NASA Statement on the Income Inequality Paper

Yesterday we posted NASA Is Insane, in which we described a social science study funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which claimed that civilization will collapse unless we solve what the social scientists see as two big problems — excessive exploitation of resources and income inequality.

Today NASA has a news release at their website: NASA Statement on Sustainability Study. Because of the negative publicity the wacko study has generated, they seem to be backing away from it — but not really. The news release is very brief, so we’ll quote the whole thing, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

The following is a statement from NASA regarding erroneous media reports crediting the agency with an academic paper on population and societal impacts.

Come on, NASA, we can’t wait. Tell us about those “erroneous media reports.”

A soon-to-be published research paper ‘Human and Nature Dynamics (HANDY): Modeling Inequality and Use of Resources in the Collapse or Sustainability of Societies’ by University of Maryland researchers Safa Motesharrei and Eugenia Kalnay, and University of Minnesota’s Jorge Rivas was not solicited, directed or reviewed by NASA. It is an independent study by the university researchers utilizing research tools developed for a separate NASA activity.

Then why did NASA pay for it? A pre-publication copy of the study can be read here: Human and Nature Dynamics (HANDY): Modeling Inequality and Use of Resources in the Collapse or Sustainability of Societies (27-page pdf file). It clearly says, at the end of page 23:

This work was partially funded through NASA/GSFC grant NNX12AD03A

There’s just a little bit of their news release remaining. Let’s see if NASA addresses the funding issue:

As is the case with all independent research, the views and conclusions in the paper are those of the authors alone. NASA does not endorse the paper or its conclusions.

They don’t even say that they disagree with the paper, only that they don’t endorse it — whatever that means, if anything. Nevertheless, they spent part of their shrinking budget to pay that “research.” Clowns!

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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23 responses to “NASA Statement on the Income Inequality Paper

  1. the wacko study

    As you, the Koch brothers, Bill O’Reilly, the late Fred Phelps, Glenn Beck, Ken Ham, Orly Taitz, Sarah Palin and the Discovery Institute like to think of it.

    It’s a symptom of the science denialist that, whenever some new piece of research disagrees with their ideology, they start to shriek that the scientists are wacko.

    Incidentally, I’m surprised that no one yet has mentioned Jared Diamond’s Collapse (2003ish), which studied the way societies collapsed and, as I remember it (I confess I read the articles related to the book, bought the book itself, but have so far only browsed in it, reading occasional sections), likewise identified the formation of an elite class, economically isolated from the scabrous proles, as a pretty good way to make sure your society/civilization foundered.

    I can understand exactly why NASA offered some funding to this project — as indeed I assume you can, once you’ve let the obscuring red veil leach out of your eyes. One of NASA’s concerns is atmospheric science, and therefore AGW comes into play. Thanks in large part to free enterprise — blessed be it! — we’re heading at great speed toward a climate catastrophe that will likely doom our civilization. In this context, it’s not at all peculiar that NASA should put a little funding in the direction of a study that, essentially, asks: “Is there any way we can get out of this one?”

    You may not enjoy the dispassionately stated tentative conclusions of that study. Me, I don’t enjoy the conclusions of them bastard scientists who tell me that drinking three bottles of wine a day is a poor plan, but I don’t run around saying that it’s just they’re complete wackoes with a commie Marxist Obama agenda.

    Likewise, it might behoove you to look at the paper’s conclusions and ask yourself if perhaps it’s your own fixed-in-stone ideology that needs revision. Of course, it’s easier on the ol’ intellect just to shriek, “Wacko!”

  2. It’s funny but a study should be done but not necessarily by NASA. When the top 85 wealthiest people in the world have more wealth than 3.5 billion people that’s a real problem. But I’ll save NASA the money and get to the heart of the matter and it’s a three-fold problem. First, manufacturing, computer and service jobs all migrated from the US and Europe to China and India were the wages are a fraction of western standards. Secondly, the migration of this money combined with the faster aggregation of money due to our information economy has accelerated this trend (checkout Albert-László Barabási’s book title “Linked” regarding power law and networks) with the resultant money ending with a few individuals and finally the money is absolutely corrupting political systems in both the east and the west. Always has and always will there is just more to throw around by a few individuals.

    So how much do I get for my study and results? Do we at least get a new space shuttle with the savings?

  3. The wackiest thing about this write up is the insane idea that Governmental agencies should be controlling what researchers are allowed to publish. Do you really want the government preapproving scientific publications. Get real…

  4. Stephen Kennedy

    Socio-Economic issues are probably a proper topic for research but would seem to be well outside of NASA’s field of expertise, particularly in a tight budget environment.

  5. The wackiest thing about this write up is the insane idea that Governmental agencies should be controlling what researchers are allowed to publish. Do you really want the government preapproving scientific publications. Get real

    Too damn’ right! And the Bush Administration organized 9/11! And Obama was born in Kenya!

    C’mon: get real.

  6. Re: DavidK’s link, when will AIG hire a resident evolutionary biologist for the sake of fairness?

  7. Stephen Kennedy


    AIG only hires people who will sign their idiotic “statement of faith”.

  8. “It is an independent study by the university researchers utilizing research tools developed for a separate NASA activity.”
    “This work was partially funded through NASA/GSFC grant NNX12AD03A”

    I think the statement says it. Their research was not paid for my the NASA grant specifically, but they used tools funded for another project to carry out their research. The researchers properly cited the grant as an indirect aid to their project.

    I have a problem with a lot of politicians and lay people criticizing research projects because they cannot understand the title of the project, which by the way is not usually written for lay people but for other professionals. I am not hear to say that every grant funded is a great grant, some aren’t, but if you don’t understand the title don’t criticize it until you fully understand what it’s all about. In biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, geology there are a lot titles that most wouldn’t have a clue about unless you were another professional.

  9. NASA supplied the software program used. It is usual therefore to credit that “loan” as a “support” of the research. And you have an opinion on that study after not having read it. My, my Curmudg; you’re slipping.

  10. Michael Honchar

    What “Biokid” and “stephenpruis” said.

    Some decades ago DoE (Detonations or Electricity) provided some samples of isolated lithium isotopes as Lithium Chloride for a biological experiment related to psychiatric pharmacotherapy. Psychiatric medication development is probably not a central focus of that department, but apparently DoE has mega-wads of lithium isotopes as a by-product of the manufacture of some of their portable high-energy terrain modification devices. Our experiment was a bust. (It seemed like such a sure thing and so modern…..) DoE got a “thank you” support note at the end of a very minor publication along with some similar program identification codes.

    Thanks, again, DoE guys. I would otherwise still be wondering.

    By the way, we used rather conventional statistical analysis of our (non) results. There wasn’t anything from Marx or Genesis.

  11. But I did read it, stephenpruis. Later in the comments of the first thread I discuss its contents.

  12. Mark Germano

    Dr. K, are you implying that AIG doesn’t want to teach both sides? I’m shocked. Shocked!

    Now that I think about it, it would be an incredible PR move if the DI were to hire an “evolutionist” as a sort of ombudsmen. They could really play the censorship card, then.

    Don’t know who would take the job, though.

  13. Mark Germano proposes the DI hire an ‘evolutionist’ ombudsman, but

    Don’t know who would take the job, though.

    I nominate our Diogenes.

    Alternative proposal: in lieu of ‘debates’ with ‘evolutionists’, which only give creationists a semblance of legitimacy which they have not earned, how about a creationist-only TV talent show, American ID-hole?

    Each week, a selection of specimens from Creationism’s ‘Big Tent’–e.g., Hammite YEC’s, Luskiny OEC’s, Dembski IDiots, and various writers of ‘Creationist Wisdom’ letters to the editor–audition before a panel of legitimate scientists with their various ‘proofs’ that Darwinism is doomed and the future belongs to oogity-boogity. The ones with the most entertaining nonsense go through to the next round, &c &c…

  14. A couple of things worth keeping in mind pictorially represented:

    Check out Jack Ohman on GoComics!

    Check out Joel Pett on GoComics!

  15. Richard Olson

    I posted the comics, but neglected to fill out the little identity boxes.

  16. Mark Joseph

    @Erik John Bertel

    When the top 85 wealthiest people in the world have more wealth than 3.5 billion people that’s a real problem.

    I think you’re forgetting that for a capitalist, that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

  17. Mark Joseph

    @Richard Olson
    Yes, those two cartoons were excellent!

  18. Richard Olson

    The Guardian link I provide in a post above details the funding for the study in question and gives in-depth information about models used, history of similar projects, and a great deal more. The author wrote one of the first news accounts following the release of the study at the beginning of the week, and the piece I link to is a rebuttal of criticisms of his initial account. An excerpt:

    ‘ What about the HANDY model itself? Is it too simplistic? Kloor’s modelling expert turns out to be an obscure student in Mathematical Ecology specializing in the modelling of Plankton, who pooh-poohs the study as over-simplistic as it has only four equations. But this simply misses the point.

    An academic conference paper on the HANDY model by a cross-disciplinary team of natural and social scientists led by Dr Rodrigo Castro of the Department of Environmental Systems Science at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, delivered earlier this month, explains in detail why the HANDY model is so useful:

    “It is our predicament that we live in a finite world, and yet we behave as if it were infinite. Steady exponential material growth with no limits on resource consumption and population is the dominant conceptual model used by today’s decision makers. This is an approximation of reality that is no longer accurate and started to break down. The World3 model, originally developed in the 1970s [aka the ‘Limits to Growth’ project which despite Kloor’s dismissals has turned out quite accurate according to American Scientist], includes many rather detailed aspects of human society and its interaction with a resource limited planet. However, World3 is a rather complex model. Therefore it is valuable for pedagogical reasons to show how similar behavior can be also realized with models that are much simpler. This paper presents a series of world models, starting with very simple exponential growth and predator-prey systems, then investigates a minimal human-nature model, Handy, and ends with a brief account of the World3 model. For the first time, a simple human-nature interaction model is made available in Modelica that distinguishes between dynamics of Elite and Commoner social groups. It is shown that Handy can reproduce rather complex behavior with a very simple model structure, as compared to that of world models like World3.” ‘

    The results of this paper will undergo further scrutiny, to be sure. If these results are discarded for legitimate reasons (not shoved into dark recesses due to special interest lobbying efforts with an already climate change-indifferent national so-called “main stream” media — meaning notFOX/Christian tv/talk radio), they will still, at minimum, serve to further discussion productively.

    Based on what I read I don’t expect anything approaching total refutation. On the contrary, the information the paper provides is likely to prove significant and important, but to what degree can only be accurately measured over a period of time greater than a single week, or even month.

    A useful initial measurement of its accuracy, of course, is the amount of hostility leveled ($$) by extraction energy interests via their media propaganda machine.

  19. Richard Olson

    I didn’t get my name on this thing — again.

  20. I didn’t get my name on this thing

    No matter: it was a great comment. For what it’s worth, your conclusions exactly match my own: it’s a study with a lot to tell us.