Saturday, February 19, 2005

Weak Scientific Credentials

From Anonymous:

Tom Meyer in his letter claimed that LANL senior
management staff have weak scientific credentials. I
checked this out using the search engines on the LANL
library webpage. Tom is right. With only a few
exceptions, LANL senior management do not even have
the credentials that are generally expected for
promotion from post-doc to staff member. Yet the same
search engines and databases indicate that LANL as an
institution is ranked tenth in the world in physics in
terms of citations. Where have all the scientists
gone? Clearly not into management.

Nanos has only one publication with
few citations. He would never have gotten a Director's postdoctoral fellowship at LANL, much less a staff position.
Ditto that. Most of the senior managment at the LANL are not well respected scientists in their fields. They're hacks.
Let me give you some insight... I was a well respected scientist, close to 100 publications (many of them in the most prestigious journal in my field), who swore never to become a manager. But when I got tired of manager after manager screwing up, I thought that there had to be something better, so I went in to management. I stood up for my employees, and refused to "bless" less than the best science. My better employees appreciated this, but some second tier TSMs were unhappy. As a result, I became known as someone who didn't always "get along". Needless to say, I am not able to advance in management ranks.

The Lab is a mixed place. There are many great scientists, and many more "average" scientists. This is actually good, because we need the scientific followers as much as we need the scientific leaders to get the work done... The same applies to technicians, engineers, support people, etc.

So I don't have a problem with managers not all being great scientists. But they should have a scientific background sufficient to understand, appreciate and support what goes on in their divisions and directorates. The recently departed DDST and ADSR were forefront scientists in their field, yet I don't think that that particular fact made any difference. Anyone think otherwise?
I am not informed well enough to refute or confirm the scientific credentials. I do believe that if they are in management they ought to have strong managerial skills which include technical expertise and 'people' skills which are not only sufficient but should border on exceptional. When the people one must manage are of the caliber of the scientific community such as exists here, the management and leadership skills must be well developed in order to render above average performance where it counts - in a national security arena.
It's easy to check on the scientific credentials of any scientist in the world. All you have to do is to go to the LANL internal home page, click on library on the upper bar, then click on one of the search engines SearchPlus or Flashpoint. There you can type in the name of the person you are interested in (e.g. Roe RR for Richard Robert Roe) in the author space, and the field (engineering, physics, computer science, etc.) and the time range for the search.
Judging scientific "credentials" on the basis of a citation search is very, very narrow, and does not appreciate differences in disciplines and styles (some experimental fields have dozens of authors on many short papers, vs mathematics, where single authors on a few papers are more common). However, a good scientist should be well published, and there are many measures for impact including awards from professional soceities, appointments to prestigious national committees, etc.

Managers in science organization is tougher to gauge -- it is not about science excellence, it is about science credibility, people skills, vision, and leadership. The present EB has no members with science credibility except Dough Beason. Sue Seestrom has marginal credibility, and very weak leadership. Nanos, Freddie, and Beck are zeros science wise, and actually have no understanding of the science mission. Don Cobb has weak creditionals, and is a bully, although a much less that Nanos.

What should the lab look for? There are MANY outstanding examples of strong science managers across the complex -- UC needs to start at the top, and look for a credible director. Both Sandia and LLNL have such persons, and they have surrounded themselves with much more talent.

It is rumored that the new ADSR will be introduced this week -- will it be a Nanos croony, or a scientific manager?
I agree with the comment, ".. I don't have a problem with managers not all being great scientists. But they should have a scientific background sufficient to understand, appreciate and support what goes on in their divisions and directorates." Furthermore they should be willing to be guided by those whose knowledge is greater.

Division Leaders should listen. Group Leaders should listen. The Director should listen. The operative word is LISTEN. To decide without listening is a waste of taxpayers' dollars. To decide without listening is insulting to the LANL staff.

Saying "I don't know" when a question is asked is the mark of a strong manager, not a weak one. If a manager can't say, "I don't know" with an implied "I'll find out", then that is a poor manager.

A very astute Group Leader commented once on a meeting he had attended where Nanos was asked a question by someone in the audience. The answer was poorly thought out, didn't really address the question, but now is cast in concrete. The lesson to be learned is "Never ask the Director a question" because you'll be stuck with the answer no matter what.
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