More Confusing Slides From SMD

Keith's note: Earlier today I featured a silly slide shown by NASA Astrophysics Division Director Paul Hertz to the Astro2020 Decadal Survey Committee Meeting at the National Academy of Science (Mocking Cost Overruns And Schedule Slips At NASA (Update)). If you download his entire presentation (link) you will see that there several slides which serve one purpose: to confuse anyone who tries to understand what they are trying to say.

In this slide (larger). Hertz says NASA is "not a science agency". Then he says that what "NASA is a mission-oriented agency, and science is the purpose and consequence of our space missions". So Science is what NASA does. And NASA is an agency - in this case an agency that does science. So why is NASA not a "science agency"? There is a distinction lacking a difference at work here.

"Science" is mentioned multiple times in the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, As Amended. Hertz quotes this Act by saying "... carrying instruments and humans through space" when in fact neither the original or amended version of the Act uses these words. Instead they both say "living organisms through space". Hertz is trying to spin the language and intent of NASA's charter to say NASA does not do science - at a workshop where the next decade of space science is being planned. In the process he seems to have confused himself. I can only guess that Hertz changed "living organisms" to "humans" to try and make NASA sound more operational and less scientific.

And then he includes a chart (larger) about "NASA Principles of Science" even though he claims NASA is not a science agency. My brain hurts.

Then there's this confusing chart (larger) about why flagship missions cost so much. It seems to be saying that if NASA waited longer it would cost more to build things. But that we can now build better things for less money. Hertz then says "we started Webb in 2007, it will cost $8.8 billion and it has ~10x the collection area of Hubble". OK, so it will be a cool telescope - but what was the original cost of Webb supposed to be? $824.8 million was the advertised sticker price in 2002. By 2010 it had increased to $6.8 billion. But Hertz mentions none of this because the real villan is "the tyranny of inflation" according to the title on this chart. No it wasn't. Webb's obscene cost increase is not due to inflation - it is due to the fact that NASA did not know what it would cost when it started and then went on to mismanage the project for a decade - leading to delays and cost increases.

I think most people involved in the Decadal review see through Hertz's confusing charts. He has been doing this for a long time. That said, at a time when budgets are ever tighter - especially for science - you would hope that the government representatives from agencies who want to spend billions on science could at least use plain language to make their points.

Just sayin'

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on July 18, 2019 11:11 PM.

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