No, the title is not the battle cry of supporters of current NASA administrator Mike Griffin, but it does have a cameo role in the saga of who might replace him. Read on…
There is a certain fascination within some elements of the space advocacy community with polls. Get enough people to vote in a survey of some kind and the issue will become more prominent with decision makers or other people of influence. The best example of this was the effort last year to submit and vote up space policy questions solicited by the CNN-Politico presidential candidate debates. That effort succeeded in the sense that space questions were, for at least some of the time, the most popular questions in the survey, but was ultimately a failure: no space questions were used in either debate.
A smaller-scale version of the above is taking place now, involving the “Open for Questions” section of Change.gov, the Obama transition team’s web site, where people can submit and vote on policy questions the new administration should consider. The Mars Society sent out a notice earlier this week asking people to vote up space-related questions on the “Science & Technology” portion of the site. The highest-ranked space question I could find there this morning was #21, and not terribly coherent: “What exactly is the plan in space exploration? Appointing a bureaucrat instead of a scientist leads one to the conclusion that NASA is not going to be used to inspire hope, instead, that it is going to the wayside. What is the plan?” It’s not clear what “Denver Gal” meant in her question about “appointing a bureaucrat instead of a scientist” in this context.
Given this fascination with polls and surveys, it’s not surprising that on Wednesday I saw a note (posted on the microblogging service Twitter) that a survey about who the next NASA administrator should be was posted at obamanasa.org. The site actually redirects to a survey at a site called UserVoice (“Customer Feedback 2.0 – Harness the ideas of your customers. Build great products. Turn customers into champions”). And, sure enough, you can vote for any number of people or nominate others.
One problem with this approach is that the voting process is not that intuitive. One of the first things you notice is a bright orange box with the text “10 votes left!” Huh? Should I hurry and vote now before the votes run out? Instead, it means that you have ten votes to cast (once you register for the service). No archaic one-person-one-vote system here: you can distribute votes among several people, and even give people more than one vote. Unfortunately, if there’s only candidate you like, you can’t give him or her more than three of your ten votes: the rest either go to waste or have to be distributed to others.
Another glitch I noticed is that it’s difficult to get a firm grasp of exactly how many votes each candidate has—something you wouldn’t think would be a problem, given the lack of hanging chads and absentee ballots. I checked the site simultaneously this morning on two different computers, running two different browsers, and got two slightly different vote numbers.
And then there’s the issue of the candidates. When the site was first announced Wednesday afternoon, it was clear it had spread among fans of NASA Ames director Pete Worden, who jumped into an early and significant lead even though he’s not thought to be on the transition team’s short list. Over time, though, given the open nature of the vote (anyone can nominate pretty much anyone) other candidates appeared. Some are quite serious: Lori Garver, Alan Stern, Charles Bolden, and even current administrator Mike Griffin.
But also there were people who decided to take the poll out for a joyride. As of Friday morning, the candidate with the most votes by far was Phil Plait, the “Bad Astronomer” blogger. In third place, right behind Worden? Wil Wheaton, best known as Wesley Crusher on the Star Trek: The Next Generation series. Other top vote-getters include Andy Ihnatko, a technology columnist; Stephen Colbert, who must be qualified since he is America, after all (and so can you!); and 80’s pop star Rick Astley (who sang the song in the title of this post). Yes, that’s right: the poll on who should run NASA has been rickrolled. (Don’t click on the link associated with Astley’s entry. Just… don’t.)
So what’s the purpose of such a poll that’s now been hijacked by people voting for TV personalities and pop stars? When the poll was first released I asked (via Twitter, of course) Andrew Hoppin, who announced the poll, what its purpose was: would it be used for anything more than an afternoon’s entertainment?. His response: “more than entertainment? Not sure,”, adding that he’s “interested in what people think out side the NASA community.” Now we know, although perhaps we wish we didn’t.