Science and scholarship are much appreciated in our societies when we consider the lavish funding by tax payers and private donors. In contrast there is also a structurally weak position in the very functioning of our democracy. Our best research minds are allowed to discover the wonders at the frontier of knowledge but their findings might not be actually used. In examples like climate change, overpopulation, miseducation, inequality, political science of electoral systems, and the revolutions in computing, biology and medicine, and so on, and even in the issue of Greek statistics of the national debt and deficit of Greece around 2009, we see that science and learning are hardly listened to, and that policy makers and opinion leaders follow their own illusions, leading the world towards foreseeable disasters. Humanity as a whole acts mindless, drunk or crazy.
Trias Politica versus Tessares Politica
There is a system to the madness. Our democracy has the Trias Politica separation of powers between de Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches of government. What is lacking is the Epistemic branch. This means that the Trias Politica model allows too much room for manipulation of information. The alternative is a High Definition Democracy that has this Epistemic branch to protect information. This would give a Tessares Politica – from the ancient Greek “foursome”.
The Epistemic branch has two elements.
- The first aspect concerns economic planning and the management of the State. The national budget is crucial for policy making. The Legislative branch or Parliament votes on the national budget to authorise the Executive to tax and spend funds. The economic planning agency resides currently under the Executive. However, planning is systematically abused. We better create an Economic Supreme Court at the same constitutional level, with the task to control the quality of information, and the power to veto the budget if it contains misleading information according to the court. This leaves all freedom for politicians to determine policy but they will lose the room they have now for manipulating information.
- The second aspect concerns all fields of research. Parliament currently has the Senate and the House of Commons. In the French Revolution of 1789 the Chamber of the Clergy was abolished. In an alternative path of history, the clergy could have developed into scientists and scholars, and the revolution avoided, and then nowadays we would have a Chamber for Science and Learning.
If we want to improve the world and democracy then these are the two structural positions to consider.
Forum theory is the approach by the Dutch cognitive psychologist, student-achievement tester, methodologist and philosopher of science Adriaan de Groot (1914-2006), also famous for his study of chess grandmasters. Forum theory provides us with the diagnosis that science and learning operate as a forum, i.e. a market subject to particular conditions. The approach investigates processes that enhance quality of science and learning, and formulates ways to protect and encourage those. Forum theory suggests that science and learning will be improved by a National Assembly. This contrasts with the current dominance by the National Academies of Science and Scholarship.
Such Academies tend to consists of mainly elderly researchers who have made their mark years ago and who are selected by co-optation. This leaves the mass of researchers out of the picture, currently at the front of research and making their mark. The common researchers on the work floor, e.g. in the laboratory or at the computer terminal, are locked up between a stone wall and a firy pit, and tend to be quite frustrated that the existing knowledge is neglected or misrepresented by politics, while the elevated colleagues at the Academy tend to focus on their next conference. Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) in his Gulliver’s Travels already made fun of the Royal Society.
This situation can be changed by the creation of a National Assembly of Science and Learning, with a Floor for the mass of researchers, while the National Academy forms the Senate of the Assembly. The Assembly improves governance of the forum, the forum itself, and research integrity. Researchers in science and learning can create their National Assembly actually quite simply. They can set up a foundation, give rules of operation, recruit members, organise elections and have a constitutional meeting. With sufficiently large membership the operating costs can be covered. The next step is to show results.
The difference between the current Academy and the sketched Assembly is that the latter has the full weight of the collected research body in a country, with the legitimacy of having been elected by them. The Assembly can do investigations and support conclusions, and speak for science and learning with an authority that now is lacking for the Academy. Over time Parliament could accept the National Assembly of Science and Learning as its third chamber, e.g. called The Study.
Greek national accounting and statistics in 2010
My book with above analysis and proposal also looks at the example of 2010, when Statistics Greece (El.Stat) director Andreas Georgiou sent figures on the 2009 Greek national debt and budget deficit to Eurostat without first seeking approval by his board. The Greek court system judged that he was in violation of duty, irrevocably by the Greek Supreme Court in 2018. Today there is an international uproar in national accounting and statistics that Georgiou’s conviction is a miscarriage of justice and an attack on the independence of Official Statistics.
However, these protesting statistical societies and associations have failed to check the Greek law of March 2010 that created El.Stat, and they also refer to the European Statistics Code of Practice of 2011 or 2017 while the code in force in 2010 was from 2005. Georgiou is guilty as charged.
By all looks of it, he also – advised by Eurostat – added the Simitis swaps of 2001 to the deficits, thus increasing the deficit of 2009 by about 2% points, instead of using the proper stock-flow adjustment. The deficit figure has the purpose to show the operating difference between income and expenditure, and is not the place to record hidden debts that fall from the closet. It is remarkable that these sobering points have not been recognised in all comments and protests. Also the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal supported Georgiou while overlooking these facts.
People can bet their reputation on false information though. Georgiou and the leadership of Eurostat knew about the Greek law of March 2010 and the Code of Practice of 2005, because it was their job to know this at the time. In 2010 they even undertook a change of those very regulations. They however did not say so to the courts and their international colleagues.
Instead, board member and professor of econometrics Zoe Georganta, while lacking full information because of Georgiou’s obstruction, still pointed to crucial questions on content, and those were considered by the Greek courts but inadequately treated by those protesting statisticians and media.
Impact on the EU statistical system
Cause for worry is that the European Union has now restructured its statistical system so that each national statistical office has a single head with full authority, while we know that a single person is much more sensitive to political or commercial pressure or own illusions than a multiperson board.
Warranting the quality of scientific and learned information
This is one of more information scandals that my book deconstructs. The Greek case is peanuts compared to the discussion about climate change. Overall, the world is served not only by a better position of science and learning in our system of democracy, but also by a better internal functioning of the forum of science and learning itself. There is a clear need for a National Assembly of Science and Learning that can investigate such issues without interference by political interests and mistaken hierarchies that exist now.
Thomas Colignatus is the scientific name of Thomas Cool (1954), econometrician (Groningen 1982) and teacher of mathematics (Leiden 2008). See the book “Forum Theory & A National Assembly of Science and Learning” (2020) at https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/98568 and on his website http://thomascool.eu