Ah, excellent. I was looking for a post to hang my musings off, and Phil Plait’s rant is a splendid peg. Not only that, but via fb I find this charming astronomer fox in Discarding Images; it is clear that the stars have aligned so I’ll proceed.
PP is not just sad but outraged that
In an interview with the Guardian, Bob Walker, a senior Trump adviser, said that Trump will eliminate NASA’s Earth science research. This is the mission directorate of NASA that, among other important issues, studies climate change
and so on. And if you read the Graun’s headline Trump to scrap Nasa climate research in crackdown on ‘politicized science’ you might get much the same idea. Or even if you read the Graun “paraphrasing” what Bob Walker said, you get Donald Trump is poised to eliminate all climate change research conducted by Nasa as part of a crackdown on “politicized science”, his senior adviser on issues relating to the space agency has said. However, if you read what he actually said you find something rather different:
“We see Nasa in an exploration role, in deep space research,” Walker told the Guardian. “Earth-centric science is better placed at other agencies where it is their prime mission. My guess is that it would be difficult to stop all ongoing Nasa programs but future programs should definitely be placed with other agencies.”
[Note that I have deliberately truncated that quote to remove all the goo and dribble about “politicised science” because whilst it is undoubtedly part of their motive, it is also deeply stupid, and not really relevant to what I want to talk about.]
I doubt that were such a shakeup to occur, all that would happen is that the funding would transfer to other agencies. Almost inevitably the sort of folk that DT would select would choose to cut some science in the process. And perhaps you might like the idea of climate science being mingled into NASA, and thus hard to cut cleanly, rather than being in some clearly labelled and easily attackable or defundable agaency. But that’s a political or bureaucratic defence, and obviously not one that can be put openly, so let’s not discuss it.
Regrettably PP (and everyone else I’ve seen commenting on this) is so utterly and blindly outraged (The motivation behind this is clear: Utter and complete denial of science… the modern day Joseph McCarthy… the Earth is a planet, and studying it, studying its climate and our effect on it, is absolutely part of NASA’s mission) that he doesn’t even pause for a moment to wonder if DT’s people have a point.
Why does NASA do climate research?
NASA is a large organisation and doubtless does lots of things. Some of which probably connected together in sensible ways in the past; but that’s no reason they should continue that way in the future. Sending probes to Pluto has very little to do with running GCMs (notice: I said very little, not none. Please don’t bother point out that people run GCMs of Mars and Jupiter and so on).
One upon a time NASA knew lots about launching rockets, which was useful for putting climate-type satellites into orbit. But more and more (just today: SpaceX wins contract to launch NASA Earth science mission; also ULA in general) other people can do that. So the need for a tight connection to NASA is much less obvious now.
I did the smallest amount of legwork consistent with my elastic conscience and found science.nasa.gov/earth-science which is nominally NASA Earth science. But it doesn’t even mention modelling, so clearly isn’t the full story.
Anyway, the question I wanted to ask my readership is the title of this section. Why should NASA do this stuff, rather than someone else? Answers of the nature of “well, it grew up this way, and would be painful to disentangle” won’t get you any points.