NASA's Science Mission Directorate Has An Issue With Certain Words

Keith's note: I sent this media request to a list of people at NASA SMD, GSFC, and JPL: "I have a question. Why does this NASA GSFC authored story "How Earth Climate Models Can Help Scientists Search for Life on Other Planets" - posted on 24 January 2020 - on a JPL we site at - and funded by the NASA HQ Science Mission Directorate Astrophysics Division - never use the word "astrobiology"? The story is dripping with Astrobiology themes - things funded by NASA as part of its Astrobiology program?

While I have your attention, why doesn't the JPL Mars 2020 website mention "astrobiology" - the mission is dedicated to searching for life which is what the whole Astrobiology thing is all about. And then there is "NASA's Webb Will Seek Atmospheres around Potentially Habitable Exoplanets" which only has "astrobiology" as a tag at the bottom of the page - but no mention is made in the article itself which, again, is clearly an astrobiology-themed topic. I'd like an answer. Seriously. This is a formal media request."

I doubt I will get much in the way of a meaningful response from anyone at NASA since the answer is somewhat embarrassing. It is beyond baffling how one part of NASA can write about research that is at the heart of a formal NASA program and yet not even mention the name of the discipline. I know the answer - unofficially. According to people at JPL and GSFC "astrobiology is an Ames word" so they are discouraged from using it. Also, conversely, since some of the work mentioned in articles like this, may not be technically funded by NASA's Astrobiology program, the Astrobiology people get angry if you use their main word to describe something funded (and selected) by someone else. And NASA Headquarters has never been in position wherein they can get all of the agency's field centers to cooperate on something simple like this. Go look at the JPL Mars 2020 website - this is another example of a mission dedicated to core Astrobiology themes - yet the word "astrobiology" appears nowhere on the website either.

Yes, I write about this a lot. I do so because this just plain stupid - and counter productive. It is like not being able to use the word "microbiology" if your program plan does not have a funded item with that word in it. If NASA cannot use simple, commonly accepted words and frames of reference to describe what it is doing, then how can the agency expect people outside of their stove-piped bubble to truly understand what they are doing - and how inherently multi-disciplinary and geographically distributed that research is.

Ironically, one of the research topics mentioned in the article "How Earth Climate Models Can Help Scientists Search for Life on Other Planets" involves the habitability of Proxima Centauri B - the authors published this paper "Habitable climate scenarios for Proxima Centauri b with a dynamic ocean" which was published in a journal called - you guessed it "Astrobiology". The paper itself overtly notes "This work was supported by the NASA Astrobiology Program through collaborations arising from our participation in the Nexus for Exoplanet System Science, and by the NASA Planetary Atmospheres Program." Clearly the authors saw the relevance of their research to the discipline of Astrobiology - since NASA's Astrobiology program funded their research - yet the article by their PAO staff can't be bothered to even mention that fact or refer to "astrobiology".

- More NASA Astrobiology News That Ignores NASA's Astrobiology Program, earlier post
- NASA's Big Astrobiology Mission To Europa Makes No Mention Of Astrobiology, earlier post
- NASA Makes Big Astrobiology Mission Announcement Without Saying "Astrobiology", earlier post
- NASA Leads The World In Astrobiology. Wow, Who Knew?, earlier post
- NASA Can't Figure Out What Astrobiology Is - Or Who Does It, earlier post
- NASA Is Incapable Of Explaining How It Does Astrobiology, earlier post
- NASA's Astrobiology Program Works Hard To Ignore Itself, earlier post
- NASA's Astrobiology Programs Ignore One Another, earlier post
- NASA Leads In Astrobiology. It Needs To Act That Way., earlier post

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on February 18, 2020 9:26 PM.

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