John Mather committed the greatest science fraud in history. This much is hard fact. However, there remains much confusion about what happened within NASA surrounding this realization. I have no sources of information other than the Internet. So, in the public interest, I will engage in a little bit of speculation on what went on inside this organization that the public is paying for.
Somewhere around the Spring of 2007, NASA Administrator Dr. Michael Griffin comes upon my website alleging science fraud at NASA. Unlike most NASA Administrators, Griffin is himself a hardcore scientist and engineer. So his curiosity gets the better of him. He reads in detail and begins to wonder. He understands the crux of the allegation and tells himself: “OMG!”
Now Griffin becomes even more concerned as he thinks: “OMG! We just got done appointing this guy NASA Chief Scientist – with such great fanfare!”
Most bureaucrats in Griffin’s shoes would do nothing. They would tell themselves: “Who the heck is going to listen to this two-bit dweeb making posts on the Internet. There are dozens of weirdoes attacking NASA on a daily basis: Conspiracies, Aliens, Face on the Moon and such. And at any rate, the fraud did not happen on my watch – it is not my job!” But Griffin is not the quintessential political bureaucrat.
Griffin resolves to get to the bottom of this. He wants an independent and competent evaluation from outside NASA that would be done confidentially. As he thinks about it, he zeroes in on the only one organization that fits the requirement: The Aerospace Corporation. Griffin asks them for a confidential report.
About a year goes by and Griffin receives the report. He calls in Chief Scientist Dr. John Mather and Mather’s boss, NASA Associate Administrator Dr. Alan Stern. What happens next is somewhat difficult for me to guess, but the net result of this meeting we know.
The very next morning, Alan Stern resigns from NASA and almost simultaneously, John Mather says he is resigning the position of Chief Scientist. Alan Stern’s resignation is quickly given a color unrelated to John Mather. And Mather says the two resignations are not connected.
If Stern’s resignation was connected to the Mather fraud, it could simply be that a well-meaning Stern tried unknowingly to protect a fraud. Mather may have bs-ed him, as he is surely bs-ing those who are promoting and protecting him today.
It seems to me that in that meeting the diabolically clever Mather told Griffin something like this: “Look, a number of people were involved in this. I am not going to take the fall alone.”
Now Griffin thinks that if he fires Mather, a Pandora’s Box will be opened – and no one would be able to mitigate the damage that will ensue for the organization. The agency would be crippled beyond repair. Griffin asks his lawyers what his options are. The lawyers say: “As long as Mather has continued employment with NASA and has not been demoted below the position he had held when he got the Nobel Prize, there is no cause for him to cry foul. At the same time, NASA would be on record as not rewarding fraud. That is the most action that can be taken – all things considered.”
So Griffin orders Mather back to his exact pre-Nobel job. And that’s exactly where Mather has remained since. John Mather’s statement that he had “resigned” is a fig leaf. He was demoted from the Chief Scientist position – and not too gently.
During the transition period, some communication – direct or indirect – takes place between Griffin and the new Administrator Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden regarding John Mather. Bolden is put fully in the picture. Bolden decides to honor Griffin’s decision. He does nothing to reinstate Mather in a position commensurate not only with his Nobel Laureate status, but his age and his years of service.
So that’s the long and short of how John Mather came to be in the NASA doghouse, and why he must remain in the doghouse. He can venture out to party hearty with his kind in the National Mall, but at the end of the day he must return to the doghouse.
Michael Griffin and Charles Bolden acted honorably. But did they do enough? This question cannot be answered in the case of Griffin because he left his job before he had time to do anything further. As to Bolden, his very tenure in office seems now to be in doubt. So it is not clear how much real power he has had. The real power may rest with Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, a confidante of President Obama. She has recently posed for a public photo session with John Mather.
NASA Administrator Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden and Deputy Administrator Lori Garver
If I receive any objections on the above speculative scenario, I will post them below.