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Government Idle Science

Porn Surfing Rampant At US Science Foundation 504

Posted by samzenpus
from the when-science-gets-dirty dept.
schwit1 writes "The Washington Times reports, 'The problems at the National Science Foundation (NSF) were so pervasive they swamped the agency's inspector general and forced the internal watchdog to cut back on its primary mission of investigating grant fraud and recovering misspent tax dollars.' One senior executive at the National Science Foundation spent at least 331 days looking at pornography on his government computer, records show. The cost to taxpayers: up to $58,000. Why aren't they running a product like Websense?"

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Porn Surfing Rampant at US Science Foundation

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  • bad idea... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @12:30PM (#29581879) Homepage
    no, not using gov't computers for porn. that's fine by me...

    that the guy almost used a "think of the children" defense for his actions. now THAT's fucked up.

    these young women are from poor countries and need to make money to help their parents

  • by JerryLove (1158461) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @12:30PM (#29581887)

    Did he spend 331 days, or did he check at some point every day he was at work?

    Once we get past "surfed porn at work", the number of hours seems more relvent than the number of days.

  • $58k? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ballyhoo (158910) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @12:31PM (#29581901)

    Sounds like they need a better quality cacheing system, or get some of the pr0n served on a locally hosted CDN. Or stick it on their LAN fileservers. Let's get practical here!

  • FOSS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JSG (82708) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @12:31PM (#29581909) Homepage

    Why aren't they running a product like Websense?"

    ... or Squid + Dans Guardian (for example)? It's somewhat cheaper ...

  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @12:32PM (#29581933)

    To begin with, this is a senior executive, not some lowly password changer in the basement. The policy against surfing porn at work may apply to all equally, but as we all know, some are more equal than others. So it's hard to expect that this person would somehow be subject to the rules considering his position.

    Second, what's wrong with surfing porn at work? Work is a stressful environment, and finding ways to relieve this stress is actually a productive endeavor. Many companies have put in "game rooms" with pool tables and other recreational apparatus to help employees work off some stress and be more productive at their jobs. If porn helped this senior exec relieve stress and be more productive, then it's a good deal for the agency.

    If someone is somehow offended by the viewing of porn, I suggest they give proof that they were forced to view it with the boss. Otherwise, even if they viewed it incidentally, their is no evidence that this exec was using the porn in a harassing way. If the porn itself wasn't illegal, then what's the big deal?

  • by jamie (78724) * Works for Slashdot <jamie@slashdot.org> on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @12:32PM (#29581941) Journal

    Well, this is reported by the Washington Times, so you know it's not biased in the least. OK, let's take a look.

    The only substantive abuse claim here is a quote from the NSF's inspector general making a budget request to Congress. The Times article implies that "this dramatic increase," forcing fraud detection efforts to be reduced, refers to employees browsing porn.

    But that's not the case, is it. If we read the Times article very carefully, we see that the very first graf references:

    Employee misconduct investigations, often involving workers accessing pornography

    Subsequent references to "the problems," "this dramatic increase," and "the misconduct cases" are all really talking about employee misconduct as a whole, not porn surfing specifically.

    Maybe that's why this article is big on rhetoric and small on actual cases. One lengthy case is detailed on the article's first page. How much did that case cost taxpayers? "Between $13,800 and $58,000." Out of the NSF's $6.49 billion budget [nsf.gov]. That's 0.0006%.

    How often is "often"? Six times as often as before. Misconduct cases -- not porn specifically -- went from 3 in 2006, to 7 in 2007, to 10 in 2008. The Times hints repeatedly that this is a huge problem, but despite its lavish use of adjectives -- "pervasive," "swamped," "well-publicized" -- it has to report that the actual number of porn-related misconduct cases in 2008 was seven.

    Slashdot's headline "Porn Surfing Rampant" is exactly the kind of exaggeration that the Washington Times was hoping secondary media would slap on this story. "Rampant" is just not true, there's no possible way seven cases in a year can be described that way.

    If each case was as bad as the one "between $13,800 and $58,000" case that was identified, those seven cases probably cost 0.004% of the NSF's budget.

    But the Times article gets worse, moving from exaggeration to outright lies. Later, its author Jim McElhatton writes:

    The foundation's inspector general ... told Congress it was diverted from that mission by the porn cases.

    That's a flat-out lie. The OIG told Congress it was diverted by "employee misconduct," not porn. Here, read the actual budget request [docstoc.com]. (Full quote below.)

    There is one paragraph in a 7-page report that references employee misconduct, and nowhere are "porn cases" referenced. Surely some of the cost to the agency was specifically from porn-surfing misconduct. And some was not. How much? We still don't know.

    Look, any major institution, private or public, that employs a large number of people and gives them access to the internet, is going to have a few employees who abuse that access. It's ridiculous to think otherwise. Employees are capable of wasting time in a wide variety of creative ways. I daresay some employees in the private sector are wasting time reading Slashdot right at this very moment when they are nominally getting paid to do other things.

    Republicans aren't fans of science; we know that. Smearing the NSF in the media by associating their name with porn for a news cycle is a fun yuk I suppose, but for conservatives it's another shot fired in the culture war. I find it depressing. There's actual news out there; this is at best People magazine type crap.

    And it's ironic that this gets spread over the internet that the NSF helped create, and the story is brought to you thanks to the Freedom of Information Act that was passed by Democrats [wikipedia.org] over the objections of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Scalia.

    Finally, as someone who 10 years ago was writing stories for Slashdot

  • People are people (Score:4, Insightful)

    by geekoid (135745) <(dadinportland) (at) (yahoo.com)> on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @12:34PM (#29581979) Homepage Journal

    A) this is no different then what people do in some private companies

    B) That had to dig to find one extreme example

    C) They didn't define porn in this context. Is it just a random hit? I ahve hit porn site accidently while looking up job related sites. Hopefull if the record is reviewed that also not when I left the site. Which would be immediatly.

    D) Yes, this is not good, but there is no real indication of how bad it is. They make it SOUND bad, but there aren't based on any baseline.

    Of course then give an example of a guy and how much he did and then said he wasn't detected. If he wasn't detected then how would they know how much online activity they had?

  • Re:bad idea... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by chrb (1083577) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @12:36PM (#29581995)

    I have known people who look at porn at work, but I find it difficult to be outraged about it. Why? Those guys are paid to do a job, supposed to be 9-5 but the porn entertainment tended to be a way of relaxing when they were still in the office working at 10pm. Nobody actually cared, even the bosses, because the employees were being paid to do a job, which they did well. As long as watching porn doesn't impact your work or offend colleagues, then why should it be considered any worse than surfing YouTube, Facebook, or even Slashdot? It's just pictures of people having sex.

  • by Smidge207 (1278042) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @12:36PM (#29582007) Journal

    Agreed, Jaime, and just to be clear, the people reportedly looking at porn were NSF staffers, not scientists. The NSF administers funding for basic research, but doesn't conduct it directly. The work is usually done at universities.

    The staffers under scrutiny were certainly acting unprofessionally and should be reprimanded or fired. But the NSF is a gem among federal programs: it funds high risk long-term research that no private company would be capable of supporting. Historically basic research pays off enormously, but the return time is very long.

    The occasional news reports on ridiculous research topics usually fail to give context for the work. Even when news reports are accurate, high-risk research has to involve occasional missteps.

    In my opinion, the long-term return on NSF spending is orders of magnitude greater than what we'll get back on military, entitlement, or even NIH spending.

  • Re:bad idea... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by COMON$ (806135) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @12:43PM (#29582127) Journal
    Whereas I am not for pornography in the workplace (Porn causes phych issues). I do agree with your underlying argument. In workplaces we need to get away from the idea that if I sit at my desk for 8 hours I am productive. Rather we need a concept of whether or not the employee is doing work. I know people who surf half the day and still do 3x the work as the 9-5ers. This is especially so in gov't institutions.
  • Re:bad idea... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @12:44PM (#29582145) Journal
    I find it difficult to summon moral outrage, assuming it doesn't affect job performance; but from an IT perspective there is something of a difference.

    With the proliferation of poorly vetted 3rd party ads and social network plugin "apps" and things, no class of websites is fully safe; but porn sites have a well deserved reputation for being particularly hostile and malware infested. Ideally, IT should be enough on the ball that that isn't an issue; but (especially given the number of hairy zero-day exploits and such floating around) it isn't a risk you really want to bring on yourself, if you don't have to.
  • by 1u3hr (530656) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @12:46PM (#29582165)
    "The Washington Times reports, 'The problems at the National Science Foundation (NSF) were so pervasive they swamped the agency's inspector general and forced the internal watchdog to cut back on its primary mission of investigating grant fraud

    and on page 2 it says "foundation's inspector general closed 10 employee misconduct investigations last year, up from just three in 2006. "

    Ten staff were caught, out of a total of 1200. That's "all pervasive"? It's less than 1%. That "swamped" the investigators?

    Investigate how productive these investigators are, that sounds more like the story.

    And what the hell does that phrase "senior executive who spent at least 331 days looking at pornography" mean? He spent 8 hours a day for a almost a year looking at porn? Or does it actually mean he looked at porn at least once on 331 days? Some people take a smoke break, others take a coffee break, maybe he took porn breaks. How much time did he actually waste, and is that the issue or is it "PORN"? He's an adult, everyone in the office is an adult, and if anyone had been disturbed by his habit, I'm sure we would have heard all about it.

    And on page three: The report caught the attention of Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee... Right, this story was sourced from the "ranking Republican" on the committee. So we can be sure he has no agenda to embarrass the government by turning this trivial misconduct of a dozen staff into a "scandal".

  • by joggle (594025) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @12:49PM (#29582197) Homepage Journal

    I read the first three words and that was enough for me. I'm glad you took the time to specifically point out the flaws in this particular story for those who aren't familiar with the complete lack of journalistic integrity at that paper and may have otherwise taken the article seriously.

    From my point of view, it may as well be "The Onion reports..." with the only difference that it isn't intended to be haha funny but actually trying to fool you instead.

  • I'm baffled (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ogive17 (691899) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @12:52PM (#29582229)
    It's completely beyond my comprehension why anyone would think it's ok to surf for porn at work. Clearly common sense is no longer a factor in hiring.
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @12:53PM (#29582233) Homepage Journal

    Republicans aren't fans of science; we know that. Smearing the NSF in the media by associating their name with porn for a news cycle is a fun yuk I suppose, but for conservatives it's another shot fired in the culture war.

    There's been a rash of reporter-based "auditing" of left-leaning organizations of late. Perhaps the left-leaning news and blogging organizations should "audit" Halliburton, Blackwater, etc. Fight fire with fire. Some will argue, however, that this would "drag the left down to the same low level".

  • Re:bad idea... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jidar (83795) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @12:55PM (#29582269)

    Porn causes psych issues? Perhaps it just exposes them, particularly in people who judge people for looking at porn.

  • Re:bad idea... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mweather (1089505) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @01:08PM (#29582437)
    Psych issues cause problems with porn, not the other way around.
  • Re:bad idea... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Verdatum (1257828) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @01:17PM (#29582585)
    It is proven that milk(excessive) will kill you. Anything taken to extremes has the potential to be bad. However, concerning the question of negative consequences of porn, according to Penn & Teller: Bullsh!t (Not exactly a peer reviewed journal, but it's on the top of my head), "the studies just don't exist."
  • Re:bad idea... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jeremy Erwin (2054) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @01:18PM (#29582611) Journal

    You should try to be more vague.

  • by MBGMorden (803437) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @01:20PM (#29582635)

    Once we get past "surfed porn at work", the number of hours seems more relvent than the number of days.

    You know very well that the guy was doing what reporters do best: quoting whatever statistic would sound more shocking. 20 hours doesn't sound nearly as bad to an audience as 331 days.

  • Re:FOSS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jeremy Erwin (2054) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @01:32PM (#29582823) Journal

    Some poor worker would end up having to administer it, and once you factor in his salary, and the salary of his replacement-- because he's spending too much time plugging censorware holes...

    It's a bureaucracy. At some point, some accountant had to justify so many hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on maintaining an investigation squad, and somehow, because they spent some fraction of that time investigating Dr. X, Dr X gets blamed for costing the NSF some fraction times the entire budget of the investigation squad.

  • Re:bad idea... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IgnoramusMaximus (692000) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @01:35PM (#29582871)

    Psych problems with other people daring to have sex (and fun in general without permission from various control freaks) have been at the root of nearly all imbecilic religious woo-woos and the subsequent witch-hunts by the fanatics of the said woo-woos since times immemorial, but they have truly and completely gone full-tilt mental with the raise of the Judeo-Christian flavours of lunacy.

    Thus it is no surprise that maiming and killing people is considered "moral" and "necessary in bringing Enlightenment, Freedom (to buy our products and make us rich) and Democracy (to elect friendly to our interests leaders)" while sex, particularly amongst younger people, is an "evil", "sin" and "immoral", to be punished, with prejudice and by extreme measures, for life (e.g. the "sexual offender lists"). Ripping a girl's hands and feet off by a 500lb bomb is a sad by-product of a "good deed", but seeing her enjoy sex is the very bottom of the pit of moral depravity.

    But because sex sells, the Western culture is getting increasingly positively schizophrenic about it, on one hand trying to please the Mammon (into worship of which all of the Judeo-Christian flavours of woo have morphed) and at the same time trying to reconcile the woo-fanatics' psychotic attitudes towards the fact that they are all mammals, no matter how much they pretend that evolution did not occur.

    And if you add to this the fact that other branches of Judeo-Christian idiocy, i.e. the Muslim-medieval kind, are even more rabidly insane, the majority of human societies on Earth are, to use a topic-relevant term: fucked up beyond description, with no relief in sight.

  • Re:bad idea... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymusing (1450747) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @02:07PM (#29583349)
    They're putting the NSF back into NSFW!
  • Re:bad idea... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WrongMonkey (1027334) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @02:29PM (#29583635)
    That's not how you do a citation. At least name the journal. A Web of Knowledge search give no results for those author names and year.
  • by Qzukk (229616) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @02:47PM (#29583901) Journal

    Hey now, the scientists get to have explosions and lasers and other fun stuff. The guy watching porn every day was some poor executive schmuck whose high point of the week was improving his golf score by a point.

  • by cthulu_mt (1124113) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @04:11PM (#29584899)
    Change it to any number of paintings by Ruebens. If the person doesn't like artistic nudity then fuck them.

    The conflation of nudity to pornography is ridiculous.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @05:01PM (#29585489)

    what's even more fascinating is that there are typically around 250 weekdays a year. This guy was a workaholic, going into the office on weekends to look at porn!!

  • Re:bad idea... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by IgnoramusMaximus (692000) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @05:20PM (#29585677)

    Yeah and look how well those tribes have done in scaling up their societies in comparison.

    The answer is that we will simply never know, as they were destroyed and overrun (usually violently) by the much more aggressive followers of the dominant militant woos. In the case of Europe, Africa and America that being the Judeo-Christian one and in most places in Far East, Buddhism, Hinduism and the like.

    So this isn't the case of "scalability", rather a case of "inferior warmongering". Possibly their attitudes towards sex were somehow related with their general outlook on life, apparently not conductive to leading wide-spread bloody conquests of others.

  • Re:I'm baffled (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Morpeth (577066) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @06:07PM (#29586073)
    I know, it's amazing there's people here trying to say it's ok. Probably the same Generation Me types who think they're entitled to everything, are 'special' and 'unique', and feel that common sense rules don't apply to them. Here's some simple, obvious reasons why it's NOT ok.

    1) You're paid to do a job, not slack off (or jack off in this case). Do your job and quit whining about how stressful it is, blah blah blah.

    2) Porn sites are notorious for spyware, viruses, bots, keyloggers. You are putting the company's network at risk, and even worse, you could be exposing company data or other confidential information -- which could cost the company millions of dollars, damage their reputation, and hurt future business. You're also using company resources (hardware, bandwidth, etc) at their expense and NOT using it for work.

    3) "Hostile Work Environment" Many people may be offended by porn, especially women (given much of porn's nature), religious individuals etc. They would most certainly win any lawsuits especially if the company was complicit or outright condoned the behavior.

    Want to watch porn, fine... but do it at home, on your own time, with your own PC, and using your own resources.

  • Re:bad idea... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Verdatum (1257828) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @07:00PM (#29586583)
    Heh, no coincidence, the show has never claimed to be impartial, or scientific. They frequently admit to using all sorts of editing tricks to accentuate whatever point they like. Penn is an outspoken libertarian, and he's got his own show, where he can say pretty much whatever he likes.
    On that particular episode, they could've claimed that porn doesn't make people more likely to commit sexual assault, but they didn't. They said they didn't know, and neither does anyone else. They did claim to like porn, and that it was silly to take away something that people like without any decent evidence that it is causing harm. That sounds like a reasonable conclusion to me.
  • Re:bad idea... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by URL Scruggs (1230074) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @09:52PM (#29588155)

    That study compared the result of watching a rom-com with watching a David Lynch movie and their conclusion was that the rom-coms fucked you up more than David Lynch? I totally call Bullshit! on that.

    Why? Lynch's films often leave a lot open to the viewer to conclude, allowing people to think for themselves and make their own judgements. Your typical rom-com practically forces an emotional response out of the viewer - usually based on a (noxious?) set of ideals that are hard to live up to. Eraserhead may be scary, but not as much as the idea that your real life isn't as good as the ones in heightened emotional world that is a hollywood rom-com.

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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