Sophia's Peace Work

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Path to Science in Iraq

Our staff meeting was an eye-opener ... even for me who could only understand bits and peices (I had lousy translation for most of the day). The Senior Project Manager, who has been running the show in Baghadd (and has just resigned), had divided up the staff into field people, lab people, and administrative/data management people. Field guys collected date, the lab staff analyzed it, the results were entered into a spreadsheet by the admin/data management folks, a couple graphs were made, maybe a half-assed report with little or no analysis and that was it.

The divisions were so great that I could easily see the snipping that was going on back and forth between field/lab/admin folks. The Director had know that some of this was going on and he was stressing with the staff that they need to work more as a team.

There are people in the organization who still support the Senior Project Manager and those who complained about him. Later the next day, I even broke up an arguement between two guys about it in the office.

We just finished this major monitoring effort in Kurdistan and I'm doing my best to break down the barriers between the teams. For a start, I've asked the main field guys to write a complete report with Intro, Data presentation & Discussion, Analysis, Conclusions, Recommendations ... the whole 9 yards. Some of them have never written a report before and they just don't know how to go about it. Their English is terrible but that is not the big deal. The problem seems to be more fundamental. They don't know why they are doing the work? They have only a sketchy notion of what the purpose of the research is. They left all this up to the Senior Project Manager ... and I'm finding that is apparently a common thing around here.

Then even if they have an idea what the research is, they think a perfectly fine conclusion is to write, for example, "We found that fish diversity in Darbandikhan Lake was lower than in Dokan Lake." But they haven't a clue as to why that might be. They can't even speculate about it.

My usual response is, "Who the f*#k cares?" If you can't tell me what's really going on here, what does it really mean that there is a difference in diversity between Darbandikhan and Dokan? Tell me why I should care."

I keep saying to them, these are the questions that will turn them from technicians into scientists.

And then the next step, once you know the why, is what do you do about it? Taking science into management and policy-making. Even in the west that is difficult for scientists to do but this should be our ultimate goal.