Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Chaining the Spirit of Enquiry

How does this make sense?

NASA's budget cuts:
  • Keep the shuttle flying
  • Cancel Europa mission
  • Cancel Starfinder telescope
I could rant on (and I'm going to in a minute). First, though, you can see more reasoned objections by the Planetary Society's Louis Friedman.
OK. Now it's my turn!
It was an Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the Italian population. This observation was later later enshrined as the 'Pareto Principle', and is a very simple but effective tool for detecting where most costs are incurred and, therefore, where the most effective cost reductions can be made.

  • Most of the budget is allocated to the shuttle program
  • Some of the budget is allocated to the ISS program
  • A little of the budget is allocated to the Space Exploration program

Where would you apply cuts if you wanted to save money? An economist like Pareto would have wept at the cuts that are actually being considered.

Now consider:
  • Most returns come from the Space Exploration program
  • Some returns come from the ISS program
  • Almost no returns come from the shuttle program
Where would you apply cuts if you wanted to kill off the spirit of enquiry?
Now does it make sense? It isn't really about Pareto and good budgetting, is it?
But, why would you *want* to kill off the spirit of enquiry?
Don't ask me: I certainly wouldn't!
Better ask George Deutch, who insisted that all references to the Big Bang be accompanied by the word 'theory', and who tried to block media access to NASA scientists who were too outspoken on climate change.

Better ask his patrons, who placed him as NASA Press officer without any credentials.

Better ask the right wing religious zealots who would probably find the prospect of life on Europa a little difficult to explain in terms that the bible of choice can encompass.

Watched/read the latest Harry Potter film? Do you recall the bit where, having cut off his hand to resurrect Voldemort, Pettigrew is so slavishly grateful when his master offhandedly grants him a new one?
"And it came to pass that the world changed, and the minds of men grew strange and wayward,
No more did they look into the evening heavens, and wonder.
Instead they came to shun the night, and grew fearful of it.

So it was that, forgetting what they knew, the people populated the void with dragons,
And called upon their gods for salvation from what lay outside the flickering lights of their hearth fires.
And the priests of these gods looked upon their work, and saw that it was good."
The good news is that the vast majority of humanity don't have the same mindset as Deutsch and his patrons.

The war on tyranny will be won.


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