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« Uncommon Sense From The TSA | Main | Now Here We Have »

The Best Way to Be Controversial...

...is to call for an end to controversial debate. I got more calls and letters on this article than I got in a year of previous writing. The responses were polarized. The most controversial item was my list of companies that could succeed if we stop space industry infighting. The list was a mistake--no list can be completely inclusive so better to describe broad categories. I did not intend to exclude companies. Many many companies can prosper in a boom. Not all will be around 25 years from now. IBM is not even in the PC business any more.

Setting aside the list, the correspondence was bi-modal. Half said it's about time that someone said this. Some of these people had Washington return addresses. The other half said it is brutally repressive to cage the intellectual debate, and counterproductive.

I think there must be some kind of inverse square law that says if you have a political party that represents 50% of the people, it has one opinion, but a splinter interest group that represents 1% of the people has 2500 opinions.

There certainly can be a democratic process to arrive periodically at consensus. I favor a knockout auction where the proponents of a position pay those that disagree with it if they win.

Those who agreed with my article probably would think that just about any civility and unity in the space industry would be better than division and infighting regardless of the message disseminated.

Those who disagreed with my article challenged that there was any way to arrive at a consensus without free and open debate that wouldn't fatally taint the ultimate message.

I guess I will have to go on being controversial and dividing people.

Posted by Sam Dinkin at November 30, 2005 09:28 AM
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Excerpt: ... which I originally wrote here: Transterrestrial Musings I know space people who are unrepressably cheery; they're fantastic at grouping people together and focusing them on some specific task. I know space people who like to study the problems; the...
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Comments

What people fail to realize is there is a big difference between free and open debate and full-blown intercine warefare.

Eschewing the latter does not suppress the former.

Too many people in the space community have a "My way or the highway" viewpoint. I think this stems from the fact that our core demographic is represented by people with technical bakgrounds (geeks) and not by people with highly developed interpersonal abilities. Thus we on the whole lack the skillset necessary to forge consensus and unite behind one flag due to the fact that many of us simply are not social beings in any real sense of the word.

Sort of like the old addage that: "Trying to organize Libertarians is like trying to herd cats."

Posted by Mike Puckett at November 30, 2005 10:09 AM

Just to be honest, I have to say that I agree with both positions!

Posted by Lee Valentine at November 30, 2005 11:52 AM

I think that Mr. Dinkins' article is somewhat based upon a false premise--that the people doing the bickering have influence or even could have influence. I think that many of the loudest bickering parties, such as Rick Tumlinson and Bob Zubrin, are not taken seriously by the people with money.

Face it, there are a lot of goofballs in the space enthusiast community.

Posted by William Berger at November 30, 2005 02:10 PM

William,

Is the lack of influence of advocacy groups a result of a lack of common focus or a cause?

Posted by Ryan Faith at November 30, 2005 02:22 PM

"Is the lack of influence of advocacy groups a result of a lack of common focus or a cause?"

I don't know. I think part of their lack of influence is simply money--they don't have enough to buy influence.

But it's also true that many of them don't know how to play the influence game. They want to be outsiders who criticize and lob bombs, rather than really have influence. Look who they choose for their spokespersons--does Bob Zubrin even own a nice suit?

Posted by William Berger at November 30, 2005 03:21 PM

Money and influence often mimics the chicken and egg quandry. I think that until there is more cohesion, money and influence are just not likely.

Posted by Ryan Faith at November 30, 2005 03:26 PM

It seems funny to blame the current state of the industry on infighting, it seems a confusion of cause and effect. The easiest way to stop the infighting is to build a growing market, then groups will not be forced to fight over ever diminishing resources.

One of the responsibilities of an industry is to ensure its own continued growth, adapting and continually improving as required. That it has failed to do so...

Pete.

Posted by Pete Lynn at December 1, 2005 06:10 AM

I know space people who are unrepressably cheery; they're fantastic at grouping people together and focusing them on some specific task.

I know space people who like to study the problems; the things that don't work; and deliberate over them. If they know enough history, they can often be great policy people, otherwise they're just bloggers like me.

I think the only near-term way for me to be as cerebrally happy as a space.com article is a labotomy.

Yes, I expect all kinds of people do study all our inane comments on the blogs, but if they're like me they use them as a petri-dish to prod and test various responses. The only thing that really spoils it for all are trolls who continually steer us off the interesting conversations.

For some reason the mood does seem more bitter on the space blogs of late. The thing that always cheers me up is a nice pragmatic constructive techie debate like on Arocket (the amateur rocketry mailing list). That's what I'd like to see more of on the space blogs generally. Space politics is rooted in engineering and technology; if you try to filter that out, you just end up with people arguing over their personal values and with no way to resolve anything.

I think blogs will evolve. There will come a time when the software is written to collect, manage and summarize ideas rather than words, and to compile them into an end-product that becomes the starting point for policymaking and future debates. I'm looking forward to that day.

Posted by Kevin Parkin at December 1, 2005 06:39 AM

For some reason the mood does seem more bitter on the space blogs of late.

To some of us, it's become clear we can't expect a cheerful outcome. Denial lasts only so long. VSE was the last chance for NASA to demonstrate there was a way out, but the result seems to confirm all the worst fears.

Technology discussions are fun, but technology doesn't exist in a vacuum. All too often the discussion of this or that minute detail of space technology has been a way to hide from the depressing realities of failures of markets and policy to show a way forward.

I do wish those trying novel private approaches the best of luck. They are going to need it.

Posted by at December 1, 2005 09:14 AM

"The only thing that really spoils it for all are trolls who continually steer us off the interesting conversations."

*Timidly scrolls up and down the comments wondering where the trolls are*

*shrugs*

*lengthy throat clearing*

Bravo Sam D. Bravo!!!

[/golf clap]

Posted by Josh Reiter at December 1, 2005 09:58 AM

I wrote:
"I think that many of the loudest bickering parties, such as Rick Tumlinson and Bob Zubrin, are not taken seriously by the people with money.

Face it, there are a lot of goofballs in the space enthusiast community."

http://www.space-frontier.org/NewSpaceNews/nsn20051201.html

Rick Tumlinson writes:
"It's dead Mike. That horse won't run. That dog won't hunt. The fat lady has sung. Or, to bring it closer to space, I'll quote Bill Paxton in the film Aliens: "Game over man!"

See what I mean? He writes stuff like this and has a ponytail. That's why he is not going to be taken seriously by the politicians.

Posted by William Berger at December 1, 2005 11:15 AM

William,
On what do you base your assertion that Rick isn't taken seriously by politicians? Do you know which ones regularly quote him and invite him to present? How many congressional appearances does it take for you to consider someone to be "taken seriously"? I would suggest that unless you know the politics of these situations personally, who was involved and why that you're opinion on who is or isn't taken seriously isn't very authoritative.

Posted by Michael Mealling at December 2, 2005 05:28 AM

I find Samís ďlets never criticize, and always be positive" article disturbing. Don't get me wrong, their is a ridicules amount of petty senseless bickering. On the other hand the old "lets just be NASA cheerleaders" attitudes of certain advocacy groups certainly allowed NASA to get a lot of mileage out of programs they put little effort into.

Bluntly, NASA "Apollo On Steroids" response to Bush's VSE, screams that NASA has abandoned the future in favor of nostalgia. I.E. they are not only not helping us - they are against us, or at least in the way. That defiantly is something we should protest. At the least the fact itís going over like a brick with the public means they need to rethink FAST!

Warring Alt.space firms serve little purpose Ė but ones that happy speak everything, and donít criticize real deficiencies, could threaten folkís lives and the future of the industry.

Petty bickering may be the price we pay for a living growing industry and expansion into space. Certainly polite silence has gotten us nowhere.

Posted by Kelly Starks at December 2, 2005 01:08 PM

"let's never criticize, and always be positive"

There are ways to give back handed compliments and promote your own proposal in such a way that you remain positive, yet offer a clear way forward. E.g., "Apollo on Steroids is better than Apollo. We can do even better by buying commercial. I support Apollo on Steroids and I hope it gets improved even more by going commercial."

It may sound comedic and smarmy to have two people saying, "No after you." "No, I insist, after you." but we are so far on the other end of the spectrum that we could get more mileage by taking that tack.

Posted by Sam Dinkin at December 2, 2005 01:25 PM

But what if one doesn't support Apollo on Steroids, and think that this non-support is the correct position? You seem to be saying that ESAS must be supported regardless of its actual value.

Posted by Paul Dietz at December 2, 2005 01:47 PM

"if one doesn't"

"Apollo on Steroids is better than Apollo. We can do even better by buying commercial. I hope it gets improved by going commercial."

Posted by Sam Dinkin at December 2, 2005 02:21 PM

'Better than Apollo' may not mean much. What if one doesn't think Apollo was worthwhile?

Moreover, what if one also thinks, for whatever reason, the chance of improving ESAS is minimal? The only principled approach would be to oppose the thing.

Posted by Paul Dietz at December 2, 2005 02:25 PM

"chance of improving ESAS is minimal"

Put forward your whole plan. Oppose it by being positive about something else.

Posted by Sam Dinkin at December 2, 2005 03:13 PM


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