Tuesday, February 28, 2006


So, the university has sent around an email announcing the new publicity and outreach department for the college of science. They want a list of unique (and hopefully working) national facilities that the school has, presumably for publicity and outreach purposes.

The thing that caught my eye, however, was the name of this new outfit. They are called the College of Science Marketing and Outreach. The really sad thing, however, is that they go by their acronym, COSMO. I kid you not. One branch of our new layer of bureaucracy is called Cosmo. If you can think of a name for a serious research facility that has less gravitas, let me know. If enough people complain, maybe they’ll convene a study, or a focus group.

The thing that gets me cranky is this: The budget being the way that it is, they are paying for this new College of Science bureaucracy (Cosmo included) by offering redundancies to many of the senior technicians. These are the same people who, in many cases, are the ones who designed and built the unique scientific equipment in the first place. In some cases, they are the only people who actually know how to fix it properly.

The thing is, if you have a really good machine, you don’t need a marketing department. Australia’s geologists became world famous in the 1980’s by building the SHRIMP, a SIMS instrument that was able to measure uranium/lead ratios of minerals in situ. This revolutionized geochronology by making highly deformed and very old rocks datable, and put the university on the map. For a long time, they were the only people in the world who could do these sorts of measurements, so everyone who wanted to do them had to come here.

Excellence markets itself. But if you sack your knowledge base, you will eventually lose the ability to make world class instrumentation, and the marketing gurus will have to talk up mediocrity. Which is probably what they are trained to do.

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