Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The much-discussed lab Fellows' paper

Here is the lab fellows' paper that has been under discussion on the




Oh, yeah. That's going to fix all of our problems.

No wonder Dave didn't want to show it to us.

Quality of Metrics my ass. A bunch of academic know-it-alls get together in a room to solve the lab's problems, and this is what they come up with. If this is their best effort, than LANL deserves to go down the tubes. Hell, I'll even flush a second time if that will guarantee that the fellows go with.
I have to agree with Roderick Spade. These guys are arrogant and elitist. This document reeks of the separation between the intellectually-snobbish Fellows and those of us who actually have to get the work done. Yes it is no suprise that Dave did not want to show it to us.
That's "Spode", Bard, not "Spade". I may have a dark sense of humor, but not that dark.
I think we just located a little pocket of deadwood.

LANS, here's a cherry-picking opportunity if you're looking for ways to reduce the FY07 budget shortfall.

Unless, of course, you want to have expensive people on staff whose sole responsibility is to produce worthless, empty academic papers...
I can only say that these responses support my reasons for not bothering to post the paper. This should be obvious to even the casual viewer.

I read the paper, and I have to say that I pretty much agree with the comments that have been posted so far, at least as they pertain to the usefulness of the paper with respect to the issues and problems that currently exist at LANL.

I'm sorry the paper did not meet with rave reviews, but in my opinion, it does not deserve them. It comes across as disconnected from the real problems at LANL, as having been produced by committee, and is far off the mark in terms of providing realistic, useful solutions. We all know what the current issues at LANL are. LAUR_06_3393 does not address any of them.


I haven't posted in a long time because I gave up 'the real story' for lent, and would probably have dropped it due to the whining of the Wodehouse Rejects. The latest NNSA issues were the only reason for me to want to post.. so I thought I would read the paper to see if it would make a difference... because really I would like to see something done.

Here are my comments:

1) It does read like academic committee written text. Lots of greater than 3 syllable words that could have been cut/replaced but seem to be there just to show that the writers have PhD's. I wish I could say it nicer.. but that is as nice as I could. There are a lot of scientists still at the lab who want to see it grow/succeed. However, one thing I have heard from dinners with them is that they are tired of 'designed by committee/stating nothing' documents that do not aim at the heart of the problems at LANL.

2) The paper comes across that everyone at LANL has a PhD or is working on one. I think the number from when I was there was more in lines of 1 in 10 were in this position. Some organizations were heavy in them (T) and some of the larger organizations (SUB) had few. The reason for bringing this up is that in detailing what organization metrics should be.. you need to get the buy-in of the majority of people in an organization. Without that, you increase the class mentality that the metrics really are aimed at the people who 'count' and the rest of the organization does not.

3) The paper assumes that everyone knows what the mission of the Lab is. One issue that I had with the Lab was that depending on whether you were in T or X, people had highly divergent views of what the Lab's mission was. People who had criss-crossed from X to T seemed to have a convergent view.. but it did not seem to be echo'd by people who had not done so. Hearing what the mission was from CCS versus C versus DX always was an interesting way to figure out if people worked at the same place.

So in conclusion... if this document is meant to be a building block of rebuilding scientific morale, it needs to focus on what the real issues facing LANL are and not walk around them. It also needs a central author versus a committee.

A) What is LANL's real mission from Congress/Executive branch. Not what the people currently at LANL think it should be, but what the taxpayer money is being sent to zip code 87545 for.
B) What is LANL's overall goal to meet in 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?
C) How does LANL re-invent itself to meet these 2 issues.

If you can answer these 3 items, you can get a better answer on what metrics should be measured. Maybe it is that even SUB (fill in organization that should be primarily results driven) should put out papers on putting economic theory into practice, and that those papers are reviewed as best in class.

Or maybe it is that the primary focus is on science and engineering that is creation/detection/destruction of weapons of mass destruction, and that other areas of research are only allowed if they do not intefere with that focus.

In either case.. you will be able to get better buyin from a larger percentage of people working LANL whether they are PhD's or the guy cleaning coffee pots.
Given that this blog will close in a couple of weeks, what might be a good mechanism to extend this discussion and get an improved document for Dave and the rest of us?

I have a blog and other resources if anyone would like to use them.

Gruntled Guy,

Thank you so much for posting those comments. They were spot on.

I've been at LANL for many years, and yet, the old truism is more
valid today than it has ever been: "LANL appears to be a group of
separate Division held together by a common janitorial service."

I only have a few more years left here, but hope to God that the
situation will change. Many of the staff I talk with have become
very despondent and are likely to leave in the next few years.

I wish LANS the best in turning this situation around.
It's going to be an enormous task, and academic "solution" papers
issued from "on high" are probably not the answer. I'm not sure
what the answer is to fix things as they stand. Certainly, our
management should not be afraid of criticism. Also, the divide
between management and the working staff is in great need of
being fixed. Kuckuck did a good job at starting this process.

As others have mentioned, we also have big divisions between
the scientific elites (like the Fellows) and the rest of the
scientific staff that labors at Los Alamos (and does good work!).
And let's not forget the great divide between most of the TSMs
and the support staff.

I'm not sure whether Anastascio is up to the task of helping
to repair this mess, but perhaps I've not been able to take the
full measure of the man. He seems rather aloof, and I don't
take that as a positive sign. His talk of Los Alamos having
"Zero Accidents / Zero Security Incidents" seems to harken
back to the words we heard from Nanos. Does he not realize
this? Kuckuck seemed aware of it, and tread very lightly in
this area.

The biggest problem emerging on LANL's horizon is the large
budgetary shortfall. This could easily set up even more discord
between divisions and staff as hard financial decisions are made.
For example, just how valuable is LANCSE to LANL? Is it worth
losing 300 jobs to keep it up and running? I don't know, but
our management will soon be facing these tough decisions.

Walk the halls, and you'll hear the Gallows's Humor just about
anywhere within LANL. The feeling of much of the staff is
that we are heading toward a very nasty shipwreck, and
it's not clear who the survivors will be. And all this talk
about "finding a mission" is a clear indicator that things
have gone badly astray. You don't have to "find a mission" if
you're a National Lab with scientific treasures for the nation.
The mission should be able to find Los Alamos, if, indeed,
there is one for the taking. Perhaps there isn't. Maybe the
days of a Great Mission are over, and we are destined for only
life-support status making nuclear "buggy-whips" for the
21st century. I don't know, and neither does most of the
working staff, or our managers, or even the DOE. Only the
Congress and the citizens of the US can set our mission, and
they have been silent about what they really want us to do.
An addendum to what Doug, "gruntled guy", and "good2go" said: the very last thing LANL needs is another glorified bean counting procedure to "prove" how well we are doing. "Quality of Metrics" smacks of exactly that. The whole concept presented by the paper is horribly academic and naive.
It was good of gruntled and good2go to spend so much time providing thoughtful comments on David's paper. Unfortunately, David has repeatedly demonstrated that he is the type of person who completely rejects input that does not agree with his point of view.

Since the people who post here on the blog seldom agree with David, comments about the paper which originate from here will be automatically discounted by him.
Justastaffmember is missing a key point. Metrics for science will be in our future, whether we like it or not, because of the performance-based fee structure. I will at least give the Fellows credit for recognizing this and for trying to get ahead of the game. Surely we don't want a LANL where performance is measured only by how many pits are stamped by NNSA, or whether we issue QER for the Wxx within 10% of cost/schedule baseline.

But at the same time, I have to look back and wonder when it was, exactly, that the Fellows lost their potency and relevance as a political force at the Lab?

I suppose I concede your point about needing a way to "prove" to the new contractor that we are doing just peachy, so that the the new contractor can turn around and "prove" to DOE and NNSA that things at Los Alamos are just peachy.

Regarding your question about the lab fellows: I suspect it was at about the same time that they collectively stopped providing anything of value to the lab, and became instead a self-congratulation society.
For anyone who's ever contemplated marrying a sibling, please read this paper first. Oh where are the Oppi's, Teller's and Fermi's of the world when you need them?
It was refreshing to see some actual discussion on this topic rather than multitudinous personal attacks. I only discount comments when they are personal attacks rather than substantive discussion, and unfortunately, the former has been the majority. The purpose of the paper wasn't to increase morale or establish the purpose of the Laboratory. It was to provide a tool to enable scientific excellence to be part of the management of the Laboratory rather than be an after thought. The Lab Fellows are only trying to provide input into this process. We are not a political body, never have been, and shouldn't be, in my opinion. We try to provide technical help for the science and engineering at the Laboratory. We have great respect for the staff at this Laboratory and we all work with the staff everyday doing "real" work as do the staff. To attack the fellows for being recognized for the ability to have done and to do excellent science is to attack the Laboratory itself. We have tried to raise the level of discussion to what could be done to sustain and improve scientific excellence. The Lab has many problems to deal with, but this is one that we felt we could contribute to. Many of the ideas in this document came from the staff and organizations outside the Laboratory. We have just tried to assemble the important ideas and have management recognize that ensuring scientific excellence is part of the managements responsibility and provide a constructive process to do so. We accept all constructive suggestions to add to or modify the metrics to ensure that what goes on at the Lab is quality work and consistent with quality science and engineering which is at the core of the Laboratory regardless of its mission.
I appreciate the substantive discussion that has gone on for this topic.

I have vetted documents that would extend the discussion for those who would be interested.

To answer the obvious question, no I am not going to post them here. The documents are hundreds of pages long and go into great detail about the topics that were mentioned today.

Any blog reader can find out more about these documents, and,hopefully, extend the present discussion by contacting me directly.

In fact the Fellows' paper has a lot of good points. One which caught my eye is reform of the DRCs, which have been quite corrupt. Applause centers!! One place where UC did not do its job, where they should have pushed for impartial review.

A point which the Fellows, and Dave, seem to have missed, the importance of openness. Once upon a time, under Watkins and O'Leary the DRC membership, agenda, and summary would have been open. Now they are hidden away, apparently from even the DOE. This is not healthy for those who would do "great science". I would like to see the Fellows push for openness. That said, the report seems quite useful. But "the proof of the pudding is in the eating".

The essential "problem" at the Lab is that their budget is not based on "great science" but "great politics". Some fresh air, read openness, is needed for reality to intrude.

Some analog to the UC Academic Senate would be healthy also...

I think that the paper has merits, but I don't think it can be properly implemented until the CORE issues plagueing the lab are dealt with.

What is the Lab's core mission that every group is supposed to be working at accomplishing or working on their resumes to go somewhere else?

What does Congress+Executive branch expect LANL to accomplish in 2,5 and 10 years from now?

these and a couple others are hard questions to get answers on. It would be nice to know if all everyone above us wants is for LANL NOT to be in the news for 10 years.. that sets clear expectations of what can be expected of science. It would be nice to know that LANL should focus on XYZ as their core essential mission and rally around it.. even if it meant 1/2 of the lab no longer met that mission.

Can the Fellows use the contacts they have in Washington etc to get some clear cut answers. Not a glib pep talk, but a clear "this is what is expected of you to accomplish by 2012. If you don't think it is what you want to do.. please start looking elsewhere because this is not going to change."

Until then.. morale will be bad and provable metrics will not matter.
Would be interesting to see the results from a poll asking for a response to a version of the "Morale in my Group is High" statement, along with a few others.
My difficulty with the request of Gruntled Guy of asking for a clear direction and clear goals for 2012 is that I have not found people able to answer that question in D.C. with a credible answer.

People change jobs frequently and goals are redone on an impulse.

So my question is "If the where is D.C . going in 2012?" question has no credible answer, how should we behave locally in order to do good science?

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