Sorry, leftists, but it’s impossible to optimize for two values simultaneously.
by David Sims
SOME SAY that racial bias is the reason for the preponderance of older Whites in senior positions in Western scientific institutions. That’s false. I’d elaborate, but in order to do so, I’d have to delve into the sort of scientific facts that got James Watson into hot water at Cold Spring Harbor. But the same basic cause also explains why all 12 Apollo astronauts were White men — for why nearly everyone you see in a crowd of jumping, cheering SpaceX engineers is White — and for why, when a man came out of Africa to the United States to begin a spectacularly successful rocket company, that man was a White man.
I’ve begun to wonder whether the same unpopular facts might also explain the grossly over-budget status and the enormous production delays in NASA’s Space Launch System and in Northrop Grumman with regard to the James Webb Space Telescope. There is, perhaps, a little too much “diversity”?
Here’s why you can never increase “equality” without losing ground on your original, primary objectives: Nothing can be optimized for two different values simultaneously. There’s always a trade-off. It’s true for radar pulse waveforms, where to get better range you must sacrifice some precision in Doppler, or vice versa. (That’s true even though there are a few waveforms to do both fairly well; e.g. the TEA spike-plateau waveform from a CO₂ laser.)
In a scientific organization you can optimize for quality in the science you do, or you can sacrifice some of that quality in order to undertake secondary missions. How, exactly, do you “leverage” an observatory’s telescopes in order to “change communities” without some sacrifice in the quality of science? I don’t think that you can.
If “changing communities” is the goal, then someone or other must have had the opinion that those communities weren’t good enough as they were. That might be a matter of opinion. And even if everyone agreed that a community wasn’t good enough, ideas about which changes are best may vary. And even if unanimity of opinion about desirable community changes could be reached, you still can’t optimize for two different values at the same time. The more you do here, the less you do there. The more money you spend on this, the less money you will have to spend on that.
The recent suggestion that astronomers, or their employers, somehow pony up the extra cash needed to provide a community whose members have an average IQ of 70 with high-speed Internet service is a case in point. (And, once they have that, they’ll want something else. And then something else, etc. ad infinitum.) The money you spend doing that won’t be available for scientific purposes.
I don’t see much potential for synergy with respect to observational astronomy on the one hand and “community betterment” of the incurably primitive on the other. You can get all the scientific talent that you will ever need from populations in which the relevant talents are already abundant.
* * *