Tuesday, September 29, 2009

No one's immune

Sometimes my colleagues worry about how the public perceives them and their profession (that is, research scientists). There's a worry across the country that too many laypeople are uninformed about basic science and thus unable to appreciate what it is that we do. This can reflect poorly when it comes to public attitude about the sciences, affecting funding and policy.

Guys . . . stories like this don't help:
Employee misconduct investigations, often involving workers accessing pornography from their government computers, grew sixfold last year inside the taxpayer-funded foundation that doles out billions of dollars of scientific research grants, according to budget documents and other records obtained by The Washington Times.

The problems at the National Science Foundation (NSF) were so pervasive they swamped the agency's inspector general and forced the internal watchdog to cut back on its primary mission of investigating grant fraud and recovering misspent tax dollars.

Okay. This is bad. But at least the people involved copped to it, right? I mean, intelligent, rational people know when to acknowledge that they've been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Right?

When finally caught, the NSF official retired. He even offered, among other explanations, a humanitarian defense, suggesting that he frequented the porn sites to provide a living to the poor overseas women. Investigators put the cost to taxpayers of the senior official's porn surfing at between $13,800 and about $58,000.

"He explained that these young women are from poor countries and need to make money to help their parents and this site helps them do that," investigators wrote in a memo.

. . . I don't think that's gonna help your case, buddy.

I'm always glad when a spotlight is shone on the abuse of taxpayer dollars, but this is just embarrassing. Thanks NSF, glad to know that you're putting a good face out there for us.

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