Joined: June 2008
Very interesting thread, I have not been here much lately but I always enjoy my visits.
First, on topic, the Coppedge matter. Egregious as his behavior in the work environment was, this whole lawsuit sounds like a put up job to a)garner publicity for the 'academic freedom' ploy, and b) cast aspersions on JPL. I hope he gets slapped down hard.
On the question of engineering v. science, it is partly just a cultural difference. Engineers are expected to have conventional solutions to a wide range of problems. Scientists on the other hand generally are faced with a wide range of problems for which there are no solutions and their charge is to discover some. When you are doing good science, you really are in a uncertain situation, it takes a certain kind of calm and self-assurance to cope with that uncertainty for years and years. I don't think that kind of environment appeals to the religious. They seem to have a kind of fetish about certainty. So perhaps it is natural that the religious gravitate towards engineering instead of science. There are no doubt plenty of brilliant engineers who are confronted with similar difficulties to those of science when developing hardware or software for truly novel applications and uses. Like the engineers who developed the four computer decision system for the avionics of the shuttle. For the time and the technology it was a brilliant piece of work.
Since I kind of have a foot in both puddles, I have a certain empathy for all parties. I have known a few scientists who were good enough at what they did but who were pretty dogmatic in other respects. Perhaps the distinguishing factor is more like a kind of natural selection. There are far fewer niches for scientists than there are for engineers. And those niches are a much tighter fit. There are plenty of jobs for engineers without a PhD. but not many for scientists. So the winnowing process is both brutal and highly selective.
If you think about it for a while it is a little amazing that JPL tolerated this guy's extracurricular activities for as long as they did. In his capacity as a sysadmin he was in an ideal position to totally fuck up the mission, and if he was clever about it, get away scot free while serving up a truck load of scorn and derision to those elite scientists. He certainly didn't seem to shy away from deriding the work that the mission produced in as public a way as possible. Perhaps he, and his collaborators, calculated that he could do more damage to science based policy and decisions by letting the mission play out and just fanatically contradicting every result published with his idiotic rants about A.S.S.
Or perhaps they just weren't clever enough to figure out a way to cover their tracks if they did overt sabotage.
Strange world we live in. Stranger than we can suppose.