- June 27, 2022
NASA Makes Its Science Harder To Find Than It Should Be
Keith’s note: When you think of NASA you think of science. That is because NASA wants you to think that. And since there is a lot of science at NASA, this is rather easy to do. Indeed, many times the people or organizations tasked with getting the science out via education and outreach at NASA are not very good at doing so. But the science is so compelling that it gets out despite attempts to trip it up. And when excellence in communication is coupled with the compelling science the world often stops what it is doing to take a look.
Let’s pretend for a moment that we are not NASA employees, space fans, or people familiar with how NASA is organized. Let’s just think like regular people who want to understand the science that NASA is always talking about. Maybe you are a student. Perhaps a parent. Or maybe just someone who is curious.
As a regular person you’d think that NASA would position its social and online media assets – the most extensive of any government agency on Earth – to best guide you to all the agency’s science. Google “NASA Science” and you see a page of links that all refer to the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) – the top one being science.nasa.gov – the SMD home page. This is good. And it is also not so good. At NASA “Science” and “science” are not the same thing.
The Big ‘S’ science is the name of a part of NASA. Science with a little ‘s’ is what tens of thousands of NASA and NASA-funded people do in innumerable places. While some attempt has been made to move science into Science (SMD) there is still a lot of science done in other places that are not part of SMD. So, if you go to the Google search results you land in a place that is not going to tell you about much biomedical science, computer science, materials science, and other science.
If you go to NASA.gov none of the top menu options say “science” (big or little ‘s’). And if you type “science” in the NASA search engine you get 76,682 search results with “Planet 9“?” as the top search result (screen grab). No mention is made in the search results of the Science Mission Directorate. Nor is any high level index of all of NASA’s science available. The search results do send you to science pages but they are small pieces of what NASA does. There is no simple science index for NASA – at NASA. But try and explain that to people at NASA – who do science.
So … if you are a citizen or a student looking to understand why NASA is always talking about science, search results will leave you somewhat confused and make you dig harder than you should need to dig in order to find out what science NASA does, why it does it, and where it does it. You’d think that would be a logical thing for NASA to do – but thanks to stove pipes, budget demarcations, decades of Byzantine management philosophies, and internal fiefdoms, NASA rarely thinks and acts as a cohesive whole.
The Biden Administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy – where the President gets his science advice – puts out tweets with the #ScienceIsBack hashtag. Isn’t it about time for NASA to take this whole science thing seriously and do so in a way such that it becomes easier for people to find NASA science such that NASA science can shine more brightly than ever before?