Monday, August 15, 2011

Innovation and Risk in Government Research

They may not have Hubert J. Farnsworth on the payroll, but DARPA engineers and scientists are allowed to do things that have a high-level of both innovation and risk of failure, exemplified by the recent failed test of a hypersonic vehicle.  That is the main thrust of a piece by Michael Belfiore today, who also points out:
Then as now, it was a nimble, quick-moving organization with a minimal bureaucracy and no laboratories of its own. Instead, its 100 or so program managers cook up ideas to farm out to universities, private companies and other organizations to do the work of bending metal and writing code to make them work (or not). (emphasis mine)
I personally know six people with recent masters of Ph.Ds in either geology, marine geology or geophysics who are employed by the federal government  Five of the six do absolutely no science, but are instead employed a bureaucrats. There main function is dealing with grants to universities as well, but instead of pushing the envelope, their agencies just ensure that limited funding is channeled to those academic scientists who are working on the latest fashionable topic that has high cost and a good rate of overhead return for academic administrators.  Basic research in all aspects of geology has in the past been the mission of agencies such as the USGS, but alas this is no longer done.

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