NSF FUD*

* Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

Strictly speaking FUD is a management technique. Whereas with mushroom management you keep people in the dark and pour shit on them, with FUD you give them lots of information, but make sure half of it is misleading, and that staff are maintained in a state of fear. The executioner can always be glimpsed just over your shoulder. However, FUD is also a good description of the state of confusion and division created by the cost-cutting strategic reviews which we we all know and love.

A US colleague tells me that NSF must be either less panicky or dopier than NASA. Whereas the NASA side of the the decadal review fell apart within weeks (“WFIRST ? You made that up right ? Yeah, right, maybe 2025”), its taken NSF nine months to start backtracking. According to this Nature News blog post  Jim Ulvestad told the Town Meeting at the AAS that they are setting up a “portfolio review panel” to decide what to cut. They have capital issues – they promised to build LSST, and to cough up 25% of either TMT or GMT – but their real problem is operations, including LSST downstream of course. There will be no money left for grants. Sound familiar ?

I am sure such a panel will look at salami slicing – NOAO trimming, bare-bones style Gemini etc – but they may have to take a deep breath and think about closing something. Mesdames et Messieurs, faites vos jeux.

8 Responses to NSF FUD*

  1. NASA says:

    The joke doing the rounds at AAS is that WFIRST stands for something like ‘What the Flip Is Ridiculous Space Telescope?’. I’m sure other acronyms can be altered suitably.

  2. MikeW says:

    When I first got involved in ESA projects and committees, my late colleague Martin Turner explained that ESA was easy to understand provided you remembered that it was run on a “fear and loathing” basis. Some sort of variant on FUD perhaps.

    • Mark McCaughrean says:

      Err, not that I’m necessarily disagreeing, Mike, but in this picture who is supposed fear who, and who loathes who? 🙂

      • Michael Merrifield says:

        Fear that the ESA subscription is going to eat the entire science budget, and loathing of the reality that most governments ultimately only fund it to subsidize their aerospace industries in a way that would be forbidden by international trade law if not protected by treaty?

      • MikeW says:

        This description was meant to describe how ESA worked internally as an agency. So I suppose it would reflect internal staff relationships. Exaggerated I’m sure. On a more positive note, Martin often remarked that he thought it was a triumph of international cooperation that ESA actually worked so well and got things done. I think I agree.

      • Mark McCaughrean says:

        Mike M’s answer was a little too pat for my tastes, although I know that he knows only too well why the ESA subscription has gone up over the past decade, and it has precious little to do with the science budget.

        As for the bit about subsidising aerospace industries, well, there is a treaty, so that’s how it is. Plus, taking Mike W’s point, it does end up in space science missions being flown, and there’s no guarantee it’d happen otherwise, or result in a penny more for ground-based astronomy or grants.

        And as for fear-and-loathing within ESA, well, I’m not sure this is really the place for me to comment, is it … 🙂

  3. Martin E. says:

    NSF probably took longer to react because they didn’t have someone in charge of astronomy after Wayne van Citters left, until Jim Ulvestad came in recently.
    It’s strange though that the Decadal didn’t consider running costs, as they had a crisis over that in 2008, and a Senior Review, chaired by none other than Roger Blandford, recommended cuts of the salami slicing kind.

  4. andyxl says:

    There is now an article in Scientific American on this topic plus NASA problems.

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