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NASA Chief Irks Astronomers

One week after chiding particle physicists for being wedded to outdated technology (Science, 4 June, p. 1597), NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin has accused astronomers of lacking a vision of the nation's scientific future in space. But some think it's a cheap shot.

Speaking at an American Astronomical Society meeting in Chicago on 3 June, Goldin mocked astronomers who are enamored with existing technology, including the Hubble Space Telescope. He said facetiously that the agency could install the telescope in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and allocate "hug time" for astronomers unwilling to embrace newer technologies. He also complained that astronomers were ignoring such promising ideas as robotic explorers that can learn and adapt for themselves using neural networks and "genetic algorithms."

But some members of the audience think Goldin is confusing timidity with a healthy skepticism. Neural and genetic programs are not yet understood well enough to be used routinely on space missions, said one astronomer. And when Goldin shot back that "ignorance is not a place to be," another irritated astronomer stood up "in defense of 'ignorance' "--meaning the established body of scientific knowledge and expertise. No word on whom Goldin is planning to irritate next.