Explaining Failures

A friend sent this:

There are a wide variety of excuses available to all observers to “explain away” a failure. And since rocket scientists know that the first step towards one’s next disaster is to forget about — or deny — the previous disaster, the North Korean insistence against all evidence that their first two satellites were actually successful, is not auspicious.

The first and most traditional reaction from Pyongyang to a satellite failure would be simply to pretend it succeeded. That worked for them in 1998 and 2009, but this time there is too much scrutiny from visitors and worldwide radio amateurs to make such a pretense attractive.

The next choice, however, is worse: Blame foreign enemies. If the failure occurred early in flight, the South Koreans can be implicated. If it occurred farther away, out of radio contact, U.S. malevolence is an obvious scapegoat. This is an instinct that we even saw in some supposedly sensible Russian space experts when their recent Mars probe tripped on its face just out of the starting gate. U.S. radar interference was widely suggested as the cause, a gimmick that North Korea could be expected to copy for its own needs.

Alternately, Pyongyang could blame internal enemies intent on sabotage, an old Stalin-era trick. It could help fuel a major purge of less-than-perfectly-loyal officials during the ongoing regime transition. Hundreds could be fired, and many shot — a convenient excuse for a housecleaning.

He sent this with the hint that just by changing the failure from rockets to, say, a numerical models; and by changing the incompetent builder from North Korea to a certain individual; the above could be a near-perfect description of what happened in our little group. And so it is. The multi-million dollar failures, in a number of projects, of said individual have been totally ignored, declared in fact successes, or blamed on others (the individual has a long supply of excuses). No corrective actions are taken, he is simply given another project to fail at.

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