I've finally gotten round to acting on the recommendation to watch the show 'Lost', and while I've found it fascinating viewing thus far, and can appreciate why it's as much of a hit as it is, it set my mind thinking about an issue that's long fascinated me, which is this: supposing that it fell to you to select a collection of individuals to reestablish as much of our current civilization as possible on a planet just like our own - with the exception that there are no humans on it - which kinds of people would you choose, and how many, keeping in mind that you're expected to keep the headcount as low as possible?
There are several angles from which this question can be approached,
with the population genetics viewpoint being perhaps amongst the less
obvious. One would like to select a group harboring as much genetic
diversity within its ranks as possible, with as high an effective
population size as possible, and with these two considerations in mind,
the population, which would at the very least be on the order of 100 breeding individuals to be viable in the long term, would have to be mostly composed of Africans (or African-Americans)
of reproductive age, with the women amongst them being barely
postpubertal, to maximize their potential childbearing years; at most 20 or 30 of the population could be of European or Asian extraction. To keep the effective population size as high as possible, the breeding system would have to be monogamous, with one male for every female, and all members of both sexes would have to be strictly heterosexual. There would have to be rigorous vetting to ensure that no one was carrying any of a long list of heritable disorders, including colorblindness, hemophilia, Huntington's disease, hereditary hemochromatosis and so forth.
Another angle from which the exercise could be tackled would be to look at what skills would be most crucial not just to the survival of our founder population, but also to enabling them to maintain as much of the technological sophistication we presently have in the new setting in which they'd be placed. Naturally, the presence of at least one medical doctor would be required, with 3 or 4 being a more realistic minimum, and there would also be a pressing need for chemists, particularly industrial chemists and biochemists. At least one botanist and one zoologist would be needed, with the main role they'd play being to deal with the mundane topics of food growing and gathering. 1 or 2 physicists would also be needed, as knowledge of optics, mechanics and electromagnetism would be crucial to ensuring that the other workers continue to be able to do their jobs. Another key position to be filled would be that of a metallurgist, as steel and other metals continue to be a linchpin of modern society, even if the excitement is now elsewhere. A mechanical engineer would also be useful to have around, but in a pinch the physicists could be pressed into service to play this role.
Perhaps what is most noteworthy about the preceding paragraph is that there are several popular occupations which would not be selected for in this new settlement, not due to their lack of importance in the current world, but because they simply aren't as crucial to the survival of technological knowledge, which in the end is what is most precious in humanity's intellectual heritage. Full-time philosophers, musicians, poets, artists, lawyers, teachers* and the like would have to come from the generations succeeding the founding one, as the assumption is that headcount constraints wouldn't apply to them. Even computer scientists, who are regarded as critical to our modern world, would be of doubtful value in a settlement in which semiconductor manufacture would almost certainly be out of the question, so being excluded from the critical list isn't the slight some might imagine it to be.
As I've said, there are many approaches one could take to this question, and the above are just the ones I currently have the time to write about. I can't believe that I'm alone in having thought about this challenge, though, and I expect strategists planning for nuclear war would have thought related issues to death by now; given the ability to save, say, only 300 people, I doubt the folks at the RAND Institute would have trouble deciding who needed to be picked - and politicians would not be on the list.
*Yes, I do mean generic schoolteachers, as opposed to the physicists, chemists, biologists, etc, taking time out of their schedules to act as teachers to the young. The ability to teach is not bestowed by going to a graduate teacher program, and any scientific researcher attached to a university will do his/her fair share of teaching as part of the job. Parents can always teach their own children how to read.