David Coppedge: Where No Man Has Gone Before

It’s been two months since we wrote David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech (18 Nov 2010). You recall that Coppedge is the creationist computer technician who claims he was wrongfully demoted by his employer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), because he was promoting Intelligent Design creationism on the job. There’s more background information in our prior post.

The trial is scheduled to start on 15 June 2011, and we had assumed that unless the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids) suddenly started to stir things up again, we’d have nothing to say about this sad little case for several months.

Despite their initial enthusiasm, the Discoveroids haven’t even mentioned Coppedge since last June, so the demoted creationist’s name rarely appears in the blogosphere these days. But we found something.

In a little newspaper called the Camarillo Acorn of Camarillo, California, they have a feature titled Datebook, a listing of various activities in the community. Under the heading of “Ventura County Astronomical Society” we find this brief notice:

David Coppedge, team lead system administrator for Cassini and Titan missions at JPL, speaks on “Saturn exploration from equinox to solstice.” Public invited.

That momentous event is scheduled for 21 January — which is today. If you want to be there you may still have time to work it out. Contact information is available at the “Datebook” link we gave you.

What we find amusing about this is the description of Coppedge’s job. Before he was demoted — and possibly reassigned to an office where he works alone and can’t harass anyone about creationism — his job at JPL had been described somewhat vaguely, leaving the impression that he was some kind of computer technician. We assumed that he was working in JPL’s computer maintenance section for the Cassini project. He was said to be a “team leader”, which meant to us that he had at least one assistant.

In their original blizzard of press releases about the martyrdom of Coppedge, the Discoveroids seemed to wildly puff up the importance of his job at JPL. They did this mostly by crowing about the work JPL does, especially the Cassini mission to Saturn. Their tactic appeared to us as an attempt to cloak Coppedge — a creationist computer technician — with the prestige and glamorous aura of space exploration.

Let us once again read the Camarillo Acorn‘s description of Coppedge and his job: “team lead system administrator for Cassini and Titan missions at JPL.” We’re not imagining things — that certainly gives the impression that he was almost running the whole Cassini mission, and possibly more. We don’t know, but we’ve been told that his actual job at JPL was changing computer tapes — what the science people at JPL call a “tape monkey.”

In your Curmudgeon’s imagination, a typical workday for Coppedge may have gone like this:

[Coppedge speaks:] Igor, bring me a fresh reel of tape!
[Igor replies:] Yes, master.
Not that reel, you idiot! The other reel!
Yes, master.
When I’ve replaced this reel, I’ll tell you again about Noah’s Ark.
Yes, master.

We don’t know what Coppedge’s job was. But because they demoted him, JPL didn’t think his job included evangelizing the workforce about creationism, which seems to be why Coppedge now works in some kind of isolation.

Whatever may have been his job, and whatever his currently reduced status at JPL now is, when Coppedge is out in the community he’s described in a way to lead one to believe that he’s the team leader of mankind’s solar system exploration efforts. He’s almost James Kirk!

Coppedge speaks tonight. Will his appearance on stage be accompanied by the theme from Star Trek?

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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10 responses to “David Coppedge: Where No Man Has Gone Before

  1. You paint an image of a computer room carved into the rocks below the bell tower in a corner of the JPL campus. Lit by torches.

    He probably was one of the senior IT guys supporting the Cassini team, not in “a position of discretionary authority” as they say, but still with some genuine responsibilities. It looks like he’s still using that title – evidently he was just reassigned and not formally demoted. That is very typical.

    I suspect despite their desire to promote the case, even the DI realizes that there is little chance of success in this one.

  2. Brian Utterback

    That’s funny, I had exactly the opposite reaction to the job description. The system administrator usually is the guy who hangs the tapes. In a project like Cassini, it is a pretty low level position. Not that there are any jobs that aren’t necessary and valuable, but SysAdmin may not even require a degree. And of course, having any job at all on Cassini has got to boast the coolness factor.

  3. Boldly going where the evidence has never gone!

    Only wimps think we need to follow the rules of the universe.

  4. In my early career I was a SysAdmin. In fact, my full title was Galactic Commander First Class Team Lead System Administration, Cosmetology and Make-up Specialist and Tire Repair Coordinator.

    Essentially that involved making sure the computers in my sector of the galaxy were operational, adding printers, new software, fixing glitches, performing backup, planning for upgrades, conducting training, running out for donuts and supervising the pancake breakfast on Saturday.

    Quite a responsibility.

    In my earlier reading of the Coppedge saga, he was originally described as a team leader system admin. Strange, but not surprising, that it’s never been reported if he took a reduction in level (hypothetically a team lead grade 25 to a team lead grade 24), or if they just made him a lone team lead with no team, or if he even had a reduction in pay (very rare in my experience, even from a disciplinary action). My guess is that they reassigned him to a different group and gave him probationary responsibilities.

  5. My career experience as a director in an aerospace company working with NASA and JPL, which included making decisions like this, is that removal from entry-level management or lead responsibilities very rarely involves reduction in grade level or pay. Circumstances that are so significant that they would result in a reduction in pay almost always result in termination instead. In this case it appears clear that he was reassigned because management found his disruptive activities adversely impacted his ability to perform his responsibilities as a team lead.

    If he had left his dvds at home and just casually chatted about the subject with friends at lunch, he would not have had a problem. JPL doesn’t care what he thinks about creationism or ID, they just don’t want him using the workplace as a venue for proselytizing about it. They would have reacted just the same if his advocacy were for a political position, a social issue like abortion or gay rights, or any other divisive, non-work related matter.

  6. This looks to me like an instance of what I’ve called “inflationary credentialism,” which is endemic among creationists.

  7. RBH says:

    This looks to me like an instance of what I’ve called “inflationary credentialism,” which is endemic among creationists.

    What? Don’t you understand? The Cassini Mission couldn’t have gotten off the ground without Coppedge and his creation science. And now the Darwinists are persecuting him.

  8. Hopefully some part of this audience will make it to Mr Coppedge’s presentation and report back to us. I’ll bet it is worth the effort.

  9. As a govie for over 25 years, here’s my take on it. First, I’m willing to bet large sums of money that Ed has it pegged. Coppedge’s demotion was his position (team lead, branch chief, whatever) and not pay. Second, let me explain what “team lead” means in my govie service. It means that, out of a group of 6 – 10 individuals, one is picked to be given the title of “team lead”. This person may or may not have a supervisory role. If its not supervisory, this means that, when someone higher up needs something from “the team”, it was up to Coppedge either to attend himself or to make sure someone attended in his stead. And this might just be something as inane as “We need someone to attend a meeting because ‘the team’ is going to be mentioned.”
    I hope this helps.

  10. It may mean nothing, but the Discoveroids know Becker, Coppedge’s lawyer, and at the Discoveroids’ page on Coppedge, they describe him as follows:

    David Coppedge is an information technology specialist and system administrator on JPL’s international Cassini mission to Saturn … Coppedge held the title of “Team Lead” System Administrator on the mission until his supervisors demoted and humiliated him for advancing ideas that superiors labeled “unwelcome” and “disruptive.”