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The MECA story, A place for speculation
djellison
post Aug 2 2008, 08:26 AM
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QUOTE (Paul Fjeld @ Aug 2 2008, 05:41 AM) *
if the MECA guys had the real >potential< news, they should have been there and said we >think< there is Holy X! BUT we need to confirm it.


No. No no no no no no no no no.

If it's in any way 'big' news - you have to sit your scientists down and make sure they've got it DAMN right before you tell anyone. Make sure the story is totaly solid, the data is checked, and rechecked, and that there's no chance of this being wrong.

You can't go 'We think we've found something amazing' and then 10 days later ' oops - sorry - calibration problem'. That's a massive embarassment for the team, and for NASA.


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djellison
post Aug 2 2008, 08:34 AM
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QUOTE (Paul Fjeld @ Aug 2 2008, 04:32 AM) *
. I suspect his perhaps mischievous question at the press conference might have been a little tweak, but how should one ask that question knowing now what Craig was preparing for publication?


In private, after the press conf or by telephone. Not by raising a nightmare of almost certainly inappropriate speculation and hyperbole by being quite so smug and veiled. I like Craig, I like his articles, and I like the fact he'll take creations by people here and publish them. But I really don't like the way he's handled this. If nothing else, he's given us an admin headache.
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Stu
post Aug 2 2008, 09:29 AM
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I may be in a minority here (no change there then! smile.gif ), but I think it was more mischevious and oportunistic than eevil. I mean, he's a journalist, he had a bit of juicy insider info, and he had a chance to personally ask mission scientists - at the first media Q&A for ages - about a story he was on to. He was kind of obliged to do that, cos that's his job, isn't it, to ask questions? He also gave the scientists a chance to comment on the story before publishing it, which is quite courteous isn't it?

And again, I think this is quite healthy for us here because it's allowed people - like me - who aren't fully up to speed on the hard science a chance to be educated about it by people who are, which is one of the reasons I love it here so much. I learn new things every day from people waaay more intelligent and experienced than myself, who I wouldn't have a hope in hell of communicating with any other way.





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jmknapp
post Aug 2 2008, 11:19 AM
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QUOTE (Paul Fjeld @ Aug 1 2008, 11:41 PM) *
Now that flies in the face of the saving your stuff for the big reveal and being risk averse, but at that press conference, that would have been honest (assuming of course that there is some big thing they know about...


I agree. the way the question played out at the press conference, the way Smith and Meyer deadpanned and downplayed any results, would be a bit dishonest in retrospect if indeed it turns out they were sitting on some news that they even briefed the Office of Science and Technology (Marburger) about. So that casts doubt on the substance.


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nprev
post Aug 2 2008, 12:54 PM
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Stu, when I used the term UMSF before I wasn't talking about our forum, and your observations were right on; the folks here are absolute bloodhounds with PhDs when it comes to separating fact from fancy in all respects during times like this! I was actually referring to the planetary science community itself, which as we all know struggles for support & funding at all times.

Thus far at least, the wider media doesn't seem to have picked up on the story-to-be, which IMHO is good news. Speculation's run wild even within our little community, and I shudder to think of what might happen if the speculation goes wideband. As an example, here's a headline from the New Jersey Trentonian shortly after the ALH84001 announcement, verbatim:

"Mars Poop No Cause For Alarm"

(Nope; that's not a joke. Wish it was. sad.gif )


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Stu
post Aug 2 2008, 01:32 PM
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QUOTE
Stu, when I used the term UMSF before I wasn't talking about our forum... I was actually referring to the planetary science community itself, which as we all know struggles for support & funding at all times.


Ah, gotcha! Makes sense now.

QUOTE
Thus far at least, the wider media doesn't seem to have picked up on the story-to-be...and I shudder to think of what might happen if the speculation goes wideband.


Shudder away. The story is on NASAWATCH, and that usually feeds other big sites, so start your engines... ohmy.gif

No, seriously, c'mon guys, everyone, lighten up smile.gif This isn't necessarily a bad thing, you know? I mean, so far everyone has done everything right: NASA hasn't announced anything too early, or dumbed anything down; people here have been analytical and restrained; CNN and the BBC aren't scrolling bright red, flashing "Breaking News! Life Found On Mars!!!" tickers and we're talking seriously here about a scenario where very, very important results come back from a Mars mission, and even if those results don't come back from this mission then one day - hopefully - we'll be here discussing a confirmed detection of Something Interesting.

Try to think of this as a test of the system, and the test worked. No forum frenzy, no premature announcements on White House lawns, no sensationalist tabloid coverage, and everyone here is now a lot more savvy with MECA and Phoenix hard science.


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Paul Fjeld
post Aug 2 2008, 03:02 PM
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QUOTE (djellison @ Aug 2 2008, 03:26 AM) *
You can't go 'We think we've found something amazing' and then 10 days later ' oops - sorry - calibration problem'. That's a massive embarassment for the team, and for NASA.

I really do see your point and the realist in me agrees. But why would they have informed the White House if they weren't more confident? Also, they had a press conference to talk about the progress of the mission. They speculate and get stuff wrong and we don't hold it against them - we get to bird-dog this essential human process because we paid for it and it is exciting. When the papers come out and there is a calibration problem, then they can be embarrassed.
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Paul Fjeld
post Aug 2 2008, 03:16 PM
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QUOTE (djellison @ Aug 2 2008, 03:26 AM) *
If it's in any way 'big' news - you have to sit your scientists down and make sure they've got it DAMN right before you tell anyone. Make sure the story is totaly solid, the data is checked, and rechecked, and that there's no chance of this being wrong.

I guess this is what I'm whining about. It is science. There is always that little (or big) corner of doubt and, although they should know in this small instance what they've got exactly, they should be talking as if to a broad community that understands that all scientific announcements are contingent. I wonder if trying to manage the message doesn't contribute to the misunderstanding about science in society. And then there is the problem of reporters who take their job seriously and find out stuff they're maybe not >supposed< to know...
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Paul Fjeld
post Aug 2 2008, 03:21 PM
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QUOTE (Stu @ Aug 2 2008, 04:29 AM) *
And again, I think this is quite healthy for us here because it's allowed people - like me - who aren't fully up to speed on the hard science a chance to be educated about it by people who are, which is one of the reasons I love it here so much. I learn new things every day from people waaay more intelligent and experienced than myself, who I wouldn't have a hope in hell of communicating with any other way.

I profoundly agree with this, and your whole attitude about the situation Stu. This is a great site and all you smart guys have made this a lot of fun.
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fredk
post Aug 2 2008, 03:53 PM
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QUOTE (djellison @ Aug 2 2008, 09:26 AM) *
If it's in any way 'big' news - you have to sit your scientists down and make sure they've got it DAMN right before you tell anyone.

Agreed. But I have to say I don't think we can blame Covault here for publishing his story. It's the responsibility of the science team to keep the results quiet in these situations, and somebody leaked this (Covault should've heard corroboration from more than one actually).

I agree completely with others that this could become a nightmare if it gets out widely. Loved your "sit it down on a hard chair" analogy, Stu! It's not us I'm worried about, though - we can take care of ourselves. It's the public out there, and the potential black eye on the team if expectations are raised way up and then dashed because the calibration was wrong, or because the result is just "underwhelming", in nprev's words.

I also must stress a point Paul just touched on. Can some blame also be put on the people at the top of the Phoenix program for briefing the presidential advisor well before they were certain enough to go public (which Covault claims could even be September)? Shouldn't it have seemed likely that, with a team of this size, that fact might be leaked and cause a great headache?
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imipak
post Aug 2 2008, 04:18 PM
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Talk about admin headaches - it can't be much fun to be a PI and discover that someone on the team's said something that they shouldn't have to a journalist. I suspect more of that annoyance will be directed towards the team than the journalist.

What puzzles me is that, given the pretty feeble press coverage of the mission so far (only one front page article on the sensationally superb EDL, for instance), what could be likely to get significant MSM coverage? Methane? Well, maybe. I can't see carbonates or nitrogen compounds making the front page, though. Believe it or not, the public are really pretty disinterested in the chemical make-up of Martian regolith, until it gets so complex it falls into a different discipline altogether; and as we know, MECA can't really do that.

As I was about to post this, I noticed it's hit Slashdot... just in time to make the tabloids on Sunday here in the UK. That's not as bad as it sounds, though, IMO -- it'll be wrapping fish and chips* by Tuesday, I suspect.

*metaphorical fish and chips, that is... >nostalgic sigh for the days when it came wrapped in real newspaper<


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nprev
post Aug 2 2008, 04:41 PM
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Good post, Fred. No, I don't blame Covault (though I still think he hung his a** out on the line with respect to future access to insider info this time); he's a reporter, he reported, that's what they do. Was a little ticked off at him from a social responsibility viewpoint before, but I've had time to read & think. (Thanks, Stu! smile.gif )

What I lately find most intriguing is that it will apparently take at least a month to release this finding, and presumably this is due to the need to confirm, confirm, confirm. The MECA sampling schedule might be something interesting to watch; wonder if there will be any changes.



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Stu
post Aug 2 2008, 05:21 PM
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Coverage of this story on Universe Today...


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mcaplinger
post Aug 2 2008, 06:05 PM
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QUOTE (Stu @ Aug 2 2008, 06:32 AM) *
The story is on NASAWATCH...

Where, according to Cowing, we are in "smug elitist mode" rolleyes.gif

I honestly don't understand that guy sometimes.


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Disclaimer: This post is based on public information only. Any opinions are my own.
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Paul Fjeld
post Aug 2 2008, 06:06 PM
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QUOTE (Stu @ Aug 2 2008, 08:32 AM) *
Shudder away. The story is on NASAWATCH, and that usually feeds other big sites, so start your engines... ohmy.gif

Not only is the story there but Doug got Cowinged! This "smug elitist" (hahaha) "BBS" got criticized with Cowings' renowned side-dish of bile. Badge of Honour, Doug!
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