How a Comedian Outwitted Some Rocket Scientists
You may have heard that NASA launched an on-line contest to help name a new module (now referred to as Node 3) for the International Space Station (ISS). Hoping to follow the tradition of naming past modules with lofty, cosmic names (Node 1 was named Unity, Node 2 was named Harmony), NASA opened up voting with Earthwise, Legacy, Serenity and Venture. They also allowed write-in votes.
Here's where Mr. Colbert comes in. This man is the Donald Trump of comedy. He has already managed to get a new species of spider named after him (Aptostichus stephencolberti) and a flavor of Ben and Jerry's ice cream (Stephen Colbert's AmeriCone Dream). In 2006, he asked viewers of his show to submit his name to Hungary's Ministry of Transport for their on-line effort to name a new bridge over the Danube River. It was reported that Colbert won the first round of voting with over 17 million votes. I should note that the population of Hungary is about 9.9 million. The Ministry then changed the rules.
For the NASA contest, a total of 1,190,437 votes were cast. Colbert scored 230,539 votes, outscoring Serenity by more than 40,000 votes. So, what does NASA do? Well, according to Space.com, agency personnel are floating the idea of naming the Station's new toilet in the module "Colbert." This is proof that NASA should stick to space and aeronautics and not venture into comedy. A Colbert space toilet isn't funny - I think it's demeaning.
Although the rules of the contest state that "the results are not binding on NASA" and "NASA reserves the right to modify these Contest Rules at any time," what happened to fair and square? But being an optimist, I'm wondering if there's a win-win in this somewhere.
So, I've done my part to help solve this planetary crisis. Now it's time for NASA to learn a few communication tips:
- Don't ask for something that you don't want to hear.
- Changing the rules makes one look like a sore loser.
- In the age of on-line vote stuffing, enforce the one person, one vote rule.
- Plan strategically, and think through the intended and unintended consequences of any action.
- Play to your strengths - science not satire.