Friday, October 21, 2005

Science with the Mission in Mind

New hand out material is available at the Los Alamos Alliance storefront office. I requested an electronic copy of it for distribution on the blog. It is entitled “Science with the Mission in Mind”, and was written by Paul Robinson and Don Cook. Here are the first few paragraphs:

“Science with the Mission in Mind”
Paul Robinson and Don Cook

A core purpose in creating the Los Alamos Alliance team was to find better ways to support, nurture, and increase the breadth, depth, and impact of scientific research at Los Alamos. The Alliance team recognizes that LANL is—first and foremost—a national security laboratory with a core program in nuclear weapons. Los Alamos’ first mission: to create, maintain, and modernize the nation’s nuclear deterrent, remains a continuing responsibility. We also recognize that a broad interpretation of national security must always be taken, allowing room in the mission space for all science and technology which has the potential to benefit the National interest. In fact, such a view was written into the Request for Proposals for the Management and Operation of the laboratory.

This broad interpretation of national security includes:
• understanding major threats to the nation
• developing means to protect against or counter these
• seeking to prevent technological surprise by any adversary—now or in the future
• striving to create new strengths for our nation

It also includes:
• developing new energy sources, and increasing the efficiency of energy use
• finding ways to assure the security of important national infrastructures
• developing better means for environmental protection and remediation

All of these national security missions depend on having the best science available to the Laboratory. Sustaining the scientific capability of the Laboratory, in addition to understanding the lab missions today and delivering on them will require cultivation of a “best-in-science” laboratory environment culture that necessitates investments in cutting-edge, high-risk science. It also requires that we constantly hone the skills of present staff, seek to build and sustain world-class science capabilities, and enable recruitment of the very best science and technology graduates.

Creating a laboratory to meet these challenges is what we have called “Science with the Mission in Mind.” It is not a new concept; you can see its origins in the Los Alamos Laboratory of the early 1940s. Early Los Alamos workers could not have been successful in the Manhattan Project without close collaboration and teaming to achieve that mission. Their motivation was not science alone, not mission alone, not science stove-piped from mission, but science and mission integrated. It is that combination that made Los Alamos such an important laboratory then, and sustained it for so many years since.

[...]

Full Article


Comments:
This appears to be a pretty complete response to "Richard P Feynman"'s questions regarding the Alliance's views on the science mission at LANL. I suggest that Feynman's ghost look this over, and provide us with some direct feedback on the extent to which his questions were addressed.

-Doug
 
I believe that "Science with the Mission in Mind" is sound, and that LANL has strayed from this concept into chasing "hot" science to get their name forward.
LANL was not created as, and is not intended to be, a "pure research" lab. Its science, and its LDRD going back to Bradbury, has always been sold as mission related. Other organizations, such as DARPA and NSF, are closer to pure science.
In this area, and in others, LANL needs to get back to a clear vision of their role, as a contractor to the NNSA. It is not UC/LANL's role to tell NNSA what the mission is, which is what they have been doing lately.
Whoever wins the competition, I hope the future looks more like the one suggested by Robinson, and less like the present.
 
Interesting that this blog is referenced in the article. Also interesting is the silly "fact sheet" put out by LANS. Is LANS even trying? It appears not.
I particularly liked that Dr. Robinson mentioned the importance of the "no,no" quadrant work. However, people would do well to consider that he states flat out that those who want to emulate Edward Teller's "independent research," but lack his genius should consider another career choice. The question is how far this will extend. For example, how "mission related" is the (very valuable, IMHO) tsunami modelling done in X-2? Time will tell on this question.
I applaud Dr Robinson for taking the time to answer people's questions and address their concerns.
And "lucky," whoever you are, I find your comments some of the best-written and insightful on this blog.
 
It is interesting that this blog was mentioned in Paul and Don's writeup.

I hear that the LANL PA office still characterizes "that blog" as the home of "a few highly vocal malcontents", just as they originally did during interviews with Heather Clark of the Associated Press and Bill Broad of the New York Times a while back prior to Nanos leaving.

I hope that Lockheed Martin and friends have plans to adjust the honesty factor regarding material that leaves the PA office. I think the PA office has done as much to harm LANL's image this past year as all of Nanos' screwups combined.
 
As bad as some in PA have been as a facilitators to Nanos and his minions, there were a few in that office that tried their best to keep the output aboveboard. Baghdad Bob and Comical Ali, bad as they were, could NEVER reach the level of Saddam Nanos in their true destructiveness.
 
I have to agree with Brad on his point. Most of the people in PA are good people. (as are the good people in HR, SUP, CCN, or whatever org we are frustrated with.) They are simply trying to do the best job they can in the (broken) system they work in.
 
I would like to comment on lucky's posting about pure science organizations. While NSF indeed does fund pure science through a peer review process of made up of other scientists, DARPA is a very different beast. DARPA wants to do "DARPA hard" problems that are EXTREMELY mission oriented and EXTREMELY hard. DARPA programs are run by a cadre of program managers that have full autonomy on thier programs as long as the head of DARPA approves. Ironically, this is somewhat akin to Paul Robinson's comment that 'Los Alamos staff often took pride in declaring that “The Los Alamos Laboratory is a bunch of scientific privateers, bound together by a common janitor service.' except that in DARPA's case the "privateers" have free reign of action as long as they pass the mission and hardness test of the leadership. DARPA actively interacts with the DOD to keep abreast of emerging mission requirements and needs.
 
I would like to go on record as saying that I am ambivalent about who is the best choice as new contractor. But this statement is very impressive. I haven't seen this kind of thoughtfulness in several years. Let's hope Anastasio and Dynes can respond with their own thoughts.
 
The LAA "Science with Mission in Mind" is fine -- but don't get overly excited. This is largely a rework of standard visions statement for both Los Alamos and Sandia. The "mission" which includes NWP, Threat reduction and energy security is identical in content to the LANL mission:

"We develop and apply science and technology to

(1)Ensure the safety and reliability of U.S. nuclear deterrent;
(2)Reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction, proliferation, and terrorism; and
(3)Solve national problems in defense, energy, environment, and infrastructure."


It probably is not real surprising that the LAA and LANL mission statement are so similiar -- it was called out specifically in the RFP. Presumably, Cook's contribution to the LAA paper is the Pasteur's Quadrant comments. There is absolutely nothing insight here that can not be lifted from a dozen R&D webpages, and in fact, I believe that several former ADs at LANL have written about this. This is not to say that Cook is a fine thinker (although a search on his background suggests a mediocre science career but more in science education).

Look beyond the first part of the paper. First, I am not sure that I recall anyone "boasting on the LANL-the-real-story Blog that their personal work interests have never related to the missions of the lab". Doug might have some examples. However, there have been tremendous battles over the importance of LDRD. The LAA paper chose to use a classic propaganda tool to suggest that there is a segment of LANL that is totally running amok, and then appealing to all the "level-headed" parts of the lab to reign them in. This is just classic -- divide and conquer by complimenting the masses and pointing to an imaginary villain. It is just great to say that there are a bunch of slackers that imagine themselves "Tellers", by getting rid of them we will all be better. I just don't buy this at all.

There are positive in the LAA paper -- the comments on streamlining the business practices are right on. I should add that despite some difficult discussions on LDRD on the Blog, the LANL program is the only one that the IG believes is managed appropriately. Watkin's management and justification of the program is used by the other two labs.

Where people should feel nervous is in the implementation of the LAA model. “we envision a rearrangement and integration of the current divisions, as they exist today, into an organizational structure that is quite different from the existing configuration.” What does that really mean? Will T Division disappear? At SNL theory is “integrated” within the various centers. Further, there were no answers about what LAA will do with foreign nationals, which are largely absent from SNL.

While it is admirable that there is some response from LAA, I think that the enthusiasm expressed for the statement on the Blog is misguided
 
W76 clearly has been around LANL for a while, and shows just as clearly that he has has a good head on his shoulders, and not a warhead, either.

The valuable message that I take away from his last comment on this thread is that talk is cheap.

The point that I would like to make is that UC has demonstrated a nearly infinite capacity for empty talk. My hope is that LAA is different in this regard, and I am willing to give them a chance to prove it. I would be unwilling to give LANS a chance, because

1. UC is part of their LLC, and
2. they have not demonstrated that they are willing to do anything other than pick up were UC left off.

-Doug
 
Oh, and one other thing that W76 reminded me of, not that I usually need to be reminded of this: there is nothing wrong with a good healthy dose of scepticism when listening to someone who wants to sell you something. Both LLC's would like to sell the community on the concept that they would be the best choice as the next LANL contractor.

One of them, however, seems much more sincere to me.

-Doug
 
I'd like to point out that neither of these groups really needs to sell the community on anything. They need to sell DOE/NNSA on their ability to perform DOE/NNSA's mission.

The community's expressing opinions on contractors is interesting, but somewhat inconsequential. The bottom line is that you will basically have to choose between leaving and staying based on how well you believe the chosen contractor meets your individual preferences in a variety of areas.
 
The UC/Bechtel stuff does not ring true. UC does not really acknowledge any wrongdoining. Sort of like "I deny having done it but I promise never to do it again."

I just do not believe these guys!

Note that LM/UT is probably not a whole lot better, but they will screw us in different ways.
 
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