C N Parkinson on Nuclear Committee & R101 Airship/NASA

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C N Parkinson on Nuclear Committee & R101 Airship/NASA

Postby rerevisionist » 22 Jul 2011 15:01

FirstClassSkeptic on India's nuclear efforts being possibly failures. Is the problem greed? Or the need for status? Have they been deceived by Jewish or other groups? Or could it be something more intangible - the incompetence of collective groups? .....

What follows is an extract from C N Parkinson's 1957 piece on the 'Law of Triviality' - 'the time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.' (Parkinson became well-known after his 1955 'Parkinson's Law' in the Economist, and supplemented his income by finding ever more quasi-physics sociological laws. His work is the lighthearted end of the spectrum stretching to 1984 - but like Orwell he has no idea of the ideas of currency and its influence, or of international economics).

His example includes a committee discussing a nuclear power station and one has to concede that his G B Shaw-style presentation may be painfully accurate:--

If we are to make further progress in this investigation we must ignore all that has so far been done. [I.e. Parkinson's commentary on the fact that most people have no experience of vast sums of money]. We must start at the beginning and understand fully the way in which a finance committee actually works. For the sake of the general reader this can be put in dramatic form thus:

Chairman: 'We come now to Item Nine. Our Treasurer, Mr McPhail, will report.'

Mr McPhail: 'The estimate for the Atomic Reactor is before you, sir, set forth in Appendix H of the subcommittee's report. You will see that the general design and layout has been approved by Professor McFission. The total cost will amount to £10,000,000. The contractors, Messrs McNab and McHash, consider that the work should be completed by April 1963. Mr McFee, the consulting engineer, warns us that we should not count on completion before October, at the earliest. In this view he is supported by Dr McHeap, the well-known geophysicist, who refers to the probable need for piling at the lower end of the site. The plan of the main building is before you—see Appendix IX—and the blueprint is laid on the table. I shall be glad to give any further information that members of this committee may require.'

Chairman: 'Thank you, Mr McPhail, for your very lucid explanation of the plan as proposed. I will now invite the members present to give us their views.'

It is necessary to pause at this point and consider what views the members are likely to have. Let us suppose that they number eleven, including the Chairman but excluding the Secretary. Of these eleven members, four—including the Chairman—do not know what a reactor is. Of the remainder, three do not know what it is for. Of those who know its purpose, only two have the least idea of what it should cost. One of these is Mr Isaacson, the other is Mr Brickworth. Either is in a position to say something. We may suppose that Mr Isaacson is the first to speak.

Mr Isaacson: 'Well, Mr Chairman, I could wish that I felt more confidence in our contractors and consultant. Had we gone to Professor Levi in the first instance, and had the contract been given to Messrs David and Goliath, I should have been happier about the whole scheme. Mr Lyon-Daniels would not have wasted our time with wild guesses about the possible delay in completion, and Dr Moses Bullrush would have told us definitely whether piling would be wanted or not.'

Chairman: 'I am sure we all appreciate Mr Isaacson's anxiety to complete this work in the best possible way. I feel, however, that it is rather late in the day to call in new technical advisers. I admit that the main contract has still to be signed, but we have already spent very large sums. If we reject the advice for which we have paid, we shall have to pay as much again.'

(Other members murmur agreement.)

Mr Isaacson:
'I should like my observation to be minuted.’

Chairman: 'Certainly. Perhaps Mr Brickworth also has something to say on this matter?'

Now Mr Brickworth is almost the only man there who knows what he is talking about. There is a great deal he could say. He distrusts that round figure of £10,000,000. Why should it come out to exactly that? Why need they demolish the old building to make room for the new approach? And who is McHeap, anyway? Is he the man who was sued last year by the Trickle and Driedup Oil Corporation? But Brickworth does not know where to begin. The other members could not read the blueprint if he referred to it. He would have to begin by explaining what a reactor is and no one there would admit that he did not already know. Better to say nothing.

Mr Brickworth: 'I have no comment to make.'

Chairman: 'Does any other member wish to speak? Very well. I may take it then that the plans and estimates are approved? Thank you. May I now sign the main contract on your behalf? (Murmur of agreement.) Thank you. We can now move on to Item Ten.'

Allowing a few seconds for rustling papers and unrolling diagrams, the time spent on Item Nine will have been just two minutes and a half. The meeting is going well. But some members feel uneasy about Item Nine. They wonder inwardly whether they have really been pulling their weight. It is too late to query that reactor scheme, but they would like to demonstrate, before the meeting ends, that they are alive to all that is going on.

Chairman: 'Item Ten. Bicycle shed for the use of the clerical staff. An estimate has been received from Messrs Bodger and Woodworm, who undertake to complete the work for the sum of £350. Plans and specification are before you, gentlemen.'

Mr Softleigh: 'Surely, Mr Chairman, this sum is excessive. I note that the roof is to be of aluminium. Would not asbestos be cheaper?'

Mr Holdfast: 'I agree with Mr Softleigh about the cost, but the roof should, in my opinion, be of galvanised iron. I am inclined to think that the shed could be built for £300, or even less.'

Mr Daring: 'I would go further, Mr Chairman. I question whether this shed is really necessary. We do too much for our staff as it is. They are never satisfied, that is the trouble. They will be wanting garages next.'

Mr Holdfast: 'No, I can't support Mr Daring on this occasion. I think that the shed is needed. It is a question of material and cost . . .'

The debate is fairly launched. A sum of £350 is well within everybody's comprehension. Everyone can visualise a bicycle shed. Discussion goes on, therefore, for forty-five minutes, with the possible result of saving some £50. Members at length sit back with a feeling of achievement.

Chairman: 'Item Eleven. Refreshments supplied at meetings of the Joint Welfare Committee. Monthly, £2.' ....
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Parkinson on the R101 Airship - Could NASA be like this?

Postby rerevisionist » 24 Aug 2011 13:55

Here's C N Parkinson, based on Germans designing airships against time, but with a nod to NASA-like ventures then in the future. Note that the idea of fraud doesn't occur to Parkinson, who prefers to keep scientific ventures secret and unnannounced:-

From The Law and the Profits (1960):

. . '.. The function of the Public Relations and Information Services.. is to present the world with a favorable picture.. This involves extracting from each department the information which may serve to illustrate this favorable view.. Upon organizations engaged on scientific and technical work the effect of these demands for information can be expensive and even fatal. Nevil Shute has told us, in Slide Rule, how the technicians employed on the airship R.101 were goaded into announcing progress and fixing an early date for completion. The airship's construction had become not a technical experiment but a political issue. From a fairly early period .. the final tragedy had become more or less inevitable.
. . The loss of life might have been partly justified if the right conclusions had been drawn.. but the same mistake has since been made repeatedly. Rockets are launched prematurely in deference to political pressure or public opinion. Radio and press releases drive scientists and technicians to death or catastrophe. .. When the problem is one of despatching a space ship to (say) the Moon, news of progress in the United States leads to frantic efforts in the United States; and the news of these efforts leads to fresh exertions in Russia. .. a scientific or technical problem is being treated as a horse race. Where all depends on the thoroughness of experiment, preparation and trial, the actual result is imperiled by the introduction .. of an irrelevant but apparently all-important question of prestige. ... The contrary policy [i.e. to Parkinson's preferred policy of keeping quiet] .. might well be illustrated by an imaginary telephone conversation..:

. . "Is that Dr Thoroughgood? Smoothleigh here, of Information. Can you tell me, approximately, when your space ship (R.100, shall we call it?) will be completed?
. . "Good heavens, no. There are all sorts of problems and difficulties."
. . "Do you mean that progress has been disappointing and that the project may have to be abandoned—or else given to some other team?"
. . "Certainly not. Our progress has been very satisfactory."
. . "When did the work begin then?"
. . "The decision to go ahead was taken .. in April, 1950."
. . "And what was the estimate then of the time required for completion?"
. . "Very roughly, ten years."
. . "So that, with satisfactory progress, completion should be in 1960?"
. . "One can't be as precise as that. It was only a rough estimate."
. . "But to exceed it by (say) five years would surely mean that progress has been disappointing?"
. . "Oh, I shouldn't say that. Besides, we won't take as long as that . Three years extra at the outside and possibly less."
. . "So we might hope for completion in 1962?"
. . "I suppose so."
. . "Very well then. Suppose I issue a press release to that effect?"
. . "All right. Say that we hope for completion in 1962."
. . "Early in the year?"
. . "How should I know? Say, by November."
. . In this way the technician is goaded into fixing a date. He thinks at the time that he has done no harm but he soon finds that his vague hope has become a fixture and has been printed in the calendar of forthcoming events. ..
. . "Now, about November 15," says the Information Officer. "I understand that the President is to be there for the launching. The reception afterwards has all been arranged but there is a problem about the massed bands. Will the music be audible above the rocket noises? Oh, and another thing: I have managed to get you a seat on the platform, at the end of the fifth row. That was difficult enough, and when it came to a seat for your wife - well, frankly, it couldn't be done. .."
. . This is, roughly, the process by which information services drive scientists and technicians to death and disaster.'
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Re: C N Parkinson on Nuclear Committee & R101 Airship/NASA

Postby FirstClassSkeptic » 27 Aug 2011 15:24

Considering that new adventures, and exploration of unknown territory is fraught with problems, setbacks, detours, doubts and death, and that the pioneers and explorers, are usually unkempt people who don't make a good appearance on film, it seems worthwhile to just fake it all, because a fantasy is much easier to predict and control. And cheaper also.
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