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“Never gonna give you up”

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.

10 comments to “Never gonna give you up”

  • I posted a diary this morning on Daily Kos suggesting that Obama should keep Griffin as NASA administrator at least in the short term. I said this knowing full well most Kossacks would not support him due to his role in censoring James Hansen. I did a poll and almost 80% of respondents would not give him a second chance.

  • For someone who is supposedly “censored,” Hansen has certainly made a lot of stupid comments over the years. I’m sure that most Kossacks would oppose Griffin for no other reason than he is a Bush appointee. In fact, it was kind of amusing (and sad) to see so much of the discussion on the web whether he should stay or go quickly devolve to those who supported him or opposed him for no other reason than he was a Bush appointee.

  • RocketScientist

    “I posted a diary this morning on Daily Kos suggesting that Obama should keep Griffin as NASA administrator at least in the short term”

    Why, may I ask? I am not a ‘Kossacks’ and don’t even know what that term means. Can you explain?

    I think he has been a terrible NASA administrator, and his “major contribution” – the ARES program, has been and is a disaster (the STS smooth return so far is a credit to his predecessors and the workforce, the COTS also started prior to him)

    Frankly, I have no idea what Dr. Griffin acomplished in 4 years. Or before that.

    Moreover, the science degrees notwithstanding I am yet to see any operational space system he acomplished.

  • RocketScientist – Its a term that refers to people who hang out and comment and blog at Dailykos.

    As for many Dkos members (another term meaning the same thing), the reasons for not liking Griffin were varied, but regardless, he needs to go. No doubt Rand can guess my thoughts.

  • Then there this from earlier in the week:

    http://www.opennasa.com/2009/01/08/future-nasa-projects/

    The one I created was mostly in response to the NASA one and to point out the silliness of someone having to get OMB to approve the responses (I’m still not clear if the answers were actually provided BY OMB, which would be really sad).

    Polls like this are mildly entertaining and can sometimes provide insight into what a communities more motivated (or bored) members. The fact that before Phil Plait’s group found it (and the site is easily hackable, just vote, delete your cookies, and then vote again) Pete Worden and Lori Garver were so high lead me to think that Pete has more brand recognition than he realizes.

  • Hey, Ferris. Thanks for explaining Kossacks. While some Kossacks did state other reasons for dismissing Griffin, the overwhelming number of comments on my diary cited the James Hansen/Global Warming affair as the number 1 reason. I have heard from some including you that Griffin has been a terrible admin. Thin Ice provided me with some references to his own work on why he says this. So I would ask you to provide me with references or links to articles or statements that support your opinion. Incidentally, here are some additional links from me to support my argument for retaining Griffin for the time being:

    http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_space_thewritestuff/2008/11/nelson-tells-ob.html

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/24/opinion/24stern.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&ref=opinion

    As you can see, Senator Bill Nelson wants Obama to retain Griffin for the time being. Dr. Alan Stern, who had a major disagreement with Griffin over the Mars projects cost overruns, still praises Griffin for what he has accomplished. Much of the criticism of his leadership comes from people outside of NASA who have an agenda like Steve Metschan and Direct 2.0 or JPL, an agency who has had a long history of conflict with NASA management. Even Darksyde on Daily Kos has mix feelings about Griffin, he has both praised and criticized him.

  • Much of the criticism of his leadership comes from people outside of NASA who have an agenda like Steve Metschan and Direct 2.0 or JPL, an agency who has had a long history of conflict with NASA management.

    My “agenda” that leads me to criticize Griffin is that his plan is a huge waste of my tax dollars, and it won’t get our species into space in any meaningful way.

  • Even Darksyde on Daily Kos has mix feelings about Griffin, he has both praised and criticized him.
    The issue is not and never has been whether Dr. Griffin deserves praise. The issue is whether he deserves to stay at NASA. And Darksyde made very clear his views on that – Griffin needs to go. And I suspect that Stern probably has a similar take on Griffin (although I don’t know). As I said, the issue isn’t whether he deserves praise – the issue is whether he should stay or go.

    As for the criticism outside of NASA – no I don’t agree that most of it is from people who have an agenda, at least in the sense of having a personal stake/agenda. If I may quote Rand here

    My “agenda” that leads me to criticize Griffin is that his plan is a huge waste of my tax dollars, and it won’t get our species into space in any meaningful way.

    I couldn’t have said it better

  • Al Fansome

    NELLASELIM: As you can see, Senator Bill Nelson wants Obama to retain Griffin for the time being.

    Dear NellaSelim,

    This is old data, which has been overcome by events. All the recent drama has clearly altered Nelson’s opinion about Griffin.

    Instead, Senator Nelson is using his energy to promote Charlie Bolden as Griffin’s replacement.

    FWIW,

    - Al

  • [...] answers; you can even vote up or down questions and suggestions submitted by others. (Hopefully they don’t get “rickrolled” like another online poll earlier this year about who should be administrator.) The committee also has an account on the [...]

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