as the four elements, the four seasons, and so forth.
  Now a quick stop in the library:

  Getting up to the upper level of the library, the railed walkway you can see in the first photo, involved going up a spiral staircase hidden behind a bookshelf that swung open like a door.  A secret staircase.  Seriously.  If you continued up the staircase another flight, you would reach the bedroom of Max Reinhardt, the man who restored the schloss to its original glory early in the 20th century.  My guess is that Max Reinhardt was the basis for the character of Max in the Sound of Music; besides restoring the Schloss Leopoldskron, he also organized the Salzburg Festival.  I can't find anything on the net to support that supposition, though.
  Anyhow, onward to a sort of salon called the Chinese Room:

  That's our Fearless Leader, Sheila, in the last photo, inspired to pose on the sofa!  Now out to the gardens.  When the Sound of Music was filmed, they were allowed to shoot all around the outside of the schloss, and so you may recognize one or two of these photos if you remember the movie well.  The stone sea dragons (or whatever they are) at the foot of the garden are seen many times in the movie, in particular.

  And now we assembled in a conference room at the top of the schloss for a talk by Edward Mortimer, Senior Vice President of the Salzburg Global Seminar, and former Director of Communications and speechwriter for Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General:

  His talk was on "Communicating the Global Agenda."  In essence: problems are global, and require a global response, but politics is still local (national, or even more local than that); how can this gap be bridged?  Obviously this is one of the chief tasks that the UN has set itself, and so his experience working with Kofi Annan was the underpinning of his talk.  He discussed what the global agenda consisted of (things like peace and security, development, and human rights), how this agenda is viewed (different in the developed and developing world, differently in Muslim and non-Muslim countries, differently in the US than in Europe, and so forth), and how the agenda may be communicated and promoted (media, speeches, reports, NGOs, celebrities).  One of his more interesting points was that a year ago, Obama was unquestionably the most effective communicator of the global agenda in the world, but his importance seems to be fading; his voice is being replaced on the global stage by leaders of some emerging countries (Lula, Erdogan, Chavez), and it is not clear what they think of the global agenda or of the UN.  Interesting times.
  He didn't talk much about the role of science in formulating and supporting this global agenda.  I pressed him on that in the question period, and his answer was that it obviously has a role in climate change (IPCC) and global health (Jeffrey Sachs), and that this role should probably be strengthened and broadened.  However, science does not, in general, produce consensus; it is an adversarial process that constantly rejects old theories and involves much contention.  This makes it difficult to base policy upon.  That does not at all mean that policy should not be based on science; but it means that it can be hard to sell to the public.  The public's misunderstanding of science leads to an "infantile" (his word) backlash against basing policy on science, as seen in the struggle to get global warming accepted as real by the public.
  This led nicely into the next part of the workshop, which involved a sort of debate, between teams made up of YSSPers, about how open science ought to be to public engagement.  Should scientists try to engage the public in the scientific process?  Should raw data be made public so that non-scientists can do what they like with it?  Should the internal process of science be opened up to public view more?  Should the public be more involved in decisions about what the goals of science ought to be, and what projects ought to be funded?  These sorts of questions were inspired by the "climategate" snafu in which the private emails of scientists were hacked and posted publicly, causing a good deal of damage to public acceptance of the reality of global warming, with ongoing repercussions including damage to the talks at Copenhagen.
  So.  Head shots of the YSSPers who were chosen by their teams to speak in front of the group, some in favor of more public engagement in science, some against such engagement:

  I wouldn't say we reached a decision, but the mood in the room was in favor of greater engagement, I think it's fair to say.  My team was anti-engagement, however (chosen by the facilitators of the workshop), so I got to play devil's advocate, which is always fun.
  Finally, we had a little time (about an hour) to explore Salzburg:

  Then we all piled back onto the bus and drove back to Vienna.  Our entertainment for the drive was The Sound of Music, which one of our group had, in a stroke of sheer genius, purchased earlier that day.  The Americans, and a few others (like Hayley, from South Africa) were singing along to the songs and generally having a ball; most of the non-US group members seemed a bit bemused by it all.  I enjoyed it immensely; I hadn't seen it in, well, probably decades, and I had forgotten just how good it is.  We recognized a great many of the shots in the movie, having just spent the day walking around most of the sites where the film was shot.  It was great fun!
  Well, I think my laundry is done drying, and I need to get in to work.  Until next time!

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