Somewhere there was a pot of money set aside to promote “Collaborative Earth System Science Research” between NASA/Goddard and University of Maryland – College Park. Okay, no big deal, you could argue it’s in NASA’s charter to promote science education, and funding various studies at nearby universities is not uncommon. I’ve collaborated with at least eight universities and helped with at least one Ph.D. and two master’s degrees. (Which is pretty funny considering I just have a lowly bachelor’s.) This one was a little incestuous in that the professor they were steering money to was a former Goddard employee.
The fecal matter hitting the fan happened when a doomsayer who blogs at The Guardian picked up a paper that used the Human And Nature DYnamical (HANDY) climate model to predict the end of civilization. Yay.
Keith Kloor at Discover has a magnificent two-part takedown of both the blog entry and the paper. He talked to Joseph Tainter, a professor of anthropology at Utah State University, who seems annoyed that they repeatedly cite his work without understanding it. Best quote:
The paper has many flaws. The first is that “collapse” is not defined, and the examples given conflate different processes and outcomes. Thus the authors are not even clear what topic they are addressing.
Collapses have occurred among both hierarchical and non-hierarchical societies, and the authors even discuss the latter (although without understanding the implications for their thesis). Thus, although the authors purport to offer a universal model of collapse (involving elite consumption), their own discussion undercuts that argument.
Contrary to the authors’ unsubstantiated assertion, there is no evidence that elite consumption caused ancient societies to collapse. The authors simply have no empirical basis for this assumption, and that point alone undercuts most of the paper. (emphasis by Kloor)
In my view, this is right up there with all the global warming b.s. that Goddard folks are peddling in order to make $$$ on the speakers’ circuit. However, the fallout from this was a little different. Working for NASA, I should be used to the black eyes. From the engineering failures of Challenger and Columbia to the fiascos of Muslim outreach and “we’re not going lead a human lunar mission”, I really should be able to roll with the punches. This is GSA, not NASA.
But because I am a public servant, I get lumped in with them anyway.
I get up in the morning and go to work. I’m not this guy.
But I’m still seen as the same level of moocher, another pig sucking on the government teat. That really pisses me off, mainly because there *are* people I know that are taking up space and oxygen that are just about as useful as Surfer Dude, and I can’t do anything about that. All I can do is do my job well and help research like this (one example of many) happen:
We are flying 100 proteins to the space station on SpaceX-3, currently scheduled for March (ed note: April) 2014. Twenty-two of these are membrane proteins, 12 are protein complexes, and the rest are aqueous proteins important for the biology we will learn from their structures. The associated disease was the last thing we considered, as we were looking at the bigger picture of the biology. That being said, for the upcoming proteins flying you can almost name a disease: cystic fibrosis, diabetes; several types of cancer, including colon and prostate; many antibacterial proteins; antifungals; etc.
NASA needs to stick with aeronautics and space, just like it says in their name, and leave the doomsaying to those who don’t look up.