Dirty laundry–the scientist edition

A number of scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have become highly critical of their boss. In an effort to express their opinions and oust the laboratory’s director, they’ve started a blog. But Los Alamos is no ordinary laboratory. It is the home of the famous and highly secretive Manhattan Project, the project that built the bomb. And it is still the place where some of the best physicists go to engage in weapons research, although Los Alamos additionally has become a major center of basic research in physics.

As the NYTimes reports, this is no ordinary blog.

Los Alamos National Laboratory, isolated in the mountains of New Mexico, has a long history of maintaining the highest level of federal secrecy. The laboratory’s very existence was once classified. Today, barbed wire rings many of its buildings, federal agents monitor its communications, and its employees are constantly reminded that loose lips sink ships.

I have mixed feelings about blogging for this kind of change. On the one hand, all possible traditional forums for change should be exhausted first. On the other hand, sometimes that’s fruitless. It also opens up the criticizer to vindictive job action. Blogs offer anonymity–in the Los Alamos case, only a fraction of the posts are signed–so they can protect the criticizer. They also can let loose a torrent of uncivil and indeed unprofessional behaviour. And, in the more general case of scientist blogs, they expose the institution’s dirty laundry when the public is already leery of funding science.

One Response to “Dirty laundry–the scientist edition”

  1. sieber says:

    The NyTimes has just reported that the head of Los Alamos is stepping down.