Late last month, NASA announced the results of a years-long investigation by its Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and its Launch Services Program (LSP). Back in 2009 and 2011, two climate-change-observing satellites failed to reach orbit and were lost at a total cost of US$700 million…
To allow the fairing to separate into its clamshell halves at the right moment during the launch phase of a flight, explosive charges are set off to sever the aluminum extrusions that hold the halves of the fairing together. But the aluminum has to have the right properties to break cleanly, it appears, and so NASA required supplier SPI to do certain materials tests on their extrusions, probably things like tensile strength and so on.
Given the right equipment, these are straightforward tests, and even low-level engineers and engineering students such as I teach know that faking test results is one of the worst, but at the same time one of the more common, engineering-ethics lapses.
According to the NASA report, such fakery became routine at SPI, so much so that a lab supervisor got in the habit of training newcomers how to fake test results. NASA found handwritten documents showing how the faking was done.
And this was no now-and-then thing. For whatever reason, the extrusions failed tests a lot, and so lots of faking went on, not only for NASA’s extrusions but for products bound for hundreds of other customers. But not all of them had the investigative resources and motivation of $700-million launch failures to check out what was happening. Karl D. Stephan, “Faked test result cost $700 million, says NASA” at MercatorNet
Today, if we are surrounded by dangerous flimflam, we may also be surrounded by blowhards puffing for “science” on its behalf. How about this from Chemistry World: Forensic science is “in crisis.” What a great way to convince people that the justice system is fair.
It’s rather amusing to hear clueless adminbots and their enablers explain to the world what’s wrong with people who don’t “trust science” in contexts where the non-trusters may show more awareness of what’s probably going on than the easy marks are. And many of them may be scarfing tax money to do this.
See also: At Forbes: Four reasons people “fear science” Of course, the price of cereal matters more to people on a limited budget than claims about polar bears, which they themselves never see outside a zoo. Most people in the world would not know that polar bears exist if no one told them so. But they would know if food was getting scarce and cannot easily be fooled on the point. Good for our expert witness for understanding that.
A study of the causes of science skepticism sails right by the most obvious cause of skepticism: Repeated untrustworthiness
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