1. That the value of people with MFAs at NASA and the like is more important than a stack of PhDs. (This issue was raised in your original post.)

Often my messages come across as nasty when that is not my intent. This could easily happen in this case, as it is a subject that is very close to me.

One scourge of my current position is the class of person to whom I refer within the confines of my own skull as "the briefing slide genius." This is a guy who believes he understands "the big picture" sufficiently to develop an entire plan of study without any regard for what is feasible, practical, informative, necessary, or in the most irritating circumstances, physically possible. "Um ... uh ... did you talk this over with a so-and-so?" (So-and-so is a mathematician or an electrical engineer or what have you.) "No. But this is all very well understood stuff!" It wouldn't be so bad if the person were remotely interested in negative feedback.

(Not everyone is like this. I rejected a $100K/yr job offer from a PhD I had never met, but whose paper I had gutted. My current job was offered to me by a guy I had previously once threatened to hang up on. Some people can take criticism and others can't. In fact, some few people appreciate serious criticism even when it's quite severe.)

First, I believe, as I have asserted previously that scientists have always been imaginative and creative, and have even expressed their creativity at times in ways that even lay people (in which set I include myself) could appreciate. What has been lacking is not imagination, but often the salesmanship. Edison was a great inventor, but he was at least as great a self-promoter. It doesn't detract from his genius to note this. Some scientists have been remarkable at marketing their ideas and themselves - and others have not. T. H. Huxley was much better (not to mention much more eager) at marketing Darwinism that Charles Darwin was. Gould is better at marketing than Ernst Mayr (his teacher). Sagan was better than almost any of his contemporaries. In no case do I mean to undermine anyone's opinion of any of these remarkable men. It's important to note that this self-promotion is not always 100% successful. I can't help thinking a big part of Galileo's struggle with the Church occurred because because his bragging marked him as a prick (or at least a smart-ass). This could be a long, discursive diversion, but I'll keep it short - self-promotion sometimes has a price, but it does occur and it can be very useful for spreading ideas which otherwise might take decades or even centuries longer to disseminate.

Second, most of the people who go into the scientific disciplines want to discover things, or invent things, or build things. They want to understand how things work. The good ones could write novels if they wished (as some few of them have done) or they could be in bands (as one of them I know), but most of the really good ones are highly focused individuals. I can't imagine things would be much different for better scientists at NASA or JPL or anywhere else.

Aside: we had a temporary hire once who seemed to be slightly autistic. He routinely produced results within weeks that would take two advanced PhDs to do in about a year and a half. (No, this is not hyperbole.) Unfortunately noone could interpret his results and no one could understand his programs and few people could convince him to change anything once he had written it and no one could make any sense whatever of the little scraps that he wrote in lieu of documentation. I noted that it would be cost-effective to hire a PhD to babysit this fellow and was greeted with a "you can't be serious" stare. You see, people don't spend years in graduate school so they can be baby-sitters.

I suppose it's the same for writing. Most of these guys don't spend 8 to 10 years getting a PhD in physics so he can spend huge chunks of time writing watered-down science for people many of whom don't have the attention span to follow even a complicated argument. Some few do have the patience and aptitude to attempt this, however, and it's to our great benefit that this is the case.

I'm a little depressed when I go to a random bookstore and I see an entire rack for religion and an entire rack for each of the major religions and an entire rack for metaphysics and an entire rack for astrology and magic and rack upon rack of romance novels and self-helf books - and only one rack for science and one for math. I don't blame the bookstores. They're giving people what they want.

But while the volume may not be there, the thoughts are there in those racks. Who knows how many people might have come to pick up the latest Harlquin and come across some romance of a different sort in the pages of Broca's Brain or Contact?

Also, I note that there are many people outside of NASA who write about what they are doing quite ably. Some of these people are scientists themselves and some not. But I note the following: there's some stir from people who want to keep Hubble orbiting. Regardless of whether they succeed in this, the fact that there is serious discussion of this in the general public is a pretty strong evidence that scientists have been at least partially successful in persuading us to care about what they do.

Finally, I state without any hint of evidence (or sarcasm) that it is a lot easier for a person with a background in science to write congently and compellingly about his accomplishments than it is for a person with a background in writing to build a satellite or a martian rover.