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Washington Times Startling Discovery: Nerds Like Porn

Posted October 1, 2009

In a titillating corruption scandal the Washington Times reports that the National Science Foundation (NSF) has dealt with a whopping seven cases of misconduct due to internet porn surfing by employees in 2008. Such infractions, according to the Times have cost taxpayers somewhere between $13,000 and $58000. Which sounds like a lot of money for porn, mostly because that's found on the internet for free.

Wow. Nerds like porn. Who knew? We do hope that the Washington Times discovered this crucial attribute of scientists while watching Revenge of the Nerds. We're not linking to the original story, but if you want to get the idea, watch the delightful movie Weird Science.

We aren't completely sure why the Times reports such a wide range of the potential costs in handling the scandal, probably because it would take too long to find out what the actual numbers were, which is a job for journalists. To put it in perspective, the NSF has a six-billion-dollar operating budget, and they could probably make that thirteen or fifty-eight thou by letting some of that budget sit in a freezer for about one minute.

The other possible reason for this broad range is the old dentist chewing gum statistic. It might be true that four out of five dentists prefer Tartar-blow brand toothpaste, but that doesn't suggest a true percentage. They could have asked 1000 dentists about Tartar-blow, and it would still be true that four out of five, within a total sample of the 1000 preferred it. Similarly, if the misconduct cost the NSF $13,001, that would be factually within the range of $13,000 and $58,000.

It should also be noted that the cost of purchasing licenses, and IT staff time to prevent such voyeurism would cost far more than $58000, and for a science foundation where it's very likely that researchers have legitimate reasons to look up papers involving "sperm," "gametes," and other naughty science terms, such software could quickly become counter-productive.

It's also important to point out that the seven cases of horndogs at the NSF worked at an agency of 1200 people, or 0.6% of their workforce. We'd gleefully like to report that in one financial research company where we worked, that if there had been any misconduct due to workplace-porn viewing, that number would rocket up to 100%.

Not that porn at the workplace isn't very serious, and to the one NSF official who resigned after revealing that he spent 331 workdays surfing porn, we'd like to suggest he find some other hobbies, like fantasy baseball, which don't claim at much on-the-job time.



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