Sagan Medal Address

Last updated: 31 March 2000

{Note: What follows is a transcription based on a modest-quality audio tape of my Sagan Medalist Speech and improved on the basis of a higher quality video tape later supplied by the meeting organizers. Questions and comments from the audience were marginally audible on both tapes. Nine vugraphs and part of a handout are embedded within the text; clicking on a thumbnail will link to a full-resolution jpeg image. Simple corrections are indicated within brackets: [...]. Commentaries, explanations, and corrections of mistakes added subsequent to the speech are indicated within curly brackets: {...}. -- CRC]

Awarding of Sagan Medal; Padua, Italy, 11 October 1999

DPS Chair Don Yeomans: Each year the DPS can award up to four different awards. The award we are going to present today is the Sagan Medal. This is only the second year that it has been presented. Last year it was given to Bill Hartmann. And it is given for "A planetary scientist who best communicates planetary science to the public." And, strangely enough, that is the title of our award winner's talk today: Clark Chapman. So would you please come up and join us, Clark? [Applause.] Ed Barker, the Chairman of the Prize Committee, is going to give Clark the Award while I read the citation.

"Clark Chapman, currently of Southwest Research Institute, is the recipient of the 1999 Sagan Medal for significant achievement by a DPS member in communicating planetary science to the public. Dr. Chapman has been outstanding in his devotion to, and widespread public involvement in, subjects concerning planetary exploration. He has authored several successful books, a wide range of magazine articles and publications, and he has given countless lectures and public presentations on aspects of Mercury, Mars, the Moon, the outer planets, and the small bodies of the solar system. As a spokesperson for planetary science, Dr. Chapman has not been afraid to raise and discuss controversial issues, going well beyond scientific reporting into science journalism. Congratulations." [Applause.]

Sagan Medalist Address by Clark R. Chapman

Thank you and Introduction

Thank you very much Don and Ed, and the DPS Committee, for this award. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, authorities, and esteemed colleagues. I'd like to begin by saying what I think almost [could] go unsaid, which is that I feel quite unworthy of this prize. In fact, with no disrespect to the previous winner, Bill Hartmann, and to several of you sitting out here who will, no doubt, win this award in future years: it will be quite some time, I believe, before the cumulative total of all of our contributions to public outreach will reach that of Carl Sagan, for whom this prize is named. But it is important that we try, and I wish to talk to you this evening about Public Outreach.

My understanding is that the intent of the Prize is normally to have the prize winner give a public lecture. Maybe the idea is to show how it is done, or something of that sort, and invite a large group of the public in. Of course, the public around here are from Italy, and -- I'm sorry -- I'm an American and I don't know Italian. I wish I did. I love the country, but... The suggestion was made that instead of giving a public lecture here, that I do so back in the United States, sometime in the next few months. And I don't know what the topic will be or quite the venue. Maybe I will hold forth on the remarkable world of Europa. We saw some pictures of it here before from Prof. Bignami and I think you are aware of many fascinating topics that we could talk about. I think that the Committee thought that maybe if I talked about public outreach here to my scientific colleagues, we might gain a little insight about this endeavor.

It is awe-inspiring to be here in this hall, with Galileo's [lectern] right outside the doorway. Galileo, of course, was a person who communicated publicly, articulately, and controversially...which didn't do him any good, particularly in the end, and we'll see what happens tonight. Because I do not plan to be non-controversial [Laughter.]

Science and Truth

Let me talk first about science. We do science as technical experts in research. And we're very good, in each of our own ways, whether it be theoretical or observational... But our job is not done until we have communicated effectively to our colleagues. Our job is not done until we, or our colleagues, have communicated effectively to teachers, journalists, the people who can express our words and our discoveries more expertly to the public. And, for that matter, [we should] talk directly to the public, whether it be in a classroom, or it be in the museums, or television, or over the Internet. And that is a difficult thing to do.

On the one hand, the public yearns to know about what we do. What we do is about as fascinating a thing as one can imagine. I'm sure many of you have, as I have, sat on an airline seat next to someone [who asks], "Well what do you do?" And one could say almost any occupation (except when we speak) and it generates yawns. But if you say, "Well, I'm an astronomer, or a planetary scientist," or whatever you choose to call yourself, it generates wonderment and excitement. It is clear that we are very fortunate, those of us in this room and not so many others in the world, to be able to say what we do and have a random person in the seat next to us think that it is just incredibly wonderful and they yearn to know more.

And so there is a yearning. There is also an enormous gulf. We are each specialists. We have honed in on certain techniques, often highly mathematical, detailed chemistry, or other kinds of specialties. Perhaps a little less so in Europe, but certainly in the United States, the educational system is such that science has been downplayed in recent decades and even the educated graduates of high schools and colleges know precious little about science. There is an enormous gulf to be bridged, and we must do it. These are the people who fund us, who provide us our salaries, and they do so because they want us to learn about these wonders in the sky that they yearn to know more about. So it is very important that we communicate.

We have to, however, do so in ways that retain the very special trust the public puts in science. I don't know how many of you have ever seen public opinion polls about the esteem to which the public holds doctors, (excuse me, Mark) {Mark Sykes, incoming DPS Vice Chair and a lawyer} lawyers, [Laughter]...; almost any profession is held in quite low esteem, and I can't say that scientists are held particularly highly; it's just that almost no profession is held higher than scientists. Somehow, the public does trust scientists more than almost any other entity and profession that exists. I think it is because we are truth-seekers and truth-tellers. We are, of course, imperfect human beings and we cannot always know the truth. In fact, science is a process of continually critiquing the truth as it is at the time and trying to improve upon [a paradigm] through criticism, through reviewing papers, through all the proposal review committees we sit on, etc. We are striving to get the best, most objective appraisal of our subject that is possible. Certainly it is our objective to try to be truthful, to try to explain reality for what it is; and that is, I think, one reason, [since] the public perceives us as at least trying to do that, that we are held in the high regard that we are.

Tonight I'm going to talk about some issues that I see in dealing with our ability to tell the truth, to portray reality for what it is. I'll talk a bit about a relatively new program of NASA in [Education and] Public Outreach. I'm going to talk a bit about press conferences, because this has been an arena in which scientists were criticized not so long ago for being very poor at giving press conferences and [writing] press releases, and now perhaps we're getting too good for ourselves. I hope to raise issues that we can discuss during the course of the evening and the week ahead of us.

Education and Public Outreach

So let me start with Education and Public Outreach. NASA has committed something of the order of a couple percent of the funds for all of its space science research programs to Education and Public Outreach. This is a marvelous change for the better. It has given some prominence -- as the DPS has in creating this prize -- to Education and Public Outreach, and it enunciated several years ago some excellent principles and goals. But I wish to critique, a bit, the implementation.

I'm going to start by showing some vugraphs, just a few. I'm going to start by telling a little bit about myself. And you'll see why I'm doing this in a moment. Here's a collage of pictures from my youth. I'm an astronomer, you say, and so I have my own personal history that probably resembles that of some of you and is probably very dissimilar from others. But when I was a kid in 1954, I was taken to this total eclipse of the Sun in Minneapolis. This {pointing to my crayon drawing of eclipse} is my "What I Did Last Summer" report for my grade school after I came back (here I am observing the eclipse)...Here I am with my 10-inch telescope and my father looking through the eyepiece; I was written up in the newspapers as a little, young astronomer. Here's some of my notebooks in which I made my drawings of Jupiter, my drawings of Mars. I didn't bother determining the rotation period -- it was already known [Laughter]. I participated in science contests. You might say this [is] a relatively typical way that someone would get from being a kid to being a planetary scientist...although others followed different routes, no doubt.

There's a whole other story, however, of my youth. And that is represented by this collage . I was also going to be a journalist. In fact, probably I was more likely to become a journalist. Here I am {pointing to a newspaper clipping} as a 12-year-old editor of "The Kingsgate Tribune." In fact the very first newspaper, which I printed for my parents with a tiny little printing press, is dated December 1953: let's see, there was a train wreck in Czechoslovakia, it says. I was very interested in the news, and some of these pictures show piles of my newspaper collection, newspapers from around the world. I'm standing with my mother by my printing press where I, every week for more than 3-and-a-half years, published this neighborhood newspaper distributed to about a hundred residents of my neighborhood. This {pointing to a mimeographed newssheet} happens to be October 13, 1957, when a new satellite was seen over Buffalo. I was interested, of course, in astronomy, and occasionally astronomy crept in. This was news. The editor of a newspaper in Columbus, Georgia, wanted to take me under his wing so that I would become a journalist. In fact, when I was in college, I took journalism courses as well as astronomy courses, and it wasn't until I took Carl Sagan's course, in fact, that I think I finally decided that it was going to be astronomy and not journalism. Nonetheless, my interest in journalism continued. A few of you are aware that I edited, even in recent years, a homeowner's association newsletter. And I did, of course, discuss...there was a crisis in planetary science once before: this {pointing to headline in Tucson Weekly} is from the early 80's.

Anyway, the reason I'm telling you this is that I'm wearing this medal, not because I'm a planetary scientist who a few years ago decided that, hey, I should do some public outreach, and contacted my local broker-facilitator and asked "What should I do?" I was always interested in this, and so my particular personal history was one that led naturally to doing these kinds of things for years. Bill Hartmann, who was the first winner of this prize...[before] I first met him -- he was probably in college or possibly even high school - - he'd been interested in art for a long time, [and] wrote articles about "art in astronomy" back in the late 1950's. He also was not someone who decided to get into public outreach at some [later] point.

What I'm basically indicating here is that we're all different people; in fact, we're more different than most groups of scientists sitting in a room together. Planetary science is a very interdisciplinary field; some of us are chemists, more of us are astronomers in this particular room, but in the whole arena of planetary science we have physicists, biologists, observers, theoreticians, modellers. We're very interdisciplinary in that fashion, each doing what we're good at and not doing -- and leaving to our colleagues -- what we're not so good at. And the same should be true, I think, in Education and Public Outreach. Some people are born with the gift of being a good teacher. Others are gifted at writing. Others are gifted at speaking. Others may be gifted at music or art, or other ways of communicating the wonder of the heavens to people. And what I fear is that there has been a bureaucratization of Education and Public Outreach, already in these early years of NASA's program, which has probably done a lot to stifle the innate creativity of a lot of people who would love to go out there and use their innate talents to communicate to the public the excitement of what they do.

Let me show more vugraphs about the [E&PO] program . This is the web site of the [NASA Office of] Space Science Education and Public Outreach program. You can go there and read about a whole lot of things. It's very highly organized. It's been organized into something called an "ecosystem"; I don't know quite where the word "ecosystem" came from in this context, but in the United States there are different regions that have different facilitator/brokers located in various places, and people are encouraged to go to them to get help. There's a whole set of check-lists that you are supposed to follow as you design your Education and Public Outreach program.

I wanted to tell you about an experience that I had. I've once submitted a proposal to the Education and Public Outreach program. This program has a limit on it of $10 thousand dollars. It has a whole bunch of catches to it. First, you have to get a funded science program in order to even be allowed to participate in Education and Public Outreach. And so when you write a proposal, first there's a chance that your science proposal might not be funded. (In fact, these days that's a fairly good chance it won't be funded. [Laughter]) But then you write this proposal and, unlike a science proposal where you can write about what you know about and know you can do it, and all you really need is a working computer or a working telescope, for Education and Public Outreach, you're pretty much obliged to at least team up with some broker/facilitator {actually, this detail is technically incorrect}, or with some other entity in Education and Public Outreach, and get them to sign on their letterhead that they want you to do it. More than that, you have to design an assessment program to assess how well you are doing, or how well you did, in your E&PO program. Now, for $10,000, given overhead and given the fact that some of the money should go to the educators, it might pay for a couple of weeks of your time. So, with only a limited amount of time you can spend writing a proposal, to fund yourself for a couple of weeks of your time...(in the United States, the vast majority of planetary scientists are supported on soft money and must have a charge number for every hour they spend), [you can afford only] a limited amount of time to spend writing a proposal to fund, [when there's only] a fraction of a chance of winning.

So I wrote this proposal. This was a year-and-a-half ago, in the midst of the "Deep Impact", "Armageddon", XF-11 interest in the impact [hazard]. I'd been on the ABC evening news with Peter Jennings a month-or-so before. I had camera teams from the United Kingdom, Japan, and Germany all [camped] on my doorstep. I had no funding. And I thought, hey, I can write off to the Education and Public Outreach program and say the good things I'd been doing and maybe I'll get a couple weeks of a charge number. So I did.

A week or so before I got this letter {pointing to DPS letterhead} from Don Yeomans saying I was winning this prize, I got this review {pointing to review form}. I don't know if you can read it, but it's short. My [proposal] had "no major strengths," it had "no minor strengths" [Laughter]. It didn't even have minor weaknesses [More laughter]. It only had "major weaknesses" [Laughter]. My proposal was "tenuous and unrealistic." I had "ineffective or non-existent partnerships with other institutions or potential partners." (Ineffective, I suppose; but it wasn't "non-existent" in my proposal.) "No plan to evaluate" my outreach activity. And -- I want to place some emphasis on this one -- "no leveraging of existing resources." Now, you can get graded on this: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, or Poor. And your Sagan Medalist this year got "Poor". [Laughter and applause.] I'm sure that a few of you are applauding because you believe that I really deserved the "Poor". [Laughter] But this was a year, if fact, that if you got even "Very Good" you didn't get funded. You needed to get "Excellent" to get funded. So I wasn't even close.

Now let me talk a little bit about "leveraging", because that is one of the criticisms. (There are other problems with this review. You know, it's a little difficult to call up the New York Times, which was calling me all the time, and say "Now, I'm writing this proposal and I'd like a letter from you saying that you'll talk to me a year from now if I'm funded on this proposal." This is not the way the New York Times works, it's not the way Peter Jennings works. It's really not the way a lot of organizations work, although one's local museum might spend the effort to write such a letter.) But back to "leveraging." We are, as I indicated before, in an exceptional situation, being a very small community of people...less than a thousand throughout the entire world of people in planetary science. And yet millions, hundreds of millions, of people are fascinated by it and when their representatives, the journalists, the TV, even if they don't knock on your door all the time -- they would love it if they could, if they thought they'd get an answer -- and particularly last year, in the asteroid impact arena, or in some other years when other topics were hot: people in our field really get over-stressed. Tom Gehrels' telescope was so often used by journalists and media people to photograph, he just had to start saying "No" because he and his team weren't getting any research done. Camera teams were practically living at the Spacewatch Telescope. Anyway, the concept of leveraging is to take this precious resource, which is our time, and somehow use techniques, use technology, use educators, use journalists, so that our message is spread to those millions who are yearning.

Now, we could spend our time, each of us, being, say, a mentor to one graduate student. This is education, this might be a valuable thing to do. It may be that the one graduate student, out of the several hundred we could spend our time teaching, would turn out to be the next Einstein. It would be very valuable. In no way would I suggest that it isn't the right way to spend your extra time. But it is not Public Outreach, it is not serving that particular need of the millions who want to hear from us. Somehow, when some [space scientist] wishes to present themselves to the public and to help in this effort, they need better encouragement. Now this didn't stop me [Laughter], but even I might have done more had I gotten some encouragement.

There's a gentleman, David Levy, who some of you know, who every few weeks writes a column in Parade magazine, which has a circulation of 80 million. His efforts are very well leveraged. Parade is a very thin magazine, for those of you in Europe who don't know it, and probably some significant fraction of the 80 million, maybe 5 million, reads what David Levy writes. But NASA terminated his Education and Public Outreach program some while back. I just think that it is time for NASA to re-engineer its program. There is a lot of variety of creativity that people could bring to this effort, and they need to be encouraged.

The DPS, as a society, could do more. I've written in my Planetary Report column about the book, "Worlds Apart," published last year by the Freedom Forum, written by Jim Hartz (an NBC journalist) and Rick Chappell (an ex-scientist astronaut from NASA) who suggested that one of the major things a professional society could do is to serve as an intermediary, to find ways in which journalists and teachers could obtain the context of all that they hear, perhaps through a web site designed especially for them. At the moment the Society is mostly volunteer and it's very difficult to get organized to do that, but we should try and it might be a way that we, as a community, could leverage ourselves to great effect. I think that it is important that it is "we as a community," not each and every one of us. Not each and every one of us wants to, or are our talents best used in doing this. But we should all strive to see that our community engages in this activity.

Truth, Beauty, and Reality

Now let me move on to the second of three topics. I call it "Truth, Beauty, and Reality," and actually it is mostly about hype. But it is a subtle kind of hype. Because I'm going to suggest that we are even fooling ourselves here, a little bit. Here are the front covers of a couple of books that I've contributed to. What you see here are two pictures -- of millions that have been published that have some of the traits I'd like to talk to you about. Saturn and Venus. And I want to begin with Day-glo Saturn. We even have a hand-out in our hand-out package for this meeting which has a Day-glo Saturn. Now I do not believe -- and someone should correct me if I'm wrong -- that this particular picture was created for a scientific purpose, to show things. To some degree, it enhances the contrast. But I think this was made to look pretty. And it is very pretty. In no way would I like to suggest that this isn't a wonderful thing to hang on the wall of an art is a beautiful picture. But to me it's not Saturn.

When I was a little kid, I looked through a small, two-inch telescope my father made from a cardboard tube, and I saw Saturn. I wrote in Sky & Telescope about ten years ago that it may have been that view of Saturn through the telescope that really turned me on to planetary science. I showed my wife Lynda, who's sitting up here in the front row, Saturn for the first time [a few weeks ago] through that 10-inch telescope that I showed a picture of back there that I had when I was young, and I still have it. And she saw Saturn through the telescope for the first time, and it was -- by far -- the most exciting thing she had seen. For me, Sky & Telescope had asked me to write about the most fascinating observation that I had ever made through a telescope. And I wrote about the time I looked through the Mt. Wilson 60-inch telescope (about 1.6 meters or so...the old telescope on Mt. Wilson) on a night of spectacularly clear seeing. Saturn, magnified [to be] very large, sat steady and still in the field-of-view, and it had the most gorgeous, pastel colors...just hints of pinks and various other colors. The overall hue was, of course, that yellow we are all familiar with, but it was just the most gorgeous sight in its actual reality, unmodified by any kind of image-processing like this.

Now there have been even greater distortions of Saturn. Here is Saturn more nearly as it is {pointing to natural-color image of Saturn}. I don't know how many of you remember this picture {pointing to Voyager rings release}. It was extremely widely reproduced back in the early 1980's. It was really created from a squiggly line. Now, it is a challenge to take squiggly lines -- and most of us in this room, at least part of our careers, deal in acquisition of squiggly data lines rather than two-dimensional images -- and it is tough, it takes... (I see Carle Pieters smiling back there.) Squiggly lines are really vastly important. It's what I did my PhD thesis on, and it's tough. So I say that this particular Voyager instrument team really took the easy way out. They put in a color (it didn't really reproduce that well when I downloaded it from the web) but it was a standard dazzling orange color, which had nothing to do with the observations, and all these nice arcs are merely the extension to two dimensions of this squiggly line derived from this particular instrument, assuming azimuthal symmetry. Now this is, I think, a more serious issue, and not just because it is an extension and blowing up beyond all proportions what the original data was. It actually creates some misimpressions. The azimuthal asymmetries in Saturn's rings are among the most important discoveries that were made by Voyager. There are patches, there are waves, there are embedded moonlets. There are all kinds of things that, you know, this instrument faked in not showing, in essence. It creates a false impression of the reality.

Let me move to Venus. I'm pretty sure that this is Maat Mons; it's a mountain on Venus, a giant caldera [shield volcano], sort of like Mauna Loa in Hawaii. I'm sure many of you, if not all of you, have seen pictures like this, or perhaps this very picture. They were very prominently displayed during the era of the Magellan project. Now, they are colorized to this bright orange color. It is supposed to be real, in the sense that we know from the Russian landers that took color pictures of the surface that the light filtered through the clouds of Venus is kind of orangey in color. But, in fact, you would not see for distances of hundreds or thousands of kilometers this way and see a bright orange surface.

However, I didn't want to talk about the color, but about the vertical exaggeration. This has a vertical exaggeration of a factor of 10, which was typically used in showing Venus. This is squashed a factor of ten. In other words, this is a much more realistic view of this scene {especially the relief on the horizon}. And I'll dare say that it is not just the public that has gotten the wrong impression about what the surface of Venus is like. I'll bet that all of you [have, too], for I know that I myself just don't think of Venus like this {top, squashed image}. Now it is a fact that vertical exaggeration actually is used by planetary geologists quite frequently, so that they can see things. (I see some colleagues over here nodding, from the DLR [Berlin] who are very expert at producing three-dimensional topographic images.) So this is, in fact, a real scientific tool and I think it is entirely reasonable and responsible to show the public that this is the way we stretch and massage our data to see and to understand it better. But I think we are really even fooling ourselves about the geology of Venus because we have these kinds of pictures so firmly embedded in our minds.

All I ask is that we really ponder this and really think about it: we're dealing with the most amazing landscapes, that people might actually visit, our children might visit, our grandchildren might visit. These are real places, they are beautiful places, they're exotic places. Hollywood and Madison Avenue need to hype and exaggerate things. We don't. And I suggest that we shouldn't. Or at least not so much. Or we should say why we vertically exaggerate so that people understand and get the right idea.

Press Conferences and DS1

I think that is enough for "Truth, Beauty, and Reality." I'd like to now move on to press conferences. Now, I'll tell you a little story. Because of my [interest in] journalism back when I was young, I got involved in a little bit of political activity in Tucson. And I learned something about press conferences, things I think that planetary scientists and their institutions have been learning more recently. That is that the press is hungry for news. And if you've got a cause, a political cause or something, you're [anxious] to give them your version of the news. I remember an organization that we formed when some road bonds were proposed for election in Pima County, Arizona, and I and about four other people formed an organization called Citizens for Necessary Roads Only. We made the argument that some [new] roads were necessary, but we didn't need these roads that were being designed solely to help the asphalt companies in town. [CNRO had] five members, I recollect. Don Davis might have been a member. Someone else you might know, Bill Boynton, was another member. The president of this organization actually slept through our news conference, but I was there. And the press, TV cameras, and newspaper people turned out and they heard our spin on why there shouldn't be all this money voted for all these roads. There were headlines in the papers and there was some coverage [on the TV] about our press conference. We didn't say that we were only five people, but we didn't say that we weren't. And I actually don't think that if you asked the journalists there -- they're a pretty jaded, cynical lot -- and I think they pretty well understood what was going on here. In fact, it wasn't as though this was a totally fringe idea. When the election happened, it wasn't until 2 o'clock in the morning that the votes finally came down 51% to 49% and our side lost. But we were, in fact, the only public citizen's group against these bonds, and yet 49% of the people voted against them. So press conferences are the way that people with parochial interests get their point-of-view across, and the journalists eat them up. It's what happens.

Now, of late, NASA, which used to be criticized for doing a very poor job of explaining anything, now finally has its press activities together. I think everyone here would agree that it has been quite effective. There are multiple web sites, wonderful pictures. There's a lot more coverage of stories about space exploration in the newspapers than there used to be. But there also are some problems. I participated in one, and I want to say that this is not an easy thing. It is not easy to portray to the public, particularly through the intermediary of the press and journalists, a completely accurate picture of what you want.

There was a press conference I participated in at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory a couple of years ago about Europa. And there were many forces at work in that press conference, many interests, many dedicated people trying to do the right thing. Some of the people who wanted to do the right thing were people who didn't hold the view that those ice rafts, which you saw earlier this evening, on Europa meant that there was a liquid water ocean [beneath]. And so they chose not to participate in the press conference. I chose to participate in it because, at least my piece of it was one that I felt very comfortable with. And I think that everyone there, and all the people at J.P.L., the Galileo Project, and NASA Headquarters, who had their role in organizing it, were trying to do the right thing. Yet, when all was said-and-done, the headlines that came out really did not convey at all what the Galileo Imaging Team had previously thought was the correct interpretation of these pictures. There were banner headlines in the newspapers around the country, and -- for all I know -- in Europe as well, about "Oceans on Europa," "Life on Europa." Sometimes these were qualified and sometimes not. We all kind of wondered "How did this happen?" And it wasn't through chicanery, it wasn't through people getting up and lying. It was just a complex set of interactions, in which the final result was not what, for example, Mike Belton (head of the Galileo Imaging Team), had intended. You can't blame it on the journalists entirely. (Of course, some of the headline writers wrote headlines that bore no resemblance to the article.)

Nonetheless, when Space Telescope Science Institute issues a press release saying that some scientists have gone back to the archives of HST and have discovered some main-belt asteroids, and this news item makes it onto the front pages of newspapers, as it did -- when, in fact, the Spacewatch Telescope discovers more asteroids every random night than HST's archival analysis did, there's something badly missing involving the real context, the real importance of that particular research project compared with the really important things, that I think there has to be some careful analysis of what goes out, who endorses it, how important it is. Indeed, journalists, some of whom aren't very knowledgeable at all about the science, generally speaking -- there are a few good ones -- but ... it's rare for a local science journalist to have taken courses in science, according to this book by Hartz and Chappell that I mentioned before. So we've had occasional examples of actual crackpot science being promulgated by official agencies. Of course, there have been many good [press releases], and I'm sure that people involved in these efforts have perhaps narrow, but valid, good, and generous motives to promote their organization, to promote their research, to promote their agency versus another one, and so on...perhaps even to educate the public. But I think we can do better.

I'd like to talk about a final example about something that has happened recently. That is Deep Space One. Now, Deep Space One is a mission that I proposed to be a member of. It's one of the New Millennium spacecraft designed primarily to test new technologies. And we need new technologies if we are going to go into space and do things right. NASA, for a long time, and ESA and other space agencies were, to some degree, hobbled by flying only those technologies which were proven to be validated in space, and it was very hard to take the next step. The camera on Galileo was designed in the mid- 70's. So we need to develop new technology, and having a dedicated new- technology mission is a fine thing. This particular one I thought was worthy enough, even though its science goals were secondary, that I proposed for it. (I'm glad I wasn't accepted because it did have some problems.) But it did test out ion drive successfully, for the first time {in a NASA deep space mission context}, and I think there is much good to be said about this particular mission.

But it was flying past an asteroid back a couple of months ago, and things went awry. It did not happen to be aimed at the asteroid when it flew past. It did not get pictures for a full 15 minutes; when it finally turned back it got a couple of fuzzy, little pictures. It did have some other instruments running and it wasn't devoid of results. Basically the thing went into safing shortly before encounter. If you read the web account that was, for a while, on the Deep Space One web site -- possibly until I wrote my Planetary Report article about this, and then it got pulled {I've been told subsequently that it was still there at the time of this speech, but moved to another archival location}; the running account, in the back pages of the web site, is a horror story of things going wrong, of problems. And yet the Press Office says not only that "NASA's Deep Space One Succeeded" in its asteroid flyby; it even says here in the very first paragraph that it "exceeded 100%" of the mission's objectives. [Laughter.] Now that is quite a claim: exceeding 100% of its objectives, when it actually it was turned the wrong way when it was flying past the asteroid.

A few days later, they called a press conference. And I could well understand it if they had the technologists, who got ion drive working and got some of these other technologies together, and had them talking about the problems of testing out things for the first time...and the successes and the failures, how exciting it was, and how this would make ready the new missions in the next decade and do other wonderful things.

But after this flyby, they instead got together some scientists to talk about science. And the only [DS1] press conference, the one that was shown on NASA TV, was about the science obtained by Deep Space One. Now the science that was obtained was spectral information about this particular asteroid. I had been, the previous week, at the ACM [Asteroids Comets Meteors] Conference in Ithaca, New York, and there were a couple of papers given about the spectrum of Braille, this little Mars- crossing asteroid. It looked like Braille had deep absorption bands, and it was evident that it was some kind of very pure mineral assemblage -- maybe an ordinary chondrite [Q-type], maybe a basaltic achondrite [V-type] -- the [groundbased] spectra had modest error bars and they weren't entirely sure.

What happened here was that the scientists involved with the infrared experiment on Deep Space One, decided that the spectrum looked a little bit more like a basaltic achondrite [V-type] than an ordinary chondrite [Q-type], and that was interesting. It would be worth talking about over coffee, at a departmental colloquium, or maybe even giving a 5-minute paper on it at a DPS meeting. And I have no complaint whatsoever about the science. Except that it did not merit the coverage in the New York Times, the coverage on the NBC Today show, the full, live broadcast on NASA TV, and so on. The science -- and this is my field, I should say for those of you who don't know me: asteroid spectroscopy was what I did my thesis on -- so, in my judgement... Rick Binzel and his students have discovered dozens of V-type asteroids. This is a random one: Deep Space One wasn't aimed specifically at Braille because it was interesting; it was one of the asteroids along the way on the way to a comet. So one more asteroid is a V-type. Well, that's nice. For me, I could get quite interested in it. I don't think that most of you would be interested in that, and I really don't think that the public should be. But that's the news that was reported in the newspapers.

I think you just can't have it both ways. If this is a new technology mission, let's hear about the new technologies in a press conference at the end of the mission. If this is a science mission, let's be honest about where this science is in the scheme of things. It's not bad science {it turned out later that it was bad science: several days later at the DPS meeting, DS1 scientists reported, without issuing a corrective press release, that their calibration was wrong, and -- chiefly based on Binzel's groundbased spectrum -- they now agreed that Braille was probably a Q-type, not a V- type}; it's just very small science, and does not come close to justifying a tiny fraction of a $125 million space mission. And I just don't think that this is right. I think it is wrong.

Freely Discussing Serious Issues about Space Exploration

And so I wrote that in the Planetary Report. In the latest issue of the Planetary Report, which I've had a column running in since Volume 1 Number 1, back when Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Lou Friedman first founded the Society in 1980. My column was about this; it was actually written in a very positive, constructive way. I was talking about all the wonderful things that were presented at the ACM Conference, just contrasting them with the relatively minor news from DS1. But certain powers and officials at a certain laboratory on the West Coast of the United States didn't particularly like this. I'm kind of the last person to know, but so far as I can tell, my employer was called {my management has, more recently, directly told me that a J.P.L. Manager -- commenting on my column -- demanded my employer to "shut it down"}. Lou Friedman wants me to explicitly deny that pressure was put on him, although he did have discussions with certain high J.P.L. officials. For the longest time, they were going to put a "disclaimer" on my column to say that this is not the official view of the Planetary Society. Well, of course it isn't! My views have never been the official view of the Planetary Society. [Laughter.] (In fact, they are rarely the view of the Planetary Society.) But, since an early controversial column I wrote back in the early 80's, there has always been an official disclaimer on the inside front cover of the Planetary Report. So the thing got published without a disclaimer.

Well, your Medalist this evening is here to tell you that he has written another column for the Planetary Report on a certain topic called "Mars Climate [Orbiter]." Now I claim that this column is really not even controversial. I think that it is not controversial really at all. Some people who have read it don't think it is controversial. But for some reason or other, this column is apparently going to be censored totally. And, for your benefit, I've brought copies [holding up stack of copies of draft column; Laughter and sustained applause]. (On the back side is the column from the last issue on DS1 if you haven't had a chance to read it yet.) And I hope you'll enjoy it. I think that space exploration is too important not to talk about the serious issues that are before us.

In fact, I've got to tell you -- perhaps I should hang my head a little bit -- but I'm self-censoring myself in what I say. I happen to know, from several independent people who I think are reliable, the motivation for why DS1 did its press relations the way they did it. I'm not going to say it tonight, but I might whisper it in your ear if you're really nice to me. {Several have told me that the DS1 Project's motivation for putting a positive spin on its success was to win an extended mission, which was granted to DS1 shortly after the press conference -- although subsequently I've also been reliably told that the press conference played no role in that decision. Shortly after the extended mission began, Deep Space One went into a disoriented safing, from which it hadn't recovered many months later.} You know, I can't get into their heads and I can't actually know for a fact what their motivation was, but I think that we could have a few investigative reporters start really asking questions.

I think that I've also censored myself on Mars Climate [Orbiter]; what I've written about here is mostly what I think about the uncontrovertible history of redundancy in the Space Program, starting with having several launches, only one of which is expected to finally succeed; moving through the era when redundancy was all put into one spacecraft (Galileo is an example of multiply redundant systems but not multiple launches). This was going to be a savings of money, particularly at the time when launches got to be more reliable. Of course, there were occasional elements of a spacecraft that couldn't be made multiply redundant -- the Galileo antenna and the Hubble mirror being two prominent cases -- but I think that we can all say that the missions designed during that era were very robust. Lots of things went wrong and yet the spacecraft continued to work. However, they got extraordinarily expensive -- so expensive that they basically priced themselves out of the market. And I think that Dan Goldin's decision was a bold and brave one, particularly in the aftermath of the Challenger disaster when everyone was risk averse, to decide on cheap, small missions where we can afford to lose one every once in a while. It's an interesting idea, it's got some merit to it.

But maybe in the light of what's happened... and I recount in my little essay here a few of those things and a few near disasters we've had -- and I say "near" advisedly: I'm on the NEAR team [Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission] and, boy, its a lucky thing that we still have a working spacecraft after what happened last December. It's fully working, but it was just a matter of chance that the batteries didn't die before the engineers recovered the spacecraft {I was subsequently told that this early interpretation of the NEAR recovery is incorrect; subsequent analysis suggests that the spacecraft probably had little chance of draining its batteries}. Maybe we should think about this new strategy. I wrote about that.

But maybe its too controversial, particularly when there are certain very sensitive entities that lean on you. I have to believe that we've advanced a whole lot since the time of Galileo and I don't expect to be jailed or lose my job because of saying things the way I see them. There was an episode twenty years ago when, actually acting on behalf of the DPS, I wrote a letter to NASA Headquarters on a pretty ordinary topic. But it offended someone and that someone called up my boss' boss and threatened his funding if he didn't get me to withdraw my letter [addressed to his boss, a very high NASA official] before the really big boss saw it. I decided that it's not worth saying this, if my boss' boss' funding is going to get pulled, so I said, "Sure, I'll withdraw the letter." And I got a call from a NASA official saying, "Dr. Chapman, I'm holding your letter in my hand; do you want me to shred it?" [Laughter.] And I said, "O.K." And I heard over the long distance telephone the sound of my letter being ripped in two at NASA Headquarters.

Now, we believe in the United States that we are a democracy with freedom of speech and so on. It's not at all so simple. We try our best to tell the truth. You may or may not be reading my [latest] column in the Planetary Report in the future, but you can read it now.


I'd like to wrap up, just by saying that we are in a field with really the greatest innate public interest. These accessible worlds that we study are just remarkable places, and we have a far easier job than almost anyone else does in any line of work in the world to interest people in them. It is a very arcane what we do, given the nature of science education these days. So it takes hard work to explain what we do. We have to be creative in explaining it. The late Fred Scarfe, was beset with wiggly lines and the idea occurred to him that he could play these wiggly lines audibly, and you could listen to them. And that was a neat idea. Now that's not the way you should handle all wiggly lines, but we need some creativity. We need to work hard, and we need to attempt to recreate some elements of Carl Sagan's communication skills.

It is a noble endeavor. It is our collective obligation, even though I don't think it is our individual obligations for all of us, to try to communicate what we do to the public. I think it is important that we be truthful, as truthful as we can be: we might make mistakes, and we always do occasionally. But we need to be intellectually honest, and to think deeply about how we communicate. I think we have gotten a little bit off-track. This gulf is wide and we need to do it and I'm going to ask you to join with me in trying to tell the public about that wonderful reality of our multidisciplinary subject that we are so privileged to study. Thank you. [Applause.]

Questions and Answers

Don Yeomans: Are there any questions or comments from the audience? [Laughter.]

Torrence Johnson: Clark, you and I have agreed to disagree about many things over the years and we will face the issue about enhanced color over a glass of wine later. But on the issue of the fundamental truths we're trying to get out: Lying to NASA is bad, I guess; lying to the public is definitely bad; but lying to ourselves is something that guy over there ...[inaudible; applause].

Robert Nelson {DS1 Project Scientist}: In order to have a rational discussion of where truth lies requires that you hear both sides of the story. Therefore, I'd like to invite everyone on Wednesday to Session 34 [the DS1 session] where the scientists of Deep Space One will be presenting their results from the nominal mission. And I ask you, perhaps, in the interests of events, [inaudible] if you can reserve judgement until you've heard both sides of the story.[ applause].

Chapman: I'd like to say something about that. That was Bob Nelson, the Project Scientist for Deep Space One. He's a man I've known for a very long time, and whom I deeply respect. Bob and I have had some correspondence about these issues over these last months and I think that he's handled himself extremely honorably. It's a very, very tough position to be in, to face issues like this. And I hope we can have a real good dialog, back and forth, between you and me, and all those here who are interested.

Bonnie Buratti: [inaudible]...Deep Space One you know, it's very, very hard to get a press conference...mission didn't have a lot of...[inaudible] but we had their attention...[inaudible]. It was not Nobel Prize work, but [inaudible]...had the attention of the largest number of public [ inaudible]

Chapman: O.K., I'll try to repeat that. That was Bonnie Buratti, who's associated with Deep Space One, and she says that here was an opportunity when the spacecraft flew past this asteroid, and we had the public's attention. And isn't it a good thing, arranging to take advantage of this opportunity to educate the public about asteroids. Let me amplify on her question. I know that it is Bob Nelson's view that this was a golden opportunity, actually, to talk about infrared spectra. Infrared spectra are really an important field in planetary science. And it is so rare that the squiggly lines get attention over the pictures. And I share with Bob and Bonnie their... they must have felt wonderful that finally there were some reporters listening to, and writing about, the import of the squiggly lines, and what these squiggly lines can tell us about fundamental information about why this object is made of this rather than that. And I empathize very strongly, and I think that this is a wonderful thing to try to do. But I guess I have to say that while that message may have gotten through to some people, the coverage that I saw was particularly touted with spin of the Deep Space One Project. This press release was not written by the scientists, and I rather suspect that it was disagreed with by the scientists. The Big Picture that went out really was a hodge-podge. And I think that the journalists deserve a lot of blame for that...they don't do their job very well either, by trying to find out what's right, trying to write about what's important. But it's not all their fault, and we're very apt to blame them. I think we really have to [meet them] part-way; we have to get our press offices and our newspaper editors and the other people involved in the larger arenas in which we work to help us do that, as well. It's a tough issue. As I tried to indicate in my little discussion of the Galileo press conference I participated in, its a go in there with the very best of intentions, and it doesn't quite work out right. I'm sympathetic to your point, Bonnie.

Dr. A. Eviatar [Israeli planetary scientist]: I'm just an ordinary dues-paying member of the Planetary Society. But what I'm hearing tonight makes me wonder if I honestly should continue to be a member of a society whose journal, a public organ, is censored by people who have this [inaudible] interest and whose editors will kow-tow or bow down to that sort of pressure? Because if that is what the Planetary Society is, if it doesn't have the strength or integrity to allow its columnists and its writers to put in what their honest opinions are, then we don't need the Planetary Society and we don't need the Planetary Report.

Chapman: Well, I'm going to disagree with that. I mean, this is a tough issue. And by highlighting these issues, ...You know, the Planetary Society has been very effective. And it has basically run articles that are truthful. I have never previously been censored. In fact, as of today, I haven't been. They did not run that disclaimer, ultimately, on my printed column. And they haven't yet printed the issue that's maybe not going to carry my next column. So I'm not actually aware of any formal censorship yet. Of course, they have the right to control the content of their magazine, and they're in a very delicate position. They're headquartered in the same city with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They have had the ear of the NASA Administrator much more than many people have had because they have been able to keep maintaining a dialog. And it's tough. I think they have been doing a generally good job. And by my highlighting this little difficulty, I don't want anyone here to go overboard and think that the Planetary Society is not trying its best to do the right thing themselves.

Don Yeomans: I'm afraid that we're going to have to move along with the program, so let's give Clark another round of applause. [Applause.]

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