January 13, 2011

Next week I am half way through … and still alive.

Science and Responsibility – Love Parade 2010

August 2, 2010

Last week several hundred thousands of young people from all over the world gathered in Duisburg (Germany) to celebrate this years Love Parade.  21 of them are now dead. Their families and the public are mourning. What remains are questions. Questions on why this could happen and who is responsible.

Since this is a blog about science I am not so much interested in the  mayor, who refuses to step back since he wants to ‘clear things up’. I am also not interested in the organizer who claimed 1.400.000 participants and, maybe after he realized that this will get him into trouble with his insurance, counted again to just find 250.000. Police and fire services also played some role which is not of my concern.

I am interested in the security concept which was certified by a professor from a near university. No names here since this is an ongoing case and it is hard to get the facts. Sure is that the organizer planned to get more than 250.000 people through a 40 meter wide tunnel to the location. This tunnel was also planned to be the only exit from the location. At first glance that sounds crazy and … at a second glance that still sounds crazy. How could someone certify such a security concept? Our scientist in question has a Ph. D. in theoretical physics and his wiki entry contains some name dropping in form of nobel prize winning collaborators. If he signs such a concept then maybe because of some ‘deep’ insights stemming from his research on ‘transport and traffic’. However, this is buried in some proprietory journals to which I have no access (as an unaffiliated random guy).

That leaves me with the publicly available information. That is a TV interview right after the catastrophe with the event still going on. My rough translation (out of memory) of the decisive passage ‘… the behaviour of panicking people is hard to model …’ followed by some disgusting allocation of responsibility. In a further interview our scientist denies responsibility at all since he was not allowed to see the whole concept. This assertion is shockingly unmasking.

My conclusion: As long as results are not publicly available, as long as concepts  are signed without being fully seen and as long as no responsibility for mistakes is taken over it is very hard to differentiate between a charlatan and a scientist.

Because of the omnipresence of this case in all media science has lost a lot of reputation in germany.