ETA: I used to work at a government lab. I've never heard a contractor say "they made the right choice. My work is obsolete/irrelevant/a waste of money." At the end of the day, people have livelihoods to maintain. Their work is always "needed now more than ever". Some of it actually is. Some of it isn't.
Most JASON scientists haven't worked at a government lab for decades. How is this relevant?
> ...I've never heard a contractor...
These aren't contractors, they are scientists. And not just any scientists. In most cases, they aren't even the scientists employed by a national lab. They're scientists employed by all manner of institutions, including universities who will pay their paychecks regardless of whether this funding comes in. Usually senior and well-respected.
Many of those scientists have, if not "fuck you money", at least "fuck you reputations" that translate into "fuck you money". E.g., the current chairperson is fucking Russell Hemley... he's not putting up with federal background checks because he needs the extra pennies...
JASON members work on JASON projects because they think those projects are important. Nobel laureates and other top scientists don't work on grant funded projects for the money... if all they cared about was feeding their families, they would just retire. And if all they cared about was money, they would pimp their reputations to private industry labs.
Needless to say, silicon valley senior VPs don't usually need extra spending cash.
> The contract, run through the Mitre Corp., is the vehicle that allows the Jasons to do work with other parts of the government as well. Without it, the group has no way of getting the several million dollars in funding it needs to operate annually.
There's "not in it for the money", and then there's "dipping into my personal funds".
Also, again, for many of these scientists, 1MM+ is the annual opportunity cost they pay to stay in academia/public sector vs. private industry. If they were in it for personal payout, they'd have jumped ship a long time ago.
If you are paid to perform a service based on the terms of a contract you are, by definition, a contractor.
It doesn't matter if you are cleaning toilets or hosting a conference on quantum computing.
1. "Contractor" means something specific in the Defense industry. Every employee, including members of the armed forces and employees of DHS, are "paid to perform a service based on the terms of a contract" (the employment contract). But, of course, literally everyone knows that when I say "contractor" I definitely do not mean "someone who has signed an employment contract with the federal government".
2. The expectations associated with grants are different enough from most other contracts that there's a useful distinction between "grant work" and "contract work".
JASON was founded as Project 137 by John Archibald Wheeler and others. It was only publicly confirmed to exist after the Pentagon Papers mentioned them.
We do software requirements, identifying the minimum necessary features to maximize the value. Some projects have no redeeming value.
Who wants to waste a clients money working on something that has no value for a client?
Isn't that the whole business model of Accenture and similar?
Doing valueless projects is a consequence of that function.
> "The department remains committed to seeking independent technical advice and review," Pentagon spokesperson Heather Babb said. But Aftergood sees another reason for the end of the relationship. He says that the Jasons are a blunt bunch. If they think an idea is dumb or won't work, they aren't afraid to say so.
> "They were offering the opposite of cheerleading," he says. "And DOD decided that maybe they didn't want to pay for that any longer."
An interesting bit of trivia from the wiki page shows they lost funding before in 2002 for something perhaps just as petty, them not relenting on having exclusive control over who they let join:
> In 2002, DARPA decided to cut its ties with JASON. DARPA had not only been one of JASON's primary sponsors, it was also the channel through which JASON received funding from other sponsors. DARPA's decision came after JASON's refusal to allow DARPA to select three new JASON members. Since JASON's inception, new members have always been selected by its existing members. After much negotiation and letter-writing—including a letter by Congressman Rush Holt of New Jersey—funding was subsequently secured from an office higher in the defense hierarchy, the office of the Director, Defense Research & Engineering, name changed to Assistant Secretary of Defense (Research & Engineering) (ASD (R&E)) in 2011.
I'm hesitant to blindly take the scientists' side however. I'm reminded of a remark from a Feynman interview (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f61KMw5zVhg):
> Honors, and from that day to this, always bothered me. I had trouble when I became a member of the National Academy of Science, and I had ultimately to resign. Because there was another organization, most of whose time was spent in choosing who was illustrious enough to be allowed to join us in our organization. Including such questions as: ‘we physicists have to stick together because there’s a very good chemist that they’re trying to get in and we haven’t got enough room…’. What’s the matter with chemists? The whole thing was rotten. Because the purpose was mostly to decide who could have this honor. OK? I don’t like honors.
It's not about honors, but about things like:
"Probably their most famous study was about trying to stop the infiltration from North Vietnam into the South," ... "The problem was that North Vietnamese troops and supplies were hard to find beneath the dense jungle canopy. The Jasons' solution was to develop a system of remote sensors that could be airdropped into the jungle and provide intelligence on the enemy. The program, like much to do with Vietnam, was controversial and didn't work perfectly. But it laid the groundwork for modern electronic warfare"
Compare with, for example:
Also, I wouldn't be surprised that there is a connection between "They were offering the opposite of cheerleading" and "JASON also produced early work on the science of global warming and acid rain." (second quote from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JASON_(advisory_group) )
I know it probably wasn’t intended, but the proximity of those two things 1) DARPA issues and 2) Feynman on honors could be uncharitably read that DARPA wanted a broader set of disciplines that JASON refused. That’s not true.
I would trust membership of JASON to themselves vs DARPA, but that may just be my own prejudices: I think of the current DARPA as a shadow of its former (great) self without the expertise to pick JASON members without succumbing to various political pressures.
I would agree too that DARPA is a shadow of its former self, though on the other hand that position adds its own uncertainties for me since I hold at minimum the strong possibility of the same being true for the likes of JASON, the NSA's crypto groups, NASA, Lockheed's Skunk Works, or any other US-government-intertwined entities that nevertheless had or still have great respect. Decline is everywhere if you look for it.
I'm not. It's not a lot of money, and the Pentagon can think of far worse ways to blow that kind of money.
Their SEG is a must read for anyone who wants to dive in or understand a systematic approach to System Engineering.
LOL so a bunch of ivory tower academics who have never left the cushy confines of campus let alone entered a battlefield come up with impractical and useless inventions that got dumped within a day. What's the bet men on the ground hated them! And the real solution came from some comms officer who knows a bit about soldering and sensors (and the reality of jungle warfare) probably.
Im surprised the DOD put up with them for so long.
At least as far as the UK is concerned, in my time in the Aerospace Defence industry every single person I've worked with has been an academic in some sense.
There are almost no ex-soldiers involved in the process, unless they have an academic background. For us, the Defence Engineering and Science Group bring in a think-tank of currently serving soldiers to discuss their needs with them, then DESG work on procurement. They then contract that out to a private R&D company. We get a spec and work to fulfil that. From friends within the industry, other than perhaps BAE which do look favourably on ex-soldiers provided they have an degree (more academics huh...), all the work is done by a bunch of postgraduate scientists. It seems to me that your perception of how the 'big private companies' work it somewhat outdated...
Of course it does. But I'm a bit unsure as to how this has gone from academics don't know nuthin. To design teams who never listen to users are bad. The latter is a measured, reasonable argument. The former is just anti-intellectual nonsense. No one every said anything about having zero pilots on an aircraft development team.
>And you're absolutely right that us in the computer business DO spend a lot of time navel gazing instead of listening to the users. It's endemic.
That's endemic everywhere from CEOs, to the guy changing your brakes, to the real estate agent selling you a house. It has absolutely nothing to do with academics.
And again this is a much different argument from Computer Scientists rarely produce anything useful.
The problem with the OP's argument is that you can't pin it down. Academics are bad--except when their R&D work produces something useful. Then they weren't academics, they were problem solving engineers, and it was the guy on the ground who did the real work their anyway. Computer Scientists are bad except in the case of something like asymmetrical encryption--well in that case it was one of the rare instances where they did something useful.