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End of a Scientific Legend?

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the past-its-prime dept.

243

pacopico writes to mention the sorry state of the well-known Los Alamos National Laboratory. Sixty years ago, it was at the forefront of the race for the Atomic bomb. Nowadays, "smugness can breed complacency, and complacency carelessness. In recent years the laboratory has been in the news not for its successes but its failures.The result is a change of management, which the story goes on to discuss in great detail. It begs the question - can Los Alamos hang on as a prestigious place or is it too late for the supercomputing powerhouse and weapons lab?"

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243 comments

Nothing? (3, Funny)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544151)

Nothing for you to see here. Please move along.

      It's nice to see that their secrecy is still in effect.

WON'T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE NUCLEAR WEAPONS??? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15544169)

n/t

It didn't jump; it was pushed (5, Insightful)

RobertB-DC (622190) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544180)

Just last Monday, NPR's Fresh Air [npr.org] program featured investigative reporter Sharon Weinberger, who has just written a book titled Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon's Scientific Underworld. In the interview, Weinberger breaks down how the US Military has gone from bad to worse in terms of science, rejecting even its own internal peer-review system (including the JASONs [wikipedia.org] ) in favor of administration-pleasing junk science and "imaginary weapons".

Of course, the problem isn't new -- she points out in the interview that the Clinton administration was just as quick as anyone else to slam the door on global warming results that didn't match their polices. And in fact, the first two-thirds of the interview are studiously neutral in tone. But by the end, after host Terri Gross and Weinberger have laid the factual foundation, the Bush administration comes out looking pretty pathetic. With the current administration's secrecy, paranoia (the Wen Ho Lee [wikipedia.org] fiasco at Los Alamos gets particular attention), and general disregard for the scientific method, it's pretty clear that if Los Alamos falls, it didn't jump -- it was pushed.

Re:It didn't jump; it was pushed (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15544258)

With the current administration's secrecy, paranoia (the Wen Ho Lee [wikipedia.org] fiasco at Los Alamos gets particular attention), and general disregard for the scientific method, it's pretty clear that if Los Alamos falls, it didn't jump -- it was pushed.

From the Wikipedia article you link to:

"Lee was arrested in December 1999 and held without bail in solitary confinement for 278 days until September 13, 2000, when he accepted a plea bargain from the federal government." (bold added)

I blame Bush!

Re:It didn't jump; it was pushed (2, Interesting)

Bob Uhl (30977) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544413)

How does Wen Ho Lee say anything about Bush? He was an issue in 1996, under Clinton.

Re:It didn't jump; it was pushed (3, Funny)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544514)

How does Wen Ho Lee say anything about Bush? He was an issue in 1996, under Clinton.
It doesn't, but why let facts stand in the way of a little Bush-bashing?

Re:It didn't jump; it was pushed (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15544590)

It is important to remember that the government doesn't fund science because they like science (they don't). They fund it because it is submersible pork. If a politician gets on a podium and says: "we need to invest more money to make sure that our nation is the scientific leader of the world," who is going to oppose him or her? Additionally, other politicians look like jackasses when they oppose scientific spending: "so you don't care about America's future, eh?"

It is the same with military spending. But it should also be noted that submersible pork is also difficult to control. How does a scientifically illiterate Congress provide oversight for a complex, and perhaps obscure scientific or military program? They don't. They just assume that the scientists or generals are being honest with them.

This has lead to the current system in science where grants are given because of what scientists 'hope' to acheive. A scientist who is completely honest (and who rightly says "I don't know") will always lose grants because a scientifically illiterate Congress (and federal agencies with the same mindset) don't care for 'boring' research. Again, the same has occurred for military programs as well (which is why we have so many neat, but useless toys).

All of this has had the net effect of undermining the integrity of both the scientific and military research establishments. Hence, Los Alamos. And you are right, it wasn't started by President Bush. It was probably started around the time of FDR (when the pork industry really actually became an industry).

Re:It didn't jump; it was pushed (2, Interesting)

FatMacDaddy (878246) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544627)

I don't recall any exactly when, but I remember shortly after GWB came into office there were rumblings that one of his priorities was to move oversight of the labs from UC Berkeley (blue-state lefties) to the University of Texas. I didn't think about it much at the time, but there then followed a series of sensational articles about misplaced laptops, missing hard drives, and so forth. Like the Win Ho Li (sp?) episode, a lot of this turned out to be much ado about nothing, but the final findings got much less press than the accusations. The final result was that UC Berkeley remained, but shares its role with a private corporation (Bechtel).

Anyone else remember anything along these lines?

Re:It didn't jump; it was pushed (5, Informative)

jd (1658) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544654)

The Wen Ho Lee fiasco was stupid, bt (sadly) can be blamed on the Clinton administration. Ultimately, paranoia (regardless of which party is being paranoid) is going to produce stupid, if not insane, consequences.


Los Alamos did an excellent job with LAMPI (their high-performance, highly reliable MPI implementation) and are doing OK with OpenMPI (the multi-vendor replacement), but let's face it, MPI is hardly on the same level as other products they've worked on. I was fairly impressed by their demo of high-performance collective operations at SC|05, but again this is where the LOW-END of an organization like Los Alamos needs to be. The high-end should be solving stuff the rest of humanity hasn't even realized IS a problem.

Still prestigious... (4, Informative)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544186)

... and very well known for doing some very good, advanced scientific work, NOT just for making, designing, or computer-modeling nuclear weapons. It's amazing how many other things they do (and I might, too, as a post-doc. I have an interest, therefore, in keeping Los Alamos around and doing good work in important, but maybe less--ahem--explosive areas).

Re:Still prestigious... (1)

LotsOfPhil (982823) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544247)

I agree with the person who wrote the above. Los Alamos can't be as atomic-weapon-centric as it was during WWII. The research/science being done there is still top notch, just in different fields. As the article says: "For years, weapons were their sole mission. Then the cold war ended and they had to find other things to do, as well."

Re:Still prestigious... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15545199)

"The high-end should be solving stuff the rest of humanity hasn't even realized IS a problem."

Like 'How can I get hold of five acres of good land with water in Chimayo?'

begs the question? (5, Insightful)

John Harrison (223649) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544215)

It does not beg the question. It raises the question. Begging the question is something else entirely and if you aren't 100% sure that you know exactly what it means you should probably never use the term.

Re:begs the question? (4, Interesting)

Umbral Blot (737704) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544363)

I am probably one of the few people left who agrees with you, and this raises the question: isn't the meaning of a phrase determined in large part by its usage. If the majority of people use "beg the question" to mean "raise the question" then who are we to say it doesn't mean that. We don't need the phrase "it begs the question" anyways; you can always say "the argument is circular".

Re:begs the question? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15544479)

Improper usage as a result of ignorance shouldn't determine the meaning of a word or phrase. However, struggling to teach proper usage to the masses is probably hopeless. They can't even figure out simple distinctions such as your/you're or there/their/they're.

Re:begs the question? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15544779)

And that is an elitest view. I'll make you a bet. I'll bet you that 200 years from now "begging the question" will have the meaning that was determined by common usage, not today's definition of correct usage. In fact, using the term "begs the question" by today's correct usage will be considered *incorrect*.

*NOTE: posted as an AC because it is a class C felony in the State of Washington to gamble or even provide gambling 'information' over the Internet.*

Re:begs the question? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15544845)

However, struggling to teach proper usage to the masses is probably hopeless. They can't even figure out simple distinctions such as your/you're or there/their/they're.


And you probably can't even work a highschool level single variable calculus equation, let alone write a decent proof. So why don't you kick back, and have a nice warm cup of STFU.

Re:begs the question? (1)

SEAL (88488) | more than 7 years ago | (#15545131)

And you probably can't even work a highschool level single variable calculus equation, let alone write a decent proof. So why don't you kick back, and have a nice warm cup of STFU.

I always enjoy seeing such a miserable attempt at a flame, especially when it is completely incorrect. Congratulations - you succeeded in getting me to log in. If you're from the USA, I'd like to thank you for using your tax dollars to pay for my undergraduate engineering degree.

Re:begs the question? (3, Funny)

script_daddy (846338) | more than 7 years ago | (#15545039)

I am probably one of the few people left who agrees with you, and this raises the question: isn't the meaning of a phrase determined in large part by its usage. If the majority of people use "beg the question" to mean "raise the question" then who are we to say it doesn't mean that. We don't need the phrase "it begs the question" anyways; you can always say "the argument is circular".

Your post begs a couple of question-marks..

Re:begs the question? (1)

germansausage (682057) | more than 7 years ago | (#15545086)

Our happy little industry prides itself on knowledge and intellectual skills. If I say that the Intelifrotz 4080 CPU came out in 1980 with 123,000 transistors, and I'm wrong, one thousand smugly knowledgable /.ers will write in and say "You witless noobzor, the IF4800 was demo-ed in '79 and it actually had 122,975 transistors". Why is correcting someone's hideous grammar or usage any different?

If you can master C++ or Java or Ruby on Rollerskates, why can't you master English.

Re:begs the question? (1)

spun (1352) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544471)

Sadly, this has become the common useage. The phrase originally refered to a fallacy of deductive reasoning very similar to a circular argument but occuring within one syllogism. Basically, the proposition is used to prove itself. Example of begging the question: Paul never lies when he speaks. Paul speaks. Therefore, Paul is telling the truth. It is not a logical fallacy, as the logic is correct. It is classified as a material fallacy.

Now it also means raising the question, because meaning follows useage in language, and that is the common useage. People have faught unsuccessfully against that useage for decades, anyone who keeps fighting is like that Japanese soldier who never realized the war was over and kept fighting for thirty years. Yes, we get it, you know logic. Now give it a rest.

Re:begs the question? (1)

blackest_k (761565) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544661)

http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-beg1.htm [worldwidewords.org]

explains this quite well however the final paragraph from this page state's (refering to raising the question = begging the question)

"The meaning you give is the newest. It is gaining ground, and one or two recent dictionaries claim that it is now acceptable--the New Oxford Dictionary of English, for example, says it is "widely accepted in modern standard English". I wouldn't go so far myself. Because of possible confusion over what you actually mean, and inevitable condemnation from people who have taken the trouble to find out what it once did mean, it's better avoided altogether."

I would have to agree if you mean "raising the question" then in an international forum its better to use plain English.

on a slightly more off topic note would the original poster care to state his or her prefered programing language.

Re:begs the question? (4, Informative)

Jhon (241832) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544539)

Well, the New Oxford Dictionary of English says it's "widely accepted in modern standard English" to be used as "raising the question".

See, we speak English. It's a rapidly evolving living language. Word usage has changed enormously over the centuries. If you want to use words that don't change their meaning, try latin. Here's a phrase for you in particular: "Cuiusvis hominis est errare, nullius nisi insipientis in errore perseverare" [slashdot.org]

Unless you aren't 100% that you know exactly what you are talking about you should probably never speak.

Then again, there is a side to every issue. As a one-time Phil major, I don't like the new usage. I just dont try to clobber my linquistic preferences over the heads of others. Your comment to the GP was way out of line.

Re:begs the question? (4, Insightful)

egomaniac (105476) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544575)

It does not beg the question. It raises the question. Begging the question is something else entirely and if you aren't 100% sure that you know exactly what it means you should probably never use the term.

You are, of course, incorrect. "Begs the question" used to refer to a specific kind of logical fallacy. But the usage of this idiom has changed, and it is now a synonym for "raises the question", which can also in some (very rare) contexts refer to a specific kind of logical fallacy.

Arguing that you are right and common usage is wrong is like arguing that LASER, RADAR, and SCUBA should be written in all caps (they're acronyms, after all!), "e-mail" should be hyphenated, and a "computer" is a person who performs calculations by hand. The usage of these words, along with the phrase "begs the question", have changed, and it's time to accept that and move on. You might as well argue that we should all go back to speaking Old English -- it's simply not going to happen.

Re:begs the question? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15544734)

Idiom nazi nazi, anyone?

Is all common usage ok? (1)

bigtrike (904535) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544948)

So is it ok then to use your and you're interchangeably, use an apostrophe for plurality, confuse loose and lose, among other things?

Re:Is all common usage ok? (1)

Jhon (241832) | more than 7 years ago | (#15545102)

Um. Those are errors in grammar. Maybe not 'loose/lose', but certainly the others. An entirely different class of animal. Rules of grammar take much longer to change/evolve.

Loose/Lose? Spelling mistakes. Again, a different class of animal -- and they take longer to change/evolve.

So is it OK? Certainly not.

"above" used to mean "better".
"sad" used to mean "serious".
"anon" used to mean "NOW".
"male" used to be a "bag".
"heed" used to mean "head".
"toon" used to mean "toes".
"wood" used to mean "crazy".
"moot" meant "must".

So -- what? We should do what? Words and phrases change over time in english. Get used to it.

Re:begs the question? (1, Insightful)

LordLucless (582312) | more than 7 years ago | (#15545006)

Oh great, another one of you "living language" morons, who try and use the evolution of language as an excuse for illiteracy and general laziness. Just because a handful of idiots don't know how to use a phrase properly doesn't mean it has "evolved" into a new meaning. It just means there are lots of pretentious idiots. If "begging the question" had really changed its meaning into a synonym of "raising the question", then there wouldn't be any argument about it; it would have general acceptance. By the way, all the examples you list are changes in grammar, not changes in meaning, and are therefore not applicable to the alleged change in meaning of "begging the question".

Re:begs the question? (2, Interesting)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 7 years ago | (#15545065)

Just because a handful of idiots don't know how to use a phrase properly doesn't mean it has "evolved" into a new meaning.

I always find it funny when people try to insist that they're right, and everyone else is wrong.

Like it or not, languages DO evolve. Not always in a rational way, and not always to your liking. In fact, more often than not languages evolve trough misuse rather than through a logical progression. You could argue that this sort of change is not "evolution" but rather a degradation of the language, and you'd be absolutely correct, but it wouldn't change the fact that when 90% of the population accepts a certain change, the language WILL change regaurdless of how you personaly feel about it.

Re:begs the question? (1)

tyler_larson (558763) | more than 7 years ago | (#15545175)

Arguing that you are right and common usage is wrong is like arguing that LASER, RADAR, and SCUBA should be written in all caps (they're acronyms, after all!), "e-mail" should be hyphenated, and a "computer" is a person who performs calculations by hand. The usage of these words, along with the phrase "begs the question", have changed, and it's time to accept that and move on. You might as well argue that we should all go back to speaking Old English -- it's simply not going to happen.

Well, I guess that settles it then. We're moving on. And since we're on the subject, "its" and "it's" are now interchangeable, "ur" is now a legitimate spelling of "your" (or "you're", since they're interchangeable as well), and "nucluler" is now a real word.

It must be correct because people use it, right? The rest of you fuddy-duddies are just hanging on to a dead language.

Joking aside, there has always been a correctness distinction between formal and informal language. If something is understandable, it is, for all intents and purposes (intensive purposes), correct for informal communication. Language is about being understood, and if you accomplish that goal, then you've correctly used the language.

However, in formal communication (that is, anywhere that it is important that you don't sound like a common dolt), a totally different set of rules apply. In this world, spelling, punctuation, capitalization (yes, even for words like SCUBA), and correct idiom usage matter. In this area, your goal is to not only communicate, but also sound intelligent.

Until your language feature has been codified by the academic institutions that be (e.g. makes its way into the OED), you're best off assuming that it is improper for formal communication. "Begging the question" has always been, and still remains, only properly used when referring to the politician's favorite fallacy. You can use it to mean whatever you want as long as you're understood. But if you want to sound intelligent, it's best to stick to the rules.

Re:begs the question? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15545304)

So... if enough people call you "asshole", it becomes "common usage" and the name sticks to you.

Unfortunately, most of "common usage" has come about because of the ignorance of the users. So, basically, the language is eroding to fit the ignorant.

Re:begs the question? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15544765)

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Begs the question != begs for the question.

Yoda sez (5, Funny)

ch-chuck (9622) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544217)

smugness can breed complacency, complacency leads to carelessness. Carelessness leads to ... suffering

Excuse me? (2, Informative)

tetrahedrassface (675645) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544241)

Failures? They still do some pretty amazing things.. In fact..

Currently they are building a whole new generation of supercomputing. based on plan 9.

And its not meant to be funny.. Its the truth. When some in the community questioned v9fx support in the linux kernel as not justified due to few users the folks at Los Alamos told them as much.

Next generation folks. LANL. ORNL, it doesn't matter..

Stuff gets done. :)

Re:Excuse me? (2, Informative)

jd (1658) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544797)

I suspect you are correct. The interesting work there now seems to be in the supercomputing arena. LAMPI is damn good, for example, and they're a key player in the OpenMPI consortium. My biggest problem is that their work seems... limited. Not limited as in value (it's enormously valuable), but limited in the sense that the scope of the field of enquiry is gigantic, but the work they're putting in is barely scratching the surface. They need to do more - a LOT more. We're talking ten to a hundred times the output, superior quality control, better documentation on what they are doing, better interaction with those Open Source communities they are working with, etc.


V9FS is great, etc. But it's unicast. So is Lustre (a ClusterFS product) and OpenMOSIX. How are you supposed to share files or resources in a scalable fashion using a method that worsens exponentially? It seems obvious to me that if you want REALLY big clusters, with heavy-duty node interaction, we need to be using better protocols than the cheap and easy ones.


(Multicasting is normally an "unreliable" protocol, but the NRL - Naval Research Labs - have produced a nice library called NORM which gives you highly scalable reliable multicast. It wouldn't be easy to move NORM into the kernel, but it's an obvious thing to do to maximize scalability. Once you can spawn a totally arbritary number of threads simultaneously over any number of nodes you care to name with ZERO added latency, and provide those nodes with ZERO overhead RDMA and DSM, then you'll have a supercomputer that won't care if you have a two node cluster or two million nodes. It'll work just fine.)

Re:Excuse me? (1)

_Quinn (44979) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544974)

They're using unicast because of the hardware. I was just talking with Ron Minnich, from LANL, and in their tests, it was faster to do ad-hoc unicast trees than multicast in clusters with more than (IIRC) 128 nodes. I don't know if v9fs in particular uses ad-hoc unicast trees, but you don't need to have a global view of the machine at every node -- just at the control node, which reduces the cost to O(n).

Argonne and Fermilab (2, Insightful)

stox (131684) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544257)

Both Argonne and Fermilab may soon be going under a similar change in management.

Re:Argonne and Fermilab (1)

Gromius (677157) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544917)

But isnt fermilab doing really well at the moment? Tevatrons running well, CDF and D0 are getting good results out (Bs mixing for one). Minos got a nice neutrino mixing result recently. More good physics is on the way, got a real shot at the Higgs before the LHC. Why is a change in management required?

Beg your pardon? (-1, Offtopic)

rumblin'rabbit (711865) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544264)

It begs the question - can Los Alamos hang on as a prestigious place or is it too late for the supercomputing powerhouse and weapons lab?"
The traditional, and in my view the proper, meaning of "to beg the question" is "to assume the very thing that's in contention" - that is to say, to use circular logic. It does (or at least did) not mean "to compel one to ask".

I hear even top level news anchors misuse the term. Drives me nuts.

Re:Beg your pardon? (1)

Umbral Blot (737704) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544383)

Ok, I posted this exact same comment above, so don't mod this up: I am one of the few people left who agrees with you, and this raises the question: isn't the meaning of a phrase determined in large part by its usage? If the majority of people use "beg the question" to mean "raise the question" then who are we to say it doesn't mean that. We don't need the phrase "it begs the question" anyways; you can always say "the argument is circular".

Re:Beg your pardon? (2, Funny)

rumblin'rabbit (711865) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544478)

I can prove that the phrase "to beg the question" is beging misued:

1. I only refuse to use those phrases whose usages are incorrect .

2. I refuse to use "to beg the question" in the aforementioned manner.

Therefore:

3. To use "to beg the question" in this manner is incorrect.

Q.E.D. (Latin for "so there")

Re:Beg your pardon? (1)

LordLucless (582312) | more than 7 years ago | (#15545021)

I would mod you up, but for some reason when I view a collapsed comment, there are no mod options there. The new layout is broken, methinks.

Pet peeve: "Beg the question" (-1, Offtopic)

Gregoyle (122532) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544294)

This is slightly OT, but one of my major pet peeves is when people say something "begs the question..." when they mean that it implies a follow-on question.

"Begging the question" is a very simple fallacy made in a debate or discussion. It is when you assume your initial proposition to be true in order to "prove" that proposition. For example, you could say "Only idiots would go to Wal-Mart," and "prove" it by saying "Everyone in Wal-Mart is an idiot". If you expand the concept of this fallacy you can come to the "corellation does not equal causation" problem in modern statistics.

If anyone has better examples I'd love to hear them.

Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beg_the_question [wikipedia.org]

Re:Pet peeve: "Beg the question" (4, Funny)

Lisandro (799651) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544374)

For example, you could say "Only idiots would go to Wal-Mart," and "prove" it by saying "Everyone in Wal-Mart is an idiot".

    Both statements are true. I don't know where you're going with this...

Re:Pet peeve: "Beg the question" (2, Funny)

Itninja (937614) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544407)

How about "no one goes to that resturant because it's always so crowded."
I'll show myself out.

Prescriptive/Descriptive, yes I know (2, Insightful)

Gregoyle (122532) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544443)

Before anyone jumps on the "Descriptive Grammar" wagon; yes, I am very familiar with the descriptive grammar concept in linguistics.

But it is one thing to violate the "don't end sentences with a prepostion" rule, and another thing entirely to take a word or phrase which has a very specific and nuanced meaning and try to make it apply to another situation through simple ignorance.

The best example I can come up with in the computer field is how most knowledgeable people will cringe when someone calls the computer itself the "hard drive" instead of a tower, box, or just "computer". "Hard drive" means something very specific, and calling something else by that name makes it very difficult for people to communicate. Language is an agreement by two people to use the same or at least similar conventions to aid in mutual understanding. People violating those conventions by laziness or ignorance gum up the works for everyone else.

Re:Prescriptive/Descriptive, yes I know (1)

biquet (932262) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544851)

calling something else by that name makes it very difficult for people to communicate... People violating those conventions by laziness or ignorance gum up the works for everyone else.

I agree in principle, but you gotta admit you knew exactly what the author meant when he [mis]used "begs the question." Yes, language wouldn't work if large numbers of words kept changing their meaning arbitrarily every day, but the gradual diffusion of a new usage throughout the popular idiom is hardly going to render us unable to communicate.

Re:Prescriptive/Descriptive, yes I know (1)

qyiet (851101) | more than 7 years ago | (#15545253)

The best example I can come up with in the computer field is how most knowledgeable people will cringe when someone calls the computer itself the "hard drive" instead of a tower, box, or just "computer".

Hard drive? No, the ones that drive me nuts are the ones that refer the computer as "The Modem".

"The Modem makes a a funny noise when it turns on, and nothing comes up on the TV bit"
Qyiet bashs head against the wall,

It's more Management /Researcher IQ divide (4, Interesting)

Banner (17158) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544337)

Remember, several of the labs (and I think Los Alamos falls into this group) are managed by Universities. And I just don't think those university administrators are really equiped to deal with managing a bunch of scientists whose IQ's are often very far above theirs, and who are sometimes willing to break rules and do end runs around them.

The college I went to many of the professors were famous in their fields and the admins were all just typical people. The things the profs would do to them (and while some were funny, some were pretty darn cruel) were often amazing. Yeah you might be a brilliant admin with an IQ of 110 or 120. But that 180 IQ professor is going dazzle you like you've never seen in your life and high end research is not a pursuit for the faint of heart! They're not just smart, they're often tough too!

I've heard some rather shocking stories from friends who work at two of the National labs that seems to bear this theory out.

Re:It's more Management /Researcher IQ divide (1)

Antonymous Flower (848759) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544357)

sounds like story time to me. movie trailers don't even get me this excited. how could you not follow through with the stories?!

Re:It's more Management /Researcher IQ divide (2, Funny)

Banner (17158) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544977)

Because I know they read slashdot and I don't want to get them pissed at me :-)

Would -you- want a genius pissed at -you-?

Re:It's more Management /Researcher IQ divide (5, Interesting)

DingerX (847589) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544463)

Well, not quite.

LANL and LLNL are run by the University of California, but our buddies at Lockheed MArtin have been eyeing their TIAA/CREF funds for a while (corporate spinoff runs the thing, goes bankrupt, raids the pension fund as the US Govt. takes it over).

The real problem isn't Academic Management vs. Scientific Researcher, it's the fact that the labs are funded by the Department of Energy. And the Secretary of Energy is a Cabinet-level appointment. Since about the mid-80s, the Secretary of Energy has been open season for the opposition party. The National Labs are big, and mission-critical to the US.

So the Democrats hit them for environmental issues -- even though, environmentally, the labs are not only excellent (LLNL was a Superfund site because of the paint remover used when it was a Naval Training Base), they're doing some of the most important research on the future of our planet.

Then, when Slick Willy is in power, the Republicans hit them for "security" breaches -- even though, security wise, the place is locked down, and foreign intelligence agencies (as well as the relevant congressional committees) already know that "industry partners" are the weak link.

What destroys agencies like this is politics and over-regulation. Incidentally, that's the same recipe to destroy Microsoft.

Re:It's more Management /Researcher IQ divide (1)

glarvat (753298) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544824)

Unfortunately, that's not the case. Aside from appointment of the director and approving compensation above about $170k, the university had little to do with the management of the lab. The lab has all the same monkeys (minus about a dozen highly compensated ones), just in different trees.

In my opinion, a lot of the problems are related to an academic mentality. At university, an excellent researcher/professor is made department chair. This works because it's only a part time gig. They still do their regular stuff. When you make an excellent researcher a manager, it doesn't work. They aren't trained for it. They don't have the requisite skills, and, often, they want to go back to just being a researcher. Los Alamos gets a great deal of its managers from within. So when you have a crop of marginal first level managers, the least marginal move up. [Don't get me wrong, they're still brilliant, just not great managers.]

Another problem with the lab [that doesn't look like it's going to change yet], it that compensation has less to do with what you are capable of, but rather how long you've had your degree. So the lab has a lot of people who are (in my opinion) just taking up oxygen getting paid way too much. While established hotshots with relatively newly minted degrees are getting paid peanuts. It's basically a tenure system.

Double standard? (3, Insightful)

Itninja (937614) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544373)

It's of interest that when Google filter's search results in China, they were 'evil'. But a lab that developed weapons that vaporized 25,000 people in a few seconds is considered 'prestigious' and 'a legend'.

Re:Double standard? (1)

syrinx (106469) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544394)

Since we're already debating 'petitio principii' (a.k.a. 'beg the question') in this article, here's another one for you to look up: 'non sequitor'.

Re:Double standard? (1)

dancingyel (981935) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544611)

Not to be nitpicky, but if you're going to be sarcastic, you might want to spell it right. Non sequitur, with a "u" and not an "o."

Re:Double standard? (1, Insightful)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 7 years ago | (#15545113)

Filtering search results is limiting information.

Developing nuclear wapons was the discovery of new information.

So you're suggesting that a company which limits the availability of information, and an organization which creates new information, are somehow moraly equivalent? That they should have the same level of prestiege?

Nonsense. The discovery of nuclear fission was a huge step in our understanding of the world around us. Any organizations which helped further the research into it deffinitely deserve fame and prestiege. Your argument makes you sound like a friggin' mormon, arguing that we shouldn't bother with the evils of science.

Wierd Place (2, Insightful)

ai.respose (938957) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544397)

Having been for an interview at another nuke design place I can save the whole thing runs against everything I grew up to believe. I can't imagine they get the best scientists these days. Pictures of "community" next to pictures of Hiroshima don't exactly inspire in-line with any morals. The day the place falls into ruin is the day we have some intelligence

I dunno... (1)

saleenS281 (859657) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544403)

We work with them on several projects and for the amount of money they spend with us I can't believe they're "going under" anytime soon. Either they're in a shitheap of debt, or the parent is wayyyyy off base with his accusations.

Nowadays... (3, Funny)

Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544428)

>Sixty years ago, it was at the forefront of the race for the Atomic bomb. Nowadays,

Anyone can build that kind of stuff in their garage.

Nothing new (4, Insightful)

Jason1729 (561790) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544446)

The US has already fallen way behind in scientific research.

America scrapped its supercollider while the Europeans built their LHC at CERN, so Europe will lead nuclear research for at least the next 20 years. Europe and Japan are doing advanced medical research while the US cuts funding and asks if its ethical to use stem cells.

The US has decided to abandon the Hubble telescope and allow it to burn up in the atmosphere, virtually abandon manned space travel, and divert most of the space research budget to militarizing space. Meanwhile the ESA is doing most of the space research and even China is launching manned missions.

Los Alamos losing its shine is such a minor thing compared to the rest of the US scientific community, it's barely worth noticing. The sad thing is by the time enough people notice the US is falling behind, it will be too late.

Re:Nothing new (1)

sfjoe (470510) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544565)

The sad thing is by the time enough people notice the US is falling behind, it will be too late.

Maybe not. The Republican's "government-is-the-boogeyman" philosophy seems to be slowly falling out of favor. People are starting to realize that we actually do need a functioning government. It may not be too late to invest in infrastructure again. Have hope - the elections are only months away.

Re:Nothing new (1)

A Nun Must Cow Herd (963630) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544666)

The sad thing is by the time enough people notice the US is falling behind, it will be too late.
From the points that you raise it sounds like it's already too late.

Re:Nothing new (3, Interesting)

Erwos (553607) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544667)

"The US has decided to abandon the Hubble telescope and allow it to burn up in the atmosphere, virtually abandon manned space travel, and divert most of the space research budget to militarizing space. Meanwhile the ESA is doing most of the space research and even China is launching manned missions."

You must not be aware of JWST or CEV, both of which are going at a surprisingly rapid clip. Your comments about the shuttle program and Hubble are amazingly misleading - there's lots of internal support at NASA for dropping the shuttles, and moving to CEV, and a similar sentiment for Hubble and JWST. In fact, the administration has been reasonably friendly to NASA in this time of budget cuts - compared to most other agencies, they took far less of a cut in the last budget. How do I know? I was working there until I left for my own personal reasons, none of which had jack to do with the administration.

Or, let me summarize: you have no idea what you're talking about in terms of NASA, and that makes me suspect your other comments are equally misinformed. Way behind? Right.

-Erwos

Re:Nothing new (2, Informative)

k2r (255754) | more than 7 years ago | (#15545201)

> You must not be aware of JWST

You must not be aware that there are different wavelengths in the spectrum of EM radiation.
It makes a difference if you have an infrared telescope (JWST) or a telescope for near IR / visible / UV (HST).

k2r

what? (1)

mnemonic_ (164550) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544883)

The US is helping quite a bit with the LHC [fnal.gov] , in addition to many other non-European countries [web.cern.ch] . I'm not sure how you came up with the 20-year European lead on particle physics (maybe you pulled it out of your ass), but as with any other research facility I'm sure there will be plenty of US scientists making progress there. How many European scientists do you think are working with NASA on the Mars rover data? Quite a few. The US is already putting billions behind the LHC, doesn't seem obvious that US scientists would contribute significantly to LHC research once it's fully built? Major research is largely an international affair today; most mature scientists put patriotism aside (unless you think Harvard's being pro-Bush by researching with stem cells).

"Europe and Japan are doing advanced medical research" - such as? And the US isn't? Stem cells aren't the last word in medical science. The US stem cell situation sucks to be honest, but that's not enough to pass judgment on any nation's medical progress. I wouldn't be surprised if the 2008 presidential election changed things dramatically, possibly moreso than the 2004 election did. Why couldn't it?

Yes, the Hubble is dead. That's why there are multiple [nasa.gov] replacemetns [jhu.edu] being proposed. I'm intrigued by your claim that NASA's abandoning manned space travel; I suppose this whole Project Constellation [nasa.gov] business is a great hoax, and that Lockheed and Boeing are in on it too. Yes, the US wants to militarize space, but they're doing a lot more too. And the Taikonauts are a joke compared to the routine ISS missions by NASA.

Seriously, if you don't know what the fuck you're talking about, just shut up.

Re:Nothing new (1)

drew (2081) | more than 7 years ago | (#15545090)

The US has decided to abandon the Hubble telescope and allow it to burn up in the atmosphere


Yes, because all of the other countries with giant orbiting space telescopes are going to leapfrog ahead of us once Hubble de-orbits.

Re:Nothing new (1)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 7 years ago | (#15545145)

More mindless "america sucks" drivel. And people wonder why most of the world has all sorts of mistaken conceptions about the US. It's exactly because of junk like this being passed off as "fact".

What constitutes "failure"? (1)

Blappo (976408) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544482)

Isn't the purpose of science to test hypotheses? I have to assume that's what they're doing, so how are they failing?

Re:What constitutes "failure"? (1)

sully213 (982005) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544694)

Sensitive data leaks [byteandswitch.com] , missing plutonium [sfgate.com] , hard drives [pogo.org] with classified data unaccounted for....

Those kinds of failures.

The kind of incompetencies and oversight that can not and should not be tolerated or have excuses made for, whether they are dealing with projects that relate to national security or just studying the fluid dynamics of ketchup. People have been fired for much less in the past.

Re:What constitutes "failure"? (1)

Blappo (976408) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544964)

Thanks. I expected someone to do what you did. If you think about it for a second, those were all security failures. I was aware of all of them, and I knew someone would jump at the opportunity to post links because they didn't take time to actually understand my question.

Now, please, answer me this.

Why are you posting links to security failures when I asked about scientific failures?

Ugly Step Sister Deserves the Slapdown (2, Interesting)

Grendol (583881) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544614)

Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia have been riding their ego's for decades now to the budgetary feeding trough of DOE. Their lack of accountability has lead them to the problems they have now.

The other laboratories in the DOE complex have for years fought against the "Ugly Step Sisters" (as they are called complex wide) to get funding for real work within the scope of research assigned to them in their DOE mandates. Whenever research was to be done in a particular area that is the focus of a particular lab, (ie INL-Civilian Nuclear power and safety, NREL-electric/hybrid vehicles, etc etc), the step sisters would approach the customer of the smaller labs using their holier than thou smooze and steal the funding at a DOE headquarters level, and not deliver a comparable product in the end. LANL, LLNL, and Sandia are capable of this because of congressional backing; California has a huge and powerful amount of congressional representation. And, when the prior Clinton Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson became Governor of New Mexico, it only empowered these labs to hog funding and mission further having both the Californian interests from the University of California, and Campuses in California, as well as New Mexico in some cases, as well as the previous secretary of energy.

The slapdown of the "scientific legends" is a breath of fresh air for real science funding at smaller labs doing real science with real accountability because the smaller labs are too small to screw up without loosing funding catastrophically.

I am not sorry for the "ugly step sisters". If one of them is getting a whooping, and it is traceable to significant screwups (lets see, LANL had faked elements 116, 117, and 118 on the periodic table, mustangs purchased on company credit cards, significant breaches of computer and cyber security that went unfixed for years. etc . etc. ). Then let them learn and clean up their act so they can be a contributing and honest member of our DOE's scientific complex.

The Department of Energy's Scientific Budget should be for accountable science, not a government welfare program that funds bad scientists and the managers who employ them.

Re:Ugly Step Sister Deserves the Slapdown (2, Interesting)

mjsottile77 (867906) | more than 7 years ago | (#15545280)

The fake elements originated at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, NOT LANL. (See http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20020720/fob5r ef.asp [sciencenews.org] ) And the mustang story is largely false, although the mainstream press did not make a big deal out of the fact that the story originally reported turned out to be untrue. (See http://www.lanl.gov/news/index.php?fuseaction=home .story&story_id=1453 [lanl.gov] ). Also keep in mind that that LBL, Argonne, Brookhaven, etc... do minimal amounts of classified work compared to LLNL, LANL, and SNL. Even PNL and ORNL do significantly less than the big three. So if LANL, LLNL, and SNL tend to have more security incidents, then one cannot ignore that a stellar record from a laboratory that does no classified work means very little in comparison.

Please get your facts right. It's that sort of uninformed, incorrect rhetoric and accusation that got LANL in the press-generated hot water it currently finds itself in. Are you a politician?

Many "failures" were overblown (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15544721)

I am staff scientist at another DOE lab and spent time at Los Alamos as a graduate fellow a few years ago. From the coverage in the media and from the comments of many politicians (many of whom stood to gain much if UC were to lose out in favor of universities/companies from their home state in the LANL bidding wars), one would think that Los Alamos was full of nothing but incompetence, dishonesty, and arrogance. That simply was not the case -- Los Alamos has had a very similar track record when compared to both other government labs and industry. This was pointed out in a very informative and insightful opinion piece that appeared in Physics Today:

http://www.aip.org/pt/vol-57/iss-12/p60.html [aip.org]

While Los Alamos has certainly had its share of fiascos, I think a lot of bad press they received was because 1) They are the most visible government lab, and 2) Many politicians hoped that if they could humiliate the lab management enough, someone from their state could end up with the (now extremely lucrative) management contract.

(Posted anonymously out of fear of DOE muckety-mucks)

Re:Many "failures" were overblown (3, Insightful)

Grendol (583881) | more than 7 years ago | (#15545010)

I worked in the complex, saw the loss of funding, the slanders and conniving perpetuated by the ugly stepsisters. I am not in fear of the DOE Muckety-Mucks. If I do my job right why should I hide from our DOE customer?

Yes, many people had lots to gain by being allowed a chance to do their jobs with funding that really should have been sent to them in the first place.

If DOE cannot accept truth, candor, and real science, then they don't deserve to keep real scientists. If they fire a real scientist or engineer for calling a spade a spade, then they deserve the lab full of monkeys they created!

I am now laughing at the Fact that LANL is being managed by Rechtel (Bechtel) and Washington Group, the two prime contractors who have no honest clue how to run a lab, can never seem to make budget or schedule, and have superhuman abilities to tank workplace moral.

DOE does not deserve you if you are an honest person. My recommendation to you is to move on to private industry or another lab before Bechtel sets you up for a train wreck and blames you for it.

Los Alamos folks are definitely... odd... (4, Interesting)

brian0918 (638904) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544781)

I worked at Sandia Natl Labs the last 3 summers, and heard lots of weird stories about people from Los Alamos. There was the guy who wore a cape everywhere, of course. There was also an individual who transferred from Los Alamos to Sandia (rarely do people transfer the other way), who could not get along with anyone, and did not last long. One of the researchers even initially worked at Sandia, transferred to Los Alamos, and then transferred back, saying the whole environment is just... off. Los Alamos is basically surviving on their history now. Their museum hasn't had much to add this last half a century; they mainly focus on the history of designing and testing the atomic bomb.

There's much more drama at these national labs than the general public might think...

Poplars Science (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544859)

The Economist is just part of the propaganda war hustling Los Alamos out of California's management and into the Texas Empire [google.com] . When Ken Lay was convicted after Enron robbed over $8BILLION from California on the way down, it looked like the CA/TX war was going better for California. But superior Congressional firepower is trending towards Texas again.

It's too late for the USA. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15544982)

The US is a rapidly declining force, and that includes its science. I'm sure smugness and complacency played a major role in this, but so did arrogance and greed. The current Administration did more damage than most others combined, but the writing has been on the wall for a very long time. Unfortunately those likely to fill the gap aren't necessarily anybody else's first choice.

Raison d'etre (1)

Jeff1946 (944062) | more than 7 years ago | (#15544989)

The real problem is that both Los Alamos and Lawrence Labs purpose was to design nuclear weapons which we know longer need to do. They are always searching for the need for a new weapon. A few years ago and still today they are pushing for a bunking busting nuke. Great way to generate lots of nuclear fallout from detonating the bomb in the ground. Right now they are looking to build a newer, higher reliability bomb. I am sure most of the scientists who would work on these projects know it is a great waste of resources. Yes, we need to keep a core expertese on nuclear weapons, but let's switch the major effort at these labs to deal with lack of cheap energy and so to be energy at any price.

Re:Raison d'etre (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 7 years ago | (#15545300)

Since are nuclear arsenel will be unreliable in 15 years, I would say we do need to keep doing research.

On First Glance.... (1)

mbusux (654936) | more than 7 years ago | (#15545047)

When I first read the title of this story, I thought maybe someone had disproven evolution. I'm glad it is still thought that my ancestors threw their shit at each other.
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