Sunday, May 01, 2005

Open debate and dissenting views have always been at the heart of Los Alamos’ culture

Open debate and dissenting views have always been at the heart of Los Alamos’ culture. This Blog is simply the extension of the Laboratory’s cultural identity while the Lab’s management removed internal avenues for discussion. In the past, dissenting views have played a key role in helping the Nation’s security. Los Alamos has earned a reputation for unparalleled integrity in providing scientific advice in support of the National security. This integrity was earned through over fifty years of service and key to this character has been intense internal dialogs on all the issues that the Laboratory is charged with stewarding.

Some visitors to this forum have suggested that the Blog is full of “whiners” or have suggested that it is a threat to our National security. These suggestions are made out of ignorance about the Laboratory and its history. At its origin, the Laboratory was endowed with a spirit of debate, and open discourse on important issues. All characteristics associated with the best in American society.

Early in the existence of the Laboratory, a key decision was made after vigorous debate regarding the degree of openness within the confines of the secret Laboratory. Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves led the opposing sides of this debate. Oppenheimer favored openness with the hope that many keen minds would be exposed to critical problems improving the chances for solution. Groves favored secrecy and compartmentalized work. Oppenheimer won and we are all safer and more secure for it. The success of the Manhattan Project was in large part due to the open atmosphere inside the Laboratory during WWII.

Thus open debate and dissent on important issues became a cornerstone of the Los Alamos culture. I submit that this cultural characteristic is as American as apple pie and stands at the very core of Los Alamos’ identity. This Blog is a result of the view that current Laboratory management stood squarely opposed to these values. As a result, the employees sought alternative avenues to discuss issues critical to them and their future. In the past there would have been vigorous internal dissent and most of you visiting would have been completely oblivious to it, but safer and more secure as a result. Now that dissent internal to Lab has been shutdown, it has spilled onto the Internet. Many of the employees now believe that the Laboratory management cannot be trusted, do not harbor dissent and are not interested in debate. This Blog is the reaction. Above all, the culture of Los Alamos values the truth, open dissent and honest debate.

The people working at the Laboratory entered into a social contract that included the legacy of Oppenheimer with the right to open debate and dissent within the Laboratory. There is the perception that current Lab management does not seem to understand this and have violated this social contract through their recent actions. There are many reports of the management attacking the Laboratory’s culture. These reported attacks have included an assault on the spirit of debate and dissent. In essence the employees feel that management turned their backs on the legacy given to them. The reaction of the employees could have been expected. Given the opportunity to engage in a dialog in an unfettered environment such as this Blog, people did what came naturally to them.

Hopefully the future will allow the necessary dissent and debate to occur within the confines of the Laboratory making this forum an unnecessary outlet. Hopefully the United States will have this Laboratory to help protect the Nation with the best in science. It is tragic that seemingly inept and careless management is destroying the Laboratory during a time when the Nation needs scientific answers to critical security issues. September 11th taught us all that we are at risk. Our National defense depends on our supremacy in Science and Engineering. This supremacy is not secure and a true National resource is slipping from our collective grasp. This need not happen.

One way to interpret the mission of the Laboratory is to help provide the Nation and its citizens greater safety and security. If the Laboratory continues to decline, all of us will be less safe and less secure.

These views are mine as a private citizen.

Posted by Bill Rider to LANL: The Real Story at 5/1/2005 06:42:06 PM

I agree with Bill's view of the Lab. When I arrived at the Lab 36+ years ago, the culture he dscribes showed in many ways. Even though I was a lowly postdoc, we took a course on nuclear physics (as did every new employee) and then a class on elements of bomb design both taught by Samuel Glasstone. This was required training. Then we visited every major experimental facility on the mesa. After that approximately 3 weeks of training, I understand what the Lab was about and why it was important to the nation. I'm certain it contributed to my wanting to stay on after my postdoc and has helped me in my work over the years. This was part of the "openness" despite the secrecy associated with the Lab. I believe we have lost this over the years and it isn't totally due to current management but a gradual shift in areas of micromanagement by the government and changes within our culture. I'm not sure it is possible to regain this "openness", but it certainly contributed to the Lab's over the decades.
Excellent post, Bill - and kudos for actually signing it.

A troublesome part of the picture is that the University of California did not act when LANL management shut down the critical letters to the Newsbulletin. In spite of all the claims that UC is essential to LANL "openness" and "freedom of expression", in keeping with the campus traditions at UC, when LANL shut down a main vehicle for expression of employee opinions, UC did nothing.
They also failed to answer emails which called this problem to their attention.
If UC cares at all for freedom of expression, or academic freedom, at LANL, their actions don't reveal it.
UC culture may be great, in California. New Mexico seems to be a case of "out of sight, out of mind".
I personally don't believe that UC gives a damn what happens in New Mexico. Its just an ego thing with the UC Regents. They don't want to be run off. They have never shown enough interest in LANL to come out and take a real look around, talking to the employees and the public, including the LANL critics. They just can't be bothered. Time for a change. Send the old goats packing..
Ad hominem attacks and the I-don't-agree-with-you-so-you-
you-are-wrong, nannny-nanny-boo-boo reasoning that is common to this piece of blog is hardly debate. The sheer arrogance displayed in many of these posts does nothing to endear Los Alamos National Laboratory to the public. Neither does the, you'll-all-be-sorry-when-we've-all-
left-and-someone-uses-a-bomb line of reasoning, either. Frankly, I'll mourn more when my neighborhood KFC closes up because of a staff walkout than I will when LANL shuts down. You people (save for a few reasoned souls who represent the minority of posters) seem bereft of true spirit and value. It's like Los Alamos is populated with all the fat little egghead kids who used to get beaten up in grade school. Maybe the value of Los Alamos National Laboratory is that it has become a safe haven for all the fat little coke-bottle-glasses misfits that used to piss their pants in grade school and play dungeons and dragons, and in doing so has spared the world from the wrath of thousands of potential serial killers or ultra-smart homeless people. No one likes a know-it-all and no one likes a spoiled rich kid, but, by God, this blog sure paints LANL as place that's busting at the seams with both of these types of annoying pukes. I might come for a vacation this summer just to catch a glimpse of this year's fashion array of high-water pants, pocket protectors and plastic-rim eye glasses. Oh, and do they give you guys graham crackers and pints of milk in the afternoon there, too, just before nap time? You seem to get everything else you want. It's a pity you don't seem to get that. It's a pity that you can't seem to figure out and admit that you guys were goofing off and some person got blinded by a laser and that someone was goofing off and nobody could figure out whether someone had walked out with some state secrets or something. Do you think bungles like that make you guys lovable and valuable to the rest of the world? Remember in high school when you rarely took a bath and people didn't hang around you because you smelled like crap, but you thought no one hung around you because you got an A on the Algebra test and they were all jealous and dumb? You were wrong then and you're wrong now. Give yourselves a collective noogie on Monday and maybe you'll all come to your senses, and then Congress won't have to give you that really, really painful noogie that'll have you all updating your resumes. Oh, and put on some deodorant while you're at it, okay? Here's a litle secret: People really do like smart people. People just don't like know-it-alls who don't appreciate what they have, okay? Good. There will be a pop quiz on this material later this week.
Poster 10:33

Are you for real? I mean I am not
really sure what to make of what you
said. If for by chance you are real
I welcome you to come for a
visit to Los Alamos. You may wish
to hear a public on some of the science that is going on. Additionly
I think your eyes might be opened to
how dedicated, honest and intersisting the people at Los Alamos are. You will enjoy your
visit to New Mexico. Also I would like to point out that maybe you should go
visit some folks in your nearby university doing some physics or
working in other fields. They are very open to people from the public and would love to share with you the
joy of science and discovery.

LANL serves the nation in so many ways. It is true that we have a bad
leader. It happens.
We will be ok in the long run if
we stick to the facts. By the way
a large amount of the people can and
will leave LANL. This is a fact and
it will not be good for the nation.
Wow 10:33 sure has an axe to grind here... but doesn't really sound like anyone with a legitimate connection to or interest in the community or laboratory. Sad for him, all that hostility.
I'm not quite sure what to make of 10:33, but man, he sure has some unresolved issues, doesn't he?

My best guess is that he used to be the school bully, and now that he's all grown up, he can't come to terms with the fact that all those hard-studying nerds he used to pick on have moved ahead of him in life. Lots of resentment in this guy. I kind of feel sorry for him.

Or maybe he actually is a kid still in high school. That might explain the immaturity of his post.

Another possibility is that he's Pete Nanos. The style sounds a lot like the original "buttheads and cowboys" rant we all were subjected to back in July. But rumor has it that Pete needs to have his e-mail printed out for him, so it's unlikely Nanos would be blogging.

I'm afraid, though, that 10:33 is representative of a large group of people out there, people who hated and resented the smart kids in school, and have never been able to let go of that resentment and move on with their lives. These people resent the success that intelligence and hard work bring. They discount all the hard work that brings success to the "nerds," and instead attribute that success to some ill-defined and imaginary, but somehow fundamentally unfair, special treatment. These people are just itching to see the objects of their resentment take a fall, regardless of the consequences to the nation. It's all based on old pent-up hatred that's been stewing since their high school days. Unfortunately, many of these people vote, and their views are well-represented in Congress.

So, to all of you resentment-laden ex-bullies out there, let me set a few things straight.

1) 10:33 seems to think Los Alamos is populated by "spoiled rich kids." Hmmmmm. While I'm sure there are a few here who come from wealthy families, I personally don't know any of these. As for me, I'm from a middle class blue-collar family. Neither of my parents went to college. I happened to be good in math and science. I worked hard and got straight A's in high school, then again in college. This got me into an ivy-league graduate school, something my parents could not possibly have afforded to pay for. But I paid my own way as a teaching assistant and research assistant (a pretty standard arrangement in grad schools in the sciences). Finally, at the age of 30, having spent almost my entire life in school, I finally emerged, penniless, with a Ph.D. I then spent another three years in a low-paying postdoc position, before finally landing a technical staff job at LANL. Man, do I feel coddled! Imagine, paying the exhorbinant salary of $100,000/yr to a person with only eleven years of higher education! (How many MD's or lawyers spend that much time in school?) I've got friends with only a high school education who have more money than I do, because they started making real money in their 20's, while I was still working for peanuts in graduate school. I figure that, with my current six-figure salary, I might finally catch up by the time I retire. I think my story is pretty typical. Yep, just a bunch of spoiled rich kids.

2) 10:33 says "that someone was goofing off and nobody could figure out whether someone had walked out with some state secrets or something." Keep in mind, 10:33, that the person who screwed up was not one of the scientists you hate so much. It was a clerk with a high school education who couldn't keep track of the inventory. It's always the scientists who take the heat, though.

3) 10:33 thinks that "Los Alamos is populated with all the fat little egghead kids who used to get beaten up in grade school." Well, there are some of those here. But not all of us. Some of us, myself included, are pretty large and pretty athletic. I'll wager that I could kick 10:33's sorry a**. (Just a hunch) So watch out, Mr. 10:33, if you show up in Los Alamos for your summer vacation. Some big bad physicist might track you down, beat you up, and steal your lunch money. Just like you used to do, back in your school-yard glory days. ;)
10:33 - Fill 'er up with unleaded please. Oh, and keep the change.
I really wish we could return to the days when new employees went to meet the Director at his home for dinner as they did under Bradbury, or had a 3-week training course in nuclear weapons elements taught by Glasstone. Somehow, mandatory ergonomics training and some cheetos seems like a poor substitute. Like it or not, we as a country will reap what we sow. For me, I believe that as long as there are nuclear weapons on this earth, Los Alamos scientists should maintain the most keen interest in their performance attributes as a public service to the United States. In the future, if Nanos et. al prevail here, that interest may well be from a contract employee properly seated at his keyboard safely and securely eating cheetos.
Sorry, 4:40 AM, there is no way I would set foot inside Nanos' house.
You might be surprised how many black-belts in the martial arts, how many long-distance hikers, how many cyclists, and how many joggers we have around here.
The reason that the 10:33 PM poster will mourn when the neighborhood KFC shuts down is because that is where he is employed.
Well said, Bill!
I'm here from the NYT article and lucked out with this great post! I was just wondering if any of you in the "reality based community" have noticed an increase in this kind of repressive attitude in step with recent goings-on like the Patriot Act, making libraries give the FBI information on lenders in secret, etc.?

There seems two separate but related things going on: 1) heightening of a repressive atmosphere and 2) an attack on science in general.

Your thoughts?

Oh, and ignore that jerk 10:33. He's obviously an idiot.
3:12-- It doesn't help to have a self described "C student" in the white house. Too many people have the idea that doing well in school is for nerds (like the moron above). Learning is cool, and being dumb is, well, dumb.
As for science, you are absolutely correct. People now seem to make a judgement, and choose what facts to examine based on their pre-conceived notion. Pretty sad. Hopefully the pendulum will swing the other way (I learned about that in high school)
Read the "Venona Secrets" in order to see why certain people wanted openness during the 1940s - they wanted their Soviet buddies to have the bomb concurrently with ourselves. As it stands, enough was leaked that combined with Soviet espionage and R&D, they had it by 1949. As for the ad hominem attacks on me, by people who have no idea about my own politics, ethnicity and background, all I can say is, take a look at my blog, and see if you can deal with it. It's not rocket (or bomb) physics, but, it certainly challenges the latter day utopian complacency of the West:

You might be particularly interested in today's post.

Hey Bill,

In the 12 years I've known you, we've never agreed on anything, but to paraphrase that great American patriot, "I may disagree with you, but I will defend your right to say it to death."

Too bad Baghdad Bob didn't understand the true culture of Los Alamos -- otherwise there would have been no LANL blog.

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