• martinbrock

    “Five Myths about NASA” (the linked article) has no question mark. Is that a typo or editorializing?

    • hiigaran

      If it’s editorializing it’s justified. The linked article does what it accuses NASA supporters of. He offers absolutely no support of his claims. He just states “these are myths” without any actual evidence to back up his statements. It’s a poorly written article.

      Myth 1 alone is not a myth by almost any report or study ever done. Even the most conservative estimate of NASAs return on investment is 2-1, and some estimate it is as high as 14-1.

      In the article he’s basically saying “They may have a positive return on investment, but if it was private industry it would be even higher… because I say so.”

      NASA, as an organization, is a study in externalities and subtle long-term effects, that can often be very hard to measure. I really hope we can get better at academically quantifying the value of externalities because that data would go a very long way to helping us more accurately judge the value of things that right now seem to be inefficient.

      • martinbrock

        I worked for NASA for ten years, and I’ve seen ROI studies, and they’re mostly BS. NASA did not invent the microwave oven or even Tang, and even if it had, characterizing the value of these innovations as NASA ROI is incredible.

        If NASA’s ROI is 2-1, much less 14-1, why does it need any taxpayer support? And your claim is no more substantiated than the article’s claim anyway. “Almost any report or study ever done” is incredible hyperbole, not a citation.

        The article provides few details to back up its broad assertions, but the recipient of billions of taxpayer dollars annually bears this burden of proof, not a skeptic. We can and should assume that any recipient of tax dollars is a parasite until the recipient argues very persuasively otherwise. A free market participant already bears this burden, of course, because sellers in a free market are not entitled to buyers.

        NASA is certainly a study in externalities, and I don’t deny the possibility of an externality. I’m still a road socialist myself, but market internalities aren’t nearly as limited as proponents of state sponsored externalities sometimes pretend, and I deny that political internalities generally encompass market externalities. The idea that a market can’t do anything is credible enough, but the idea that a state can do anything that a market cannot do is clearly incredible.

        • hiigaran

          I would still take the word over somebody actually looking at numbers and data, and attempting to evaluate them over somebody just throwing out opinions based in pure ideology.

          My response being completely unsubstantiated was intentional, by the way, to emphasize how ridiculous it is to take anyone at their bald-faced word. I’m glad it was appreciated.

          I also disagree that ” the recipient of billions of taxpayer dollars annually bears this burden of proof”. It certainly should, in general, have to prove that its work is beneficial and that it’s not throwing money down a hole. It should have accountability, sure. It should have to demonstrate that its projects are in line with the goals laid as specified by its funding agency (federal government).

          But it shouldn’t bear the burden of having to prove that it is the best possible use of those dollars among all possible uses, it shouldn’t have to show that it’s measurable benefit is better than some non-existent private entity that could also be doing what it does. If an agency had to do that it would spend nothing but its time doing that.

          This also leads back to the classic argument for NASA (and why I mentioned how we need to get better at quantifying the value of externalities)… how do we put a dollar value on inspiration? On creating pride, fostering a deep yearning, a sense of wonder? As Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea”

          Maybe now that we finally have private companies dipping their toe into space exploration, NASA can sit back and quietly go away, but I personally feel that, much like other programs like Medicare, it will have a place in our national existence for quite some time.

          • martinbrock

            You seem to be throwing out opinions based on ideology yourself, but in your case, the absence of citation is supposed to be a mark in your favor. Your argument seems unfalsifiable.

            If you agree that a recipient of tax dollars bears the burden of proving that its work is beneficial, I don’t know why you say that you disagree with me.

            Saying that a tax recipient earns his way simply by doing what his state benefactors expect seems more than a little tautological. Does a feudal lord earn his way by doing the king’s bidding? You at least suggested some sort of ROI analysis before.

            I don’t want NASA showing that its “ROI” (which somehow quantifies externalities that for profit organizations also generate but can’t count toward their bottom line) is better than for profit organizations, imaginary or otherwise. I only want it to stop spending tax dollars.

            NASA does not inspire me, and it hasn’t inspired anyone I know for decades. I worked for NASA, in an astrophysics research lab, in the nineties. I started working for NASA when the Space Station was on the drawing board, and I know from personal experience that practically every scientist working for NASA, outside of the
            Space Station program, opposed it.

            Eventually, the Space Station absorbed a huge chunk of NASA’s budget, and NASA scientists and contracting scientists applied to conduct research with some of that money, so growing crystals in zero gravity suddenly became a highly esteemed research program, despite the fact that most scientists never would have pursued it otherwise. I saw this transformation occur over a decade before my eyes.

            Longing for the endless immensity of the sea sounds great to me. I just don’t know what it has to do with funneling billions of tax dollars into research programs better suited to generating profits for Boeing than exploring the depths that science dream of exploring when they aren’t searching for Federal research grant opportunities.

            Private enterprise does not miraculously make space exploration/habitation a profitable venture. People with visions of trekking across space in this generation will be as disappointed as people in my generation, but NASA presumably will continue funneling cash through the corporative state.

        • les kyle Nearhood

          As a resident of Houston I have a lot of acquaintances who, like you, worked at Nasa, Now mostly retired technicians. Funny that they tend to agree with you.

          I believe that government funding played an important role in the beginning of space exploration. Much as it did during the age of discovery. But at a certain point in time you need to jettison the government and go private.

          • martinbrock

            I was awestruck by the Apollo program, as a child in the sixties and seventies, as much as anyone, but I no longer believe that states should sponsor awesome programs simply because they’re awesome. If people want to be awestruck, they can freely associate to sponsor the awesomeness they prefer. Mars One is a good example of this sort of association, whether or not it succeeds.

            Your last statement seems to suppose that the time to jettison government is uncertain, so if Mars One never takes off without state funding, or if funding dries up after the first astronaut dies, then states may take over. If states wait in the wings to bail out a failed venture, the venture was never properly “private” in the first place. If a venture does not fail when its patrons no longer freely patronize it, it’s just another state program.

      • CT

        Hold on a sec … 2 to 1? 14 to 1? Over what time frame? Because if you only get your $14 forty years later that isn’t much of an ROI …
        Citation needed …

  • Sean II

    For those who didn’t click through to experience Russell Brand’s prose, I give you these little purple gems:

    “All of the Tory edicts that bludgeoned our nation, as my generation squirmed through ghoulish puberty, were confusing.”

    “”The News” was the pompous conduit through which we suckled at the barren baroness through newscaster wet-nurses, naturally; not direct from the steel teat. Jan Leeming, Sue Lawley, Moira Stuart – delivering doctrine with sterile sexiness, like a butterscotch-scented beige vapour.”

    Brennan, there’s only one fit punishment for causing us to read that. I hope Brand applies to grad school and ends up writing a thesis under your supervision.

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