Misjudgments Led to Latest Shuttle Woes

The New York Times has an article on NASA's "normalization of deviance". For more than twenty years NASA has accepted the failure of the safety features of the Space Shuttle. It's akin to driving a car with seat belts that have been cut in two for twenty years. Having not had an accident one lulls oneself into the belief it's not a safety problem. What the New York Times misses, though, is that this is the same problem that caused the Challenger incident two decades ago.

Unfortunate reminder

Nineteen years and six months ago today I was sitting in junior high reading class when I heard the terrible news. 75 seconds into the flight of STS-51L the space shuttle Challenger had exploded. It was a terribly sad day. Ultimately one can look at the accident that January morning in several ways. In an appendix to the Rogers Commission report on the events that morning Richard Feynman observes that "the slow shift toward decreasing safety factor can be seen in many examples."

The well-documented decline in safety standards is nowhere more evident than the terrible tragedy of the loss of the Columbia in February 2003. The theme Feunman documented after the Columbia incident seems to be at work still. It is a critical flaw in thinking that because a failure wasn't so bad last time it won't be bad next time.

Now, with the Discovery on its way to the International Space Station comes word that NASA has suspended future shuttle flights. The problem? The same problem that caused the Columbia disaster. This following several days delay related to troubleshooting a faulty sensor. All of this calls into serious question whether the culture of decreasing safety standards has really been addressed.

Emails 'pose threat to IQ'

Dr. Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist at King's College, London University, has done some research suggesting that emails, text and phone messages have a negative impact on IQ. In fact the average IQ loss in the studies commissioned by Hewlett Packard was 10 points, or more than double the average loss in studies of pot users.

It gives a whole new meaning to smoke breaks. In the information technology age workers might have to smoke a little weed every once in a while to get their brain cells back. That is not the exact conclusion the study draws, but the implications are widespread. Other findings mentioned in the article include that a third of respondents felt that answering text messages and emails during face to face meetings with other people had become acceptable and is seen as a sign of diligence. And the finding that two-thirds of respondents look at their work email while they are off or on vacation.

Science gives way to hype

The Hubble telescope is coming to the end of its run. Next year will mark the 15-year life-span originally planned for the super-important craft. NASA says it will move on in favor of return trips to the moon and beyond (Mars). It is unfortunate, while the idea of going to the moon again may have a popular appeal, the money spent could be used to do much more, truly scientific work that has substantial value in uncovering the history of the universe.

Ways to detect pseudoscience

Robert Park has a great article in the January 31st issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Originally written to address federal judges Park realized the article has a wider audience.

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