December 24, 2005

The UC and national labs

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at December 24, 2005 1:03 PM

The University of California, in partnership with Bechtel, has held on to the contract for management of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

My thoughts:

1. I'm surprised the UC won the contract, given the recent political attacks on their management of LANL. However, I didn't know about the Bechtel partnership, which was undoubtedly a deciding factor. I don't know much about Bechtel, except that they're one of those huge corporations that always seems vaguely sinister.

2. Would the UC have been better off without managing LANL? Certainly there's some prestige that goes with it, but lately it seems more trouble than it's worth, with the UC having to fend off mostly trumped-up charges of financial irregularities and security breaches. Meanwhile, paranoia over these things is making life more annoying for those of us connected with other UC managed labs. (And I only have to deal with LBL, which is an unclassified lab—I'm sure it's even worse at Livermore or LANL itself.)

Tags: Politics, Science, UC Berkeley

I find LANL to be too big-brotherish for my taste and even a bit sinister. They have a bunch of people who do interesting work in my area (although a good number of these people have also departed---some in relation to stuff to which you refer), but the whole research environment there seems horrible. They apparently keep close tabs of where you go (among other things, I presume), and I know from friends who have worked there that they require a huge amount of advanced notice for permissions to attend conferences (and possibly even to visit colleagues at other universities) and that they often simply deny permission for such things. The academic freedom just doesn't seem there to me, and that's a big reason why many people have left. It's also why back in the day, a bunch of people left LANL to form Santa Fe Institute, which has at least as much interesting research and a much better attitude and environment.

The best slamming of Los Alamos I've ever seen was the scathing letter that Paul Ginsbarg wrote in a letter to Physics Today about a year ago. He completely maimed their leadership and took no prisoners. (A few years ago, Ginsbarg defected to Cornell and took the arXiv he invented along with him. That was a major gain for Cornell.)

Posted by: Mason | December 24, 2005 1:36 PM
Post a comment