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End of a Scientific Legend? 243

Posted by Zonk
from the past-its-prime dept.
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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End of a Scientific Legend?

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  • and... (Score:5, Funny)

    by preppypoof (943414) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @05:51PM (#15544147)
    smugness can also breed the urge to smell your own farts!
  • Nothing? (Score:4, Funny)

    by gardyloo (512791) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @05:51PM (#15544151)
    Nothing for you to see here. Please move along.

          It's nice to see that their secrecy is still in effect.
  • by RobertB-DC (622190) * on Thursday June 15, 2006 @05:54PM (#15544180) Homepage Journal
    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.
    • How does Wen Ho Lee say anything about Bush? He was an issue in 1996, under Clinton.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      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. B
    • 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 l
    • by jd (1658) <imipak@yaCOLAhoo.com minus caffeine> on Thursday June 15, 2006 @06:48PM (#15544654) Homepage Journal
      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.

    • by demachina (71715) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @08:35PM (#15545396)
      It is impossible to tell just how bad the labs under the control of the University of California are or aren't. Its murky since its hard for anyone to peer inside high security facilities because thats what security clearance are for. Also much of the information coming out of them in recent years may be the Bush administration intentionally trying to make them look bad because they want to transfer their control to Republican friendly contractors or the University of Texas to pump billions of dollars in to his home state.

      "administration-pleasing junk science and "imaginary weapons""

      Unfortunately this is what you get out of governments whose top priority is delivering pork to contractors who happen to be big political supporters of the people in power (like Bechtel and Lockheed Martin). This is a disease that predates the Bush administration by a long ways, but the current administration has just taken it to new and breathtaking levels. Not sure the Bush administration really cares if it gets anything for the money, they are just delivering large quantities of our tax dollars or borrowed dollars(our deficit) in to the pockets of their friends. It has an important added political benefit of creating artificial stimulus in the economy and jobs by pumping large amounts of money and profit in to the private sector, and it makes the U.S. economy look a lot better than it is. The U.S. economy is becoming massively dependent on government spending since its one of the few parts of the U.S. economy that isn't being crated up and shipped to China and India. This massive government intervention in the economy used to be referred to as either Socialism (under FDR) or more like Fascism today. Its sad to see how the Republican's have tarnished the name Conservative. There is nothing conservative about them any more unless you qualify it with Social Conservative. Political and fiscal conservatives are for limiting government power, size and spending and that is the antithesis of today's Republican party so they are aghast at today's Republican party. Someone should make them, Limbaugh and Colter stop claiming the title, Fascist is a lot more accurate term its just a taboo term since World War II. Conservative != Fascist so stop claiming to be conservatives, you aren't.

      The national labs, DOD weapons programs and satellite manufacturing are GREAT places to pump money in to the pockets of your friends because you can use the high security clearance, and "state secret privilege" to crush any oversight that might catch some of the fraud, waste, abuse and incompetence. A subset of Congress is the only body that can provide oversight but.....

      There is an intereting article on the Christian Science Monitor today about Congress's feeble efforts to restore legal and financial oversight [csmonitor.com] on the Bush administration and the DOD. I didn't realize it till this article but when the Republican's gained power in 1995 one of the first things they did in the House Armed Services Committee was disband the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. This subcommittee's role was to reign in the fraud, waste and abuse in the Pentagon. It was like they fired the last cop in town, and created open season for thieves. It is now quite clear why there is such rampant corruption in the DOD now. There is NO real Congressional oversight to stop it.

      Harry Truman rose to prominence with the "Truman Committee" which basically performed this role during World War II and saved the country billions in fraud, waste and abuse.

      Its a basic problem in the current government that the Bush administration and DOD is running amuck using 9/11 as an excuse and since they have control of all branches of the government there is NO oversight of anything going on. Congress has abdicated so much power to the Executive branch we really are teetering on the edge of a term limited dictatorship.

      As a result we get Duke Cunningham, satellite programs billions
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The underlying dynamic here is that the President and some of his friends would like to put the LANL and LLNL contracts (currently held by the University of California) in play, so they can be awarded to...the University of Texas.

      This means that UC's administration of the labs must be made to appear incompetent.
    • in favor of administration-pleasing junk science and "imaginary weapons".
      It became obvious when a group connected with MIT was seriously talking about developing a future "molecule thick" superhero suit that would stop bullets. Very basic geometry shows that is a stupid idea and what's wrong with something hundreds of microns thick that has a practical chance of spreading the energy anyway? It's making the worst of the counterproductive Star Wars project look good.
  • Still prestigious... (Score:5, Informative)

    by gardyloo (512791) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @05:54PM (#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).
  • begs the question? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by John Harrison (223649) <johnharrisonNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday June 15, 2006 @05:56PM (#15544215) Homepage Journal
    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.
    • by Umbral Blot (737704) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @06:15PM (#15544363) Homepage
      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".
      • Tyrany of the moronic majority! If only we could beg (oh, I mean raise) the IQ of the masses!
      • 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..

    • 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 i
    • by Jhon (241832) * on Thursday June 15, 2006 @06:36PM (#15544539) Homepage Journal
      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.
    • by egomaniac (105476) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @06:41PM (#15544575) Homepage
      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.
      • So is it ok then to use your and you're interchangeably, use an apostrophe for plurality, confuse loose and lose, among other things?
        • 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
        • That's not really analagous -- it's a question of conforming to a standard orthography rather than a question of meaning.
      • 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

        • 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.

          I realize you meant this as a joke, but there's quite a bit of truth here. The distinction between "it's" and "its" is indeed being erased, and quite probably in another few decades we will settle on just one form. We used to distinguish between "you"
    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beg_the_question [wikipedia.org]

      But it makes you sound smarter when you say "begs the question," right? Don't lawyers use them words? Lawyers are purty smart fellers.
    • This is what gets modded up? This is both irrelevant and flamebait. It's also probably redundant since I've seen this posted sixty times. The article was about a top scientific lab going down hill over the years, not about your English lesson.
  • Yoda sez (Score:5, Funny)

    by ch-chuck (9622) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @05:57PM (#15544217) Homepage
    smugness can breed complacency, complacency leads to carelessness. Carelessness leads to ... suffering

  • I feel this is somehow relevant but my wit is failing to make a significant presentation. http://it.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=134588&cid= 11236065 [slashdot.org]
  • Excuse me? (Score:3, Informative)

    by tetrahedrassface (675645) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @05:59PM (#15544241) Journal
    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. :)

    • Sorry I typed to fast.. hehe..

      It should be Plan9, and v9fs.

      *corrected*

    • Re:Excuse me? (Score:3, Informative)

      by jd (1658)
      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 o
  • by stox (131684) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @06:01PM (#15544257) Homepage
    Both Argonne and Fermilab may soon be going under a similar change in management.
    • As long as they don't mess with the cool white deer [anl.gov] or muck up the Advanced Photon Source [anl.gov], maybe I'm myopic but I don't see how a management shakeup of Argonne would be a big deal to the wider scientific community. I've been to Argonne West a few times, and one of the things that I remember is thinking man was it dilapidated...except for APS. APS is fuckin' sweet for us x-ray crystallographers, IIRC the second hottest source of xrays in the solar system after the sun. Even get some exercise racing tricyc
  • by Banner (17158) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @06:11PM (#15544337) Journal
    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.
    • sounds like story time to me. movie trailers don't even get me this excited. how could you not follow through with the stories?!
    • by DingerX (847589) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @06:26PM (#15544463) Journal
      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.
    • Yep, please do follow up with the stories.
  • Double standard? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Itninja (937614) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @06:15PM (#15544373) Homepage
    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'.
    • by c6gunner (950153)
      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
  • Wierd Place (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ai.respose (938957)
    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
  • 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... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @06:22PM (#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 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jason1729 (561790) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @06:24PM (#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.
    • 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 (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Erwos (553607) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @06:49PM (#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 (Score:3, Informative)

        by k2r (255754)
        > 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
      • The JWST can not do everything at the same time, it can only be pointed in one spot. Astronomers have very limited time to access hubble even if they have the funding. There is plenty of demand for valid research to keep both telescopes busy 100% of the time.

        By your logic, why do we have so many terrestrial telescopes? As each new and bigger one is built we should dismantle the previous ones because they cost money to run. Besides they can cover different spectra. By your logic, why build optical te
    • 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.
    • 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".
    • I can't agree with your comment about medical funding. Considering that the NIH has had their budget quadruple in 15 years, I would say they're doing pretty good. There is a lot of hand wringing because in recent years the budget has been increased either just a little, or even flat, but historically [nih.gov] their budget was about $7.5B in 1990, $11.3B in 1995, $17.8B in 2000, and $28.5B in 2005. Their budget can be held flat for the next few years, and they'll still have a budget increase that is the envy of pr
  • by Grendol (583881) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @06:45PM (#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.

    • 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, an
      • My apologies for the incorrect assertion that LANL was at fault for the element error. I had made the error due to the management of both labs by the University of California, and Victor Ninov was a LBNL scientist. Thank you for correcting me.

        I had not heard that the mustang was a case of credit card fraud, I do remember the sudden tightening of purchase controls, threatened crucifixions, and a couple convictions on similar cases of purchase card use at the same time. That was an example I was using to po

    • How do you account for theoretical sciences?
      Dr: "We are working on string theory"
      Manager: "What's are ROI?"
      Dr: "What?"
      Manager: *sigh* "how much can we sell it for? How much are consumers willing to pay for these strings?"
      Dr: "It's theoretical, It's not something we can sell!"
      Manager: "Then cut the project."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 15, 2006 @06:55PM (#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)
    • by Grendol (583881) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @07:35PM (#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.

  • by brian0918 (638904) <brian0918NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday June 15, 2006 @07:02PM (#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...
    • What's so bad about a cape? I knew a postdoc who liked to show up at work every once in a while wearing a cape. Two years ago he managed to beat out over a hundred other applicants to win a professorship at a good university. As for the rest of your post I haven't a clue, I've never worked in national labs as anything more than a site user. But science seems to be pretty tolerant about personal appearance. Hell my brother's a Ph.D. chemical engineer working for Shell and he's got a couple massive tatto
    • A thought occurs: maybe all that radiation is to blame?

      I mean, flipper babies or not, these people sound...special...to me.
  • 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.
  • by Soong (7225) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @08:32PM (#15545382) Homepage Journal
    I grew up in Los Alamos. My dad worked there over twenty years until he retired. He retired because the culture there had gotten sufficiently unbearable and it wasn't worth putting up with because he could no longer do the kind of science he loved. He wasn't alone among experienced senior researchers there who were fed up and leaving. When the braniest town in the world has a brain drain, there's trouble.

    Management by the University of California is possibly the best thing that ever happened to LANL. Whatever the mission given to LANL by DOE, it would be carried out in an academic culture. People were rewarded professionally and looked up to informally for doing good science and good research. Ok, it wasn't all utopia, there was also the petty politicking that goes along with academia and grant groveling. I still think it was good and a lot of good work was done there.

    When I moved to California I discovered that some people here objected to the UC management of LANL. They didn't want to be associated with a nuclear weapons lab. I think that's wrong and that they were foolish if they thought that the UC disowning LANL would make it go away. LANL needs the UC because the alternative is too horrible. That has come to pass and now LANL is under joint management of UC and defense contractors. I've heard rumors that the mission changed from far out theoretical, pure and semi-pure research and shifted towards more immediate engineering of new weapons. The new regime is pushing security and secrecy to the point of paranoia and counterproductivity. For many scientists, it isn't fun anymore.

    I don't expect LANL to evaporate within the next 5 years. There is still plenty there that doesn't suck. I do expect they'll have trouble replacing talent in some areas. I think it's not yet too late to restore the soul of the place and bring it back and do some world class science.
  • It's Reagan's fault (Score:4, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @10:21PM (#15545889) Homepage
    Los Alamos once had the tradition that the lab director had to have a Nobel Prize. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan appointed a lawyer. It's been downhill since then.
  • VTK Anyone? (Score:2, Informative)

    by kramulous (977841)
    I'd hardly call VTK (Visualisation Toolkit) a failure. It's made my job a lot easier. It is a wonderful piece of software as well as all the bells and whistles of being an open source project. There is also something about the way they archive published papers that is apparently leading world. For a university/organisation to remain competitive, especially today, there is a lot of housekeeping involved before progress can be made. I congratulate Los Alamos. They seem to be doing a bang up job to me.
  • by rjoseph (159458) on Friday June 16, 2006 @02:18AM (#15546815) Homepage
    I was just chatting tonight with a manager in one of the larger divisions at LANL who said that, all in all, not much has changed with the recent change in management. And speaking from personal experience (three years, on and off), the people at LANL today are doing science that is just as amazing - if not more so - as they at the Lab in it's "hey-day."

    It turns out that, for government labs, any PR really isn't always good PR.
  • This is sort of introspective and a little from the conspiracy nut dept, but I thought was interesting enough to post.

    I'm going to assume a few things as given :

    1 - Many very secure R&D facilities have been constructed since the dawn of the Cold War era up until as recently as the Clinton Administration. I say Clinton because he left office with a surplus, and really watched the budget which brings me to #2 which is :

    2 - 3/4 of the US government doesn't know what 1/4 of the defense and security spending

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