Saturday, May 21, 2005

Objective evidence that LANL is an outstanding scientific institution

Title: Objective evidence that LANL is an outstanding scientific institution

The May 6, 2005, Albuquerque Journal published a story entitled "Time to close LANL?" (
""We have a lab here that is a constant problem,' Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan, said during a Capitol Hill hearing. 'Why do we need this one? Is there any really unique science that can only be done there? Why do we need Los Alamos?' "

This motivated me to put a report I prepared late last year through the approval process. The report "Objective evidence that LANL is an outstanding scientific institution ", LA-UR-05-3580, presents objective evidence of LANL's scientific stature, evidence that can be confirmed by anyone with access to the web and to a university library. It provides an answer to Mr. Stupak's question.

Doug Post, P-24

Dear Doug Post,

Thank you very much for the info. I
also know of another report that
has some of this info plus a bit more. I need to get the author to post it at some point.

Here are a few highlights.

LANL is ranked 6th in the United States
in terms of papers and citations in comparison to all the universities and labs in the US. We are also the top US national lab. LLNL is 31. Now shutting down LANL will be a huge blow to the US in terms of the loss to our ability to
do basic science.

Another thing to note is that LANL is
best as a physics lab. Which is ranked

Also I have said this before LANL also
has people who have turned down faculty
positions at top universities. Others
have taken offers of course. The point is
that LANL does have some of the best
science in the world and one of the very best places in the United States in terms
of basic science. Basic science has far reaching long term benefits for
everyone in the US. This is on top of the
national security work that is done in LANL.
Thanks Doug Post for providing us the "facts". I for one have decided to stay on and build on the great success of the past. We need to put all the negative happenings of the past couple of years behind us. I know for some that will be a hard choice to make and I respect whatever decison those LANL brothers make.
Now this is good material for PR.

Of course, our PR department seldom picks up on anything like this, except perhaps the R&D 100 awards.

I hope this serves as a good example of what they need to publicise.
do we even HAVE a PR dept? Do you mean Public Affairs. All that group seems to do is whitewash and "spin" news stories and usually DAYS after the news is news.
This paper must be looked at critically, as does everything else. For instance; LANL has six members of the NAS. True. At least five of them were elected for work done elsewhere. So, LANL shows the ability to HIRE NAS members, not grow them. And two NAS members, Press and Meyer, have been forced out of the responsible positions which attracted them to LANL.
As for the papers and citations; true enough; LANL does well. Looking closely however, most of the work is LDRD, by Post Docs. LANL has about twice the PD, compared to Sandia, and much of the work is unrelated to LANL's mission. See the GAO's 2001 LDRD report.
If one gives the $120 million in LDRD funds to any academic institution, they can hire a lot of papers, very good papers, from top Post Docs, if they pay the PD very well, as LANL does. Especially when the rest of the Lab programs have to bear the overhead burden of the LDRD program, which is unburdened.
So, rather than LANL not doing enough PR, one can look at the LDRD program as good PR. As is hiring NAS members. But, as the GAO report asks; is this a good use of taxpayer funds? Especially as the LANL Chief Scientist, Tom Bowles, talks about needed "reform" to the LDRD program, which has been "reformed" many, many, times and is still suspect.
This report does not address the issues; it is written, at taxpayer expense, to justify LANL.
To the 11:55 critic -

I do not know Doug Post and I do not know the precise circumstances under which he prepared this report, however, my general experience at LANL is that this was probably prepared in the last 5 hours of a 50-60 hour workweek. You can call that taxpayer's expense, but I don't know precisely why you would want to.

It is amazing that he was able to do anything at all last summer. Most of us were being treated like prisoners at Guantanamo or Abu Gharaib during that period... (hyperbole, OK?).

Yes, this report can be looked at critically, as all such things can and should be.

Your "critique" however, is not particularly interesting or useful. It looks like a couple of attempted cheap shots intended to obfuscate not to enlighten. Just as the report clearly takes a position of defense, your critique clearly is an attack. I understand Doug's motivation for defending LANL, what is your motivation for attacking it?

Did you perhaps check to see how many NAS members were elected for work done at LANL but moved elsewhere?

By your line of reasoning about LDRD funds and PostDocs, it would seem that *all* citations are somehow "bought" by hiring PostDocs to write papers. Somebody (else) has to actually read those papers and find them relevant enough to their own work to cite them.

Yes, PostDocs are often prolific and well-cited publishers, but such publication requires that the actual *work* be done and often in the context of mentorship by well established scientists with well established research.

Do you usually dismiss the work of PostDocs as somehow being irrelevant? Do you usually believe that they are mere "Paper Machines" who can be hired by the highest bidder to churn out papers without the work behind them somehow contributing to science overall?

You clearly have an axe to grind with LANL's LDRD program and apparently LANL itself. But I'm not clear about what you are trying to say.

Doug's report can and should be examined more critically and I look forward to others who might do that, I just hope they will be a little more up front about what their motivations are and a little more balanced in their analysis.
11:55 AM poster.

You are totally wrong. You really need to get some of your facts straight. LANL does indeed grow people that go on to the NAS.

Actually a tremendous amount of work has been done at LANL over the last 25 years that was of huge scientific impact including some work that will likely
win the Nobel prize. The thing is when these people get to that high of a profile someplace comes at gets. Lets look at a few shall we.

1. Zachery Fisk, member of the NAS for work done at LANL. There is good money he is going to win the Nobel prize for the work on Heavy Fermion materials. Done at LANL. He is currently a distinguished professor at UC Davis.

2. Wick Haxton, member of the NAS, he is a Prof U of Washington.

3, Mitchel Feigenbaum, member of the NAS for work done at LANL on dynamical systems. Professor at Rockefeller. Might
win the Nobel prize for this

4. Hamish Robertson. member of the NAS for work done at LANL. In particular he built along with his colleagues the apparatus for finding evidence of
neutrino mass. He is a professor at U of Washington

There are many more as well. Additionally I can assure you that there are many other people who where formally at LANL
or are currently at LANL that will likely become members of the NAS.

About LDRD being 120 million. First of there is huge overheard to that. Second the amount of science done with the money is far better than done at any University. Third, part of the mission of the lab is basic science. So many basic science
breakthroughs have come from LANL that have benefited all aspects of the work at LANL as well as the United States work force. By the way how on earth did you get the idea that most of the publications are from potdocs? A lot of those postdocs go on to become staff members all over the lab.

Really the best thing LANL has is the LDRD program. All the excellent science comes from it. All the good postdocs come from it. The benefit to Los Alamos is enormous and the benefits to the United States
is outstanding. The LDRD is really a highlight of LANL and is absolutely
necessary if we are to have any measure of quality.

The bottom line is again that Los Alamos has some of the best scientists in the world. This is highlighted in where some of the staff members and postdocs have received faculty offers. Some have turned these down to stay at LANL others have moved on. Some these Universities include MIT, Cornell, Chicago, Princeton
UCSD, UCR, UCD, UCI, U of Washington, Dartmouth, Rockefeller, Emory, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Boston college, Ohio State, Texas AM, U of Illinois Chicago, U of Colorado, Simon Frasier, NYU, North Carolina, UMN, Iowa State, Argonne, Tulane, Purdue, U of Illinois, CFU, U of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Boston University, U of Arizona, U of Utah, U of Wisconsin. There are many more science is the brightest spot at Los Alamos and we have to perverse for the sake of the lab
as well as keeping the United States competitive. Additionally what also gets lost is that is a documented fact
that LANL is one of the safest labs in the DOE complex. Additionally
we are one of the most secure when incident rates are compared to other labs. It is simply unfair to Los Alamos that these facts are not presented to the public or Congress.
The number of R&D 100 Awards is not a legitimate criterion for the quality of a two billion-dollar per year research laboratory. The magazine has no permanent scientific staff; they have little record of discovering new or valuable technologies. The magazine amounts to a folder of advertisements, usually discarded.
There are other, far more appropriate criteria for "success" like patent licensing fees or “spin-off” success. All criteria, of course, must be normalized by some measure of the size of the institution.
An outsider, familiar with the quality of the magazine, would not be impressed with the quality of the institution that chooses it as a measure. I suggest that LANL employees should challenge its usage.
No matter how you try to spin it, lanl is an outstanding scientific institute. A lot of work at lanl is also classified so it will not be published. We truly are the best lab
in the United States. The public needs to
know this, the Congress needs to hear this.
Has anybody considered how it appears to have a blog where LANL employees complement themselves anonymously? If the lab is praiseworthy there must be a respectable judgement of the quality of LANL outside LANL. Can't we locate some praise? In addition, it is embarrassing to see a direct comparison of LANL publication rates with the rates of relatively tiny institutions. One must normalize to the size of the institution.
With a Public Affairs/Public Relations organization within LANL that doesn't seem to publicize all the work that occurs, it is not unthinkable that many employees at LANL don't know about every project or even some projects which may be quite newsworthy.

Hence, it may be that some employees are complimenting their co-workers on making contributions to science, society, national security, etc. which prior to now may be unknown to those offering the kudos.
To 6:22 poster.

Here we go again. Most of the people at LANL work on things that cannot be published. You know that lab mission thing.
You cannot simply take the whole
technical staff. You have to
compare to the staff that publish
in the open. The number of people who do publish is about 500. This is roughly the same size of the number of people listed at the other top places. This means that those staff
that do publish are indeed some
of the best. It is very easy to
check. I urge you to do so. In fact the very top places listed by Doug Post actually are much larger than LANL in terms of people who publish. ALso the LDRD is 120 million a year. Compare that with UCB which has a yearly budget of 141 million for physics related reseach. Yet we publish only slightly less. We
are in good shape indeed.

Also another point about how good the staff who do publish is
the quality of the places they get faculty positions and offers from. Also we have Ph.d students who do their Ph.d work at LANL. These students come from all over including the best schools like UCB. So we are doing something right. Also a large number of the staff have won many top awards.

If you normalize for the number of
people who publish at LANL than we are indeed one of the very top places.

Poster 6:22 it seems that you are not aware of the size or number of staff working on basic science at the top universities and labs in the world or you would not say somthing as silly and wrong as "compared to relatively tiny institutions". By the way are you really someone who works at LANL? Your comments are just so way off every time.

Poster 6:22 time and time again you
post without thinking first.
Please I am urging you THINK. Get
some facts. Facts are good for you.
Get some facts before you post next time.
Referring to the 5:46 post on the 23rd: Who has chosen, as a measure of LANL productivity, a magazine that we treat as junk mail?
Why would someone make such a choice?
As for the question of the measurement of quality, the number of refereed publications should be normalized by the dollar portion of the LANL budget that is not weapons-related. This is a very unpopular statement but LANL doesn't look very good. This is our real problem.
6:39Am poster.

Why do you not normalize the number
of publications by the money for the LANL non-weopon budget for yourself? If you did that you would see that LANL is truly outstanding and puts LANL close to the very top institute in the world in terms of the amount of science per dollar. LDRD is about 120 mill a year most of the publications come from that. This is less than the other places in the top 10 spend on Doug Posts list. So indeed LANL looks great. Why do you think UC wants to bid? Do you know how many people are trained here?

Poster 6:39. Please get you facts
right. Time and time again you make
some silly statment without anything to back it up. Many of the things you say can be looked up in short
order. Why not try this yourself next time. Try some numbers next time.
The thread, and the comments typified by poster 6:39 represent the amazing problem LANL has boasting of its science -- everytime factual evidence of excellence is laid down, it is immediately attacked by those within the Lab that either don't like the science mission, or a "jealous" of the attention LANL science gets when it is rightfully call the crown jewel of national security science.

In fact, LANL is an excellent science institution. Given that much of the work can't be published, the written record is amazing. Those which question the numbers and say "it is because LANL has lots of Post Docs" -- are partly correct. However, it is exactly that reason that post docs come here -- the opportunity to do great science. And those post docs work with world class scientist to produce an amazing amount of material. A large number of post docs are on LDRD -- but an equal number are on Office of Science funding. This, again, is not a problem, but a sign of scientific vitality.

Two final commetns -- (1) when posters like 6:39 struggle for metrics to bring los alamos down a notch, like saying normalize by funding, they are missing the point. The science per dollar spent is still excellent, especially when compared to universities that get up to 65 percent of their funding from States or endowments (professor typically have 9 months funding from the institution, and the utility bills, etc are not charged to the grant). Fact is, Los Alamos is an outstanding research engine. (2) R&D 100 is not nearly as bad as it is made out to be in this post -- this is a real award that DoE promotes and looks at. It is true that LANL lags in converting IP to cash. There are lots of reasons why, but this must be a focus for the future.

Some people are always going to attack LANL excellence as arrogance or self promotion. The motives are not always obvious, but this is both and internal and external problem.
A lot of the classified research is published in the Defense Research Review, adding substantially to LANL's publications record.

While not a world-wide, open publication, it does place classified research into the community for review, feedback and criticism.

This can reasonably add to LANL's publications record.
I agree with the patriotic message at 8:11. We should locate and punish anyone who tries to judge LANL on the basis of its funding.
By the way, I was intrigued by the statement, "this is a real award that DoE promotes and looks at" referring to the RD 100 award. Who is being called DOE? Who else, besides LANL, accepts it as a measure of quality? Please, no hysterical answers.
I think I have it! Surely the respected faculty of the University of California amounts to a legitimate judge of our great laboratory. They are, after all, a respected group of men who are not fearful to sign their own correspondence. I bet that their feelings about LANL quality are on the record. Can someone help me with this?
As a now outside observer who spent much of a great career at LANL, and then moved on to work with private industry and Sandia, it's worth noting that 1) LANL has an incredible concentration of some of the world's most talented scientists, and 2) this pool of talent is served by one of the worst PR organizations in existence (in spite of having some very talented individuals in this organization as well, who largely are prevented from doing a credible job by upper management). This will undoubtedly change with the contract; LM and NG both get it. They understand that while being ranked for number of citations is solid evidence of scientific credibility, funding dollars are more often related to how many times you get mentioned in the latest edition of Popular Mechanics, otherwise known as the most technical thing ever read by Rep. Stupak.
Perhaps we should put a "paperwork factor" into our scientific record. Each person doing technical work could count as 0.5 workers, since we waste so much time writing IWDs, training, and other non value added activities. then we'd probably be #1!
Interesting that while we are discussing LANL's scientific contributions and PR, this story about NIF appears on the home page:
Re: 5/23/2005 02:21:26 PM

Reporters don't typically "find" stories like NIF, the're handed to them by effective, astute PR departments.

Given the work-ethic of many reporters these days, fine examples of which can be found at the NYTimes, Newsweek, and CBS, we're lucky they find a name in a phone book, let alone find a big-science story and report on it with even moderate fidelity.
On postdocs and their contribution to LANL record: indeed postdocs have nontrivial influence on LANL record. However, young researchers in all scientific institutions are doing big contribution. The lively postdoc program is necessary for any scientific institution to survive in long run, otherwise it is dying. LANL still has the postdoc program active. I am afraid that awarding contract to non-UC institution will cause slow decline in postdoc program and slow death of LANL.
To 8:01, you really meant to say that it would accelerate the death spiral.
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